When I was 4 years old, my parents would frequently drive what seemed a very long distance from the apartment complex we lived in. We would get out of the car and slop around in mud that came up over my ankles while my parents peeked in through the windows of a house. I hated these trips, because it was always cold and drizzly, the drive was long and boring, I wasn’t tall enough to see into any windows and no one offered to lift me, and then the long boring drive back with the bottoms of my pants and my socks and shoes encrusted with thick, sticky mud that would later turn to a crusty cement between my toes.
As time went on, the mud was replaced with grass, and my parents would excitedly tell each other, “Oh, I see a stove! Oh, there’s the carpet!” Before I knew it, we left all of my little friends behind at the apartment complex and suddenly we were entering this house that we’d visited so many times, and it was ours. And it was all alone. There were two homes in progress nearby, but mainly we were simply surrounded by tall bushes and a forest.
Whether times were just different or whether I had inattentive parents (or a mixture of both), since I was 5 I remember waking in the morning, having breakfast, and heading out the door. And I stayed outdoors until dusk, and my parameters were that I could venture as far in any direction I wanted as long as I heard my mother’s very loud voice from our porch calling me home.
My adventures always took me out into the woods. I explored the paths trampled by deer, and I carried big sticks and forged my paths. This was when I was young enough that I not only believed in fairies and elves, but they believed in me, as well, and I wore crowns of flowers and sipped nectar from flower petals and ate handfuls of berries as I trekked along my way.
I saw deer, rabbits, snakes, slugs and snails, chipmunks and squirrels, birds of every color, shape, and size, and they all saw me, and we were not afraid of each other because we knew we did not intend any harm on one another. We often raced each other, and in those days my limbs and muscles were strong and flexible, my lungs were healthy and unabused, and my reflexes were sharp, so I could duck and weave and leap as gracefully as any fawn. They often led me to hidden secrets, such as a hidden pond dappled with sunlight, covered in lily pads, the gathering spot for thirsty critters, hyper frogs, lazy toads, floating ducks, and buzzing bugs.
When it rained, I only knew from the sudden bombardment of the unmistakable rich aromas and sounds of Life itself as dried moss was freshly saturated and leaves and flowers unfurled, and the earth was lightly moistened beneath me, but the towering trees reached their leafy branches out to one another above me in a canopy that both protected me from getting too wet and also provided the perfect acoustics for the raindrop symphony that surrounded me.
Over time, I started to find curiosities like neon-pink ribbons tied to my trees, or even strange letters and symbols painted onto the trunks. I started to see deep pits that weren’t there before, and then large cement tubes. Eventually, I started to see and hear heavy equipment and then people invading our world. Finally, there were men in hardhats who frightened me, especially when they yelled, “Get out of here, kid. It’s dangerous!”
My imaginary friends and I were pushed away from our forest, and the animals went at first deeper but then disappeared altogether as the trees were cut down. My parents’ house that once stood alone in the middle of nowhere slowly became a part of a little neighborhood that then grew into a larger neighborhood. My whole world changed.
I can only hope that I never forget what my world used to be, because I’m certain there is nothing even similar to that anywhere for me anymore.