Yesterday, an impromptu detour led me to the vacant lot next to the house I grew up in back in rural Minnesota. My parents moved away a decade ago, but I’ll never forget the rambling, single-story home tucked back in the marsh that always smelled like woodsmoke. Back in 1997, the owner of the lot next door shipped in dozens of rocks over the course of three summers. Rumor was, the owner ran out of money before actually building the house and abandoned it. It still stands empty, a rock graveyard amidst farmland.
I used to walk these woods during my embarrassingly emo high school days, sighing about unrequited crushes and wishing I had sleek hair and clear skin like the cool girls. I’d give myself pep talks and reassure myself that things would get better and one day I’d have the big city life I dreamed of. Ten years later, the silent woods still provoked that same feeling of anticipation, of being at the beginning of my life and hoping that the best was yet to come.
That very night, a girl approached me at my family’s church. She had the same glasses, gangly legs, and frizzy hair that marked me during high school, and she excitedly told me about how she played clarinet in the marching band (I played flute) and was president of the debate team (I was mock trial). Her eyes widened when she learned that I lived all the way in San Francisco with my husband, and she wanted to know everything about the city. I asked her how she liked high school, and her face clouded before saying, “It’s… ok.”
She didn’t have to say it, because I lived it. I wanted to tell her that she was special and that her life would take off as soon as she escaped high school and its cruel inhabitants. I wanted to tell her that she’d finally get her first kiss and that she would blossom and find her passion and amazing people to share the ride. Her intelligence and kindness would become assets instead of liabilities.
I held back from speaking aloud, which I regret now, even though I probably would’ve sent her running for the hills. But talking to her and being here touched something in me, and those long-ago walks in the woods suddenly seemed very near.