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Somewhere in the Willows
“Don’t leave...please…wait!” he slurred.
But I threw myself at the door, scrambling to find the lock that kept me caged in his house. I could hear Garret stumbling down the hallway, yelling my name. He sounded close, and his hand slamming against the wall next to me told me I was out of time.
“I’m sorry…I don’t know what came over me!” he pleaded.
I could feel his hot breath panting on the back of my neck, and I recoiled as the stench of alcohol filled the space between us. His intimacy was suffocating as he shifted closer, trapping me against the door. I took in a sharp breath as he put his hand on my waist.
I had to get out. I threw my arm back as hard as I could and heard a sharp crack, followed by a moan. I gasped as warm blood trickled down my arm. My hand finally found the lock, and I twisted it, throwing the screen door open with enough force to rock it off its hinges. I looked over my shoulder and saw Garret doubled over, covering his nose with his hands. I was horrified by the sight of blood pooling onto the wooden floor, so I ran away as fast as I could.
The pouring rain wasn’t on my side, and I only made it to the edge of his yard before slipping on the wet grass. I fell forward, splaying out my hands to stabilize myself. All I could grab onto was air, and I hit the ground with a sickening thud.
I lay there for a moment as the pounding rain attacked my back. I just wanted to lie there; to let the freezing rain wash away all of my guilt. But all it did was make me shiver. I heard Garret inside, fumbling to clean his wound. I tried to jump back up, but a sharp pain pierced my ankle. Slowly, I brought myself into a standing position. I barely had time to catch my breath before he burst out the door.
Fear seized my body the second he stepped out of the house. He cursed and looked around frantically before locking his eyes on his target…me. I should’ve kept moving, but for some reason I found myself stuck in place, staring straight back at him. Everything washed away with the downpour as he returned my gaze. It was just me and him again, how it’s always been. But instead of the reassuring safety I depended on, I could only find resentment in his eyes. It quickly turned into sadness though. Maybe he realized that things would never be the same. He had betrayed my trust, and it showed on my body. He took a few steps toward me and I was snapped back into reality. I turned and tried to run but my legs felt like cement. I could only manage a brisk hobble down the street.
“R.J.!” he called, “wait a sec!”
I bit my lip, holding back the tears. He ran to my side and grabbed my shoulder, spinning me around to face him. He searched my face for some sign of forgiveness- for anything other than the cold disappointment I felt. He looked a little like a lost puppy. All I could find was a quiet sadness in his eyes.
Then I remembered what he did. All of my pent-up emotions threatened to burst out. I wanted nothing more than to scream, and let Garret know just how I was feeling. I wanted to push him away, pound my fists into his chest; do something. But I couldn’t, otherwise I would break down right in front of him. I couldn’t let myself seem weak anymore.
“Look, I-“ he started, but I turned sharply and kept walking. I let my mud-caked hair whip in his face.
“I don’t want to hear it.” I said, without looking back.
I straightened, trying to muster up the confidence I was so clearly lacking. I kept my gaze forward until I reached the bend in the road. I heard movement, but when I snuck a glance over my shoulder, Garret was gone. I heard the screen door to his house shut, and I felt myself fall to the ground.
I was alone.
I laughed bitterly to myself. Like this is anything new. I walked along the chain-link fence that divided the quaint array of houses from the overgrown woods, scanning its base until I found the familiar, jagged opening. I had to crawl through on my belly in order to fit, and my sore ankle didn’t do much to help. But once I reached the other side, I let out a sigh of relief. I had reached the only place where I felt at home. I brushed the dirt off my clothing and walked deeper into the woods, towards a giant willow tree. Carefully, I made my way through the thick leaves until I reached its base. This willow tree used to be my favorite hiding place when Garret and I were kids.
I remember the first day we played hide-and-seek with his neighbors. I ventured through the maze of low-hanging branches and pulled myself up and up, until I reached the highest one. Swinging my feet up and folding them into my chest, I waited. I was sure no one could ever find me. But as if on cue, Garret found his way to the base of the large tree, and started climbing up to my branch.
“Hey!” I called to him as he grabbed hold of the branch.
He looked up in surprise, and lost his footing as his eyes met mine. I stifled a laugh as he quickly scrambled back up the tree.
“Nice try, Garret! But this spot’s taken.” I said with a smirk.
“Is that a challenge?” he asked, a playful glint in his eyes.
Then he grabbed my foot and pulled, until we were both falling through the heavy leaves. I landed on top of him, but I didn’t get up right away.
“Get off me!” he yelled, trying to push my weight off of him. He was a pretty weak kid, so it wasn’t too hard for me to squish him underneath me as payback. But all his squirming and shouting made us easy targets, and the other kids caught us pretty quickly. After that, we decided on a truce. We would both hide there, as long as the other person didn’t try any funny business.
It’s funny how kids can be so trusting.
But our hiding place became much more than that as time went on. It was our sanctuary, where we could escape the world and just be together.
I tried pulling myself up onto our branch, but with my sore ankle it was nearly impossible. Settling for a much lower one near the ground, I hoisted myself up and just sat there, with my back against the trunk and my legs resting on the branch. The darkness crept up on me as time ticked away. When I was sure no one could hear me, I just let everything out. I brought my legs up to my chest and hugged my knees as warm tears cascaded down my cheeks. The night cast dark shadows over my shaking frame, and I’m sure that if anyone were to look up here, they’d think I was an abandoned kitten, trembling in the cold. Exhausted, I let my head rest on the rough trunk. My ragged breathing slowed after was seemed like hours, and I took a few deep breaths to calm myself. Sucking in the crisp night air, I focused only on my breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
Suddenly, my phone went off, and I held onto the branch with a death grip to stop myself from falling. I was blinded by the light shining through my jacket pocket as Garret’s ringtone started playing. The soothing piano chords cut through the silence, so I hit “Ignore” and stuffed my phone back into my pocket. I welcomed the silence for once, and tried to make myself comfortable again. A few stars pierced the black sky, so I closed my eyes to restore the darkness. However, my peace did not last long, as Garret called once again. But this time, I just sighed and let the soft music cradle me to sleep.