Do Not Go There

Once upon a time when I was very little, like four years old, we lived at Kirtland Field Air Force base for several months while my father was studying chemical engineering at the University of New Mexico on the GI Bill. Most of the barracks in our part of the base were deserted, but there were no locks on anything, being a military base. We kids were told, on pain of unimaginable consequences, “DO NOT GO THERE!” Did I go there? Of course! I went with Denny, the boy next door and the only other kid as old as me. The memory emerges:
It’s dark in here, dark, hot. Pat, pat, pat — my sandals won’t be quiet. Thump, thump — I hear my heart. Plop, plop, plop — I hear Denny’s shoes. I hear him breathing. Is anyone in here? I smell dust, see dust in sunbeams, it’s hard to breathe. What’s around that corner? More hall. Nobody. What if somebody comes here? What's in that room? Crreeeeek. Noisy door. More dust. Little room — little like me. Just two cot frames. Where are mattresses? Do I hear somebody? I want to go. I don’t like it here. Maybe we’ll get lost. Maybe somebody will find us here and I’ll get spanked. “Let’s go,” I whisper. We go back. We look out the window at the door. Nobody is there. Nobody is looking. Denny opens the door. We go out. The sun feels good. We walk down the boardwalk, down the ramp. “Denny. Where were you? Mommy wants you.” Donny is Denny’s little brother. Denny runs off with Donny. I go back to my house. “Where were you?" asks Mommy. “Playing with Denny.” I'm glad she doesn’t ask where we were, so I don’t have to tell her.
I never went back in those barracks, but those few minutes in that creepy place left a deep imprint in my life. I’d faced my fear — fear of the unknown, the creepy, and disobedience
to follow my heart and think for myself. I felt strong and brave. And I felt guilty. If it wasn't the first time it occurred to me to deliberately do something I’d been told not to do. it was certainly the first time I'd dared. Would my life have been changed if the grownups had found out? Who knows? They didn’t, and over the course of many years my life slowly filled with that heady mixture of power tinged with guilt.

I began this piece as writing practice, with a focus on capturing the sensory aspect of the experience, and only later recognized the guilt angle. This memory snip could serve as the launching pad for a whole series of guilt memories. I could tell the stories simply, or I could explore the consequences each had, as I began doing here. I could look at them separately, collectively, or both. I can go on to explore how the guilt began to recede and heal. The possibilities are endless.

I’m amazed at discovering the implications of this memory. It was never buried, but not until I wrote about it did I fully comprehend what that day meant in the overall context of my life.

Do you remember learning about guilt? Let your mind slide around the question, lazily, like honey oozing onto pancakes. Close your eyes and let your mind drift and see where it takes you. Then pick up your pen and paper and start writing, "I hoped nobody would ever find out that I ..." You may not know the rest of that sentence until your write it, and you may not know the rest of that sentence unless you do write it.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Jerry Waxler said...

I love this entry for two reasons. One is that it shows how childhood emotions turn simple events into real stories. Childhood is so raw, so vulnerable, that the simplest events seem so vast. It would be an interesting writing exercise to apply this childhood state of mind to bring power into adult scenes, turning an ordinary experience into one worth reading. (we "cheat" every time we go over the speed limit or stay at lunch longer than the allotted time).

The other thing I love is the interplay between the story itself and your feelings about the story. Louise Desalvo in Writing as a Way of Healing has her students keep a process journal in which they comment on what they experience as they remember.

Best wishes

Ritergal said...


Can you give us an example of applying this childhood state of mind to an adult scene? This is a fascinating idea.

Anonymous said...

Of all the things which could have come to mind this entry SPARKED a memory of; Don't you ever do this!

Kenny, was the stock boy at the neighborhood store. In those days open burning was allowed and one of Kenny's chores was to burn the store trash out back in a cinder block fire pit. It was an event all us kids watched him do once a week. He was careful and always told us the danger of fire and "Don't you ever do this!"

One day I got some matches from home and went to the pit alone. I found out...he was right. Reckon this is a story of confession and caution I'll have to write.