The activity was sponsored by my Biology teacher. He was a tall man, with icy blue eyes like Locke's, and knew how to smile with them and not his mouth. Fancy trick, that. Try it.
He was notoriously lax about observing us as we were on-duty with the club, so I spent many a study hall hour in the little office off of the stairs, goofing off with other kids from my class, trying to find cartoons on the old black and white television tucked away on one of the shelves.
Because I was always the trustworthy one (believable, able to tell lies, a two-sided girl), I was often set as the guard for when a tunnel excursion was underway. Back in the storage area, where our collected aluminum cans awaited recycling day, there were doors that led to maintenance tunnels on the interior of the main building. Stairs and ladders downwards led to darker, less-trafficked areas. All of it was strictly off-limits to students, and even the janitorial staff had no use for most of the deeper, narrower tunnels that led underground from the old sections to the newer construction near the fieldhouse.
So, I'd sit topside with my psychology book or maybe a paper journal, or even a deck or cards, and I'd wave goodbye to the adventurers with their coats and their flashlights and their nonchalant chatter totally betrayed by the glint of excitement in their eyes. I felt like their guardian, and looked forward to my turn in the rotation more often than not.
The tunnels were cool. We were often so worried about getting back to the "surface" (read: first floor) by the end of the study hall period that we moved quickly through them, trying to scare each other, trying to keep our own squeals and screams muffled so that we wouldn't get caught.
We never really did end up making those maps we talked about, the ones that charted out every last tunnel, every shortcut, every set of old water pipes you could wriggle through, every pile of old furniture, every army of old chalkboards, and end up somewhere new. Even now, my memory of our usual paths is blurry.
There was one day we found an entire classroom, tucked away, practically walled off from the rest of the school. We made up horror stories about its original purpose and why it was sealed away from the current student body. We'd be sitting cross-legged on top of the old desks in our jackets, pushing flashlights up under our chins. For added effect, we held aloft frogs in jars, floating ghostily in their greenish preservative. We pretended that they were the missing students of Aught-Something, shrunken and transformed, and made to spend the rest of their days slumbering in goo far beneath the thundering feet of their fellow teenagers.
I wish we'd taken pictures, or something. Gotten one of those disposable cameras. Maybe taken captain's logs, or done up a little pirate's nest a la Polly Plummer. Maybe left a letter detailing our adventures for whoever would manage to sneak down there long after we were gone.
But, the club was disbanded. Not any fault of ours, to be sure, but it was one of those administrative adult decisions that made no sense at the time. There was nothing to be done. Recycling cans and cleaning up the occasional residential block of its gutter trash was really not considered a good use of our time. Many of us just went back to our study halls. Spent the time after school gluing glittery letters to paper banners for Homecoming. Whatever.
I still wonder what I would think of the stories I might have written, had I dared to make a mark on those days.
I wonder what the Present Me would get out of it, having a record of those times, when there was excitement, and even the whisper of academic doom were we ever to get caught.
Sometimes, in the thick of it, we get so tired of it all, when it's not really about the tired.
It's all about the legacy, isn't it? These footholds you have all sent out for others to grapple onto -- it's all part and parcel of this adventure we've all taken -- into places we never thought we'd go.
I find myself ... almost envious of where some of you have been. And of what you've created. I wish I could hold it all, right here, forever.
Something like this shock, though: this is not some fleeting, rushed journey through some old cinderblock-lined corridors. Nico's apparently raised his stubborn head again and warned of us a repeat performance.
Maybe I haven't told you everything about my life.
But I need your stories now, more than ever, because I just might need to map the twisty tunnels of my urban life if this continues on. I just might need them.