A Run Through The Forest
A Run Thruí The Forest
Itís late February, spring on the heels of winter. Trees leafless, swaying in the muddled chill of the wind; the sun dapples and bends its way through the skeletal branches with afternoonís amber light. The boy is hiding behind a large tree on the fork of a small creek that runs through the woods behind where he lives. He is hiding. Hiding from the teenagers. The boy and his best friend come to these woods almost every day, all day in the summer. There are few dangers really, deadfalls, mud, rusty nails from forgotten tree houses, snakes, nothing a boy of nine couldnít handle; if he was watchful. The teenagers. The boy wished his best friend were here now. He felt safer along his side. He was two years older than the boy and quite a bit heavier. The boyís best friend had to go to his aunts today so the boy went alone.
The boy craned his neck left, right, squinting his eyes looking for them. Of them he saw no sign. So the boy listened. He heard the babbling of the creek water over the mud and rocks, the grass swaying in yellow oceans; the trees groan and creek like old men but heard no foot falls. The boy wondered dimly if they could maybe hear the steady thumping of his heart and dismissed it as paranoia, even though the word was not yet in his vocabulary. The sweat he had worked up running here, to his hiding place, was now drying in cool waves down his back. The boy thought in another few minutes he would try for home and he thought he would make it, if he was careful.
In the short time that passed before the boy got the nerve to make for home he thought of many things, the teenagers mostly. They came to these woods to smoke and do drugs and have the sex. Of the first and the latter he was sure. He and his best friend were always finding cigarette butts lying around by the creekís banks. Once they had happened across a blanket laid out under a large oak. On the plaid design of the throw there was something, which reminded the boy of a jellyfish. His friend said it was a condom. The boy didnít know exactly what that was or did, but he knew it meant the sex had gone on here. The boy also thought about the tree house he and his best friend had built from the leftover lumber of his friendís fatherís deck. They spent the better part of a week working on it. Shimming up the tree and nailing boards to boards to boards and nailing and getting blisters and hitting your thumb but when it was finished the boy and his best friend sat in it and felt accomplished. They used it to talk or meet or have the fun boys of that age usually do. It was their sacred place where no grown upís could come and bother them. The boy could not imagine his mother of father lumbering through the brush and climbing up the tree to their clubhouse. It was the boyís idea not to put hand holds or a ladder to it, so no one but them could get up to it. But inevitably someone did. The teenagers did. They left cigarette butts and beer cans in it. They pissed in the holy water. The tree house was no longer sacred grounds.
Sitting here on his knees the boy was again, as he always was, saddened at the way he and his friendís handy work had been abused, violated. The boy looked at the sun and judged ten or so minutes had passed. A trick he learned from his father. The boy stood up as he looked cautiously for them. They were easy to spot with their black leather jackets or their brightly colored clothing, with their vulgar haircuts. With no one in sight the boy decided to go home. He crawled up the protruding roots, washed with the flood waters of the winter melts and stood at ground level taking in his surroundings like a field leader in some world war two movie. The direction home was as clear as a yellow line in a road, at least to the boy, and he headed home on its bearing.
The boy ran through the forest; ran like an escaped convict on his day of flight. He had his brand spankiní new Nike airs laced up and was sure they made him run faster. His mother forbade him to wear them in the woods but hey, what she didnít know wouldnít hurt her. It wasnít as if he was stepping on all the sidewalk cracks with ill omen toward his motherís spinal health. So on he ran. Ran on and on, ducking tree branches and jumping fallen limbs. Dodging the rip grass, nasty stuff that tore long gashes in your legs, and skipped over gopher holes. The boy didnít realize it then, we never do when it happens but he would remember these runs for a long time. When he remembered them he would do so with a mingled sense of loss and nostalgia. Never in his life would things be so free and simple, so clear-cut. He would realize these feelings as an older man with a balding head and a beer gut wishing he could strap on new shoes and run like that again.
Halfway across a clearing of dead long grass and weeds the boy spotted two teenagers. How could I have let my guard down, he thought but he new. He was wrapped up in the elemental beauty of the run home. The boy ducked down quickly obscuring himself. The grass was a good three feet tall and he knew from experience you couldnít see stuff until you were right on top of it. The boy could feel the ground through his jeans and flannel shirt. Distantly he could hear them walking, hear their wind muddled conversation.
The boyís parents took him to Sunday school and he knew about his savior Jesus and the God man. Knew about Moses and the Ark and the fall of Babel. He only grasped these things as stories, never quite put them to place in the real world. He was not a dumb boy, actually rather smart even if he was an average C student. The boy just didnít get the Big Picture he guessed he never would. Even though the logistics were alien to him, he prayed now huddled down in the grass from the teenagers. The boy didnít picture the man he had once thought of as God, a large man with a white robe and a sliver beard. He got a clear image of his best friend and prayed to him instead. Prayed he would get out of this mess.
The boy could hear them, getting closer. He heard their shuffled footfalls like mice in the walls of an old house. Heard the muddy words of their conversation. He wanted badly to peak his head up to get a location, make sure his mind was registering the right distances but no, that would give his position away. Closer, they were right next to him, he would swear it, then still closer. Now he could smell them. Smell the cigarettes smoke, smell the leather of their coats. Smell their vulgarity. Now the boy thought a horrid thing. What if they trip right over me? They would surely beat me up or make me do the bad stuff or kill me. The boy put his face in his hands wanting to cry but knowing it would be a bad idea. Now he could see them out of the corner of his vision. The boy turned his head watching their black visages pass by to his left. He stared back down at the matting of grass and dirt, then as if by his thoughts alone the footsteps started to trail away.
The boy lay there for half an hour after he heard the last sign of them. When he finally stood up and looked around the cool February wind made his eyes burn. He realized that his cheeks were wet. The boy ran the next mile home in a feverish boulder dash. He fell twice once only on the soft earth, the other cutting his palm on a jutting tree stump. Those moments between hiding in the grass and making it to the houses of his edition passed by in a kind of haze, like watching a whole movie in fast forward then trying to remember what happened.
He was out of the woods now, walking up the house-lined street to his home. Mud caked his new sneakers and smeared his pants, hands and face. Blood was clotting in his left palm. His eyes were still puffy and red but when he finally saw his house he felt relived, warm. The boy suddenly didnít hear his heart trip hammering in his chest. Didnít feel the sting of his palm. Didnít care if his mother yelled at him for ruining his now shoes. The boy decided something then. A promise he only broke once, thirty or so years later. He would never go into the woods without his friend. He was his safety net, his compadreí. The boy went home, got an ear full for his troubles but was happy to be home, where his heart was.
Thirty years later the boy now a man, discovered where his heart truly did lie. The man sat on the jutting roots of a tree between the forks of the creek in the woods behind where he lived as a child. He sat in his dress pants and button up shirt that stretched over his ample belly. He sat and thought about the past. The man knew where his life had been lived, where the only true battles were won and lost. The place in witch his heart would long for until the day he died. The man, once a boy but now on the dawn of his fortieth birthday, put his head in his hands thinking he would cry. He knew better of it though, this wasnít the kind of hurt a sober man could cry over and maybe that was the worst part. He cried when he lost his first girl, cried when he put his dog to sleep but this feeling this lost and lonely longing he felt could not be let out. It must constantly be there to remind him of when his life was good and clean and simple.