CROW, TREE, HALLIE, SISTER, & ME
I am six. I live at the top of a large hill in a small town named Poulsbo.
The park resides at the bottom of this hill. It has frequent visitors.
First, there is Crow. Crow steals peanut butter sandwiches from picnic tables. Crow is clever. Crow fears nothing. Crow never dies.
Second is Tree. Tree is too wide for me to wrap my arms around. Tree has strong, sappy branches, and sheltering leaves. Tree is too tall for me to climb without a boost. But at the top of tree you can see all the way across the bay.
Third is Hallie. Hallie lives two houses down from the park, but not up our hill. Hallie's parents don’t care if she comes to the park alone. Hallie can come any time she wants, even after dark. Hallie always wants attention. Hallie is a dog.
Fourth is Sister. Sister follows me around. She chases Crow. She pets Hallie. She climbs Tree. She is my best friend.
A lot of kids like to come to this park. Especially after school. But I don’t know these kids. They go to a different school than me. I'd rather play with Sister in Tree alone.
They ask: Will you be my friend?
And I say: Yes. Because that is what I am supposed to say to kids my age.
I don’t really understand why. I am not supposed to talk to strangers, but for some reason kids don’t count. I'm not quite sure if their parents do.
This past week, I went around the circular monkey bars four times without dropping. It is my new record. I have calluses on my palms to show to the kids at school. Sister is impressed.
The same kids keep coming to the park asking to play with us. I don’t want to play with them. I would rather play with Sister on the monkey bars alone.
Today they brought lunch. Sister and I are up in Tree hiding. Hallie barks up at us.
Shhh… Sister warns Hallie.
Go! I tell Crow.
Crow steals blonde boy's sandwich. He cries.
The kids don’t come as often anymore. It is our park now.
Crow's park. Tree's park. Hallie's park. Sister's park. My park.
WHILE MOTHER WAS COOKING
I am ten. I live at the top of a large hill in a small town named Poulsbo.
The park resides at the bottom of this hill. It is full of little kids.
Mother only lets me ride my bike down to the park and back. I think she gets too nervous sometimes. I know this town like the back of my hand.
You know what's funny? The upside of the ride is going downhill and the downside is trudging uphill.
But I bike it anyway, over and over, because I like the wind in my hair and when people pass by, I imagine that I am like them, independent, deciding my own course.
Today, I reach the bottom of the hill for the twentieth time. I look back up the hill. Mother is collecting mail. She waves. I wave back, bike up again. Twenty-one. I look back up the hill again. Mother is gone. Our street is vacant. Only the red truck at the top of the hill. I look forward again onto Harrison. There is the park. There is the tree. There is Hallie crossing under the monkey bars. I look left. I look right. There are no cars. I look once more at my street, take a breath, and pedal off.
Left, around the park, beside the bay. My heart races. A runner waves. I wave back. I am free.
The town seems much bigger all alone. I turn at the first block, racing back down Harrison to my street before Mother notices I haven't returned back up the hill. I pass by my house again. I see Mother in the kitchen through the window. She is looking down at her recipe book. The houses on my street are still. Nothing has changed. The red truck is still there. I fly down my hill once more. Hallie is licking a child's hand. A crow has found another picnicker to pester. I had assumed that my small rebellion would cause some massive upheaval. But no one has noticed my absence.
I trek off, this time passing the first block and going to the second, pushing my boundaries a bit farther. I am less scared now. This town is my town.
I fly down Harrison, throwing an arm into the air. As I am ready to use all my momentum to pedal back up our hill, I see a police car approach. My heart stops and I hear my tires screech to a stop in the middle of Harrison at the intersection of the park and our hill.
Had mother called?
Was she really that worried?
Would they arrest me?
Are bikers only allowed to bike on the sidewalk?
The police car drives next to me, rolls down the window.
Are you turning here?
Alright then. Don’t stop in the middle of the road.
I've never pedaled up that hill faster. But it was my town, that day. My town.
MY TOWN IS DIFFERENT NOW
I am sixteen. I live at the bottom of a large hill in a city named Seattle.
There is a large drain two blocks from my house. People smoke weed there all the time.
But today I am in a small town named Poulsbo. Mom is visiting friends later. She wants to drive by the old house now. I'm not sure I do. We fly down Harrison, windows down, wind in my hair. I see the mayor's house. The one with the stream and the ducklings and the blue metal roof. The kids I babysat are playing in their front yard. They still have the tree swing. We drive past my Aunt's house, who isn't actually my aunt. A man is mowing the hill where we go sledding every year. The Halloween house that gives king-sized candy bars is taking down their cobwebs. The Christmas house has already set up their first section of decorations. It seems nothing has changed.
But Hallie has died now. Tree was cut down. I am too tall for the monkey bars. Crow has become too fat to fly. We turn up the hill and a police car drives by, making his rounds. The red truck is for sale now. So is my bike. I close my eyes as we pass our house. We drive back down the hill. To this day, I'm unsure what it looks like.
It looks different now, doesn’t it? Mom states.
I close my eyes again.
There is Crow. And there is Tree. And Hallie, and Sister, and bicycle, and me.