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I often catch myself straining my eyes toward the horizon in an attempt to glimpse the shadowy outline of truth. No matter how hard I squint, the image remains shrouded behind a vast cloud of fog. I edge closer and closer, trying to get a better view of what I know must lie behind such a transparent and yet impenetrable curtain. I always intend to turn back before the ominous fog swallows me up, but, somehow, I end up in the midst of that incapacitating cloud each time. Belatedly, I remember the great difficulty I have discriminating between safety and that place where clarity becomes even harder to hold on to. Belatedly, I remember what I learned over and over as a child.
I remember the glee I felt when I first discovered “fog delays” as a child living in Ohio. The school district that my brother, Zeke, and I attended encompassed much of the Ohio River, the residents who lived on its banks, and their children. Here the fog would get so dense that, not only would the horizon grow a thick hazy white, so would yards and driveways and winding roads that ran next to the great waterway. On these mornings, when the buses could not risk venturing out, Zeke and I would take off across the field in front of our home, attempting to immerse ourselves within that elemental fortress. I always expected to find my world changed when I reached the middle of the field. Each time, I rediscovered that the thick layer of hazy disillusion covered my whole world. That the only objects I could see lay in my immediate vicinity. I rediscovered, upon each excursion, that the force causing this foggy distortion had a different magic than I expected. Magic that allowed the fog to surround me without me even knowing. To creep up on me as stealthily as Monday mornings come for school children enjoying their weekends.
Silly girl that I am, I still fall into that trap every time. I race off toward the horizon where the haze appears the densest, convinced that I have found the place where they have chosen to hide the truth from me. I race off, unaware of my captivity from the start. Oblivious of the futility—the silliness—of my search. I refuse to remember that I cannot escape. I refuse to remember that no one comes out alive. Especially a silly girl like me.
My ridiculous questing for a truth leads me farther and farther from my father’s house each time. For that is my point of origin these days, if not my home. I no longer step out my front door to see a vast green field before me each morning. The fog that now confronts me every day is metaphorical, not literal. It brings no excitement with its constant presence and it does not wait patiently outside—it seems to emanate from within.
Today, once again, I have fooled myself into thinking that saw a flicker of truth lingering in the distance. My long strides, more desperate than ever before, have carried me more swiftly than usual. As I come to my senses, I look around and see only my immediate surroundings, none of which appear familiar, at first. I turn around and see only the white curtain that has closed behind me, concealing my way out. I feel like Velma, having lost her glasses, forced to feel her way around the blurry expanse before her. I recognize nothing. I am lost.
I slump to the ground dejected. Lying in the dampness, my hand touches the edge of something metal. Hesitantly, my fingers close around the object. As I hold it up to my face, I realize that the metallic object I hold belongs to me. Someone has bent the metal into the shape of a little girl with a hollow center. How appropriate. Her figure forms a cookie cutter about the size of my palm. She makes me smile and remember Christmas cookies baked by the dozen. She makes me think. I begin thinking of my hands, stained for days by blue, red, green, and yellow food coloring. Of the exponential amount of frosting left over due to my complete inability to acquire the right milk to powdered sugar ratio. Of eating raw cookie dough until my own stomach became so disgusted with my lack of self control it decided to teach me a lesson I wouldn’t soon forget. She makes me long for the satisfaction I felt despite the obvious lack of perfection obtained through the whole operation.
As my eyes begin to focus, familiar objects seem to emerge from the haze. These bits and pieces the contents of my childhood scattered about, discarded and lost. Evicted dolls I barely recognize outside of their wooden doll house. A stuffed kitten with matted fur and a pink bow, its head just a little too big for its body due to the purring mechanism contained inside. Plastic neon aliens embossed with the McDonalds emblem. Fisher Price children of all colors. Hot Wheels that I can still rank in order from fastest to slowest on sight for both plastic and wooden racetrack .
Crawling around on my knees, I see more and more pieces of my childhood lying about. Pieces that I had forgotten ever existed. All the playthings I relied on to entertain me throughout the day—that I gave life to with my imagination—lay scattered, dejected, on the ground. The playthings that turned dull hours into hours filled with magic and wonder, passed the time away all too well. One by one, I picked them up, bewildered at discovering these possessions that meant so much to me—that should be tucked safely away in my heart—abandoned on the ground.
Come to think of it, my heart does seem a little lighter. But in a guilty way. The weight had become too much, and, so, I let the pieces fall away, unconcerned with the ramifications in my desperation to lighten my load. Now, cut out of the center of my heart, I can feel a hole in the shape of a little girl. All the memories, all the good times, so painful to recall…gone. But I never realized that I caused their absence.
The truths I seek lie all around me, unnoticed, just like the fog. The answers I seek lie in the little things that I discard in an attempt lighten my load. As I purge, I forget that carrying these memories, while painful, may prove the only way for me to ever escape this looming haze that blankets my conscious; I cannot leave this place without them. But when I move to gather up the pieces, I can barely manage to hang on to the little that I clutch to my chest.
That little girl from my past, the one I so effectively cut out of my life, now holds the key to my future. I must get her back.