It wasn’t my usual kind of podcast, but it came on as I was walking. I half listened as I searched for asparagus. It was something about bats. Rabies. Shots. The woman said she had to get the shots just because a bat was in her house. The doctor said the teeth of the bats are so small you won’t even wake up if they bite you in your sleep. I searched the ground for green stems. And then they said something about rabies in your system. That it could last for a year? Or did they say years? How long? Like decades, or a couple years? I was really worried now. Really listening. Because surely we were all exposed, if not bitten, in the complete darkness of Crystal Cave on our fifth grade field trip.
The teachers were so excited as they passed out the permission slips. My first thoughts were, “Here we go again…” I can’t say there was actually one paper I ever wanted my mother to sign. Each one sent us off to the deep woods. A cave. A bog. Stomping. Roaming. Through fields covered in snow. In darkness. Sometimes both.
I brought the paper home reluctantly. Dangling it out the bus window, hoping… Crumpling it in my pocket. My mother pulled it out in the laundry. “Oh, you forgot this…” she said. “Forgot…” I thought. “So you’re going to Crystal Cave?” she asked. “I don’t have to,” I thought. “Well, that sounds like, you know, fun…” she tried to convince both of us. (Knowing full well it was something she would never enjoy.) “Or a nightmare,” I said under my breath. “What’s that?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. “Fun, I guess.” She took that awful pen and signed it, almost apologetically. “We’ll go to the mall this weekend,” she said, touching my face.
I laid awake the night before the field trip. Still trying to think of ways to get out of it. What were my symptoms for strep throat? Mono. People got mono all the time. I was a terrible liar. I kissed my mother goodbye, as if going off to war, and got on the bus.
As far as I know, we all survived. But there were bats. Lined up on the side of the cave. I know I saw them. We could have all been bitten by those silent killers. I googled Crystal Cave after coming home from my walk. They are still open. Still in business. If lots of fifth graders had died, surely they would have shut the place down. Maybe we were safe after all. Still…
I hear dogs howling this morning. They are hunting wild boar. In the woods, on the side of the small mountain (large hill) I walk each day. Apparently we have a surplus. I saw the signs posted yesterday. It sounds exactly like something we would have ridden to see in a big yellow school bus. I smile. And give myself permission to find my own path. My own way.