What We Used to Be

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a summer afternoon spent in a treehouse.... view prompt

34 comments

Adventure African American Friendship

I climb up the ladder nailed to the old tree in my parents’ backyard. The nails hang out of the wood and I give them a worried glance, wondering if they will give way or hold my weight. I’ve put on quite a few pounds since I was last here. The golden treehouse - that we built as a family years ago - towers over me, blocking the sun from stinging my eyes. As I scale the few rungs that it takes to reach the top, the memories of bounding up this same ladder as a 7-year-old girl with pigtails and striped bows flash before me. It brings a smile to my face, remembering those days.

The treehouse is damp and carries the smell of soaked wood. Moss grows in the corners and caterpillars fill their stomachs with the leaves that drift in through the open window. I bend over and cup a caterpillar in my hands, studying it as it investigates the creases of my palms. One by one, I pick up the bugs and set them on a branch poking into the small hideout. 

It’s been so long since I’ve been here. The last time I touched this ladder was my final day of high school some 10 years ago. As I grab the broom in the corner and sweep up the fallen leaves, I run my fingers over the names and flowers carved into the bark. A small word by the door grasps my attention and I rest the broom against the wall to take a closer look. 

Ignite. I stop by it and wonder where it came from. I can’t remember creating this. Not here. Reaching my hand out to touch it, something whizzes in from the window and almost nicks my ear. A chunk of my hair falls to the floor beside my foot and I stare at it, confusion clouding my expression.  

Again, something flies toward me, and I slam my body to the ground to avoid being hit. Raising my head up just enough to sneak a glance at the projectile before me. An arrow. Two arrows. That’s no mistake. Another barrage of arrows strikes the ground around me, and I’m certain one will find me. But in a moment the arrows stop flying, and a woman swings in through the window, gripping the top of the window frame and landing in the center of the treehouse, feet first. 

Frightened, I whimper and curl up in the corner, my eyes running over her figure. She stands tall and has her hair tied up in a ponytail. Her wide, sea-blue eyes comfort me in a way I’ve somehow felt before, and she extends a hand to me. “Kaitlyn?” she asks, though she already seems sure of herself.

Frozen in fear, I don’t answer. Instead, I stare blankly as she smiles and plants both her hands on her hips. “Don’t you recognize me?”

The question sets me off on a spree to confirm if I really don’t know her. She certainly knows me.

Slowly, she raises an eyebrow and tilts her head up. “You don’t remember what we were?” Hurt plays out in her eyes and I can’t bear to watch as disappointment shadows her spirit. Something about the arrows and her swooping in through the window tickles my memory, but I can’t put a finger on it, so I look down and say nothing. 

Dropping her hands to her sides, she plasters a weak smile on her face. “It’s Annabel. Annabel Li. I've wanted to talk to you, but I couldn't track you down.” 

The name rings various bells in my head, and the gates holding back the memories break open. She was my best friend, just before we lost each other after my first year at Yale. I think back to why it took so long for me to place her.

I was skating on that Sunday morning with a few girls from my soccer team, not far from campus. We rounded a corner and the car came out of nowhere. Slammed into my legs. Knocked me to the ground. My head hit the road first and bled onto the scorching pavement until the ambulance arrived, sirens wailing. The throbbing pain at the back of my head was unbearable. I passed out.

By the time I came to, I was lying in an ICU bed with a drip in my arm and a heart rate monitor beeping beside me. A nurse appeared by my side and told me that I had Traumatic Brain Injury and needed surgery. 

I couldn’t wrap my head around it. TBI? Surgery? The nurse’s voice was fuzzy as she pushed clipboards and pens towards me to sign. Absentmindedly, I took the pen and signed right above the indicated blank line.

Soon they wheeled me into a separate room, one with blue walls and surgeons wearing scrubs and gloves of the same color. A different nurse walked up to me, tapping the side of a needle. She pushes it into my arm and the room spins around me. Slowly, I black out again.

After a few more days of stale crackers and tasteless gravy, I was discharged from the hospital. My mom told me that a friend from high school came to visit. She never elaborated. I never asked. I didn’t have many friends in high school, though. It must have been Annabel.

When we were younger, we used to roast marshmallows in her backyard firepit. The arrows were the signal that she was dropping into the treehouse. Most times it was just to say hi or discuss test results, but every now and then she would come down and explore my yard. 

In a quiet, nostalgic whisper, I answer her. “I remember now.”

She grins and offers me her hand again. This time, I take it and drag her down to the corner where I’ve now stretched out my legs and relaxed.

"I've gotten better at swinging in here, you know. They taught me," she says proudly, puffing out her chest. I don't understand what she's talking about.

"Who?" I ask, but she just smiles, as if she has a secret I don't know.

I pull her into my lap, and she giggles, just the same way she did in kindergarten when we agreed to be best friends forever. She’s always fit right in my lap. Like the younger sister I never had but always needed. 

“I remember us, Annabel,” I say, clutching her to my chest. Now, I’m certain I will always remember this treehouse. I will always remember my best friend.

“I remember what we used to be.”


July 17, 2020 02:39

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34 comments

Nico Grace
05:57 Jul 22, 2020

You have an engaging premise, and your imagery is quite solid. You've left us curious without neglecting at least some form of closure. I'm not sure if filling in a few of the holes would help, or if it just leaves opening for more to come in the future. Either way, cute entry.

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Phebe Emmanuel
06:56 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you for your feedback!

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Kylie Gillins
18:00 Jul 24, 2020

I liked the idea lots of twists but it felt a bit incomplete.

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Phebe Emmanuel
18:47 Jul 24, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! What did you think was incomplete about it?

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✰ Jessica ✰
13:25 Aug 15, 2020

This was a short story with a lot of depth! I like how you kind of skipped around in the oblivion of Kailyn's memory. I was able to see some of the things she went through. But, like another comment said, I was left with the story feeling a bit incomplete. I wish you would have just written on a little longer to explain Annabel and Kaitlyn's new-old relationship. Otherwise, great job! You are a fantastic author.

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Phebe Emmanuel
19:11 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you, and I will take that into consideration.

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Writers Block
09:01 Aug 10, 2020

Love the reminiscing of the treehouse.

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Phebe Emmanuel
18:35 Aug 10, 2020

Thank you for the feedback. Also, I love your name! :)

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Writers Block
01:53 Aug 11, 2020

I figured I would use a parody for my pen name. But sometimes my pen name holds true.

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Phebe Emmanuel
08:17 Aug 11, 2020

LOL, always!

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Vj Hamilton
01:23 Jul 24, 2020

This was so evocative of "days gone by" - when old friends reunite. Thanks for a great read.

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Phebe Emmanuel
04:54 Jul 24, 2020

Thank you!

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Angel Morrow
23:10 Jul 21, 2020

That was amazing

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Phebe Emmanuel
01:29 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Ben K
15:48 Jul 18, 2020

This was amazing. Everything flows so we'll together. It felt seamless. It even got me a little choked up at the end when she finally remembers Annabell. What a great piece. Good job!

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Phebe Emmanuel
06:05 Jul 19, 2020

Thank you, Annabel was actually a good friend of mine in 4th grade, but she moved to Texas at the end of the year. Shout out to her!

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Charles Stucker
04:51 Jul 17, 2020

Credible slice-of-life. Except Annabel Li has the making of a superhero. Amazing archery skills and swings in through the window of the tree-house? Definitely resembles Green Arrow in ability. The flashback sets the stage for her remembering her friend, though I wonder why Annabel never tried to make contact over the intervening years. Every single thing fits well- climbing the tree-house, the arrows, "do you remember me," the flashback, they all have a solid logical progression with only one loose end. Why did Annabel take ten years to se...

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Phebe Emmanuel
18:46 Jul 17, 2020

Huh. Thank you for the feedback. I enjoy reading your comment, it's always so straightforward. Thank you. Do you think I should change it before the contest is over, or just leave it the way it is?

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Charles Stucker
19:58 Jul 17, 2020

Your choice. I would change it with that little exchange and line at the end.

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Phebe Emmanuel
20:29 Jul 17, 2020

Should Annabel be more human, or is superhero Annabel ok?

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Charles Stucker
20:34 Jul 17, 2020

If you add a thing at the end suggesting she has some sort of "origin" or "training" or secret, then heck yes. It's a good scene when she swoops in and it adds a layer of mystery when you end with a hint of more.

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Phebe Emmanuel
20:57 Jul 17, 2020

Better?

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Mry M
07:09 Jul 22, 2020

That was amazing Mind checking my story WHAT

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Kieri Zink
03:40 Nov 28, 2020

I'm definitely curious to learn more about the paths each woman took after high school. The arrows puzzle me a bit. I'm not sure quite where they fit in. If they had pierced Kaitlyn and killed her, how would that have affected Annabel, considering she was firing before looking?

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Phebe Emmanuel
05:36 Nov 28, 2020

Yeah. The arrows were a bit of a run off idea, but no one noticed, so just let it be! I know that it doesn't make much sense, but kudos to you for noticing :) Thank you so much for reading!

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Philip Clayberg
01:01 Nov 07, 2020

Thank you for writing this story. Sometimes it isn't easy trying to reconnect with old memories (especially if one hasn't been in contact with those memories in a long time). All sorts of things and people can be "forgotten", stored somewhere where it isn't easy to access them. But sometimes, if we're lucky, those old memories can be reached again and it's as if they were alive again. Whether the people involved are sitting on the porch, watching the rain fall and listening to frogs "sing" (which I've done with my best friend). Or the...

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Phebe Emmanuel
04:13 Nov 07, 2020

Oh, definitely the latter. That's what all my characters do: wait until I give them a life and then take me barreling through it. I never thought of writing a second part, I'll give it some thought. Thank you!

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Philip Clayberg
20:17 Nov 07, 2020

You're welcome. Already looking forward to the sequel(s). Maybe your characters spend the night in the treehouse. Maybe a boy tries to join them there? Maybe the tree starts growing upwards, carrying your characters up to the clouds like in "Jack and the Beanstalk". Or maybe, this is all just a stage (as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage and the people are merely players") for "dolls", and Paul Bunyan's children are watching it. That last idea might be a bit too Twilight-Zone-ish, though.

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Phebe Emmanuel
20:39 Nov 07, 2020

I-that is very interesting. *chuckles* I don't think I'll do anything that crazy...

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Philip Clayberg
08:23 Nov 08, 2020

Just throwing out some ideas in the hopes that they would trigger some ideas of your own.

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Phebe Emmanuel
02:45 Nov 09, 2020

Thank you!

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