Something Lost

First published in Haibun Today 12:2, June 2018. Prose originally written in December of 2004, with the haiku added in June of 2005. Gratitude to Theresa A. Cancro and Cyndi Lloyd for their insightful comments on my “Something Lost” haibun in Haibun Today 12:3, September 2018, reprinted below. See also Childhood Journaling.       +       +       +

I had to stay back from the water. Not just any water, but Niagara Falls. Underground. Inside the waterfall. A white bandage around my head.

         My brother and sister got to step to the edge, my mother and father holding their hands in the wet stone tunnel. Though we’d each been given thick yellow raincoats, I couldn’t get my stitches wet and had to stay about twenty feet back. The roar of the water made it hard to hear, but Mummy had yelled to me to stay back, holding me there before going forward herself, to see the back side of the great waterfall, to become drenched by the spray, to marvel in the thunderous shaking of the bedrock.

         I don’t recall how long they stood there, getting wet while I stayed dry. I don’t remember the tunnels or steps (or was there an elevator?) that got us there. All I remember is that ache of staying back, the frustration of not getting the full adventure—the moment of losing that experience.

                 scuffed boots—

                the rippling puddle

                cold to my finger

        I still have the scar. Above my left eye. Seven stitches. The summer of 1967. Our family newly transplanted to Canada from England, visiting Expo 67 in Montreal. We had a Starcraft tent trailer, parked on a wide hill overlooking the French-Canadian city. My father relaxed on a lawn chair by the trailer door, his feet extended out in front of him. For some reason I had to run into the trailer, to get some toy, or maybe my mother. I never got there. I went sprawling, tripping over my dad’s outstretched feet. Head first against the trailer’s iron step, narrowly missing my eye, deeply cutting the corner of my forehead.

        I don’t remember pain. Or blood. Just walking out of the doctor’s office with my head bandaged, and climbing into the Mercedes. I remember getting a tick in the back of my neck in Bergen, Norway, 1972, my parents “operating” on me with unsterilized tweezers as I bent over, face down, between them in our Commer Highwayman motorhome with the yellow British license plate number of KTW 866J. It never stopped me from seeing any fjord or stave church.

        But I didn’t get to see Niagara Falls, inside. I had to stay back. I’ve wanted to return ever since. If you can still go inside, down the stone tunnels, I don’t know. But someday I’ll go and see. Someday I’ll try to get it back, to get back whatever it was that I lost.

                toddler’s birthday—

                I run my finger

                along his first scar

Theresa A. Cancro on Michael Dylan Welch’s “Something Lost”

Commentary first published in Haibun Today 12:3, September 2018.

        by Theresa A. Cancro

Michael Dylan Welch’s “Something Lost” struck a chord with me. I, too, remember the summer of 1967, a watershed season for me at age eleven.

        Michael’s description of his childhood accident leading to a bandaged head and ultimately his missing out on the most exciting part of a family visit to Niagara Falls triggered my memory of an incident that very same summer. It also involved a hill, tumbling, a scar of sorts and loss.

        After dinner every evening, my friend and I would head out, bikes in tow, to a nearby hilly street used almost exclusively by residents, where there was little, if any, traffic. It was the same hill we had sledded as kids with my friend’s younger siblings. During the summer, we started riding double, one of us steering the bike, the other hanging on from the back as we careened down the slope. I don’t remember clearly who was at the front that evening, although I think I was riding in back. When we abruptly turned left where the street dead ended, a car swerved to avoid us. That’s the last thing I recall. Later, I found out we’d hit against the curb, both flying off and crashing into the pavement. I was knocked unconscious and my friend suffered injury to her face, one tooth knocked out. A cascade of events unfolded: Neighbors called our parents, someone called an ambulance; flashing lights and confusion were everywhere, according to my mother. I woke up in the emergency room, a doctor prompting me to touch my nose, testing my reflexes. I was told that in the ambulance I’d repeatedly wanted to know where my friend was, then asked if I was dead.

        Like Michael, I don’t remember much pain. I recovered from the concussion, my friend had dental work to restore her tooth, but the accident marked the beginning of the end of my childhood. Unlike Michael, I have no scar from that moment to mark the event, yet it rendered an invisible cicatrix. My friend eventually moved away, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. But something had been lost. Yes, “Something Lost” was the carefree innocence of my childhood and the sense of safe haven, both of which I took for granted. Life, as I learned sooner than I’d have liked, was full of unpredictable pitfalls and turns of fate. The accident defined an abrupt moment, a threshold over which I tumbled into my adolescence toward adulthood.

Cyndi Lloyd on Michael Dylan Welch’s “Something Lost”

Commentary first published in Haibun Today 12:3, September 2018.

        by Cyndi Lloyd

Michael Dylan Welch’s haibun title caught my attention right away—the familiarity of “something lost,” something I can relate to (as I’m sure so many of us can).

        Welch’s childhood experience of almost losing an eye triggered a childhood incident I haven’t thought about in years. When I was 10 years old, I almost lost my right eye. As children, our parents are always telling us what to do and not do: don’t get too close to the edge, wash your hands, don’t talk to strangers, mind your manners, etc.

        Welch was told, after his accident, “to stay back from the water.” From a young age, my dad always told me to never ride another person’s bicycle. One day, after having spent the night at my best friend’s house, we rode bikes. As I didn’t have my bicycle, my friend let me ride hers and she rode her brother’s. I remember feeling different, special somehow, riding her bicycle—a purple and white bike with purple tassels streaming from the handlebars and a white basket in front. My bike was blue without any adornments. We sped downhill. A grip from one of her handlebars broke off and down I went, the corner of my eye crashing into the metal edge of the bar. I remember feeling stunned and seeing blood everywhere. The gash was deep enough to require a skin graft, which the doctor took from my hip area. After the accident, Dad grounded me. It was summer, and I lost a whole week of play time with friends. It’s interesting how something can be lost whether or not we’ve listened to our parents.

        The prose speaks to me about the idea of an accident interrupting a person’s perception of time and what he or she thinks is lost in that moment and the moments to follow. Of course, loss will continue to happen as we age, and it will happen to everyone, with different types of losses throughout our lives, whether it’s losing a job, keys, a home, eyesight, or someone we love, etc. Welch’s concluding haiku speaks to the beginning of this:

                toddler’s birthday—

                I run my finger

                along his first scar

I wonder whether this child will remember his first scar and how he got it. Life seems to begin with a “first scar,” and as the years go by, each of us collects more scars, whether physical or psychological, small or big. And usually we end up wondering, What if. . . .