The Forest Path

When I reached grade one, my parents started having me walk with another girl on my street, we’ll call her Brenda, to school. It was probably a kilometer walk. Brenda was physically bigger than me, although in the same grade. She was also a complete and utter bossy bully type. She resented that she had to walk me. On the back home from school (and sometimes on the way to), she’d stop in at her grandparents’ house. She told me to hide around the side of the house on the commemorative trail-way/park beside their house so that I was out of sight, I assume now because she didn’t want to have to share the treats they gave her with me.

About mid-first-term, it started to rain and I didn’t want to wait in the rain. I walked right up to their porch and sat down on their swing, where her grandmother saw me and asked who I was. Brenda tried to tell her that I wasn’t anyone she knew, and I told them that I was the girl that walked home with her every day, and I was not going to wait out in the park in the rain until she was done getting a snack. Brenda grabbed the sleeve of my jacket and pulled me by it all the way to my house, practically pushing me into the mud of my front yard, where I defiantly stuck my tongue out at her retreating back as she stomped off through the puddles to her house.

From then on, I was begrudgingly allowed to remain on the porch, but she forbade me from going in. She told her grandparents that I wasn’t allowed into strangers’ houses, although she told me that her grandparents didn’t want any other little girls in their house, especially not a “troublemaker” like me. I was, however, given a small treat by her grandmother or grandfather before Brenda yanked me on our way.

One day in early spring, Brenda had been especially “impatient” with me, and she had yanked my sleeve hard enough to rip my jacket. When I went in and my mom saw, she started to give me trouble, but I wasn’t about to take the fall! I told her that Brenda did it. She thought, at first, that I was trying to defer the blame. I stood my ground and told my mom all the stuff that had been going on; with the grandparents, with the yanking me around like a dog on a leash, with all her huffing and insults. My mom was a bit angry.

The next day, my mom took me to school, and she confronted my teacher about the way Brenda had been treating me, and Brenda got a lecture. I don’t have any idea why they thought it would be a good thing, but I was still supposed to walk home with her that day. However, Brenda left the school as quick as she could without telling me, and while I was distracted by something else. I was left with having to walk home on my own.

It was frightening for me, but I tried to think of it as an adventure. I even started to skip a little. Now, not counting my female cousins of my age and our little cat fights, the closest I had ever come to being hurt by another human being physically was Brenda’s yanking and pushing style of “walking” me to school. That’s what made what was coming next a terrifying experience.

A little boy that I knew of (he was an acquaintance of my cousins) lived across the street from my school. When he saw me walking home alone, he crossed the street and punch me in the stomach as hard as he could, knocking the wind out of me, then he walked back across the street, as calm as you please, and went home. I had tears in my eyes, and not only from the pain. I was shaking. That was the first time in my entire life someone had caused me physical pain by their direct and deliberate actions, and I’ll never forget to my dying day the look of satisfaction on his face when he saw I was doubled over. To this day, I have no idea why he even did it.

That was a double-edge-sword kind of day. In the daze of confusion and hurt I was in after having been struck like that, I turned on to the wrong side street on my way home. The roads of my home town are meandering mazes at times, and this one was no exception. It twisted into the shape of an L and intersected, thankfully, with the street I normally would turn on getting home. What pulled me out of the stupor I had been in was the beauty of my unexpected surroundings.

This was a street without sidewalks and for good reason. There were old, old trees lining the street. Their twisted roots became twisted benches, chairs, and tables for fantastical creatures. Some trick of the houses and the wind that day blocked out the sound of the traffic of the busy streets nearby, and all there was were these tall old trees, their young green leaves fully unfurling. As a city girl, I hadn’t spent a lot of time “in the country”, nor had I ever really been on any hikes. In my mind’s recollection of the scene, I can tell you that my six-year-old self saw this place as a full forest path hidden in the midst of the city. I was thrilled by the beauty of it.

Suddenly, the pain of being punched and the fear of being left to walk home alone for the first time in my entire all faded, and I was happy again. Walking slowly and carefully through this magical path (as my mind dubbed it), I felt like I was on an entirely different world. Recognizing where I was once I left that side street, I immediately started skipping all the way home.

Of course, when I walked in, my mother immediately asked me where the hell I had been, because my grandmother had told her that she had seen Brenda walking down the street much earlier. My mom was just on her way over to Brenda’s to see where I was. I told my mom the truth; that Brenda had left the school without even bothering to find me, and I walked home alone, slowly, to make sure that I was being very safe and wasn’t going to get lost.

I wasn’t made to walk with Brenda any more after that day and forbidden to even play with here on or off school property. As I understand it, Brenda got in immense amounts of trouble for having left me at school alone, so she preceded to make my life a living hell for the rest of the time we lived on the same street and/or went to the same school. However, I was allowed to walk to and from school on my own, or sometimes with my sister, depending, from then on. Whenever possible, I used my magical forest path, telling stories to myself the whole way. As for the little boy bully, I only had one other painful confrontation with him, but that’s a story for another day.

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