The girl with the long hair was extremely confused. She had been running away—away from her old life and tiring problems and the bitter people that seemed to fill every aspect of her world. She had decided to run away, traveling solely by foot, sprinting at first until her legs grew numb, and her eyes watered, and her throat swelled to the point where breathing became nearly impossible. She hadn’t known where she was going at the time. She had allowed her feet to carry her along back roads and through darkened forests. Up sharpened hills and down grass covered rifts. She had run until black splotches mottled her vision and her legs began to shake, as if her body was planning on shutting down before she could fully self destruct.
That was how she had ended up here.
The row of decrepit brick townhouses loomed over her, reminiscent of a giant beast. The buildings had been abandoned for quite some time, as evident by the moss growing up the browning exterior and the cracking asphalt of the driveways and sidewalks.
She could remember when these buildings had been full of life. The occupants were social and lively, hosting parties in the backyard that they all shared. She would know. She used to be one of them. The willow tree in the backyard would cast odd shadows on the celebrators, and she and the other children who lived in the building would hide under the cascading branches, hoping to avoid being spotted by anyone from the large manor next door. They used to be convinced that witches lived there, and everyday they would charge out from the cover of the tree, brandishing plastic lightsabers and broom handles hoping to scare off the wicked witches.
She had been so young then, at the time that she and her dad had lived there. She had been in elementary school, still unwise to the ways of the world and how people worked. But now she knew. She had learned since then. But this place … it was almost as if she could close her eyes and pretend like she was still the little girl who did not know hatred or loss, and detested wearing dresses and loved playing outside in the rain.
She dared to venture inside the building. She was beginning to worry that the residents of the buildings across the street were starting to wonder who she was and what she was doing; or maybe she was just being paranoid again. She had walked around the building to the back where she knew the doors were all sliding glass ones. Her dad had taught her a trick for getting one open from the outside, but it seemed like she would not need to use it as the door appeared to already be unlocked. She began to slide it open. It provided more resistance than it did when she was just a small girl, probably as a result of years of disuse, but she stopped when it was only halfway open.
This could be dangerous, she thought to herself. There could be squatters, robbers, or worse, bugs and rodents. But at this point it seemed pointless to turn back without proper closure. She had brought herself all the way out here on a whim, and she would not allow it to be all for nothing. So she squeezed her way into the third house from the right. House number 318. The house she and her dad used to share.
She almost gasped upon entering the living room. She’d forgotten that her dad had decided to leave all of his old furniture behind when they moved, citing a lack of necessity for the used, worn out pieces. Because of this, the house looked almost exactly the same as it did the last time she was here around seven years ago. The ugly green couch where she had sat drinking chocolate milk and playing video games on the Wii, the mismatched rug where she and her dad had danced to High School Musical songs and set up a tent after their camping trip was cancelled by the rain. It was all present, just beginning to rot with age. So much had happened in this room, but there was one room in particular that she wanted to visit.
Her old bedroom.
She walked the short distance to the landing where the stairs were and began to ascend them. These were the stairs that she had fallen down so many times as a child, that she had thrown slinkies down, hoping they would reach the bottom without tangling.
She walked them now, perfectly stable on her feet, not needing to clutch the rail for balance. She reached the top, turning to the left and walking the few last steps into her old bedroom. This was one of the few rooms that her dad had cleaned out, taking most of her furniture and pictures with them. The room was small. A larger room wasn’t needed for someone of her size and age back then. She remembered that there used to be a small computer on one side of the room and her bed on the other. Her bookshelf used to be at the head of the room, and that was where she stored the toys and dolls with the eyes that used to scare her so much. In fact, she’d never outgrown that, to this day the thought of dolls made her shiver. And while the shelves held tales of magic kingdoms and heroic talking animals, the walls of this room held so many whispers and too many of their own stories. She suddenly remembered the closet, and the mysteries she used to believe it contained. She was starting to growing curious of its innards now.
She approached it again considering what could possibly be in it. A murderer? An army of bees? A dead body?
She’d almost backed out and walked away. But no. She let her impulse drive her, striding forward and ripping the door open before her rationality could catch up to her. She raised for fists, ready for a fight with a madman and was slightly relieved when nothing jumped out at her. She peered in and yet was still startled at what she found.
A teddy bear, its face worn by constant rubbing and its neck lacking cotton from constant cuddling, an overabundance of affection from an energetic owner. She remembered this. She didn’t remember who gave it to her but she’d always assumed it had been her father. She picked it up and spun it around in her hands, surveying every inch of it. It still appeared to be in relatively good shape. She’d loved this thing once, just looking at it and its cuteness still melted her heart. She remembered now. Snuggling up to it when she feared the dark and resting her head on it during the colder months of winter.
She looked out one of the windows. It was going to get dark out soon, she knew that. She looked back to the teddy bear, contemplating whether she should bring it or not. Why not? She thought. It might not hurt to bring a small piece of her past into the present. She stood from her crouched position, her knees cracking despite the fact that she was still only a teenager. She’d walked out of the room, imagining her younger self mirroring her actions. As she went, despite being seven years older, she spoke to the teddy bear as if she could somehow communicate through it to her younger, innocent self.
“They were right. Life does have its ups and downs. Right now I think I may be in one of the down moments. But I do believe eventually I’ll be on my way back up. Things may not turn out the way you could ever think they would ya know? Your dad may not be the man you think he is right now and you may someday discover that you now like wearing dresses and doing makeup. And that’s okay. Don’t worry”
She paused when she reached the bottom of the stairs, one hand wrapped around the stuffed animal and the other on the doorknob. She turned the upper half of her body backing towards the stairs, imagining a much younger and much tinier version of herself smiling down at her from the top step.
“You turned out just fine.”