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The door closes gently behind me, and my journey begins. I travel down the steps that were once trees, never walked on until nineteen years ago. I travel down the asphalt after taking my deepest of breaths, and the reminiscing slowly begins.
I recall all of the pictures drawn on that pavement—two generations’ worth of colorful artwork multiplied plenty of times by the size of the workspace. I remember hours upon hours of children on hands and knees, drinking in the sights around them and making numerous attempts to copy them. They drew flowers and trees and even the sky, filled with clouds shaped like rabbits and a sun wearing a smile.
I’ve reached the sidewalk, and I turn left. Though recent wind has left debris—broken twigs and fading leaves—the memories are still a clear path in my mind. A man-powered machine with three wheels rode on this concrete once. Three-year-old legs pedaled too fast for the parents to catch up; the owner of those legs wanted adventure and to explore parts unknown. They stopped moving in circles just before the street, because those parents always said never to cross the street without them.
I’ve reached that street now and make yet another left. I stay to the right, even if a thin strip of grass is the only thing keeping me apart from the road. I do this out of habit; I do it because I remember the bushes that were there, that birthed lonely burrs. They leapt from their host and clung to sweaters and jeans, brightly colored backpacks and warm pink mittens. Though easily plucked off and tossed aside, they tried desperately to leave their place of birth and travel somewhere new.
I approach the busy street and wait. Instead of grasping a keeper’s hand, I cross alone. A task that once had been so terrifying and forbidden was as simple as taking another deep breath. As I continue walking, I look up at the sky. There are clouds, grey and thick, hovering over the town in which I glide through. I keep on, knowing they are full—but full of what? Are they preparing to leak with anticipation, or are they ready to explode with joy? Will what falls from them warm those it brushes so tenderly against, or will it send a chill down the spines of the unfortunate bystanders?
I cross another street before coming to the fence. This sidewalk is different, of course, but my reminiscence is constant. There was a dog that barked behind that fence every weekday morning as two pairs of feet and a stroller made their way past. They never knew its real name—never reached out to pet it—but they would stop every now and again and say hello with wide smiles. And when the barks of that dog grew faint in the early morning air, one of the three in particular couldn’t wait until the final bell rang, when the dog behind the fence could be seen once again.
And I remember the seeds that would fall once a year on that sidewalk, spinning all the way down from the trees like helicopters. Children would pick them up and watch them drop again and again, observing them spin rapidly until they either stuffed them in their pockets or left them on the cold, hard ground. And when those seeds were torn away from the protection and care of the trees, there was a possibility they could be planted in the ground. And one of them was, one day, by a child seeking new experiences—and to create new life.
At last I reach my first destination—a place I never thought I would ever go back to. I remember being eager to leave it, never wanting to return. The next chapter of my life would be new, and better, and I didn’t need all the excitement that came with elementary school.
I enter the school’s open grounds and climb to the very top of the hill, where I sit and try not to daydream. I try my very hardest to focus on the trees and the grass and the dirt, but it, too, morphs into something I used to know. I remember this hill when it was covered in snow—when people of all ages slid downward on top of plastic in varying colors. I remember how some flew in the air on the way down, just for a second, and felt as if they were flying. It didn’t matter if their glasses were covered in snow by the time they made it to the bottom, or that the chilled moisture was cold on their faces and seeped quickly through their clothes.
I recall the friends that gathered on this hill and the promises that were made here. I remember how we promised that things would never change—that no matter how much time passed, we would always stay the closest of friends.
And as I sit there, the clouds open up. I am no longer left in wonder as to what had once filled them, nor do I mind. As the drops fall fast and hard, they mix with the drops falling from my eyes—the eyes that want to open, but suddenly can’t. I can’t open them because I know what I will see in the puddles forming around me. I will see myself, wet from head to toe, and it will finally dawn on me that I am not a little girl anymore. I am no longer one with the nature that kept me going for so long.
This is what I do see when my eyes flutter open. Not only do I see a stranger, but also a strangely familiar figure. I see someone who has grown apart from friends, but has made new ones as well. I see a girl who has learned plenty, but who has plenty more to learn. And at last I see who I was ten years ago, and I realize that she’s still here, though buried in the grief of knowing that things around her have changed.
These changes surround me as I travel back to where I began. I no longer wear the glasses that blinded me as I flew down that hill many winters ago. The tree that I planted in my backyard was uprooted a long time ago, since its roots were preventing other life from beginning. The dog I used to look forward to seeing every morning and afternoon isn’t there as I pass, and hasn’t been for a very long time. The bushes that held those Velcro-inspiring seeds aren’t there anymore.
In examining these changes, I know what I am; I know what I am not; I know what I should be. I’m not the nameless dog I once admired, trapped inside an enclosure and unable to escape. I am, instead, a soul who would much rather be trapped than set free. But I should be the burrs on those bushes that existed many years ago—eager to explore new worlds, clinging onto whatever I can to get there.
It’s true that I would give anything to have to depend fully on the ones who raised me, for them to hold my hand as I crossed the street, and to never have to do it without them. I would listen to them, even now, if they told me to wait at the corner until they caught up. But they replaced that three-wheeled machine long ago, providing me instead with a “big-girl” bike and training wheels. And then they got rid of those, too, and expected me to travel on my own. And I took advantage of that, biking to friends’ houses without them next to me. But they have no idea what I would give to take those years of my life back.
As I near the end of my journey, setting foot on the space that art will most likely never exist again, I realize what nature means to me. Not only does it hold valuable memories close to my heart, but provides a reason for me to return to the place I was born once I’m forced to depart—the town I was raised in, where I learned how to count, how to remember, and how to love. Nature is a comfort, a sanctuary, and a friend that will always remain close to me.
I climb the wooden stairs without looking back, for I know that there will soon be a day in which I depart on yet another journey. This voyage will not involve memories, but has perfect potential to conceive its own. When I leap from the nest I was raised in, leaving behind everything I have known and loved for seventeen years, I will let nature carry me. I will find new familiar things, live through new experiences, and someday find the perfect opportunity to freely reminisce. Most importantly, I will not let the fear of landing on the ground stop me, and I will, without a doubt, fly.