Forever on the bus I sat until we came to the jungle marking the middle of town. Marking my stop.
Mary* was my age despite her dish-water hair falling into a most modern cut just above her shoulders. Those shoulders also defied the image of a girl (eight or nine in years) as they carried her fully formed breasts–something I marveled at more than envied. Slightly more marvelous was that she lived among rhododendrons, bulges of ivy, and pumpkin-shaped squash with her grandmomma. The jungle, we bus-riders called it. For each plant felt its way to and fro her grandmomma’s garden and the house-shed that they resided in.
Momma forbid me from entering the jungle. As most young things, the scenery coupled with Mary’s stories of Aladdin and Fruit Loops consumed every afternoon were enough to make my legs itch for want of running through plants’ limbs. Soon I became immersed in night visions of sitting atop Aladdin‘s rug, Mary’s sticky fingers entangling mine–remnants of sweets lining their counter-tops.
Each day that I obeyed Momma by walking the tarred road straight home was another day closer to finding my feet slipping across the water-logged ditches to the jungle.
For the 177th time, Mary invited me over. For the 177th time, my mouth formed the word “No,” but my legs mirrored Mary’s already leading to her land. The white carpet that my momma and daddy trampled with their ten-hour work days, their hot mouthed replies, fell behind me as we ran up and down the wet ditches, crossing into her weeded terrain.
Recalled fresh are the dark green asbestos shingles of their house-shed (perhaps the first she-shed known to men) among the greenery that defied all senses of structure. Nothing was forced to behave, to sit in a line as I’d been taught at school, to stay in one’s place without touching others as we’d been scolded on bus rides. It felt so right to forget the lines, the pristine carpets and square meals, the boys and men forever barking ’round me.
What a chaotic cocoon of Mother Nature the jungle offered.
What a backyard, she-shed of a haven the jungle offered.
And just across the street from my manicured existence?
Hours must have passed, for Aladdin had ended and begun again. My belly ached from a dinner of sugared preservatives and questionable milk. Not once did I think of letting Momma know where I was, and the kind of jungles I’d witnessed.
Alas, this memory is just that–a memory folded into twenty-plus years of more matter. And thus I can’t recall how or when I traipsed home. But I do recall Momma had lines about her than I’d noticed that morning. Loud lines. Panic made her voice thick, and I’m sure her arms, her hands went about my skinny, pale frame. She shook and shook, I’m certain, demanding to know where I’d been and why the hell I hadn’t thought to call. “Why did you disobey me?” she surely howled.
Of these questions, I have no doubt because I now mother a skinny, pale frame. And I too tell my babe where he may and may not go. Often, I wish him to stay the size of our small red Radio Flyer.
But someday his legs will itch with the tension of ridding himself of our house, albeit tinier but no less manicured than the house of my youth. And when he does, I only hope it is within walking distance and is a safe place that offers him similar solace in the only way that connecting with Mother Nature, with something that feels rightly your very own, can.
Recently, my wee one and I rode our bicycle past the jungle. Some will see overgrown weeds, grass needing trimmed. Maybe even the roof caved in with the house’s exterior just begging for updated windows and siding. To me, the lot is just as dark and menacing and dreamy as it ever was.
Smaller, yes. But no less alive. No less feral and free.
Have you ventured back to the jungles and lands of your youth? How do you find them?
*In Law & Order fashion, names are changed to protect the innocent.