Work in Progress

An excerpt of my memoir…

It was going to take a long time to fill the missing road, even with five of us. Cindy didn’t help much, she just followed me into the woods and picked up sticks, insisting they were big enough. Sweat built up on my face as I trudged back and forth. Dirt clung to my skin in black patches. The woods smelled like wet pine and tasted like mud.

  “Quit following me!” I yelled. Of course, Cindy was always the first to cry.

Usually during our drives we would stop at a roadside stream for a picnic. My sisters and I spread out, away from each other. Residue from miles of gravel roads coated our hair and legs. Mom would wipe the dust off her glasses with her shirt before she handed out sandwiches wrapped in plastic. I liked to eat with my feet in the cold, clear water, gazing at the shiny rocks on the creek bottom. Along the edge where the water was still, water skippers hovered on the surface as if they were floating in air. I gazed at their thin, listless legs, unaware of the gray fingerprints I was pressing on the white bread.

My sisters and I always reconvened. Sometimes we picked wild honeysuckle or lied on our backs to name clouds. In the mountains, the summer air smelled like toasted grass and brushed our faces in a warm breeze. The stream would gurgle in the background beneath blasts of childish banter. “It’s a dragon with a Humtpy Dumpty body.” “It’s a whale eating a cat.” “That one is a horse peeing like a man.”

With no puffy white clouds that day, and tasked with finding large objects, the five of us scattered. Daddy towed huge branches down the mountain. He said downhill was easier than up, so working alone, we rolled rocks and hoisted dead logs beneath the car. Climbing higher, we built up the road with the forest.

So much of my childhood consisted of building something that wasn’t there. We wanted to be a good family, but nobody knew how to accomplish the idea in our mind. Five different ideas clashed against each other, banging into things and tripping over rocks of persistence. We favored our own fixes over the others, and resented each other’s shortcomings.  It was easy to feel cast aside, and the longing for wholeness emphasized our failures to move beyond a dead end.

My arms had become tired from towing branches and logs through grasses and shrubs that snagged and pulled every limb. I found a spot beneath a tall ponderosa, away from everyone. Leaning against the tree trunk, I twisted a pine needle around my index finger. They looked like wishbones, the pine needles, and I was sitting on a sky of them. I twisted the long needle around my finger until my skin puckered and turned the pad of my finger bright red. The color drained to its original fleshy pink when I unwound it. I listened for footsteps and stayed there for a while, twisting, untwisting, hoping my family wouldn’t find me.