Four thousand, three hundred eighty-three steps of curling wildflowers and cracking leaves. This is the distance I walked one afternoon from middle school to my childhood home. Before reaching my room, drops of sunlight and rain were snatched by an overarching canopy of trees. They now hover, holding secrets which have melted down into damp vine leggings, soaked up by moss and grass, spreading like a thick layer of icing over a dense chocolate cake.
Today I am an empty-nesting, middle-aged woman. Never had I imagined, at this stage of life, I’d be without both of my parents. My three siblings and I have long since moved out, but are taking shifts winterizing the house before deciding what to do with it. In the process, I am forced to sift through a hundred forgotten memories. My old bedroom is now decorated with vision boards layered in scribbled notes and measurements with pinned magazine scraps overlaying cloth cut-outs. The room seems to have shrunk over the years. One of my tasks is to empty the boxed fabric and pillows as I clean out the sewing room which overshadows my adolescent existence.
As I finger linen scraps, I remember when mom worked hard on my son’s first Halloween costume. He was 4 years old, less than a month away from his 5th birthday. I remember because every morning he would nag me, “How many days, Mom?” I’d count while pressing the invisible piano keys leading up from his hands and then his arms and shoulders. I’d tickle his belly and knees until he giggled out, “happy birthday!” I also remember that year because mom had made him a spider costume and sliced her hand while cutting the foam noodle we would use for the bouncing spider legs. It’s hard to believe he just started his final year of college. I jokingly pretend he is a nuisance when he comes home for holidays, but then I cry at least the first two nights after he leaves. For this year’s birthday, he wishes me to make him a French Galette with Thai Buttercup Squash Soup. I tell him those cuisines lack cohesion, but I can see he misses mom’s Galettes. She had a knack for making a perfectly flaked crust. Contrary, I have perfected unboxing Pillsbury pie crust because my dough always tends to over-crumble.
While dragging my fingers across her vision board, my attention is grabbed by a smudgy patch I notice on the wall in the distance. I move in on the markings and soon recall the night I had tattooed a journal entry behind a single pew of dresses hanging in my closet. Thirty-eight years ago I sat bending with knees pressed up against the ramp floorboard. I practically held my breath while dragging a pen into cursive lettering with perfect punctuation I had learned the previous school year. Now, this narrow closet seems tinier than I remember. As an adult, I could never fold my legs enough times to fit inside. I lean in to read the entry my twelve-year-old self inked all those years ago. I start to remember how at night, mom would tell me to count sheep when I’d plead with her to understand how my racing mind kept me awake for hours. I never found comfort in counting sheep. Instead, I’d be counting curls and freckles. I’d count the ripples dancing further from the crooked smile my love wore as he’d speak.
As I lean forward to read my entry on the wall, I remember the crunching and crushing, and all of the blushing:
“Dear (future) Rachel,
Hi! What are you doing right now? It is Wednesday, October 10th 1984 and I am writing from my bedroom. I am bored to DEATH! The leaves have changed and started falling, but I am the one who is falling. I am currently in love with Austin Murphy. I wonder if you will end up marrying him. Will he kiss you the way I imagine? Will he come with you on picnics, bring books, and trade secrets under the sun? Will he go with you into the woods, climb fallen trees, and hold you close among dancing shadows of pine? I long to know what that feels like. But for now, I will dream of the blue in his eyes and the sound of his gentle voice.
signed, Rachel Margaret
p.s. Good luck on your math test!”
This piece was inspired after recently attending an estate sale at my friend’s childhood home. I came across a diary entry she had made on the wall of her bedroom closet. My mind kept coming back to it over the next several days, prompting me to write a little something. All persons, dates, and details have been changed or fabricated. Photo shared with permission.