Storytime: The Woods Before College

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: A walk in the woods.

It’s nearly pitch black outside, the smallest crescent of the moon is visible in the sky. This is my last night living on Long Island. I am going to leave and I am never coming back. It’s the middle of the night, probably past 2am, and there are almost no sounds across the water.

I’m curled up in Cascio’s lap and he’s holding his arms around me as if I am precious. I’m not but he holds onto me anyway, his hands gently wrapped around my thin arms. Careful not to crush me. He is so much larger than I am that his whole body seems to engulf me, making me feel even smaller. He’s looming so large it feels like I could disappear underneath his watchful eye.

“What’s going to happen now?” I lean into him, my back bumping his shoulder.

“I don’t know” he hums out. From him the words sound new and exciting, almost not at all terrifying.

This is the last time we’ll be here. Here, together. Cascio and Steve and myself. They’re here to celebrate my journey from this small pond to the whole wide world since I leave for college in the morning. They came to my window at midnight for one last hurrah. A hurrah in this case is marching through the woods and swamp behind Drake’s house. Past the abandoned construction site, past the sand and gravel pit, alongside the tall reeds and the thick, greasy creek is where the woods behind Drake’s house turn into a marsh.  That marsh opens to the edge of the water where we are now. A makeshift beach, if beach simply means a place where the land gets swallowed up by the water sometimes.

The shore here is damp but not soft. It’s filled with pebbles and rocks that allow the miniature waves to break on them. I try not to think about the smell too much. A pungent mix of dead sea creatures, mud, and a thick, hazy salt that coats the inside of my nose and mouth. I focus instead on the soft, rich smell of Cascio behind me. Leather, a sharp aftershave, cigarettes, and a hint of sadness. I’m not sad. Every moment is the last moment of something – just like this one.

Steve is patrolling along the edge of the water, yelling out when he finds something interesting. Occasionally laughing. Occasionally talking to himself. I try not to think about the long walk back through the forest. The walk here had seemed darker and scarier than I remembered. I’ve walked through this woods in the dark countless times but before today they had seemed friendly and familiar. On this night, as we returned to them one last time, they were suddenly foreign. I know that it’s me, I’ve changed too much to recognize these woods. I am different within these trees. I’m too far away from my body to understand the mushy land or the tall reeds or even the thick, dipping underbrush anymore. If I ever really knew it at all.

We start to head back when the tide rolls in. What had once been dried up patches of land with muddy edges have now swelled to small pools and rivulets under our feet. We have to hop over the little puddles that have popped up to make our way back. It’s manageable until we reach a six foot wide rivulet, full to nearly the top with mud and salt water. It looks too long across to jump so we walk along it for a few uneasy minutes until we have to concede that jumping over it is the only way back to the woods. The boys have no fear. Cascio jumps and easily clears it, then Steve jumps. He almost falters at the edge until Cascio’s strong, sure hand steadies him. I’m left there on other side of the shore, by myself, starring at the two of them coaxing me to make the jump.

I’m never going to make it. I’m a clear foot shorter than either of them, less powerful, and terrified of water. They are engineering a plan to throw me across the pool of water instead. They calculate the risk of jumping back to get me, to heft me in their arms from one side of the bank to the other. I refuse. I need to do this on my own. After all I’m going to be on my own from now on.

“We’ll catch you” they assure me.

I take a running leap. It’s more faith than calculation. I make it halfway and then, as if in slow motion, I see myself sink into the water below, barely having cleared any distance at all. The water is thick and wet. The water is pulling me down. My legs are flailing and I am screaming, my hands go up and I start to slide under into the wet shine and the inky blackness when strong hands tug at my sleeves, tug at my wrists, and Cascio and Steve are lifting me out of the water.

“I told you I should have thrown you,” Steve huffs at me, his brow furrowed as I stand dripping water and mud onto the patchy reeds. I burst into tears then and never really stop. Cascio is quietly chuckling to himself and he brings me in for a hug. The two of them talk to me in soft, soothing tones the whole way home. They alternate carrying me on their backs when I become overwhelmed by the experience. Cascio even folds me gently into the back seat of the car once we reach the road and allows me to yell at him for what a bad idea this was – even though that’s not true. It was a great idea, it was the perfect goodbye. Unforgettable.

I take one of the longest, hottest showers of my life when we get home. I sit in the tub letting the scalding water pool around me, watching the sandy colored river grit wash off of my skin, out of my hair, and slowly travel down the drain.

When the tub is clean and clear and the water turns lukewarm I allow my feelings to wash over me instead.

Why couldn’t I just trust them?

They’re the closest things I have to a family right now and yet I still can’t trust them. Even after everything that has happened to us. Even after they’ve pulled me, screaming, from out of water that I had flung myself into, I wouldn’t trust them. I thought they would leave there, on the bank. I thought they would leave me there, slipping under the water. I thought they would leave me in the woods, coated in mud and fear. But they didn’t. And they wouldn’t.

Worse yet they never will. Instead, I’m leaving them.

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