I step out into the thick Louisiana air and just stop to breathe it in. I glance around at the familiar surroundings – the old tree house that I’ve never set foot in because my family didn’t move here until I was in college. Looking at that tree house now, I kinda want to see the inside of it. I make a mental note: Check out the tree house later. The tapping of my blue tennis shoes on the driveway mingled with the sounds of the dead end by our house – birds chirping, the wind casually moving through the trees, cars distantly speeding down Jackson Street – fill me up like a breath of Spring air after a long stint in a dark closet. I reach down to touch my toes, slowly, letting my body get ready for the run, letting my thoughts drift to no place in particular. It’s been so long since I have released my notions, giving them freedom to roam and roll and stretch. I can do that here, where I always feel safe and comfortable.
I take a sharp right out of the driveway, walking to the next turn, letting my legs get used to the movement. At the corner, I begin to jog. I decided to leave my iPod behind today – just to be alone with my thoughts and the streets that are sprinkled with the memories of my childhood. I can’t help but notice again, as I do every time I travel down this street, that it is the dwelling place of an abnormal number of cats and kids. That’s what I call it – the cats and kids street. It all makes me smile. The cats lounging on their driveways. The kids playing a joint game of softball in the street. The way I have my own name for this happy street.
I begin to think about why my heart feels so full, so at rest when I am here. In the town I grew up in. I’m not the same me I was when I lived here. I’m a new me with parts of the old me still lingering and implanted but even the new me loves to be here. Somehow my thoughts drift or tiptoe or lumber, to the t-shirt I’m wearing. How it’s old and soft and my favorite of all the t-shirts in the world. In true favorite old t-shirt form, it hugs me in all of the right places and floats freely in all of the right places. When I wear it I feel perfectly, simultaneously comfortable and confident. That’s sort of what it’s like running down these streets. Seeing all of the old homes we lived in [we moved a lot but always stayed in the same neighborhood]. Like slipping into my oldest, most favorite t-shirt. Comfortable and confident – I don’t feel both of those things at the same time anywhere else in the world. And here, today I get to slip into that old grey T [both physically and metaphorically] and run until my mind doesn’t feel so cluttered and clogged anymore.
In my thoughts, I am running down this street away from a barking dog. My little sister is jumping on my back, nearly tackling me to the ground. We are both screaming and laughing in a terrified sort of way. I begin to laugh out loud. I have to slow to a walk for a little while – laughing and running are not good partners. I catch my breath as I reach the back street. Beside the field. And I have to stop for just a moment to admire the field. It’s not really anything special, but it’s my field. Well mine and my sister’s and my brother’s, too. And we grew up in the city so this was the closest thing to the great, wide countryside we ever tasted. And we felt like great explorers in that field with the river [which was actually just a drainage ditch] and the forest (which was actually just a cluster of trees that had not yet been cleared out to make more room for developments) and the wildflowers and tall grasses (which were real). And standing there, I want so desperately to recapture some of the magic that made us believe. Made us dream. Made us hope so unabashedly. I angrily mourn for the loss of those things and wonder if maybe I didn’t fight hard enough to hold onto them. And if maybe there is still time to reclaim them.
I begin to run again, this time harder and faster, hoping to completely clear my mind of all thought. I run and run and run, begging my brain to stop. And after a while it does, and I feel free of all that apprehension and anger and hopelessness that I am plagued with most of the time. And as I round the corner and make my way back home, I realize that I am exhausted, but that after all that fighting (which is essentially what all the running was), I feel like I have reclaimed a little bit of hope. And with that hope, a little of my ability to dream. And I think that maybe I’ll start to believe again – believe that dreams really can come true. The new me steps in and makes note that they can but they don’t always, and the old me feels okay with that. And the new me and the old me shake hands. They don’t hug yet but maybe someday they will. And someday maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to intermingle and intertwine the me’s in such a way that there is no difference between the two – they’ll form a third me that is more balanced and complete. Maybe someday, but today the handshake is enough.
I tap back up the driveway in my blue tennis shoes and climb up into the tree house I’ve never seen the inside of. Because it looks like it was probably built for catching your breath and possibly even for dreaming big.
Keep on keepin’ it down and dirty, folks. Love ya’ll!