My best friend was a goddess to me. She was about four years older than me. I remember the way she looked clearly but I lost track of her over two decades ago. She was thin and plain but to me, she was the gorgeous epitome of everything I wished to become. Her eyes were liquid brown, her skin soft and creamy. She had thin, straight blond hair that framed a small face. Between her two, top, front teeth was a large gap. She was long-limbed and ungainly and in retrospect, perhaps she was cognitively deficient for her age but I saw none of this. I idolized her beauty, wit and creativity. Despite the age gulf between us, we seemed to be equals. Time plays tricks but I believe she was our leader.
We played in our imaginary world, and the Magic land was our backdrop. We imagined civilization where there was none. First, we created a hideout among the willows. They grew together in one part of the magic land, a giant mass of interwoven branches. We had to force our way into the spaces between them, huddled close to the sandy ground. We found wild berries growing near our hideout on small, flowering green plants. We plucked the berries and took them back to our lair. We had no notion of their origin but we trusted that they were edible. We ate of them greedily, sucking out their seeds and laying them inside. They stained our teeth a pinkish hue. They were sweet but they left our mouths rather parched. When we finished our little feast, we were careful to plant the seeds in the ground. We imagined that in time, more berries would take root near our hideout and we would enjoy them again. It seemed the berries grew near that spot for many years but I never knew if it was because of our careful tending.
My imagination has long lingered on spaces. Whether indoor or outdoor, these places have life in my dreams. I have lost track which were places I had really been and which I created in my mind but I know the Willow Grove was real. So was our fort between the orchard and the road.
Playing by a giant felled tree, we discovered that the bark could easily be removed. The bark made great shingles for our fort and inside the bark; we found the soft innards of the tree. We called it "soft stuff" and used it to insulate our growing hideaway.
We laid the shingles between a branch and the fence to the road. Slowly, our shelter took shape. We shoved the soft stuff between the shingles to fill the cracks and to create warmth. Our fort slowly became a cozy home. We lined the floor with soft stuff to create a nest. Even when the rain fell, we were kept relatively dry. We imagined that no one could find us in the secret shelter we had created. Hours were swallowed up in the upkeep of our outdoor haven of domesticity. We kept the area outside the hut swept clean with small branches removed from a nearby rabbit bush. There was never a cozier home than the one we created. Sometimes I still find my mind straying to this place.
I lived for so long in an imaginary world of my creation that I am uncertain when that world ceased to be a part of my daily life. When I remember, part of me is still alive in that space. I sense it as though it were both yesterday and another lifetime ago. My sensory memories are still tangible. My hands reach out to caress the soft stuff. I remember the smells inside the bark we stripped from the fallen tree. I remember my friend's laughter. Everything is somehow so simple, so innocent that all the worries of adulthood disappear. We may not be able to go back in time, or to relive our childhood, but we can remember how we felt inside. I remember the endless possibilities, the special places both real and imagined and the boundless dreams and possibilities before me. I am not trapped in one destiny, I am free to do whatever I want, to become whatever I wish to become...