On a bleak autumn morning, I met up with my two closest friends in hopes of distracting myself from the piles of schoolwork I had accumulated during the week. My partners in crime that day were Chance, a boy my age who lived in the upstairs apartment, and Max, a recent immigrant to the neighborhood (and the United States) with a thick Russian accent. At nine years of age, we fancied ourselves invincible; we were at the pinnacle of our grade-school existence. Our apartments were the first to be completed in the new low-income housing development we now called home, and beyond our buildings sat a desolate scrap yard of drywall, studs, and filthy construction equipment. This wasteland was our playground; we neither knew nor cared about any of the dangers that accompanied our fun.
We rode in tight formation down the dusty main road, toward a horizon dotted by the outlines of buildings in various stages of construction. Our bicycles were the opposite of stealthy; as was the fashion, we had all stuck playing cards in the space between the frame and the spokes of the rear tire. The constant clicking that accompanied the turning of the wheel made us heard before we were seen. We passed mountains of brown earth that had been relocated by tractors and backhoes, the behemoths that often troubled the sleep of those in their immediate vicinity. These artificial slopes would become the sight of exhilarating sledding runs after the first snow, but for now existed as impassable muddy obstacles.
Though expressly forbidden both by our parents and the authoritative signs enclosing the area, we ventured closer to the unfinished buildings, which rose from the ground like whale skeletons from some prehistoric sea. Any sound emanating from our bicycles was drowned out by the clattering of jackhammers and the incessant whirring of power tools. We had been caught and forcibly removed from the area many times before. By now, we knew to the yard the route we would take to avoid detection. Chance and I masterfully weaved between bogged down equipment and piles of ruined wood, while Max rode along the perimeter, scanning for any wayward construction workers on their way to lunch or a smoke break. On that day, our desired staging area was devoid of any activity.
We stashed our bikes in a ditch and clambered up an artificial hill, struggling to find purchase on the loose dirt. At the top, we caught sight of our target: a three story work in progress, nothing more than a frame of concrete and wood, with a scant few workers on each level. The three of us were well dressed for the occasion. Max wore brown boots, camouflage pants, and a black shirt. Chance was clad in black jeans and a brown sweatshirt. I was wearing black boots, olive drab pants, and a dark grey t-shirt. With the precision of highly trained operatives, we crept into the exposed basement of the house. There we paused to enjoy some of our rapidly depleting reserves of Halloween candy before beginning our mission. After about an hour of chocolate fueled, hushed conversation, we began our ascent of the skeletal giant.
Max had the advantage from the start. Already a full head taller Chance and standing several inches taller than me, he boasted an impressive wingspan that was useful for reaching his next handholds with ease. I took my time, carefully examining each beam for grip before pulling myself up. Chance followed closely behind me, largely adhering to the same path Max had chosen. Max reached the top almost a full floor ahead of me, and sat perched like a vulture overlooking the workers who we hoped were too busy to notice three kids climbing in their midst. Unfortunately, we either made to much noise or unknowingly disrespected some ancient construction deity in our endeavors, because as I was inches away from pulling myself up onto the final ledge, a single head whipped round and made eye contact with me as I dangled three stories above the ground.
The shouts of the construction workers startled Max, who began a graceful yet urgent descent on an adjacent wall. Chance was low enough below me to retrace his steps and hit the ground running in the blink of an eye. I however, was completely vulnerable, suspended from a beam at the very top, struggling to find a ledge so that I could let myself down and begin my frantic exodus from the construction site. Before my feet had found a suitable destination, the panic caused my grip to fail, and sent me plummeting earthbound.
I opened my eyes, but saw nothing but blackness. I couldn’t breathe, as the impact had forced every bit of air from my lungs. Strangely though, I was not experiencing the crippling pain that I had resigned myself to at the instant of my fall. After several seconds of pondering my curious situation, I saw a beam of light erupt above me and a hand shoot down and grab onto my collar. Max yanked me out of my temporary prison, and yelled something that my ringing ears did not register. He sprinted off, and I followed closely behind, still dazed. Looking over my shoulder, I began to piece together what had happened. I fell directly into a dumpster full of discarded construction materials that broke my fall rather well. We frantically recovered our bikes and peddled as fast as our legs would carry us, chased by the fading voices of irate workers.