I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 9 prompts, Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go? We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.
This post is something I wrote in 2005. It appeared in a tiny zine.
When you are young, the only things that scare you are impossibilities. You fear slimy things in a tidy closet and vampires in the dark. In the daylight, you are stronger than any force of evil, and fate becomes something to poke at with annoying fingers. When you are so small and the world is so big, you learn that fear is fun, and that it ripples off you like notes from a harp, and you sniff in dark corners hoping to detect more safe fear.
There is still an hour before the roast will be ready. Your girl cousins draw pictures and the boys are all wrestling. You sit in the kitchen but the women ignore you, and you don’t understand what they’re talking about anyway. You smell slowly cooking meat in the air, and your stomach twists. Go play outside, the women say. Go do something.
You walk to the door and fling it shut behind you. There is no one out here. The few other houses in the neighborhood have empty yards this October Sunday afternoon and everyone else’s roast is ready. The back yard seems so big when you’re small, and you are old enough to see that it’s not as big as you once thought it was. You trudge all the way to the top of the hill, past the swings, past your grandfather’s vegetable patch, past the sandbox. The treeline is next, and you don’t pause.
Nothing to fear, after all. You’ve been in these woods plenty of times, and your grandmother would separate from the group and pretend to be lost, and one of the kids would always get hurt somehow. They trip on things and stand on fallen trees that are seconds away from crumbling. Someone would have a bowl for picking berries in case you came across some. Your littlest brother would find money or a dead raccon or something else interesting. He always looks down, sifting through what others overlook.
You’ve even gone into the woods without adults. You’re the oldest grandchild, after all, and you know the rule: If you can’t see the house, you turn around and come back home. It’s useful if the little kids want to go but you really don’t. You can come back sooner that way. But you know these woods like your pillows, like a song you know by heart. Today, alone, you don’t care about the house. You’ll come back late. They’ll have to put the leftovers away and wonder where you’ve been. By the time you come home, they’ll be worried about you.
Your blue nylon Kangaroo sneakers get muddy in the damp ground. Ther’s a chill in the wind as it rattles the leaves until they fall. You hear things, animals, things moving that are not you. Time passes and your nose gets cold, and you see your breath, and you walk, your anger fading.
You turn around.
You cannot see the house. Not even the tiniest glimpse of red brick through the trees.
Fine, you think. You turn around. You walk back, retracing your steps.
Ten minutes later you see a downed tree that you did not pass before. And no matter how stubbornly you peer at the trees in front of you, you still cannot see the red bricks of your grandmother’s house.
You stop moving. You look up at the sky and you cannot imagine what it is you expect to see, a bird, a power line. The sky won’t point you home, little one, and it’s getting darker. Your heartbeats are irregular; they are as panicky as you are. You keep thinking okay, okay, okay, okay. This is not okay. It will all be okay. You’ll be okay.
Your feet are moving again but warily. You scan the trees in front of you for something familiar. You watch your sneakers take step after little step in the oozing mud, hoping a trail will materialize in the thickness of the green and brown and tan and still more brown. You see the dead rabbit and nearly step on it. You flinch and step sideways, scream out.
Screaming feels good. Scream again, this time for your mother, your stepfather, anyone to help you. Scream until your throat hurts. Scream loud and long, feel your eyes fill with tears.
Through these stinging tears, you look to the left. It is your mother, thirty or forty feet away. Her orange puffy jacket is a bright light in the darkening forest, and you run to her, leaping over a fallen tree, and she bends down to be a target for you, a place to run.