Chapter 1: No Place to Hide
I am a child. I am playing in the back yard with the neighbor’s kids. It is a yard with a neatly-trimmed lawn –even the loose ends of grass, dandelions and clover that would normally overlap the concrete pathway have been trimmed. The exposed dirt forms a thin, black frame around the steps that hug the back of the house. The grass in the yard has been cut so short the summer sun has burned patches in the middle to a pale yellow. A chain-link fence marks the property. The neighbor to the right has a crab-apple tree that hangs over into our yard. If I touch his apples too early in the season, he yells at me in Italian.
I think I’m about four years old. We’re playing hide-and-go-seek. It’s the Italian man’s son, Ricky, my brother and I. There may have been others. I can’t remember. I’ve decided to hide in a garbage can resting up against the house. There are two of them, side by side. I hide in the one on the right. While I am in there, I can hear the other children’s voices coming and going from the front to the back yard. Their voices are muffled from inside of the can, but I can hear how far away or how close they are as they sprint past. I’m so excited, my heart is racing. They are in the front of the house. They are running back around the side. They are standing right beside me. I can hear them giggling.
The lid of the metal garbage can has a sealing option. If you push down on it hard enough, it snaps into place, locked. This is done to prevent wild animals from getting into it, although, there are no wild animals in Winnipeg that I know of. Someone lifts the lid of the garbage can, letting the sunlight stream in on top of me. I look up but I can’t make out who it is. The sun is directly above them obscuring their face. I only see a dark outline of a figure peering in, laughing. The lid slams shut.
I brace my feet on each side of the bottom of the can and push upwards on the lid. It doesn’t budge. I can feel a bulge in the middle of the underside of the lid. Someone is sitting on it to prevent me from opening the can. I scream. I push. The lid does not budge. Panicking, I scream louder and louder shoving the inside of the lid with my shoulder, straining all my weight upwards. I can hear more laughing outside of the can. The lid will not move. My voice begins to lessen in volume and the blackness around me starts to swirl with colors. I cannot breathe. The can is airtight. It must be running out of air. I make one last attempt at an upward thrust, but it is in vain. I am slowly passing out from a lack of oxygen. Everything goes black.
I am awoken to the sunshine that lights up the inside of my closed eyelids. I am being picked up by my armpits. I am awake, but I am limp and cannot walk. The person lifting me might be my mother, but I am not sure. When I ask her about it many years later, as an adult, she denies knowing anything about the event, as does my brother. I have been claustrophobic all my life because of something that may never have happened. It makes me wonder what else about me isn’t real.