Across the Creek

via Daily Prompt: Relieved

There’s something about returning to your old high school stomping grounds during an evening walk. I experienced this the other night with a friend, and it posed an opportunity to reflect on my life before college.

Sometimes I need to revisit the places I’ve been to remind myself what is in store for me now. This was no exception—as we walked through the tennis courts, running our fingers across the chain-link fences and kicking those forlorn green balls out of our path, I couldn’t help but remember this same moment just a few years ago. Call it déjà vu, call it coincidence, but as I kicked the last of the tennis balls into the grass, my mind wandered to the days when we’d play, six to a team, for those last forty-six minutes of the morning before rushing to the next class.

The conversation lapsed into one of recipes—seared steak served over a tomato and blue cheese salad, maple salmon with walnuts—like many things in life, it comfortably circled back to food. We climbed the hills surrounding the brick school buildings, alone save for a janitor shutting the power off for the night. Rabbits, shifty ones with nervous eyes and powerful back legs, darted across the overgrown reeds. After a shortcut through the adjacent neighborhood, home to residents who often called school officials to complain about students parking haphazardly in front of their driveways, we reached the elementary school.

Having never attended public school until my teenage years, I held no connection to this place. But its friendly sign, decorations in pastel colors, and impressive playground held vague memories of childhood and all that comes with time. Named for the creek running through one section of the forest, the school became crowded by New York residential developments over the years. Even as we cautiously scaled the hillside, my friend and I were aware of neighbors murmuring from their patio sets.

Wading in the creek is a pastime from our parents’ generation. It was times like these I longed for the cornfields and overgrown swamps of my own childhood. We were older now, but the creek invited the curiosity we often miss as adults with obligations and schedules. Crossing it was another thing entirely.

I held my breath, steadying myself as water rushed over the slippery rocks. One step, a wave of relief, and the moment was cut short by the realization I would need to make it a little further across to capture that perfect shot. My sneakers filled with water as I raised my arms, balancing as wire-walkers do on a taut line.

I made it across the creek that day with minimal scratches—an impressive feat for a self-proclaimed klutz. And as I waited for the camera to focus, sunlight peeked through the trees and bathed the forest in golden light.

There was more to this evening, of course. Hot fudge sundaes at the nearby convenience store, a four-mile walk through the neighborhoods, and subsequent admiration of each home’s eclectic features. Conversations about movies, music, democracies, and fireflies. I made it home as the first lightning strikes pierced the sky.

My life is far different from the one I lived in high school. But as Dr. Seuss once said, “Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!”

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