Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The summers of my childhood (part 1)

The adventure started the way it always did.

We walked through Abby’s sliding glass door.  The grass in her backyard was green and lush - New Jersey summertime grass - and needed to be mowed.  We stomped through the tall carpet and made our way into the entrance of the woods.  

There was a path.  It was easier to see in the winter and fall, but the summer evening rain and the hot daily sun made the onion grass and stink weed grow over the earth that was once worn away. We used walking sticks and our sneakers to push aside what was in the way, and started into the woods.

It was all familiar.  The tall, thin sweet gum trees that dropped sharp, spherical, seed pods.  The old elm that held the poison ivy snake around its thick, dimpled trunk.  The occasional Queen Anne’s Lace, it’s petite white flowers peeking around tree stumps. The four decaying trees that now held abandoned squirrel nests.  

The sweet smells of wet earth and honeysuckle filled the air as we walked to our destination.  We walked silently, concentrating on pushing aside the prickle bushes for each other.   

We knew that this was going to be the day we were finally brave enough.  We had been walking to the old white desk mysteriously hidden in the woods since the first days of summer.  It was now the very end of August.  School would start soon.  It was time.  

As I walked I asked Abby, “How do you think the desk got there?”  It was a question we had asked each other a trillion times.  Each time our answer was different.  “Maybe Mr. Izzy put it there.” Abby stated.  “How could he have done that?” I wondered, “Mr. Izzy is barely strong enough to pour our lemonade.”  “Maybe he had help?”  Abby questioned.  I grew silent, thinking about who would help Abby’s lonely neighbor lug an old desk into the woods and why.

I knew we were close. I looked up and saw a flicker of light as the sun reflected off the handle of the center desk drawer.  It was the only drawer that still had hardware.  All the other drawers had gaping holes where the handles used to be.  We often watched tent caterpillars and daddy-long-legs venture in and out of those holes.  Those drawers we had already opened.  They held no mystery to us anymore.  It was the center drawer that we still had to conquer.

Abby stopped.  She turned around sharply and got very close.  Holding her pinky out for pinky swear she said “You promise you won’t back down this time?”  I felt my face turn red with shame.  I nodded confidently and hooked my pinky into hers.  The last two times we had been on our adventure I had run away, unable to finish what we had come for.  The drawer still remained unopened and we were running out of time.

We were now in the clearing where the desk lay, tilted on its right side, two legs broken.  I stopped and looked at it carefully.  It always surprised me that the desk was still so white.  It was like someone had lovingly painted it the night before they decided to abandon it in the woods.

We walked up to the desk, dropped our sticks, and just stood there.  Abby bit her lower lip as I stared at her waiting for the signal.  There were bits of grass and leaves in her braids, and she scratched at the bug bite on the base of her neck that was starting to swell.

Abby looked at me as we both reached our hands forward, each taking ahold of the handle.  My hands were shaking and my heart was beating so fast I wondered if I would have the strength to pull.  
“Remember, on three.”  
I nodded and closed my eyes.

“One. Two. Three.”

I pulled with all my might.  The momentum of the pull threw me to the ground.  My right hand was still wrapped around the desk handle and I could feel that the drawer and Abby had come down with me.  I quickly scampered to my knees so I could see what was inside.  Abby was already hunched over the drawer.  

A small nest of leaves and twigs, bird feathers and dried grass had partially ricocheted out of the drawer.  I noticed movement and a high pitch sound.  Little white balls of fur were running everywhere, over my knees, and the hot pink laces of my new school sneakers.  

The high pitched sound got louder and different and I realized it was now Abby screaming.  I glanced over and saw the back of her as she was running towards her house.  I began to run after her, hearing my own screams as they echoed through the woods.  

No sticks to hold back the prickles this time, I could feel them scratching at my bare summer legs. We ran and ran until we exited the woods and threw ourselves down into the cool grass.

Abby and I began to laugh.  Laugh and laugh and laugh.  Rolling on the ground, tears streaming down our face, holding our aching bellies. We rolled on our backs, looking up at the blue sky, and over time we became still.  

We lay there for what seemed like forever, each of us calm, giving our hearts time to stop racing, wrapped up in our own thoughts.

Later that day, I began the long walk home.  I thought about the adventures that we had this summer.  I thought about the soft creatures whose home we had upturned.  I thought about the desk and Mr. Izzy, and Abby’s cool backyard.  I looked down at the dried blood on my legs.  Next time, I decided, it would be enough to never open the drawer.  Then the adventure could go on forever.

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