I began writing in earnest in the late 1990’s as a release for overwrought emotions in the wake of what seemed like a completely out of control world. I wrote about my childhood through early adult years. In the coming months I’ll be re-working some of those passages and blogging them – probably not in any particular order. While I try to be disciplined to write, I like to free form a lot and just see where the story leads me. That’s how I’ll be relating the stories to you.
Some of my favorite stories to write start with the thought, I am that girl. In part – not gonna lie – because I like referring to myself as a girl….… just like all old women I’ve ever met…… Mostly, though, because it conjures up the cartoon image I’ve always had in my head of what I look like. My grandmother used to laugh and tell me when I walked I looked like a farmer coming out of a barn.
“Grama,” I’d say very matter of factl-ly. “It’s the only way I know how to walk.”
And, honestly, when I see my arms and legs in action, I look more like a colt coming out of a barn. Which is not to say anything negative about how I look – I’m fine with it. I just wish I’d learned to sort of control said arms and legs a little better. I illustrated the difficulty in my last blog, talking about the various injuries with which I’m currently dealing. All are healing, by the way, including the new one I inflicted on my left palm while at the playground with Kache and Loran. I’d tell you how I did it but I’m not completely sure because it was dark and – oh! You’re not supposed to be at the playground in the dark?
Nothing serious. Just an enormous bruise that covers half my hand and makes it look like I knocked the hell out of something. At that point in the injury making I didn’t even get much sympathy. I’m thinking people are getting tired of saying, Oh Mom! Are you all right? Because all I got from #3 was typical Mom at the playground. She injures herself….. She was referring to the time, decades ago, when Mark and I had #’s 1-4 at a playground in Dallas. Coolest thing ever. Made entirely of wood to look more like a fortress from Robinhood than a kids’ play area. I was running around playing tag with my progeny, jumped from a platform to the ground, caught my right heel on the platform and twisted the shit out of my ankle. Inconvenient to say the least. I landed on my back and blacked out for a few seconds. Coming around I found four familiar faces hovering over me, in various levels of panic, yelling my name.
“get.daddy.” I sort of rasped out as I tried to pull air back into my lungs.
They kept yelling and I kept trying to talk at a volume that could be heard above the din. Did I mention I landed on my back and knocked the wind out?
Long story short: Ankle severely sprained. Doctor visit. Ice. Trauma for children.
And now…… as long as there are no broken bones or even skin, the level of sympathy is only extended to hey, put ice on that when we get home. That thing is gonna hurt.
Love my kids.
This first story illustrates the beginning of the I am that girl…. series. I hope you like it.
Remembrance of a Summer Day
When I was a kid, we hiked for miles through the woods on most any given day. I grew up in the country, outside a small town in western New York State. Yes, I was a hillbilly, though let’s make this clear. I have all my teeth and my family tree forks. A lot. We hiked because, frankly, it was the only thing we had to do with any consistency all year long. Rain, snow, hail, humidity and even hunting season – I don’t know what the parental units were thinking – we slogged through them all to get wherever it was we imagined we were going.
One summer day we were walking through the pasture behind my cousin Missy’s house, down toward the creek. I was blindfolded and being guided by Missy and our friend Devon so I “wouldn’t fall.” An experimental idea from school designed to inspire compassion, empathy and trust, it went horribly wrong in the hands of my twisted companions who lead me through a couple of piles of cow shit, then watched me stumble over something in the overgrowth and land face first in a pile of wet, mulchy leaves. I sat up spitting and wondering out loud whose idea this had been, why I always fell for this crap and which of my friends’ asses I was gonna kick first. Being all show and no go at the age of ten, nobody got anything kicked. I was persuaded to look on the comical side and remember, A. I was often on the instigating end of these escapades and B. if we fought and went home, there were lots of chores to be done. Laziness was a major motivator back then. We walked on.
Down toward the creek the hot air cooled. It was one of the smaller tributaries that fed into the Genesee river and just deep enough to satisfy the adventurous spirit of three pre-adolescent girls but not so deep or swift that our mothers needed to worry about us being carried off by the current.
Here we were safe from little brothers and sisters, free to live out the stories in our heads and discuss our dreams without the censure of these same mothers, whose main ambition in life was to spoil every ounce of fun we managed to dredge up, even if we weren’t lighting anything on fire. We played at being everything from mermaids to Tarzan, swinging on a rope we’d slung over a low hanging branch of an ancient, gigantic oak tree. Dressed in old shorts and t-shirts, with dirty canvas sneakers protecting our feet from anything that might pinch or bite, we explored.
One day we decided to keep walking up our mountain (it was on the other side of “our” creek and more like a big hill) long after the point at which we usually turned back. We saw the roof top of what turned out to be an old barn in the distance and hiked toward it as the long shadows of late afternoon began to creep toward us.
Having been born afraid, I begged to turn back as soon as we crossed the creek, but Missy and Devon insisted we continue. We walked further into the woods as the shadows deepened. I began to feel panicked, thinking about the stories Devon’s grandmother told us of the wild cats that still walked these hills. Missy’s mom dismissed the stories as the ramblings of an eccentric older lady, but we believed the grandmother. We’d walked there too. Though we’d never seen the panthers she described, we felt them. Call it imagination or – maybe intuition. We knew we’d been observed before. The fact of it had stopped us in the middle of our play near the creek and sent us running home on more than one occasion. We’d get to within sight of Missy’s house and knowing we were near safety, stop, gasp for air and swear never to go back to the creek or woods.
Of course we did go back and here we were. As we walked along, I kept looking up through the web of trees to the sky. It was a bright blue, which meant we still had a good two hours before nightfall. The angle of the shadows, though, told me we’d probably missed supper and Missy’s mom would be good and mad. I mentioned this and as it was about my 43rd complaint, Devon had had enough.
“Look, Lorie,” she began in a thoroughly exasperated tone. “If you wanna go home, go home! Missy and I are going to the barn.”
I rolled my eyes at the stupid idea of me traipsing back through the woods alone and kept following. It was as if she didn’t know me at all. I sulked and kicked at leaves on the path, having a pretty scathing argument with Devon in my head and so preoccupied that it took me a moment to realize we’d come out of said woods and were at the edge of the clearing where the barn sat.
It looked even creepier up close and I would have done anything not to go in. Well, almost anything as long as I didn’t have to do it alone and in these woods, which, by the way, I was never going into again. We moved closer and closer toward what I was sure was the gate to the entrance of hell. When I could stand it no longer, I made Missy and Devon walk on either side of me, holding my hands and guiding me so I could close my eyes. The cow shit incident crossed my mind but I was forgiving and trusting, not to mention completely frigging terrified. At that moment all I could think of was being protected from the panther attack I knew was coming the moment we stepped through the barn door. My friends made exaggerated disgusted noises but let me walk between them. I knew my image was suffering from this show of cowardice but didn’t care. All that mattered was protection. They could dish out all the grief they wanted when we got home, if we made it back alive. A tear leaked out the corner of my eye as I envisioned my parents waiting in vain for my return. Devon sighed as we traipsed through the tall grass toward the barn, muttering something about what a baby I was and that she only hoped I could run fast enough when whatever was in there came after us as it inevitably would.
We came to a stop and I opened one of my eyes just enough to see we were at the open door of the old building. We stood there on the threshold and as the seconds passed I gathered the courage to look around, still holding onto my friends’ hands. The hay was piled high on one side in bales, old, wet and moldy. The other side held ancient, broken down farm equipment, rusty from the rain that had leaked through holes in the roof.
“Wow,” Missy said, releasing my hand to walk further into the building. Wow? Whatever. This is what had scared us so badly?
“Scared who,” Devon asked, disbelief in her voice. “I wasn’t scared! I didn’t beg me and Missy to hold my little hand.”
Oh, gee had I said that out loud? It was a childhood handicap, thinking I was thinking when really my mouth was running. I was getting sick of Devon’s crap, though. So I was scared, so what?
Yeah, that was pretty much all I had.
Nothing clever, nothing that would shatter the self-confident scorn written on her face. I looked to Missy for help, figuring that when push came to shove, we were blood. She couldn’t have been less interested if I was one of her creepy, smelly little brothers. I turned back to Devon and having nothing else, I made a face at her.
“I’m not always afraid,” I said. Clearly a lie. I was constantly terrified by our adventures. It was half the fun for me.
“What about the time the bull chased us,” I continued. “Who was afraid then?”
That would have been all of us, of course, and it would have been dead all of us if not for the fact that Devon grew super powers. She somehow managed to throw – and I mean throw Missy and me up onto the roof of a small hay shed out in the pasture we had no damn business being in, then hoist herself up and out of harm’s way, before El Toro could take a chunk out of our trespassing little rear ends. But I’d seen him coming first. It was my horrified look and squeaky attempt at a scream that had first alerted Wonder Woman. I should get some credit, right?
This and other assorted bullshit I spewed quickly, hoping to confuse my friends into believing what they already knew wasn’t true. Thinking fast on my feet was not, at that point in my life a strong suit.
Devon glared at me, hands on her hips. She opened her mouth to really let loose and froze. I leaned toward her a little, mirroring her battle stance, waiting. Missy followed the line of Devon’s vision and let out a scream. Devon screamed as well and ran out of that barn like her ass was on fire. I turned toward Missy but she was already gone.
They’d left me! I made a sound half way between a yell and a sob and sprinted to join them. I made it one step. The shoelaces on my ancient sneakers had come untied and I tripped on them, falling flat on my face. It hurt – bad. I struggled to breathe but had knocked the wind out of myself and lay there helpless, in pain and panic. I don’t remember, before or since, being as consumed with incoherent fear. I was sure the panther was just inches away, waiting to have me for supper and I could do nothing to save myself. I could hear my friends calling my name from outside the barn.
“Damn cowards,” I thought. I could hear the fear in their voices as they realized they were responsible for my untimely passing in the claws of a deadly wild cat. They would answer to my mother for this.
While thoughts flew through my mind, the seconds were ticking by. Soon, I was able to take a breath. I lay still, though, trying to assess my situation. I heard no growling, no breathing save my own. I raised my head slowly and looked around, trying not to attract attention in case something of the feline persuasion was watching and planning its evening meal.
Nothing. I pulled myself up into a sitting position, with my back toward the open door. That was the brightest part of the barn and I could see that nothing lay in wait for me there. I stood up and looked around. Turning slowly, my eyes combed the place, up toward the top of the hay bales, across the beams and along the back wall behind the old plow. There was nothing. What had they seen?
I shrugged and began walking toward the door, bleeding profusely from several appendages. Both knees and an elbow were scraped raw. My wrist throbbed and there was a lovely goose egg growing on my forehead. I smiled an evil little smile, knowing I could use this. They couldn’t call me chicken when they had run and I had stayed and been injured. Things could work out after all.
I added a limp for good measure and was nearly to the door when I saw it. It was a cat alright and a big one. Not a panther but a bob cat. It was creepy but I didn’t run. I stood there, alone, and stared into its eyes. Or, where its eyes should have been. Oh, this was gross. The cat, what was left of him, was as stiff as a board and had been hung on the wall like a picture frame. Who would do something like this? I felt violated and gave an exaggerated shudder of revulsion, working my way into a pretty good state of disgust when I noticed Devon and Missy standing, shame faced in the doorway. Missy had been crying and Devon was blushing like she always did when any kind of emotion was about to overtake her.
“Is that why you ran,” I asked, pointing at the animal skin.
Devon nodded, hanging her head.
“Yes,” Missy said. “Are you okay?”
“A lot you guys care,” I snapped. “Look at me.”
“I’m sorry Lor,” Missy said.
I smiled, bestowing my forgiveness. I had her. I could see how guilty she felt and this knowledge resulted in my kind benevolence. Devon was not so easy to reel in. She apologized but her heart wasn’t exactly in it. She was probably thinking what a scaredy-cat-pain-in-the-butt I’d been all the way up here and, once inside, how I spoiled the fun of complete terror by falling and stealing all the glory. I could salvage it, though. Pull the adventure out of the dumper, so to speak.
“Do you suppose,” I began, weaving a scenario in their minds. “The ghost of this cat lives here? Maybe it’s what we hear when we’re by the creek.”
We looked at each other and noticed for the first time, how long the shadows had grown outside. The hair on the back of my neck seemed to stand up and I shivered.
“Maybe,” Missy said. “Or maybe what we hear is this cat’s mate, crying because its partner was slaughtered.”
Devon grimaced. Very soulful, Miss, I thought. She was always into love and stuff like that. Definitely the Rosemary Rogers of our ten and under set. For me, boys were pretty much for kicking around and hating.
We were silent for a minute and an evening breeze rustled the grass, tickling our legs. We came out of an adventure induced trance then, realizing that a human being had butchered this cat and therefore, the barn might not be as uninhabited as we believed. We stared at each other, unable to move.
“Let’s get outta here,” Missy whispered, as if somebody might be listening to our conversation. We walked to the open barn door, afraid to move too quickly and repeat my performance of a few minutes earlier. Had it been only a few minutes?
Once out into the field, we began to walk faster. I remembered, belatedly that my shoes were still untied but there was no way to stop now. The sun was beating a fast retreat into the good night and though the woods looked dark and dangerous, they were our only way out.
Somewhere, in the middle of the field we began to run. We hit those woods full speed, dodging branches and bushes, jumping over logs and underbrush, praying nothing was chasing us. Blood pounded in my ears making it impossible to hear any other sound and before long my sides began to ache from the exertion. I longed to stop and rest but was convinced, along with my bosom pals that something ominous was just behind us and lingering could spell the end of our young lives.
We ran on, Devon in the lead, Missy in the middle and me bringing up the rear. I don’t even know how that happened. I never brought up the rear. The last in line or the goofy, hysterical one always bought it first in the movies and on Scooby Doo. I knew damn well I qualified as both. Fear pushed me on and I picked up the pace till I was even with my cousin. I figured I stood a better chance if whatever we imagined might be chasing us had to choose. I outweighed Missy by a good ten pounds. She’d definitely appear to be the weakest and least likely to fight back. She glanced over at me, suspicion written on her face but I just kept going.
At last, we heard rushing water and knew the creek was just below. We slid down the embankment and landed, butt-first, in the water. Across the creek and up the other side we ran, still. Through the lower field belonging to Devon’s grandmother and over the barbed wire fence onto Missy’s parents’ property we went – thank God the electric wasn’t on – before coming to a halt. The three of us collapsed onto the ground, holding our sides and gasping for breath. Eventually we sat up and looked at each other.
“Lorie,” she said, laughing. “You are a mess.”
We all lay there in the field, then, watching the stars come out. The evening breeze blew the tall grass around us as we reflected on our day. All animosity was gone, dissolved into nothingness by our wild flight for life. We were a team again.
“Was this a cool day or what,” Devon asked nobody in particular. Missy and I nodded in agreement.
“We better get home, Missy,” I said with a sigh. “Your mom is going to kill you.” Missy’s mom never yelled at me even if what we did was all my fault. I liked that about her.
Strolling slowly toward the houses in the distance, each of us contemplated her version of the day’s events. What fun it had been. I never had as much fun with anybody else as I did with these two. We’d be friends forever, of that I was certain. We discussed this for a minute or two as we walked, safe in the knowledge that we understood each other so well and would always be there when one needed another.
Over the mountain behind us the moon began to rise, nearly full that night. We looked back in wonder at its beauty, reveling in the memory of our adventure and the surety of our bond. Then it came.
On the night wind it came, ghostly and wild. Almost human, but not quite. The scream of the cat. The lonely panther whose existence we doubted by day and dreaded in our dreams.
And we ran.