I spent my summers in a quiet, mostly childless neighborhood tucked away on a hill on the south side of town. You could circumnavigate the entire neighborhood in 10 minutes on a bike if you didn’t mind powering up a long, gradual incline and a blind curve in either direction. I used to lament the neighborhood’s lack of children because I had no one to play with.
I spent a lot of summers sitting outside with notebooks, drawing or writing stories or coming up with my own imaginative games. Most of all, I spent time in the woods across from my house, a plot of land big enough to build on, only no one ever had.
I never had a clubhouse. I always thought I’d build one over there, but I wasn’t good with tools. The closest I got was a foxhole crater left by a fallen tree about halfway across the land. One edge of the crater offered just enough support to lean against, so I’d sneak out there to read or to draw, or to run away from home, which I did at least once per week during the summer.
I didn’t hate my home life. In fact, I’d argue I had a pretty good one. But running away from home meant adventure. It meant eating a sandwich with pine needles under my rear, thinking and believing I could survive out here, catch rabbits or something and maybe eat them and definitely never go home. I’d tell myself I was going to sleep under the wavering trees, looking up at the stars and watch the fluttering bats swoop down to catch insects, their shifty silhouettes cut out against the bare sky.
It all sounded good. Great even. For an hour. Maybe two hours. Then I’d eat my last Little Debbie, pack up my Ninja Turtles and go home.
It just so happened that my family recently moved into a house near that old neighborhood. I see a kid on a Segway zipping up and down the hills, and I feel kind of good, really, that some other kid is here — that he’s still allowed to roam the circumference of the neighborhood as I once had. It didn’t stay childless after I left.
The woods are still there, the pathways and trails I punched through are overgrown or missing entirely.
While we walk the dog through the neighborhood, I tell my likely bored kids and wife about the adventures I once had here.
“I once lost a toy gun in these bushes,” I tell my kids. “Dropped it right here, and when I went to grab it, there was a snake just sitting there.”
“What’d you do?”
“Screamed and ran.”
I lost a lot of stuff in that neighborhood. A lot of bits and pieces I discarded here and there. If you tilled up the ground in those woods, you are bound to find an odd G.I. Joe or two. Those woods were where I shucked off my childhood. I left it scattered all over this place, and people came here and lived and grew and did the same after me. And before me.
As an adult, nearly 40, it is strange to go back — how in some ways you never really can. But in other ways…
A week after I shared the snake story, my daughter paused at the side of the road during one of our walks. “Is this where you lost that toy gun?”
“No, not here.”
“Did you walk around here a lot though?”
“And now I’m walking around here. Just like you.”
I pause at the top of the hill. Winded. Fat. Old. “Yeah,” I said. “You are.”
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