You can always hear the insects buzzing in the warm months of the South. If it’s not cicadas, it’s crickets. If it’s not crickets, it’s flies. If it’s not flies, it’s lovebugs. They rustle and create the low hum that keeps me from being able to sleep in silence as an adult.
I’m only fourteen during this Tennessee spring and running out the glass doors of the kitchen. Katie’s due to meet me in the wide field beyond my backyard, the boundary delineated only by manicured grass meeting tall weeds. The backyard is bowl-shaped, lush with soft and expensive grass that scoops cloud-gazing children into a limitless world.
We’re going on a walk, just the two of us, before it’s dinner time. Once I cross into the weedy field, I slow down and take the rutted path we’ve put in over the years that leads to the main street. Katie’s mother picks her up from the middle school down the street, and I take the bus home from the high school to an empty house.
My parents aren’t happy with me, so I’m definitely not supposed to have friends over tonight. I turn back to look at our house, like a strange museum with limited visiting hours and nothing to see. It’s large, often dark and full of spaces I’m not allowed to touch. It is a largely unacknowledged but obvious fact that this is not a house designed to hold laughter.
So I’m waiting by the street for an evening walk with my best friend. I look up from the pink pebbled lane that lines the roads of our subdivision and see her approaching.
This is where the memory fails. I don’t remember if we hugged.
If we hug, it’s because we’re still young enough to express our emotions largely, grandly, and without restraint. If we don’t, it’s because I’ve already learned to keep my feelings to myself and she’s settled into the natural reticence she’ll have as an adult.
Either way, we walk into the field, taking the route we always do with silent agreement. We’ll pick our way down the dirt furrow, cut across a rocky pit, and make it to the old abandoned barn. When we reach the barn, there will be honeysuckle bushes swarmed with bees. We’ll carefully pick a white flower, pull the stamen down through the petals, and suck the small dot of sweet dew from the center. It’s not much work when you’ve done it often enough, but it’s a delicate business.
As we walk, we’ll bounce back and forth between moments from the day and memories we share.
“My reading teacher messed up counting the points on my test so she had to keep me after class to apologize. That felt really weird. It’s awkward when adults say ‘sorry’.”
“He flicked my ear when he walked by at lunch.”
“I don’t know. But he’s so cute, I don’t care.”
“Remember when we were like ten or something, we were running around in here pretending we were princesses?”
“Yeah, what did you call these fluffy, tall plants?”
“Fairy sticks. Because they’re weeds, but look like magic.”
“Haha, yes! They’re so soft still.”
“I liked these pink ones the most.”
“Sarah, this girl in my class, told me a story about a cat that fell asleep on a windowsill in the winter and died. I’d cry if I saw that.”
“I heard that Nadine…remember her? She’s one of the cheerleaders now. Anyway, someone said she slept with three different football players last night at a party.”
“Ew. I don’t think I could have sex now.”
“Well, since we haven’t even kissed anyone, that’s probably ok.”
“I just think it would be gross.”
“Remember that time you almost burned your house down?”
“Oh my god, yes. What was I doing? Oh, oh, right. I was trying to make a love spell. For Hecate.”
“It wasn’t a good idea to watch The Craft that many times.”
“A lot of things aren’t a good idea, but they’re fun.”
This is the all young and silly talk that binds a friendship together.
But the sun’s going down, hitting the side of the decrepit barn with a dark golden glow. Katie has to walk back up the street to her cul-de-sac, and I have to turn around. Her mother is making dinner. I could probably predict what it was given how often I had been over. There had been weeks when I was younger that I attended dinner every night, until my mother told me to stop.
My parents wouldn’t be home until much later, so I would either eat leftovers or make instant ramen. I was very good at college food before I ever got to college. After dinner, I would watch TV until I heard the rumble of the garage door opening, signaling my parents had come home. I could pick out the sound from many rooms away. Like a reflex, I would quickly turn off the TV and move just to the side of the living room, one foot on the carpet and the other foot on the hardwood of the entry hall that leads up the stairs.
Everything would be quiet.
My mother would walk in and put her purse on the marble counter of the kitchen island. My father would walk in past me and head straight for his office. I would say “goodnight” and wait for any questions with my hands clenched at my sides. There may be a small but quick response indicating that the day will not end well. Maybe a barked accusation from either direction, maybe my father walking out of his office to stare at me with his hands on his hips, maybe something thrown so fast I don’t realize it’s moving until it’s hit the wall next to me, or until my mother has started crying.
But for now, I am walking through a meadow with my best friend, one hand gliding over tall grasses, bugs singing as warm light hits us, and the evening is just a warning. It isn’t here yet.
Katie is laughing at something I said, and the fairy stick in my hands is spinning and spinning and spinning until I let it go.