THE LOST BOYS
This is a true story about a boy, a tunnel and a train.
The boy is me, in the late 1950s, when I was twelve or thirteen, growing up in Windsor, Ontario. The tunnel is a long railway underpass, beneath a very busy four-lane highway. The train is a heavy freight, pulled by two powerful diesel locomotives, and behind it, up to hundred cars loaded with auto parts bound for the big car plants that made Detroit the “Motor City.”
Once my friends and I descended into this deep railway valley, we were far beyond the scrutiny and control of our parents in a lawless, Peter Pan world of Lost Boys. Here I learned to swear and to fight, to steal candy and cigarettes, to barter Playboy magazines that fuelled my early sexual fantasies for months. But the most important thing to understand about The Valley of Lost Boys is that we were all drug addicts, heavily addicted. Not heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or nicotine, no, the
David Floody As a Boy in 1959
drug we were addicted to was adrenaline.
We challenged each other to do stupid, dangerous things to prove we had guts, that we were cool, that we truly belonged in The Valley of Lost Boys. One day I even took a shot from my best friend’s Daisy air rifle held against my bare chest. Phut! The shock and pain were incredible. I had to cry out and squeeze that copper bee-bee like popping a pimple. It was stupid. But that’s just the way it was in The Valley of Lost Boys.
Then it occurred to me one day that no boy I knew had ever stood inside that tunnel while a train thundered through, a foot-and-a-half in front of his face. I decided to be the first and make myself the king of the whole damn valley. Of course, if I chickened out with all my friends watching, I wouldn’t be the king of the valley, I’d be the clown.
So one sunny summer afternoon, I walked ten feet into the dark tunnel alone and sat on the steel rail to wait for the next train. Anxious, arguing with myself and wondering what my mother would do if she ever found out.
At last I felt the approach of a train through that steel rail. A minute later that train looked bigger and faster and more dangerous than any train I could remember. The red and black diesels were filthy with dirt and soot and grime that almost obscured the twin headlights of the lead diesel. Their exhaust smoke trailed low behind them like angry black thunderclouds. The steel wheels on the steel rails sounded lickity-split, lickity-split, lickity-split. The train was almost on top of me! But it was too big, too scary! I didn’t have the guts and I stood poised to run out the end of the tunnel to safety . . .
And that’s when the adrenalin kicked in.
Instead, I ran deeper into the tunnel and flattened my back against the cement wall, my arms extended like Christ on a cross. A second later, my whole universe was one of smoke and shaking and sound. The smoke stung my eyes and I had to close them. It got up my nose and I couldn’t breathe, so I opened my mouth and tried to breathe only through it. The noise was shattering. I desperately wanted to put my hands over my ears and block some of it out! But what if my elbows stuck out too far? The train would snag me and smear me against the cement like a bug on a windshield. So I just stood there . . . and stood there . . . and stood there . . . and it was the most terrifying experience of my life to that point. Nothing since has even come close.
At last, the train was by me. The turbulence of its wake peeled me from the wall like cheap flypaper, and I collapsed on the tracks, shaking and crying. It was a long time before I was able to walk out of the tunnel, on unsteady legs, into the sunlight of the valley.
But soon my whole body suffused with energy because I had done it! I had done it! And I was the king of the whole damn valley!
Now I couldn’t wait to brag about it to my friends and challenge them to do the same. Then I noticed something. And to this day, I don’t see how I could have missed it. But my hair, my arms, my tee shirt, the front of my jeans were covered in what looked like bits of black and white snow. Huh? So I whipped around and watched as dozens of pigeons began to swoop back into the tunnel to take up their roosts again.
I felt stupid. All the time I was standing in there, the train was shaking loose that pigeon shit and it was raining down all over me.
Now I was embarrassed. Frantic, I began to brush it out of my hair, off of my arms, off of my tee shirt, off of the front of my jeans . . . The front of my jeans? The front of my jeans was soaking wet! Soaking! And then I didn’t feel like the king of the valley anymore. At some point, without my knowledge or permission, my brain had told my body to piss itself.
Now I was in a real quandary: What should I tell my friends? Just lie? Pretend it never happened? Brag only about what I had actually done? But what if they challenged me to do it a second time and my body betrayed me again, with all of them watching? Then I would truly be that clown.
And as I made my way home, trying to avoid anyone who might notice my embarrassment, that was the only question on my mind. Now I won’t tell you what decision I came to that day. But think about it. If you were that boy, in that tunnel, with that train, what would you have done?
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