It had been 18 months since I began my sylvan lifestyle, relying on the land and the skills my father had taught me just to make it through the day. In the middle of the night my desire for survival often warred against my concern for my mother. I wondered if she might still be alive. The thought of her having joined my father in the “Great Beyond,” as she called it, was often too much to bear. So I didn’t think about it anymore.
With everything I had within me, I strained to forget the last time I’d seen her. She had shoved crumpled bills into my hand and put a bag of clothes and peanut butter over my shoulder. She had murmured something about mother’s protecting their daughters before kissing my forehead, leaving her runny mascara on my cheek. She always cried now and always had bruises.
She’d tenderly pushed me out the back door. A quiet warning was her goodbye.
“Don’t come back, Rayna,” she’d stifled her sobs, “remember what your father taught you, how we loved you and don’t ever come back.”
I watched her close the door, stunned to see how a few months of marriage to a callous man could break a beautiful soul.
Grabbing my dad’s pack from the barn, I headed into the woods, feeling rage settle beneath a layer of fear. I’d known some kids who got kicked out of their homes only to end up on the streets. That was not an option I was willing to try.
Instead I headed east, away from humanity. The places my dad used to take me were easy to find. But recalling the happiness of the trees and streams was impossible when the warmth of his voice was absent. I now have tears instead of happiness and an ongoing ache in my stomach instead of laughter. I still whittle and fish, the way my father taught me, and I quietly remember his words.
“Life can be unpredictable, Ray,” he’d often say, “but you’re one of those people who’s smart enough to make it out alive.”
Atop the world, in the hidden treehouse he’d built me so long ago, I hoped to prove him right.