Childhood is just a blur, a fog of singular hazy memories here and there. Being bathed and fed a food you dislike; you pout, you smile and play, then learn to ride your first bike and scrape your knees, you fall distracted by a butterfly now forgotten, here and there singular memories that stick out like the scars on our skin. For her?
She was standing in the meadow again. In the midst of daisies and sunflowers, colours saturated by the scorching sunlight and bees buzzing around, causing slight shivers through her spine as they passed her an inch too close. Breathing in the fresh summer air, her feet starting to sink into the ground, tears prickling her eyes as she screams at the top of her lungs, the voice barely a whisper. The freezing cold starts to engulf her. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right.
The alarm starts screaming and she shoots up to a sitting position but instead of feeling her recently washed sheets and furry blanket around her, she’s in the woods her phone soaked in a puddle. As she blinks the seasons change before her and then it’s like nothing ever happened as she sits on her comfortable new bed.
A gust of air comes through the open window as she tries to wake up properly, thinking through the dream and the strange forest. Her brain works through its complicated maze to connect the places to the original memory that gave the dream birth. Meadow, field, forest, swamp.
It was a swamp; she had gotten lost in a swamp. The ground had turned mushier, as the scenery started to change from pines and spruces to a more exposed environment. She’d wondered off the encampment while trying to find the others in a round of hide and seek. She would truly laugh at this happening to her now but as an eight- or nine-year-old, consuming feelings of anxiety and fear are what first come to mind. A slight use of brain cells could’ve saved her and everyone else from the distress and hardship of the day, had she only realized it was the easiest game ever. Though to cut her a bit of slack, she had been a child in a foreign place.
Starting the trip that morning she had already known she was going to be agitated, but only because she disliked long-distance walking and they had already walked on further than usually, beyond the forest she and her siblings and friends usually played around in, building small treehouses out of branches, and chasing each other through the woods and to the playground where they sparred with wooden sticks whittled by someone’s dad.
Now accompanied by her sister, their aunt and uncle and her best friend, they ended up in a strange new forest, past an old rotten fence, away from the highway that separated familiar from foreign and into the undiscovered territory with new monsters to hunt and slay. Or that was at least what the kids pretended to do while walking cautiously around with sticks pointed at every new bush and jumping up from being startled by a hare sprinting amongst the trees, looking for cover.
They found an open square, that had towering spruces guarding it in a circle, like an ancient ritual spot where animals were sacrificed to the gods. Around the middle there was large rock the kids started to immediately scale but when proven unsuccessful they chose to play hide and seek instead and for whatever reason she was chosen to be the first one to seek. This already awoke feelings of anger, because they all knew she sucked at seeking and did not have enough patience to see it all through without pouting and frustration, leading to everyone’s moods being shot down. She ended up wondering off in all the wrong directions until she had no idea where she was. She thought she had picked the trail toward the highway trying to listen to the cars but first realizing she was probably going the wrong way, stubbornness overtook her, and she refused to turn back only to wound up in a strange place where the ground turned sticky, and the trees grew scarce. After a bit she realized it was a swamp and she had absolutely no idea how far off she was.
Feeling helpless and stupid, tears started to form in the corners of her eyes and her chest started to ache as her heart felt like it was trying to rip its way through to get more breath. Was this what a panic attack felt like? A tidal wave washing through you, throwing you around like a ragdoll, not a second to catch your breath before another rough wave on its way. Anxiety turned to anger and anger to blame at her family for bringing her here and making her the one who had to seek in this weird, desolate place, she never wanted to come to in the first place. She squat down with her head in her arms. Clouds could’ve changed to stars and back to clouds again for all she knew. Fear changed to emptiness as she felt she’d been there for days, crouching down, her feet growing numb.
The white cotton candy of the sky shifted and flew with the wind without worries or pain and now she wished to be one of those clouds, as everything inside her seemed to be frozen still. She wished away the gooey ground and intimidating pines behind and imagined dandelions and roses in a beautiful summery meadow. A rainbow in the sky, coming down with a small drizzle as the sun smiled at her.
A freezing gust of wind broke her imagination, and she wrapped her arms tighter around her middle as she tried to scream for someone, anyone to hear her but her voice did not carry across her unfamiliar surroundings or maybe her throat had been frozen shut, her voice forever gone like the rest of her.
After seconds, minutes and hours there was something quivering against her ribs, and she thought it was just her own cold chills running all through her body until it kept going on. Her phone, it was buzzing. With her stiff fingers she pulled the phone out of the pocket and her aunt’s name was displayed on the screen. She’d never felt such joy. She would be saved. After a few more minutes her dear best friend showed up and led her back to where the group had set up where she immediately ran to her aunt’s arms, shaking. They decided to leave for home immediately, where she let a warm cup of hot cocoa burn her fingers as she savoured the taste of chocolate on her tongue. Wrapped in a blanket she vowed to never go to any god forsaken forest ever again.
Brains, memories, funny things, really. Sure, that’s what it all had felt like while being a child. Dramatic, free outbursts of pure emotion, over everything and anything. Overly dramatic and stupid, forming trauma over something that would seem as significant now as a weed on your backyard, kind of annoying, but easy to get rid of. After all the truth is much simpler and makes her feel like an idiot thinking about it. She had been gone from the camp for twenty minutes tops, and the swamp was only a few hundred feet away from their encampment, so with minimal amount of searching she would have probably found her way back especially with the key information that she kept coming back to when thinking about the events now. It had been winter. Like a cold, Nordic winter, with snow. What is left in snow? Tracks. But her pea-sized brain did not understand the significance of that and now made her cringe.
While standing at the edge of the swamp all that was necessary was one step. One simple step to look back at the ground behind her, to see the small footsteps that her small feet had left in the white blanket that covered the floor of the terrain. Had she then followed those steps back to where she had started off from, she never would’ve learned to hate forests, or refused the camping trips with her friends in her teenage years and everyone else’s future plans wouldn’t have gotten ruined by her unrelenting stubbornness to refuse getting over that small incident of her childhood. One step.
Now she sits in her room playing over the events as her friends text her from their camping trip, saying how someone had tripped on a small branch and fallen on the tent while the others had laughed once they made sure she had been okay. A part of her wishes she could be there to make new memories, interesting new stories, but her mental block was not over yet. Though harmful she was not ready to let go of the emotional connection she had to the memory of what she thought had happened, the occurring that had caused such a strong emotional reaction in her developing brain. Besides, you might get eaten by a bear or bitten by a snake in the forest, so just better to stay away, right?