Behind my house, there is a meadow that glows at exactly the same time every day. Right before the waist-high grass combusts with the light of the late afternoon sun, the field quavers, anticipating that brilliant burst of radiance. I hear the meadow whispering, louder, louder, until the mellifluous murmur ceases. Just as the sun lowers her dusty head to kiss the tops of the modest trees, the meadow blushes a fierce autumn haze, reminding the sun to come back. To come back, like I promised I would.
When I was little, I used to sneak out my bedroom window every afternoon, hours before the spectacle. I would lift my tiny frame up onto the windowsill, press my face to the glass, and will the field to hear me - I’m coming; I’m coming. My skinny child arms shook with the force of lifting the window.
I’d swing my legs over the edge and close my eyes, breathing the raw mountain air, in, out. The hardest part was gathering the courage to jump. But I had to do it; my meadow was waiting. I mustered up the fortitude, scrunched up my eyes, and let go.
I always landed feet first.
My body pounded the familiar path leading to my meadow, every turn, every step burned into memory. The closer I got to the field, the freer I felt, racing faster, faster, until I broke through the trees and was home.
There I laid, in the meadow, for hours and hours, for so long that I melted into the grass. I was the meadow; the meadow was me. The dancing imagination of an eight year old girl could live freely on that soft mountainside. There was no need to confine every character, every wish, every magical land to the dark spaces of my mind; the meadow provided a blank canvas for every spiraling thought I possessed. Golden finned mermaids splashed through the surf, twisting around sword wielding princesses fighting crimson dragons half the size of Colorado.
The best part, however, was always the anticipation leading up to my meadow's ignition. I felt the moment pressing down around me, pushing the edges of reality, pulsing, pulsing; a heartbeat fluttering in the face of prospect.
When it happened, I’d stretch my limbs out as far as they could go, reaching towards the fringes of my meadow, wanting to absorb all the light, all the beauty. I wanted to be a part of it, a single lick in the flame. In that miniscule moment, my meadow seemed infinite. There was nothing but its impassioned roots, and I was fortunate enough to taste the fervor.
We were indestructible.
How naive I was, how foolish to think nothing could change - too young, too sheltered to realize that change was imminent. My perfectly crafted world teetered on a moment; I was always too blind to see my feet dangling over the edge.
Seeing my beautiful meadow, so earthly yet ethereal, ignite into flames, was surreal. I thought, on the breadth of a moment, that my meadow sensed my presence, wanted to see the shadows of light flicker back and forth over my face; wanted to make me feel special. This was just for me.
Then the heat came. The skin on my arms blistered, the hairs shriveling. Gone was the thin mountain air, replaced by thick, black smoke. My meadow always burned in copper, gold, soft lines, but those lines were gone, replaced by a harsh sea of flames that consumed me, consumed my meadow.
Even when my hands turned black from smoke and soot, my hair singed, I did not leave. Never would I abandon the meadow. Only when my father came for me, calling my name, the sound wrapping around me in a safe embrace, was I forced to relinquish the hold I had on the land. My father slung me over his shoulder while I screamed and pounded his back, goodbye shrieked through my cries.
Afterwards, I could not go back. The thought of seeing the meadow scarred beyond salvation frightened me. My meadow was strong, the foundation of all my dreams whispered among foliage. But those dreams were gone now, burned away with my home.
Time moved on, and a part of me did as well. However, always lingering was the pull I felt towards the meadow, seeping its way into everything. Even when I grew older, moved away, left my childhood behind, my thoughts would occasionally drift to that nebulous field that seemed to have a hold on my heart.
The first time I came back home, to visit my mother and father, I spent my time avoiding windows that faced behind the house. I could not stay in my childhood bedroom, afraid I would be too tempted to climb out the window, chasing nostalgia like a runaway train.
I used to make excuses about only staying for a few days, not much longer. I have classes, I’d claim, or I need to get back to the city. That one never went over well with my parents or me. I was never a city kid. The freedom of living away from clutter and claustrophobia ran through my veins. Starbursts of fireflies on summer nights, sunlight filtering through leaves to make patterns on the dusty forest floor, laughter spiraling on the wind - all these things fit together like a jigsaw puzzle of my soul.
The puzzle had been missing a piece since the fire.
It became easier, despite my hovering fear of growing close to the meadow again. Attachment was an easy path to take but in my experience, it led to the object of your affection getting ripped away when you’d only just vowed to hold on forever. I started to sink back into old habits: throwing the window open on lazy Sunday afternoons, climbing into the bed I’d slept in as a kid, even though my feet hung comically off the end. My time at home lasted longer and longer, to the pleasure of my parents. Since that one fateful day so many years ago, they saw me as damaged; tiptoeing around me, afraid I might burn myself to the ground in tribute to the death of my meadow.
The first time I went back landed on a cool autumn day. Gripping a mug of coffee, I stood on the back porch, breathing the mountain air, in, out. I shut my eyes, and enveloped in the darkness was a single, flickering flame. The flame grew, burning away the shadows until my meadow took shape, dew drops reflecting sunlight and a light breeze drifting through the taupe grass, just as I remembered. My eyes drifted open and I knew I needed to see the meadow, if only for a moment.
I set my coffee down and ambled towards the trees. The farther I wandered from my house, the faster I walked until I was running, running down the path that had all but disappeared, only not from my memory. The cold air slapped my cheeks, and I felt exhilarated. I’m coming; I’m coming.
It came towards me like a wave of grey and gold, swirling into a mirage of parts; before and after; dreams and nightmares; present, past, and future. It didn’t matter, none of it mattered. I was home again.
My meadow had changed, no longer the dazzling landscape of copper it had once been, but not the dark and damaged calamity the fire had made it, either. The meadow was something in between, blending all the aspects of life that had defined me. Thorns tore me, changed me, morphed me, but my meadow was always there to soften the jagged edges.
Through the ash-ridden soil sprouted new grass, just as rich as the old. I didn’t care that it did not blanket the mountainside as I remembered, nor did I mind that its unearthly glow had been reduced to a feeble spark. My meadow was still here, growing, changing, just as I was. My dreams were not burned, ashes to ashes. They still floated through the treetops, whispered beneath each step I took.
I felt my soul awaken, rekindled by the memories that dwelled here, rooted deep within the ground. I began to run, the amber afternoon light blurring to an aggressive gold, giddy laughter bubbling from deep within me. I chased a whistling dream that deflated like a balloon, my butterfly eyes seeing the world in a copper kaleidoscope, once again.