In the waning days of August, my parents bought a house a few months after I turned ten. We packed up our things, shoved it all into a rented U-haul truck and left behind our childhood home. The scene is burned into my mind; my sister and I sat in their room, watching Real World on their 9” TV/VCR combo. They peeked their heads in, then joined us on the bed.
“I know this is going to be hard,” my father said, holding our hands and looking down, the very image of a man who is about to tell his children the world is about to end, “but we bought the house. I think you guys will like it, though.” He looked up, a smile had been on his face but disappeared quickly by the growing reaction of his two eldest children.
I can’t remember who started crying first. But I have a very vivid image of a scene where both of us are enacting toddler-aged temper trantrums, complete with a dramatic throwing of our bodies onto the bed and bemoaning cries muffled by my mother’s throw pillows. My sister has always been my emotional compass, the one who feels things well before me and acts. I’m that guy that gets insulted in line at a coffee shop, smiles and nods and then three days later in the shower shouts, “Hey! That guy was an asshole.” My assumption is that once I saw her pouted lip, I obediently followed suit.
The house we were moving out of was one I had lived in all of my life. I tried to tell them that, that what they were doing wasn’t fair, that they were ripping me from my roots and forcing me to start all over again. Had Native Americans felt the same way? Understanding clicked in my ten year old mind, the Trail of Tears had no better name. How was I supposed to make friends? Couldn’t they see this was a mild form of child abuse?
“What am I going to tell my friends?!” I shouted between dramatic sobs. “Or am I still allowed to speak with them?”
“You can call your friends when we’ve moved in. They still have phones on that side of town. Or better yet, call them now.” My mother says. “We’re moving three miles away, not to Siberia.” She doesn’t add that my “whole life” at the house consists of about seven years, but I imagine she was thinking it.
When my parents took us to take a look at the house, we stomped through its hallways with our arms crossed and protruded lower lip. After its construction in the 70’s, the road had been dubbed that year’s “The Street of Dreams.” The house was in the heart of suburbia West Linn. In our mind, every house is just a doppelganger of another. We assumed the houses were slid into place like sardines, leaving no wiggle room, no side or back yard, intricately put together like a series of puzzle pieces.
Or at least that’s what we wanted to believe. Truthfully, since it was built in the ‘70’s, yards in the area were much bigger. We had a side yard large enough to park two cars side-by-side, a two car garage and a sizeable front yard.
The house was three blocks from my childhood best friend. It had sidewalks and a road covered not in patchy pavement and gravel, but real, solid stuff. Smooth as butter, glass, or a baby’s bottom; take your pick. It was near a couple of parks and just under a mile from a new middle school that I’d be attending in two years.
So even though I looked at that house from under a furrowed brow, from behind upset eyes, it started to grow on me.
I turned to my sister as we walked through the downstairs hallway, my father gesturing to the house’s various features like Vanna White revealing letters on Wheel of Fortune. I had to see if Alison was breaking, too.
“It looks like Rhubarb Pie.” She told them. Alison wasn’t budging.
After hearing we were moving, my sister started her strike. She treated the house like an ostracized family member, speaking only monosyllable answers when someone else brought it up. She hung a sign on her door equating the new house to rhubarb pie, a flavor synonymous to earwax and root beer Dumdums. My parents mostly ignored it, except for the periodic eye roll whenever they walked past her room.
But the thing that made my hands drop from under my arms, unfurrow my brow, stop my stomping feet and abandon my sister was the lot behind the house. Large enough to land a space shuttle, all together massive – it’d be the source of endless “Your Mom” jokes for years to come. I would curse the backyard years later when landscaping chores materialized, but today it was my field of dreams.
And behind it crowded a forest.
A real forest. The kind you can’t see through to the other side. The type of thing that hides its inhabitants and swallows up noise.
My dad spotted my amazement, “I’m told there’s a creek down there, too.”
A creek. The most exciting feature of our last house was the crazy lady next door who smoked three packs a day and had toenails long enough to have their own postcode.
That forest was as much a feature of the landscape as it was my childhood. When I eyed it for the first time, something stirred in me; the fluttering feeling of being watched.
I could feel its presence, like a watchful guardian perched just out of sight. Housed in the heart of its grove was something mysterious that peered back at me and whispered adventure, escape, solitude, a little bit of danger and something exotic. It was intoxicating and inviting, and as important to my upbringing as a childhood friend.
I put on a facade and trudged through the process of moving. But deep down, I was excited. The forest beckoned me, to disappear behind the shroud of its tree line, and witness the wonderfully magical unknown nestled beneath its branches.