Maggie, at From Cave Walls, and Lauren, at LSS Attitude of Gratitude, alternate hosting Throwback Thursday. The idea of the prompt is for them to give us a topic and for us to write a post in which we share our own memories or experiences about the given topic. This week, Lauren asked us ten questions about what it was like then and what it’s like now.
When I read her questions, I was having a hard time figuring out how to respond. My memories around most of her questions were so faded that I couldn’t figure out how to respond, and I was going to skip the prompt this week.
But one question caught my attention. Lauren asked, “Did you ever get lost as a child? How did you handle it?” And suddenly a very vivid memory popped into my head from when I was about seven years old and either in the first or second grade. So instead of answering all ten of Lauren’s questions, I thought I’d just share that memory in response to that one question.
I’d walked through this woods at least a dozen of time before. But suddenly everything looked unfamiliar, menacing, treacherous.
Still, I followed the path I was on. But was it the right one, the one that would lead me home? I couldn’t be sure. There were several forks in the trail and I worried that I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
The branches, some still with autumn’s dying leaves clinging to them, were reaching down toward me like the gray, bony arms of an army of skeletons. Grabbing, pulling.
It was dusk, and the rapidly approaching darkness, intensified by the canopy of the trees surrounding the path, seemed to be enveloping me. It was getting cold, too, and I could feel a chill passing through my light jacket, reaching deep inside to my very core.
I heard sounds, but I couldn’t be sure if they were the sounds of my own footfalls or if someone — or something — was lurking from within the trees, following me, waiting for just the right moment to pounce. I had never been so scared in my young life.
Why had I done this? I knew I was supposed to go right home after school. But I was new to this school and my best friend — my only friend, actually — had invited me to come over to his house to play after school.
My friend lived just on the other side of the woods, not that far from my own home, really. Just in the opposite direction from the school.
I knew how to get home from my usual starting point, the school, but now I was hopelessly lost. I didn’t know whether to continue in the direction I’d been walking, or to turn around and head back toward my friend’s house. But if I did turn around, would I even be able to find my way back there?
I came across a large, downed tree branch along the side of the path. Unsure about whether I should move ahead or turn back, I sat down on the branch. It was dark and it was cold. Fear was starting to overcome me and I began to cry.
“Hey kid,” I heard a voice say. It startled me. “Are you okay?” the voice asked.
“I’m lost,” I said between sobs, looking up at an older boy, who must have been a sixth grader.
“Where do you live?”
I gave the older kid my address; my parents had made me memorize it. “But if you take me back to my school, I can find my way home from there.”
The older boy grabbed my hand and pulled me up. “I know where you house is,” he said. “I’ll take you home.”
I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or to be wary. “Don’t talk to strangers,” my parents had warned me countless times. But in this case, the stranger was, himself, just a kid. Maybe only five or six years older than me. He was a godsend.
The older boy took me straight home to my worried parents, who were so relieved and overjoyed to see me. I was surprised to find my father there, as he normally didn’t get home from work until much later. My mother was crying tears of relief and happiness. So was my father. It was the first time I’d ever seen his father cry. My mother couldn’t stop hugging and kissing me, repeating “Oh thank God, oh thank God” over and over.
The next day, first thing in the morning, the principal’s voice was broadcast over the school’s P.A. system, to be heard in all of the classrooms throughout the building .
“Boys and girls,” she said. “When you leave the school in the afternoons, you must go directly home unless your parents have given you a signed permission slip authorizing you to go somewhere else after school.”
I knew why the principal had made that announcement on that particular morning. But no one in my classroom was looking at me, the new kid. The kid who should have known better.
And when I left school that afternoon, I walked confidently into the woods. The familiar, comforting woods that I knew would lead him home.