I'm not sure why I decided to go for a walk, what the circumstances were that lead a nine year old girl to strike out on her own. It wasn't abnormal by any means, I was pretty independent, slightly stubborn. The youngest of four kids, I was desperate to make my own way.
Home, at that time, was an old, two-story white house. Six bedrooms, two of which were not much bigger than closets. One room was contained in just three pink walls with bed sheets hung to provide a fourth "wall". That was mine. My sister's was down the hall, around a corner. I think I'd go bother her every night before bed. Her room was always clean, always smelled good. And she was always doing teenager things: painting her nails, reading magazines, experimenting with makeup. Glamorous things that I didn't understand.
The old house had one bathroom, a non-descript room with the normal trappings of a room of it's kind. Near the big front window in the living room was a large bookshelf my dad built. At least three full sets of encyclopedias lined the shelves. They were big beautiful books with gold embossed lettering on the covers. A couple of aquariums that my dad liked to keep various little types of fish in sat on top of the shelf.
His orange recliner, there in the corner. The chair I'd hide behind when he came home from work. It was the first place he'd go after a long day working on the Rucker's farm. He'd sit there and take off his work boots and act surprised when I'd jump out from behind him, just like I did yesterday and yesterday's yesterday. And I'd climb into his lap and feel his stomach expand when he breathed. And it was safe. And there was love. And I knew he liked it too.
Just across the living room was my favorite place in this house. A white cupboard in a corner. It smelled of books and paper and words and clean. And I would open it up and smell all of the smells and think it was the loveliest smell in the world then I'd quickly shut the door tight so the smell wouldn't escape. I wanted it locked in, so it'd be there the next time I opened the door, like an old friend.
The front yard was bordered by a white fence, it made home look quaint and inviting although not many people would see it so far out, away from anything more than wheat fields and rolling hills. I learned to ride a bike in front of that fence, back and forth on a blue two wheeler. I was probably too old to just be learning how. But I learned. And now I do it quite fluently.
To the right of the house was a garage type building. I kept a kitten in there, the only survivor of a litter. Too small. I bottle fed him. But it was not enough. One morning when I went to check on him he was frozen solid. But not really frozen. I just didn't know what rigor mortis was.
Beyond the garage building was a large garden plot. Beyond that were fruit trees. Apple, plum, a pear. And even further on, amid brambles, was an old grape vine, but I didn't venture there often because there were always bees that discouraged my presence.
Behind the house was a cellar. A real life cellar dug into the side of the hill. The walls were stone. The wooden door opened to reveal a packed dirt floor, shelves upon which sat new jars of canned things and old jars of mysterious content. On the hottest of days one could venture into the cellar and escape the heat. It was always cool and slightly moist in the cellar. And it smelled of old fruit.
Off to the left of the old house was a grove of strong, tall walnut trees. Under the trees was a grove of old cars. They were there when we moved in, long abandoned and left to the weather. But we four kids claimed them as our own. I sat in my very own car and drove into the city, window down, radio turned up, hair flying wildly behind me.
One of the trees had a platform built in it. Maybe the remnants of someone's tree house plans, abandoned like the cars. My brother always dared me to jump off the platform. It seemed to be a hundred feet high. But I jumped. Because I wanted him to know I was tough.
Beyond the walnut trees was the coop where the chickens were kept, along with the big red rooster that marched like an army general. The chickens would have nothing to do with me but that rooster would drink water out of a blue milk cap as I held it in my hand. For awhile we also had two intimidating geese out there.
The evening I ventured out on a walk was quiet, as I remember it. I think part of the family was gone, to what, I'll never remember this many years past. But, maybe, the quiet gave me a case of cabin fever.
Whatever the case, I set out to walking. At the end of our driveway was a rickety wooden bridge crossing a creek. We didn't have paved roads that far out, just gravel that was grated once or twice per year. The gravel roads always had three tire lanes, the middle being shared by vehicles going either direction.
So I walked, along the driveway flanked by green alfalfa fields, across the rickety wooden bridge, past the big hay barn, and along the gravel road, rocks crunching beneath my every step. The afternoon was tired and the shadows of the rolling hills grew with every step.
As I walked I formulated a plan. I didn't want to stop walking and I could certainly make it to our nearest neighbor's house before dark. They lived on an old farm with a big red farmhouse and a big red barn. If I just walked there, only about two miles, I'd simply knock on their door and ask them to give me a ride back home. Presumptuous, now that I know better.
With plan in hand, I walked with purpose, enjoying the first evening light, the smells of a day now done, the melody of frogs and crickets. The world was a beautiful place and I had all of this to enjoy, on my own with no siblings to boss me around, no one that I had to share this bounteous beauty with. I could look at it and keep it and know that it was all mine.
Just as light was giving way to dark I reached the big red farm. Doubts began to crowd my mind. A mentally handicapped adult lived here. Possibly the son of the older couple. My experience with handicapped people was little to none and the unknown scared me. But it is getting really dark and I'm sure my parents are going to worry. And I've come all this way, surely they will feel sorry for the poor young girl from down the road. And wasn't she so brave to walk this far!
With all the bravery I could muster I knocked on the door, stood aside with my best orphan looking face, and waited for my plan to open the door. It seemed an eternity that I waited so I knocked again. Each passing, silent second grew the realization deep within my stomach that my neighbors were not home. Nobody on the big red farm was going to give me a ride.
Panic replaced every good feeling I had had earlier. As I turned to face my long trek home, the night grew wings and talons. The shadows developed sharp edges. And my feet ran, gravel shifting under my steps causing me to stumble. Fear kept good pace behind me, right on my heels, breathing hot breath down my collar. And I ran. Behind every large boulder on the hillside hunkered a predator of unknown description, waiting for the opportune time to pounce. Pulse pounded in my ears.
I planned then, that if a car happened to come by that I would hide in the bushes off the road. Nothing good ever came of a lone car on a deserted road and a young girl by herself. A car never came by. And I ran.
Finally, I reached the last stretch before our driveway. The steep hillside to my left was black. On my right, down past the shoulder of the road, was the creek, now just a sinewy, liquid shadow. The big hay barn loomed before me, full of things I could not see. My brothers told me the story of a man who had hung himself from the rafters in that barn. They promised that if I looked carefully I could still see the rope he had used. In this moment I was certain it was there, along with every other scary thing that could exist in the world, for all of time.
To cross the rickety bridge and continue on home meant turning my back to the barn. It took all of my courage to turn on my heel and walk. As the fears of my imagination taunted me from the shadows of the barn, I placed one foot in the front of the other.
Cross the bridge.
Walk the dusty driveway.
It is just there. Home.
My pulse slows. The sweat dries.
The scent of sweet alfalfa caresses the evening.