There’s a picture taken from the porch of the house I grew up in of our carriage shed across the road. A lily white snow blankets the scene. The building crouches, hiding behind its broken pediment, fallen on an awkward diagonal across the wide front door. The structure is collapsed lengthwise down the middle, its steeple presumably splintered in the sunken heap. In the wreck of the interior, a large structural beam lies disconnected and alone.
The previous owner of our property must have had the chain installed when the carriage shed was built. Thick and rusted, it looped over the stout beam that ran crosswise at the center of the building. I imagine it had a purpose once. Positioning plow sharpeners. Loading hay wagons. Hoisting vehicle engines.
My last summer there, my best friend Billy Hickman and I discovered the chain wasn’t just looped loosely over the central beam; it was impaled to the top of it by a thick iron spike driven deep into the beam. With the weight of both of our bodies hanging first from one end of the chain then the other–arms bronzed by the summer sun, inextricably tangled, bare chests streaked with dirt and sweat and dust, two boys on the cusp of becoming men, dangling together from a chain, laughing in an orgy of destructive fervor–we could twist the beam, slowly torqueing it back and forth as we swung.
Over the weeks it began to rotate, just a few degrees at first, but more and more as summer wore on, our sneakers kicking up dust from the shed’s floor as we tried to wrench the beam free of its mortises. By the end of summer, the building groaned and shuddered dangerously around us as we swung on the chain. What kept it all standing, what kept it all from crashing down upon us as we richly deserved, I don’t know.
That winter, after I joined the Navy, after Billy was lost in the river, after the first few inches of that year’s snow had fallen, the carriage shed fell to its final ruin.