Story and photos(except the frog) by Kloipy (Seth Dombach)
I’m watching my son out the living room window. He’s covered in mud and waving a willow branch above his head like some ancient beast who just discovered fire. He’s ten years old and still in the throes of youth. His worries are whether or not he’ll have to go to bed at a decent time and if he’ll get the 10 speed he asked us about for his birthday. His life isn’t complicated yet and I feel a profound sadness knowing that in only a few short years that will change too.
He is a part of me and yet he is also a mystery. There is something wild within him and I’m sure I had it once, but now with the amnesia of time, it’s like watching a living exhibit on a strange creature. Like an animal taking its first steps on solid ground. The world around him must be so unique; filled with so much wonder and fear. I’m desensitized to it now. Everything is normal now. Nothing shocks or surprises me. I look at a tree and I don’t see a fort. Just a tree. My mind recognizes it and doesn’t stop to register it as anything of importance. It’s like when you are young the world is seen in a kaleidoscope and the older you get it is grayscale. I would give up so much for just one day back. One day to appreciate it, to see with fresh un-jaded eyes. To lie on the ground in the cool of the morning, counting dragon clouds and hunting crickets in the tall grass. To leap blindly from rock to rock in the bended creek, to run full bore through the cornfields, bellowing out a roar. But those days are gone for me now as it goes for all of us.
I’ll never forget the moment when my childhood had ended and the catalyst was a frog:
I was a bit older than my son is now when it happened, but my youth was not as filled up with distractions as his is now. My parents had one phone, our television (which was rarely on) had only 3 stations that worked sporadically, and the only air conditioning we had was a metallic rotating fan that blew warm air on you as you slept.
A small stream ran through the woods past my parent’s house. I’d spend countless hours out there, trudging over fall trees and lifting rocks looking for bugs and snakes. I looked like a miniscule conquistador, blazing a trail leaving destruction in my wake. I was alone and my companion was my imagination. The forest around me grew to multiple realities and places of my choosing.
It was late spring and warm already by the afternoons. I was dressed in shorts and knee highs and carried my dad’s satchel around my neck (filled with a couple of Coke cans and peanut butter sandwiches cut in halves in plastic wrap). A Swiss army knife in my back pocket (which I pleaded with my parents to get me as much as my son begged for the ten speed) and a Pirates baseball cap. While walking, I would grab a broken branch, using it as a walking stick and a machete. I was unstoppable in my mission of exploration; that is until the frog.
I had stopped by the stream to eat after a few hours of walking. I forced the food down as quickly as possible to get back to the trail. I cracked a can of Coke and swigged it down, hiccupping as the carbonation tickled my throat. With the can tipped by my eye caught something green and big sitting on a rock in the stream. I tossed the empty can in the satchel and sat still looking at it with all my attention. It was a bullfrog, but bigger than most bullfrogs I had run into. To my young eyes it looked to be about the size of a cat and my mind immediately went into overdrive. I needed to catch that frog, bring it home, and stuff it in an aquarium that I would fill with grass and sticks and a bowl of water for it to sit in. My mind raced with the possibility of catching bugs and bringing them home, watching and waiting for this carnivorous creature to lash it’s tongue out and snatch them up. I knew I could freak out my mom and sister with it, but dad would be impressed by my trapping abilities.
I went up on my toes in a crouch and slowly advance toward the frog. I knew it could sense me coming. Its eyes were wide; staring directly at me. We sat like this together for a minute or so. Some sort of telepathic conversation where we both understood what was going to happen. Then with a jolt, the frog leapt from the rock into the stream, and I dashed toward it; soaking my shoes and socks. I grabbed it as it tried to cross. It kicked its legs and slipped through my hands. With precision I smashed my arms into the stream and grabbed it again under its arms. It stopped fighting and accepted its fate as my new pet. I walked back to the bank, scaling the muddy edge carefully as not to drop it again. Once on flat ground I looked at my catch. The frog still was staring at me with a look of ambivalence. The rousing chase meant no more to him anymore. He could care less about this giant holding him. After a moment I tossed him into the satchel and closed it up expect for a space for air to get in. I expected him to fight it and jump around, but he didn’t. He just sat still as it rocked back and forth against my hip as I started the walk back home.
Soon I had come to the halfway point. On the way back I was pretending to be a GI in the jungle ducking and weaving through the trees under enemy fire. I had already forgotten about the frog and was wrapped up in another childhood moment. I was running down a leaf covered hill when I hit a wet patch of moss. I went sprawling like a backwards diver. The satchel flew from neck as my arms smacked the ground. I brushed the dirt of my hands and looked over to where the bag had come to rest, instantly remembering the frog. I needed to check it and make sure it had made it. I slowly opened it and peered inside. Like out of some horror flick my friend and I would watch at the behest of my mother, the frog jumped towards me. I almost went down on my back as I dodged the flying amphibian. Behind me the frog landed, tumbled once, and started hopping back toward the stream. I turned to chase it but I was not quick enough and it had made it into the stream and back up to another rock. I was taken over by rage that it had tried to escape me (and also that I was too slow to get it again). Without thinking, acting on some sort of primal instinct, I scoured the edge of stream. In what seemed to be possession I found a large piece of slate and threw it as hard as I could at the frog. The second the rock left my hand I snapped back to reality and regretted my actions as I watched in slow motion as the rock propelled with pin-point precision at the frog.
With a sickening wet smack, the rock hit the frog and broke into two pieces with the force of the throw. Like a rubber toy falling off a shelf, the frog tumbled off the rock into the stream and started to be carried away. I ran along the bank following it until its body got caught up in some tree roots. I stared at the lifeless body of the frog, one eye gone and a small trickle of blood coming from the green of its head. And then I started to cry. I wept; big lumbering sobs that shook me. I had no idea why I killed it; still don’t to this day; but I realized that had taken a life without thinking about it. And its death was now my responsibility.
I walked the rest of the way home. I did not pretend to be anywhere. The space station or haunted mansion was gone. It was just a boy; alone amongst the towering trees. I never told my parents what happened that day; in fact this is the first time I’ve told it. But I changed that day. I couldn’t look at things the same way anymore. Sure, I forgot about it after a few days and life moved on. I got into sports and soon girls and cars. I grew up and became a man and now a father. But every once in awhile, out of the clear blue, I would picture that rock hitting that frog, and it’s body being carried downstream, and I would feel ashamed.
Now, my son has moved on to the hill. Rolling down, tumbling end over end towards the bottom. And I’d like to say he’ll be perfect. That his life will not have to have this moment. But I know that’s a lie. Coming of age is itself a rite of passage. It is bittersweet no matter which way it comes to you. And you are never really the same.