If I were a child right now, I would be very afraid of what lies behind my house. We have a backyard with a fenced in area for the dog, some apple trees, and beyond our property line, a cornfield.
When Shane and I were kids, the cornfield was a place of mystery. While we did not understand what property or trespassing was, we knew the cornfield did not belong to us. But on rare occasions, when the geese next store did not scare us back into the house, Shane and I would venture out into the cornfield.
One day, when the spring thaw had set in and the temperature had risen enough to create rain instead of snow, Shane and I decided we were going to play outside. We must have been 3 and 6 at the time, respectively. Even though there wasn't snow on the ground, it was still bitter cold and mucky from the rain, so my mother bundled us up in our snow pants, winter jackets, gloves, books, and hats. In other words, the works. She anticipated the possibility of us getting a little dirty if we played in the cornfield, warning us not go too far.
Shane and I trekked out back to the edge of our property, which seemed like miles to our stubby legs but was really only an acre. The cornfield stretched out in front of us. There is a small drop between our property and the cornfield and we helped each other make it down into the field. At the time it felt like we were wilderness explorers, discovering uncharted territory.
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The corn stalks were cut down to the ground, harvesting long over. And the ground was muck. As soon as we stepped beyond the dip, our boots began to stick. Something in my stomach that I didn't yet know was my instinct told me that we should go back, but we kept going. Our feet began to sink into the mud deeper and deeper as we headed farther into the field. Shane and I were walking hand in hand, partially out of fear, partially because his legs were wobbly.
And then our boots sank so deeply into the mud that when we attempted our next steps, our boots would not lift out of the ground. We looked at each other with fear in our eyes. I felt like the Nothing was going to get us.
The Nothing was an all-consuming void, a darkness, that was taking over the world of Fantasia in The NeverEnding Story. The warrior-boy Atreyu was the only one who could save Fantasia, but he was not alone in his journey. His faithful horse, Artax, was there with him. On their journey, the pair enter the Swamps of Sadness. The Swamps are a desolate, dreary place. As Atreyu and Artax make their way into the Swamps, Artax falters. He stops, overcome with the sadness of his swamps. Atreyu pleads with Artax to keep going, but the horse sinks into the Swamps, and the Nothing claimed another victim.
My little brother started crying. I started crying. I didn't want us to sink into the ground and be claimed by the Nothing like Artax. We started screaming "MOM! MOM! HELP! MOM!" at the top of our lungs. But we must have been too far out for her to hear or see us, not listening to her instructions to stay where she could see us. Our boots were sinking deeper and deeper. We stood out of our boots in our bare socks. Snot poured out of our noses, tears streamed down our faces. We thought that the Nothing was coming.
I looked at Shane as our stockinged feet began to sink into the muck. I was 6 years old and not very strong. In my young mind, I knew what I had to do. I had to save my brother's life. So I picked him up out of the Nothing as he howled. I began walking, very slowly but very determined. I was still sticking in the muck. My socks came off. I knew I would let the Nothing take me before it took my brother.
I don't know how Shane never felt heavy in my arms. I don't know how I managed to carry my brother over the dip. But it happened, and I continued to carry him all the way back to our front door.
Our boots were never recovered.
Looking back on things, I know that we were never in any real danger. We were not in the Swamps of Sadness. The Nothing was not really going to get us. But none of that mattered at the time.
Saving Shane from the cornfield is one of my most vivid memories. I hold it dearly and at the time felt as if I had really saved his life.
Sometime in between basic training and deployment, Shane and I reflected on our time in the cornfield. He told me that he no longer needed my saving. That he was a man. It broke my heart but I did not let him know.
I often feel helpless and wish that I could have done something to prevent Shane dying. I want to have been at Able Main with him. I want to take his place. I want another chance to save him from the Nothing.