I dreamed, before waking, of a childhood place. It’s a place I will never see again, I know. I walked its fields slowly and deliberately, with the knowledge I should spend this luxury only once — but well.
What small moments we would treasure, and hold fast, in our childhood, were we to realize how easily and quickly they could be lost— as grains of sand, filtering away. Buildings and toys and whole people disappear. Landscapes change.
The roads roll on and over, relentlessly plowing.
But there I was, immersed in a passage, a pocket of time, hiding from my mother in the woods behind my grandmother’s Pennsylvania house.
I adored each spiky blade of grass, the bleached blueness of the sky, the way the air always felt cooler and fresher there — washed with pines, tangy and sharp.
I watched my family, walking down the hill shoulder to shoulder. I watched fondly from my perch up in the tree, and felt that rush of contentment. The wicked rush of delight that comes of hiding, and being the one missing.
(To hear “Where is Sharon?” “She didn’t want to come.” Yes, that was me.)
The birds were twittering, the flowers opened. It was cool there, a pond of shadows, but the wooden house was so white, and the grass so green.
I was truly here once, I know. I did come here, as a child. When we came to visit, when the adults were talking, I ran outside to play and found my refuge there.
My open heart spoke to birds and trees, stray dogs, cats and butterflies. I found at least two hundred sentient friends in which to confide.
I’ve never lost that, but most do, I think. I find even your own can come to doubt you when you offer your ear to them. Do I mean it? Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. Talk to me. I’m listening.
How cold this world has grown, I thought, as I hugged myself in this forest of my youth. How much we all have changed.
But my heart stays as bright and fierce as it ever was, I see. It hurts just as hard under my skin, at the base of my throat where I have to gulp to swallow, and clear my throat to speak.
“Come with us!” the dear faces are calling to me from far down the hill. They’ve seen me through the leaves. “Won’t you?”
I can’t, I want to say, though I don’t; I’m too choked up inside at the sight of them, my dark-haired grandparents smiling so familiar again like they never left, after all. I have to stay here and watch over you. You see. It’s what I do.