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This Close to Forsaken
Once, in the midst of a grassy desert that may either be a million mental miles away or your only home, depending on who you are, about fifteen miles south of the nearest town, an old tumbledown shack sat and brooded next to a highway this close to forsaken. Whoever had built it had long since gone away, and anyone who may have lived in it afterwards was gone now too, off gallivanting in the greater metropolises of this world, most likely. You took one look at it and you understood, you felt a twinge of the yearning, fueled by the wandering highway, to be a part of something better.
Better, of course, because you could not necessarily be a part of something bigger, even if you left this lonely shack for New York City. There aren’t many things bigger than a wild desolate prairie and an abandoned house. Stories expand the size of things, no matter how big they are to begin with.
The house itself, however, wasn’t completely solitary. It had itself. It had all the old stories that lived within its humble walls. And it had us. You and me.
I watched your eyes as we sat on its sagging porch one day – well, one evening, more like. The sun was setting over the golden grasslands, and the sky was a brilliant canvas. At first I was intrigued because I could watch the reflection of the sunset in your eyes, but after a while the sunset was secondary and I was peering through the windows of your soul instead. I wondered desperately what you were thinking, but you’d closed the curtains. I didn’t understand.
You said, “I wonder why they left.”
I snorted. “Have you looked at the place?”
“Well, yes,” you said, “but look at the view.”
I looked. “I’m not impressed,” I said loftily. “Some other broken down buildings, the skyline of the dirtiest, dustiest, dreariest town on the planet, and the butt of somebody’s horse.”
“Look elsewhere,” you said. “Like at the sky. And the prairie. And the trees.”
I looked at those, too. “I’d rather look at city skylines on the horizon,” I confessed, “and graceful ancient forests in Switzerland, and majestic mountains in Sweden, and crashing waves on noble coastlines in New England.”
You rolled your eyes. “You’re so commercialized,” you said. “Aren’t you American at all?”
“I mentioned New England,” I said defensively.
“Yeah, but the prairie is the real symbol of America,” you persisted. “This—” wide sweeping gesture that took in a 180-degree panorama— “this is what the pioneers fought for, this is where they trekked to their new lives, this is the real America.”
I rolled my own eyes. “You’re a hopeless romantic,” I said dryly. “Keep it for your documentaries.”
You sighed. “You just don’t get it,” you said.
Something in me was offended by that. “I do too get it,” I said indignantly.
“Prove it,” you challenged me.
“All right,” I said, “I will. How’s this? All – all – of my ancestors came out here across this very same prairie. They are the pioneers who fought and trekked or whatever you said. And you – you are nothing but a transplant. I am rooted here, in this same soil that my forebears tramped across so many years ago.”
You got up, walked out to where the yard met the highway, stopped, stood for a moment with your hands in your pockets, and strolled leisurely back. “You’re a hopeless romantic,” you said. “Keep it for your documentaries.”
I narrowed my eyes at you. You stuck your tongue out at me.
“I’ve got to get home,” I said nonchalantly, and waltzed off.
“Why do you have to go?” you yelled after me.
I turned and yelled back, “Because my dad’ll whale on me but good if he finds out I was way out here!”
“What, are you a daddy’s girl?” you jeered.
I took a few steps back toward you, intending to intimidate you. You stood your ground, but your eyes shook with fear.
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m not a daddy’s girl. I’m just my father’s daughter.”
You seemed dumbfounded. I turned on my heel and started back.
“Wait!” you called.
I stopped but didn’t turn around.
“I guess you got it,” you said.
I turned and looked back at you. The sun had gone down and only a few cloudy flames were licking the horizon. The stars were beginning to come out. Twilight was hanging over us, but a last vestige of the sunset still smoldered in your eyes.
“I guess you did too," I said.
You caught up to me, and we set out for home.