I've biked far on flat road, only the hill left. A monstrous thing, I've never gone up it before. Long and steep and curved like an S. One winter long ago, the bus couldn't make it, but slid backwards down again. We had to get out and walk the rest of the way.
I have a mental method for dealing with unpleasant things. A friend. I call him my angel, but it's only in the sense that you call something vaguely round a 'circle' because you don't know what it is. I'm fully aware that he's just in my head, but it helps, and when I work out, he cheers me on. "When we get to that tree," I tell him, "you go on ahead." In steep hills, I send him up to the top to wait for me. I don't want him next to me, it's stressful, I need to focus. "He's waiting up there, he'll wait for as long as it takes, but you have to make it up," I tell myself. "No feet on the ground." My legs are already telling me to quit. They're done with this shit. I'm a quarter way up. This is going to hurt.
At the top of the hill I have few coherent thoughts beyond how much pain my legs are in. But I made it. I'm here. I've gone to a place I used to be every day, but hasn't been since I left it for the last time, is it fifteen years ago? I've wanted to see it again. I don't know why, but I need to see it again.
It's still there, it looks the same, but at the same time, nothing like it. It looks like nothing. Some houses. The playground is different, all the things are new and in new places. I continue on, to the other playground further away, the one we weren't supposed to be at but spent most of our time at anyway. To get away. The path has been ruined by forest machines but I recognize it.
As I walk it, I start crying. Just a little, a flood of emotions I don't know what they are. Walking this path this direction, with the buildings and the people behind me, used to be the best moment. I used to have a friend here, a flesh and blood friend, although he didn't talk much more than my angel. He used to smile in a way that made everything better, and I think, I think I thought of him as mine. My own shy, wild animal to befriend and watch. I reach the playground and it's mostly gone, only a few bare bones remaining.
There's nothing here.
Not only are the items gone, whatever I was looking for, it isn't here. There aren't even memories; the memories are already in me, I carried them with me. There's absolutely nothing here. It's a little sad. I try to conjure up some feeling for the place, but it's gone. And something small that's been grating on me my whole life, like a rock in your shoe, settles in and finds its place. The past is gone. Nothing remains. All that is, is here, and now. Nothing they did can touch you again, nothing we had can be as it was. There's nothing here.
I walk around some more. I want to see beyond the hill; I remember it all from dreams. I've dreamed of this place quite frequently, it seems I spent so much time here, whenever my mind needs a setting for some dramatic dream plot or other, it uses this. But I am surprised to find that my dreams have stayed quite true to reality, even the things I were sure were dream-additions.
The rolling hills are cut off here and there by solid walls of smaller, thinner trees, growing so tight you can't see beyond the first row. Impassable barriers, where if you push yourself between the soft bendy branches, you can disappear and get lost forever.
There are small trees growing in tight groups, tiny to me, but for a seven-year-old, tall enough to hide in. And as for the large, spread out trees, they're so tall I have to lean my head all the way back to see the top, for a child, they had to be endless.
There are no trees, only pillars of eternity, a hundred feet tall, holding up the heavens. Like little mice setting up their grand comedies and tragedies with dollhouse furniture around the legs of the dining room table, lives began and ended here, selves were made and unmade with the seasons.
I wonder what's beyond the next hill, but it doesn't matter now. Whatever I came looking for, my heart is sated knowing it's not here. I walk back to the bike, thinking of my friend, of his smiles, and of how I never told him what an important friend he was. Even as a small child, I was afraid to show my hand. Afraid to admit I relied on another person, even just liked another person. I joked about it once or twice, but I would never have said it seriously. Said what, exactly?
The other shoe finally drops, having hung on forever. Beneath my childhood ideas of romance and the dramatic plots of TV and books, beneath momentary crushes and greedy wishes, it was always this. My first love. So complicated, and so unimaginably simple. All my life I wondered what love really was, what I was looking for. And standing here in the place that no longer is, it all fits inside a tiny, shy, mysterious smile. Mine. Always and forever, in those moments, mine. Among the memories, it is that little boy that shines like a beacon, and I never realized. That I came here looking for him. That I will keep looking for him all my life.
I get on the bike, my angel resumes his position just behind me on the left. We speed down the hill, wind in my hair, his right wing stretched out over my head. In a few seconds, we've undone all that hard work, all the willpower and pain. We leave it behind, and it's all gone.
There's nothing here.
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