“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aesop
“Yeah-okay-see-ya-bye!” I spouted as I hurried away from my parents fast as I could, slipping into the crowd of people and party booths for this year’s Mardi Gras celebration, a church function that I had learned to despise. However, this year I had chosen to accompany my parents (who I believe were volunteering), because this year, I HAD AN AGENDA. The next school year at Cathedral Middle School (yes, I was a catholic school kid) was to be mine and my best friend Stephanie’s last, before the inevitable departure into the looming doom that is high school, where our weirdo-ness was sure NOT to prevail. So, with our final years at the top of the proverbial food chain coming to an end, I was determined to make this coming year the greatest of all years! And, of course, the best way to make a great school year great, was to get a head start on all the rule breaking and snooping about (the two things her and I excelled at) and here, lurking in the Cathedral Church basement, was the perfect opportunity, one that I could not afford to pass up.
You see, for the past six or so months, me and my comrade-in-arms had set our sights on a very ascended goal:
“You think anybody ever goes up there?” I said, squinting into the light as I gazed up at the pinnacle bell tower of our perish church across from our school, Stephanie running around in the grass next to me, doing something loony.
“The bell tower? Nah, it runs on a timer or something.” she alleged.
“Well I know that.” I retorted, “But I mean, there’s gotta be a way up there, right?”
Suddenly, as though our minds had clicked in unison, we both stiffened, and slowly turned to one another, both our eyes wide in thrillful adventure seeking.
Yup. We had to go there.
So here I was, attempting to inch myself casually away from all the partygoers, my eyes scanning back and forth as I made my way to the back of the basement, my body tingling with anticipation. At last, having waded and wheedled through the throngs of children, teachers and tables, I slid myself quickly behind a wall, relieving a breath as I looked down the hallway (which led to the band room) and then turned to the staircase on my right, winding it’s way upwards into the head of the church. Craning my sights above I saw, at the top of the fourth or fifth floor, there on the ceiling, a wooden trapdoor. That, was where I needed to go.
Soft of feet, I began to make my way up the curving staircase, my ears stressing for the slightest footstep or approaching voice that mayhap have deterred me from my destination. I passed the second and third floor steadily, and with ease, but as I was ascending the fourth I heard the echo of heeled boots and talking, and I swiftly ducked down onto my belly, and as I listened I recognized the voice of one of the perish nuns. I swallowed. Currently I wasn’t in any danger of being caught, as the staircase remained unoccupied, but that could change at a moments notice. I had to hurry up these last few flights and get to the trapdoor, and once inside I knew that I would be safe.
Sitting myself down quietly on a step, I took off my shoes, tying the laces together and hanging them around my neck, and then nimbly padded up the remaining floors all the way to the top. Once there, in slight panic, I looked to the ladder leading to the hatch, the noise of the party far away but still a nagging reminder of the trouble I’d be in if I was caught, and speedily away I climbed up it and found myself face to face with the trapdoor, and I took a breath.
This door, though looking rather light and thin, was sure to creak. However the latch was simple enough, so taking my chances I slipped the metal pin from out the hole and pushed the hatch open with my dominant hand, the wood emitting a deep, throaty moan, and hurrying up the rest of the way I rolled myself into the small, square little room and then slowly plopped the trapdoor closed once again, freezing immediately listening for any sounds. When none came, I stood up, quite proud of myself, and looked around. It was just storage, as I saw the cardboard Christmas cutouts of the nativity and some other holiday backdrops. But there, in the opposite corner, was another ladder. Metal, built right into the stone wall, and walking up to it I realized I could feel a draft and hear the wind. As I looked up, I saw it led through an opening into another smaller, higher floor above, some twenty feet up, and then continued at least another 10-15 meters, to another trapdoor.
I let out a long winded huff, shoving my hands in my pockets and gazed around the room, soaking in the details of this new undertaking. That was a long way up, without a harness or anyone knowing my whereabouts, on a really rusty looking ladder. I wandered in a circle about the room for around a minute or so, and then clapped my hands together, I had come this far! and after reapplying my shoes I began my ascent up the ladder, my hands pulling at the rungs with each step, gauging their strengths and possible weaknesses.
Up I went, through and past the last porthole (a little tree-stand of a floor with nothing in it) and continued onward, and until I was maybe a merely five feet from the black, rustic looking hatch above, surely leading into the bell tower, I took a second to look down, and got a first hand idea of what 35-plus feet really looks like. Shuddering a little, and shaking the nervous cobwebs from my head, I turned my attention back to the task at hand, scurrying up the last remaining rungs and here again I was at another trapdoor, however, this one didn’t present the sense of ease the other had.
It was thick, solid metal, heavy, full of rust and greenish grey molds, and had an ancient iron-age hook, fastened through a hoop, that looked as if it hadn’t been moved in years. I gripped the long handle of the hook with my right hand and tugged it. Nothing. I tugged again, but it proved firm, as time and ill care had allowed the two metal pieces to meld together. Frustrated, I wrenched away at it, the hook nudging slightly back and forth along the loop, as my attempts to loosen it seemed nearly laughable. Stopping to catch my breath, my arms shaking in both fear of my current height and exhaustion, I eyed the large iron hook, as if to make it feel bad for its stubbornness. If I couldn’t get this unlatched now, what were the odds that Stephanie could later? She did have greater arm strength than me, but not that much. I bit my lip, eyeing up the latch once again. Nah-uh, not today, you little fu – ! and in a surge I let go of the ladder with both my hands and grabbed the hook, curling all ten fingers around it, and pulled and wrangled it with all my might. In an abrupt yank the hook skid out, my body dropping backward as I clung, scrambling with my feet to pull myself back in and stretching my left arm out I grasped hold of the ladder once more, heaving myself up and wrapping my arms around the top rung while gasping as the now unfastened hook dangled and clunked against the stone. It, was done.
I smiled. I had done it. Now, I would open this damnable bloody hatch, and reap my rewards. I took my right hand and pushed against the trapdoor.
“Oof!” I exclaimed, my power barely enough to crack it as a gust of biting wind poured in and the door shut itself with a bang. “Well god dammit!” I shouted, forgetting about my present state of supposed secrecy, and location for that matter. Angrily I pushed against it again, my whole body shaking as the hatch proved to be an absolute monster, most certainly weighing more than a small child. With the air howling through I dropped it once again, it clanging loudly in the echoing shaft.
Using both hands was out of the question, as I had almost killed myself last time, and like my father would say, “Pick your battles.” Yet I had come so far! I growled, and clenched my teeth, not allowing myself to get discourage, and then a light bulb came on in my head.
My head! Of course!, and I stepped my feet up a rung on the ladder, pressing the top of my skull against the hatch and pushed. Slowly I lifted the metal sheet, creaking as it crawled upward, the wind slapping my now ratted hair against my face, and in one mighty riveting gruff I flipped the trapdoor wide open with a clash and cried “Ha! Ha ha HA!” and limply I climbed my way up into the tower, slumping up on my belly with one of the giant bells hovering above me, the night air smelling sweet and the city lights and traffic lusciously bright and noisy, seven stories below.
I laid there for awhile, taking it all in, but I knew I couldn’t stay. The goal of this quest was simply to know if it could be done—and now it could be. I’d have to report to Stephanie first thing tomorrow, but for now, it was time to head back, as I had no concept for how long I’d been gone.
The trip back down was much easier, as it usually is. I decided to leave the top hatch open, as I figured nobody would really know it had been compromised (to which they didn’t, for well over a year) and beaded in sweaty exhilaration I worked my way all the way back to the very first trapdoor, closing it with absolute luxury behind me, and swooping in the pin effortlessly I hopped down from the last ladder and onto the floor at the top of the tall, winding staircase, feeling blithe. Perhaps too blithe.
As I descended the staircase without a care in the world, suddenly, near the bottom, came a voice, and as I tried to duck back towards the wall I heard a Sister’s shrill shout, “Hey! HEY! Get down from there! You can’t be up there!” and in spontaneous blood-pumping decision I bolted down a flight, jumping stairs, and shot into the church, entering right by the pulpit. I froze, the church entirely deserted, and hearing the ninny nun coming up the stairs I sprinted down the main aisle, the Sister’s loud boots and cries fading behind me as I reached the end and without stopping or so much slowing I dipped my fingers into the holy water font and crossed myself (bless me Father for I have sinned!) and banged through the huge doors out into the entrance hall of the cathedral, doing a scrambling circle-take as I bounded to the right and down the flight of stairs, swiftly entering back into the basement and sneaky-spryly I meandered myself back into the Mardi Gras celebration, the crotchety nun surely lost in my young-legged dust.
The rest of the night I had to spend most my time avoiding the bulldoggy woman, but she never caught me, regardless of her tenacious tries to do so. Thinking back I really got to hand it to her, the old crow really gave me a run for my money.
“Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.” – Ella Williams
That next eighth grade year, Stephanie and I visited the bell tower frequently, and even lovingly dubbed it our Owl Room. We set claim to it, and even carved in our names, though I can not rightly describe our fits of laughing astonishment when we discovered someone else had beat us to it! (RMT, whoever you are, props.) It was mine and Stephanie’s sacred secret, a sacred secret I of course broke when I thought it the perfect way to woo my current crush at the time (ah yes, love, makes us all stupid). However, she didn’t seem very into it, probably because she was a she and didn’t quite comprehend. Nevertheless the bell tower was special, and sometimes in High School, during rough times, I would find my way there. The happiness that overtook me the day I went back and found that the lock had been removed (it’s true, they locked it up the end of our eighth year) nearly brought me to tears. I thought of telling Stephanie, but I never did. Perhaps it was selfish of me, but they locked it up soon again, yet no matter to me. It was simply a good feeling.
My youth was filled with a lot of this; I’ve got paper stacks up the wazoo of weird, nerdy, and crazy stuff I got myself into, and many friends who shared in a lot of those adventures. When you refuse to give up dreaming, the consequences never outweigh the rewards. If I had a time machine today, it’s absolutely true that I would go back and slap my younger self across the face and yell “GO TO CLASS!”, and knowing myself back then, it wouldn’t have done a lick of good. Sitting here, I can never deny that I had fun. The world is your backyard, and it should be. I don’t care how old you are, go out there and get in a little trouble. As adults, telling and reliving stories of adventure is a way to remind the mind that everyday has the makings of a great tale.
We just need to remember that to start a new voyage, we must first push the boat out.
Thanks for this piece go to my very old and frazzled disconjointed dairy. You’ve been a good friend.