Catch Them if you Can

December 7, 2009
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I turn the knob and push open the heavy metal door. Gasp.
“This isn’t the right place” I say.
I know that this is the right place but I feign ignorance. I wait for Misha, next to me, to say something. Something like, “Yeah we’ve come to the wrong door”. I wish.
“No, this is it,” Misha says, his eyes scanning the field before us. We look on at the mess of weeds and overgrown grass reaching past our knees. Acres of it. Trees dot the field, holding desperately onto their leaves as September transitions into October. The trees. Those are the same, I muse. Where is the dirt path? The picnic table? Where is the neatly mowed meadow that I had left behind six years ago? I breathe in the air around me, hoping to get a whiff of pollen and damp wood. I smell none of that. All I feel inside my nose is cold air.
Misha plows ahead. He needs leaves for some leaf collection for his class at school. He remembered that in the field behind our great-grandmother, Babushka Fanya’s , apartment building many interesting trees could be found. So we came here. Only the field proves no longer to be a meadow. It is a wilderness.
Disappointment tugs at my heart. I had been looking forward to that déjà vu feeling of ‘I have been here before’. I had wanted to open that heavy metal door and experience that sensation of freedom I had felt all those years earlier, during the summers when I was five, six, seven, and eight, at seeing a large, endless meadow after playing in a small apartment all day. I had wanted the sun to be shining brightly and a cool breeze whipping through the air, reminiscent of all those lazy summer days Misha and I had spent at Babushka Fanya’s apartment.
I pull my sweater closer around me. This place seems to no longer be bright and cheery, rather scary and ominous. The weeds scrape my legs. It would be the perfect location to shoot a horror movie, with the wind howling . The sky growing darker and darker. Lighting would rip the sky in two followed by thunder. Then a scream. The person standing there among the weeds would try to run away but the weeds would reach out and grab onto the person’s heel, pulling them to the ground…
The path! The path. I see the path. I have found it. I bend down to take a look, to confirm my find. I push away some wild plants and look closely at the dirt path, but my excitement wears away quickly. The path has died. Before, it had been alive, full of insects of every shape and color, swarming with life, a bug highway. Misha and I would lay with our bellies on the ground and watch for minutes at a time all the remarkable, bizarre and extraordinary creatures on six, eight or no legs crawl by. The ants, big and fat, would tackle enormous worms, whose guts would be spilling everywhere. What amused us most was this fuzzy white caterpillar with a small, round black head that Misha and I would pick up and let crawl over our hands. The caterpillar left a faint red trail-blood-behind on the skin.
Now the trail is lifeless. The bugs have moved on.
If I follow the path, then I can use it to help me find the picnic table. I walk along the path. Here, the picnic table should be somewhere to the right. There the picnic table sits, hidden out of sight by the tall grass. How many times had I sat on this bench eating a cookie? Babushka Fanya would not let us run around with cookies because she had been afraid that we would choke, so we had to sit. How many times had Babushka Fanya sat on this bench, watching Misha and I run around?
Misha and I hadn’t been left alone to the adventures we had in that long-ago meadow. Maxim would usually join us. He was a distant relative. My great-grandmother’s sister’s grandson. Babushka Fanya’s sister, Aunt Sonya,had lived in the same apartment building as her sister and Maxim would often come and visit his grandmother, bringing with him fancy toys from home. He would go through phases where he would become obsessed with different movies and books. First Inspector Gadget, then Toy Story, afterwards A Bug’s Life and finally Harry Potter. All the toys he brought would correspond to his most recent movie craze. We would play with the light up Buzz Light-Year or the plastic speaking Harry Potter diary until our interest in those man- made gizmos dimmed like a candle slowly sinking as the wax melts. The fresh air and the seemingly endless stretch of meadow would beckon to us. For a little bit the three of us would run around with no purpose in mind. Then we began to invent games. We created ‘Tunnel Bugs’ where we would play that we were insects whose home situated in the stem of a flower. I chose to be a lady-bug, Misha a bumble-bee, and Maxim at first had decided to be a grasshopper but later switched to an ant, since the protagonist of A Bug’s Life had been a blue ant, while the grasshoppers had been named the antagonists.
“Aaaah, help,” Misha would scream, running like crazy, “A human is chasing me.”
“Sting him, sting him,” I’d call out.
“No, I’m too young to die. Heeelp.”
“Wait, time out, bees don’t die when they sting.”
“Ya, they do.”
Then Maxim would say, “Don’t worry I’ll save you!”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAh! Humans, humans! No one can help me now”
I would see from the corner of my eye that Babushka Fanya had stood up from the bench. She had probably thought that there actually was some real danger around.
“Misha, don’t yell so loud. Babushka Fanya will get scared.”
“HEEELLLP! Help me, I’ll die if I sting them!” Way to ignore me. Babushka Fanya, meanwhile, would become more frantic, her fists on her chest.
“Misha! What happened? Misha!” she would yell.
“Yay!” Misha would proclaim, “Great grandma bee has come to save me.”
And so on.
The very ground I stand on right now had been the place where Misha, Maxim and I had run around years ago. This very field symbolized my childhood, stood as a monument. Now the acres upon acres of grass have transformed into thick wild plant, knotted and tangled together. The weeds have devoured the bench, destroyed the dirt path and ruined the meadow. Yet the weeds had not come suddenly in their destruction, like a tornado, rather like a parasite or a virus the weeds secretly clung onto the earth and slowly began to swallow my meadow alive.
I want out. I cannot be here any longer. The cheerful care-free view I had previously had of this place has been replaced by the dreadful scene before me. I grew up here, during the summers, and this place had come to define those glorious times. To see this field neglected … Misha, where is he? I must find him and get out of here.
Misha picks leaves on the other side of the field. I begin to wade through all the weeds and wild flowers that seem determined to keep me back. Running proves to be impossible, walking uncomfortable. I begin the trek, remembering how Misha and I used to glide across this very earth, and now…
Finally, I reach Misha, who takes another leaf off the tree he is by. Hey, that tree looks familiar…wait, isn’t that the tree farthest away in the field? If Misha and I would have tried to wander beyond that tree then we heard Babushka Fanya’s voice echoing across the meadow, bouncing off every tree until the nervous, yet clear cut shout reached us loud and clear: “Come baaaaack!”
The trunk of the tree goes about a yard, then splits half way down the middle, each side branching off in different directions, a tree good for climbing. The tree’s sap oozes all over the bark, attracting big black ants. I put my hand on the tree and stand up on the place where the two separate tree trunks intersect into one. Something, some sort of monument, still exists.
“I’m ready to go,” Misha says.
“So am I.”
We go.
Before Misha and I exit the field, I turn back to have one last look. Moments from the past swarm in my mind. I try to grab those moments to smooth out the wrinkles so I can see a clear picture. Mostly the exact details of those times slip between my fingers, out into some unknown world where forgotten memories go, leaving only a faded imprint of the wind speeding past my face as I ran across the meadow and clean air rushing up my nostrils. Sometimes, though, I successfully manage to reconstruct a certain memory down to the last element.
Then, something occurs to me. Moments do not belong only to the past. Every second a moment is born. The next, they die, leaving a mark behind in a person’s memory. To seize an instant from the past requires only sifting through ones memory bank. To seize an instant happening at present, to freeze that moment, to realize it for it’s worth, well…catch them if you can.
I suddenly remember a red haired girl that had come to visit her grandmother one day. I met her in the meadow and quickly befriended her. We sat on the picnic table with crayons and white sheets of paper, blissfully drawing, stopping every once in a while to compare pictures. I remember a strong scent a flowers filled the air. The image becomes so powerful that for a second the weeds vanish. The meadow of my childhood appears as if by magic before my eyes.
I remember a sudden strong gust of wind followed by another and another, carrying away our clean and drawn on papers. Naturally, the red-haired girl and I began to chase after them, first trying to save our pictures and then the clean sheets. We managed to rescue some. The rest of the papers the red-haired girl and I watched dance toward the sun.

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