Convince yourself you’re going to go.
That’s the first step. You won’t want to at first; you’ll want to stay at home and read; or stay at home and watch television; or do anything, really, that involves staying at home. You won’t want to go at first. But there’s something inside you that needs to get outside.
You look at the clock. It’s 11:00 a.m., and a Saturday morning. You’ve finished all your homework already, and because you’re only eleven, you don’t have much else to do. You sit on your bed. You read the same book with the torn-up cover for the 42nd time. You turn on the T.V., and Mom turns it off. So, you sit again on your bed with your book.
And then it hits you. The sudden, all-consuming urge to go outside, leave the house. Your initial lethargy has passed, and now you’re ready to go through your rituals that get you out the door. You hunt for your shoes. You forget to bring a jacket. You think to yourself, “I should really bring a water bottle with me this time; last time I hated not having it.” And then your mother hears the front door open, begins something about taking your sister with you, and before she can finish, you book it down the driveway—shoes on feet, and jacket hanging on the back of a chair at home.
You know the route by heart. Walk down the driveway; turn left onto the street. Pass Mr. Paul’s little white house, and wave hello to him as he makes his slow way to his ancient convertible car. Watch the sunlight pour into the street, sliding off trees onto baked, gray pavement. Balance on the tar marks dribbled lazily over cracks in the road. Stop and try to peel the black tar off with your baby fingers. Don’t turn the corner at the end of the road.
One more turn along this road. You walk farther uphill, breathing heavily, and cursing the uneven lay of the land for putting you out so quickly. It’s shadier here. Already, trees are beginning to grow thicker and closer together, and the houses start to make way for them.
You reach the end of the street, and a dirt path appears where the pavement ends. It marks the very end of the neighborhood, the summit of your peak. You grin. You step off the road and into the trees, crossing over into a world guarded by thick foliage, dense branches of oak meeting thick, sprawling bushes. From this dirt path, you emerge into shadow. The sun tips its last drops of light onto the thick, green leaves. They roll off and splatter into shady patterns on the forest floor, rippling over your shoulders, your arms. The relentless heat wavers, and settles, replaced by cool and humid air. The back of your neck ceases burning.
You stop squinting your eyes. To your right, hidden by a dip in the forest floor, you hear the creek starting its low, tell-tale trickle. You’re almost in the woods by now, but you still have one more road to cross. This is the busy road. The dangerous road. The road your mother told you to stay away from. At thirty miles an hour, it’s the fastest road in the neighborhood, feared by all children under the age of twelve. You refuse to let it intimidate you.
You step out of the canopy. Your heart rate picks up. You cross to the edge of the road. A car streams past, and you stand resolute. Your hair is thin and tangled, it lifts from your bony shoulders as the car rushes by, your face is ugly and sunburnt, and your short, eleven-year-old legs are tired, but you stand defiantly at the roadside. The car passes. The road stills. And then you run. The road is not more than two yards in length, but still you run, as though at any moment death in the form of a rattling, 2008 Subaru minivan driven by an oblivious neighbor will descend upon you in a brilliantly tragic end to your journey around the block.
No car comes. You cross safely to the other side. You’ve reached your forest, the great guardian of your childhood, the keeper of your secrets. You let your shoulders drop. You take off your shoes and hide them underneath a beloved rock. You step, barefoot, into the creek at the mouth of the forest. Its towering trees welcome you once more as you tread, weary and worn, into the deep, green recesses of earth and exhilaration.