When I was a boy of about eight or nine, living in the backwoods of Virginia, which are today's Washington, DC suburbs, I had a strange encounter.
At that age, I was a runner, leaper, jumper, and skipper. Barefoot, I would fly down the paths and dirt roads at reckless speeds without fear of obstacles or interruptions.
There was a dirt road on a ridge above our shack that dead-ended about a half a mile past our humble dwelling.
On a mild summer morning, I ran up to that ridge and started skipping toward the dead end. My skips were legendary at our elementary school for their height and hang time. With every skip, I looked for that instant when I was defying gravity neither falling nor rising. I believed that at that instant all things were possible. The impossible was ordinary. I got high on those instances and I needed to skip higher and longer. And each skip would be more wondrous than the last.
That was a perfect day for skipping and at the apex of my jump I would close my eyes and revel in the instance.
When I opened my eyes in the middle of an extraordinary skip, I saw my foot was going to land on the back of a thick black snake gliding across the road. Before I could even think about contorting my body to miss the cold-blooded crawler there was a kind of reset. I landed perfectly, well past the reptile. I stopped, twisted my head, and looked back. The snake paused and looked directly into my eyes. And for a moment that connection between the snake and I was like the instance of weightlessness in my skipping. The snake seemed to be saying, "What the hell just happened?" The serpent slid across the road into the bushes.
I stood there in the dappled sunlight, feeling the light breeze, asking myself the snake's question over and over.
I walked back down the road. I never walked when I could run.
As I walked, I picked up a stick and made random marks in the dirt. It was like I had gone back in time and restarted my jump. I was aware of the snake and knew I could clear it by a good distance. A do-over. And the snake felt it too. For a moment I was dizzy, disoriented, and confused about everything. And then I was home. I nodded at my grandmother and went to my bedroom. I fell onto my bed and closed my eyes. I tried to reimagine the whole thing. Maybe nothing had happened out of the ordinary. Maybe I had a bit of sunstroke.
My grandmother came in and checked my forehead temperature. She asked me what was wrong. I hugged her hard and started crying. I wasn't even aware of my tears at first. She rocked me like I was a baby. I drifted off to sleep in her arms.
The next morning at breakfast I told my grandmother what had happened. She just grunted, looked thoughtful for a second, and went on eating her breakfast.
I pondered the incident as I completed my chores. Was it God or the devil playing tricks on me? I know that the incident was real. I was skipping when it happened. I wondered if I could skip my way to the answer.
After my chores, I was back on the road. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and, I wished the snake were here to witness this.
I skipped to unbelievable heights. I hit the instance again and again each time for a longer duration.
And here I am telling you this story. I know I'm 88 years old. But I don't know what happened between that last skip and now. I need to go back. I have to go back to my grandmother's house as a boy.
I screamed, "I want to go back!"
The nurse's aide tried in vain to comfort me as she wheeled me back to my room.