Aquarium Bones

“Be careful what secrets you unearth, for the secrets that unearth you are not far behind.” ~Theodicus

I used to have an aquarium. Not the kind with fish. That would have been too simple, or too complicated, whichever you prefer. But the kind with treasure in it. You know the sort, the one with sand at the bottom, a little rake up against the glass, and the opportunity to mine for gold, or scarabs, or just the faded bones of fish who used to live in those environs before the water went away.

It seemed morbid to me at the time, the idea of an aquarium without water, a place without the one thing that gives it its name (aqua = water), the idea that “once upon a time” and “nowadays” were two distinct terms to label that glass walled cage. Eventually, though, I got used to the idea that nothing was as it seemed, not just in the aquarium, but in the wide world as well. I realized we are all nothing but aquarium bones, waiting to be unearthed when someone sifts through our lives many years from now.

I think of all the people who have come before, all the generations and generations of folks who felt, in their lifetimes, that the things they did mattered, that the time they spent was worthwhile. Continue reading “Aquarium Bones”

These Shriveled Roots

I remember watching Roots in 7th grade. I guess Mr. Jones felt we were mature enough for the themes of slavery, racism, and just what it means to be human. For me watching that entire miniseries was depressing because growing up with that specter of slavery like a shadow over everything was hard enough in … Continue reading These Shriveled Roots


indexThe house was empty, it seemed, save for the history that so obviously still resided within its graffitied walls. Its floors were piled high with rubbish, almost as if a dumpster had been upended above them, but peculiarly the refuse had no noticeable scent. Either that or my sense of smell just wasn’t good after being in the house for more than five minutes. The stairs leading upward were rotten from the bottom up, a sure sign that no one was up there.

It was a Saturday. I was 16 or 17 — probably 17 — and it was a late spring afternoon in North Philadelphia. We were supposed to be in church, the five of us, wiling away the afternoon before the vesper service at sunset, but we were squirrely. Our parents were all otherwise occupied (having large scale conversations, sleeping in the kindergarten classroom, eating lunch, or in one of the various meetings that would crop up), and we were old enough to be on our own. So we did some exploring.

North Philadelphia was entirely run down in those days — in the early-90s — so it wasn’t hard to find some abandoned houses to explore. The hard part was making sure our nice church clothes didn’t get ruined from the experience. We would actually pick up some non-church kids along the way, gathering steam and people for a major expedition some days.

The kids from North Philly were a lot more world-weary than we were, even though we were the same age. There’s something to be said for growing up in the ghetto, with no pretense that there was something more to the world. They lived in the world of drug deals, drive-by shootings, and five families living in one row home. Continue reading “Empty”