I Was Here Once

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There’s a river that runs behind my house. To find it, you have to trek past a layer of pathless woods and a field of thorns that is recklessly unforgiving. It’s no wonder people don’t go there often. But I did.

I was 12 when I stumbled upon it. 16 when my friends gave it its own nickname. By the time I was 17, of course, we were sisters. The grass there knew how to wrap me up after a long day, to kiss my cheek and tell me all was well. Some afternoons I’d leave school early just to wander back here alone. Peace was never found so easily as it was there.

So I was surprised today when I walked back to this place and found that it did not offer me the same solace as it once did. Two years had come and gone since I’d seen it in winter. The water ran past but didn’t sing. Trees swayed overhead but their branches chose not to clothe me. Even the wind brushed past with cold shoulders not giving as much as a “hello.” The landscape itself had changed: years had eaten away at the dirt until the broken tree that once functioned as a faithful bridge had fallen in and been swept away. It was as if to whisper, “No entry.”

The earth here had grown indifferent to my presence. My key was youth and I no longer possessed it—I was not allowed in. 

Perhaps I knew this day would come. Most places and people end in goodbye: that’s the price of individuality. Following your own compass means being bound to your own path, and often when things cross, it’s only a matter of time until they never do so again. It’s funny—in a sad kind of way—to think of all the different things and all the different faces that we used to have the privilege to call ours. It was like how in high school I used to drive the backroads with the feeling that every yellow line belonged to me. I came home from my first year of college to find I was just another adult occupying the painted asphalt.

And yet, today I decided not to knock. Sometimes doors feel nicer closed. This river and I no longer needed each other as we used to. There may be some grief in that, but I was lucky enough not to feel it. Like the jewels of this world that are revered for their rarity, brevity itself is a gift. Maybe it’s an intimate thing that we know endings at all.

So instead I just smiled. I was here once, and that was beautiful.

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