Going back 25 years. I was seven.
On a day like today–damp, cloudy with no plans looming and no distractions calling–I would set out on my bike with my younger brother, often with a paper bag in hand. We’d get the bags from my grandparents store. That’s all they used. I loved the smell of those paper bags. For us, though, they held our treasures for the day. Some days it was interesting sticks, rocks and leaves. Most days there were bugs involved. Bugs that crawled, bugs that glowed, bugs that chirped. They fascinated me. I created a miniature habitat for them in these bags.
And the dirt. I’d come home covered in dirt. The idea of brushing my hair was a joke. I was a true tomboy.
We’d meet up with other boys in the neighborhood (and by neighborhood, I mean those that lived within a few miles of my house because I had no actual neighbors) and venture into the woods. We fashioned forts from fallen logs and pine needles. We would establish our separate camps and invent complicated plans of sneak attack.
It was play without rules and without harm. At that age, we were all the same.
Go forward 5 years. I was 12.
At some point, the male and female lines had been drawn. But at my core, I was a country girl. Though I loved to read and draw and write, the outdoors still called my name. I had two close friends with the same name. Lori #1 lived in a house with only her father. Her parents were the only divorced ones I knew. Lori #2 lived with her parents who appeared to smoke and drink and scream and hit her a little too much. Without thought of kidnapping, rape or danger, I would set off walking down the road if I wanted to visit them. In the summers, both my parents worked. We took care of ourselves, promising to check in with my grandparents at their store a few times a day. We’d stop in for a break from the heat. Air conditioning was not a given back then. Donahue’s Grocery proudly advertised that they had it. My house did not, so there was no reason to stay in it.
Lori #1 had four-wheelers. Yes, those ATV’s that you’re supposed to have a driver’s license to operate. Obviously, we were not bothered with that law. We stayed on them all day, riding through fields and right on the road with the other cars. I loved the air in my wild hair.
I remember a conversation that the three of us had one day. The question that started it: “Do you think you’ll ever want to get married?” At that time, it was a firm no. We made plans to live together when we left our parents houses behind. But, it planted a seed. I’m certain that was the last summer we allowed ourselves to be tomboys. Appearances were realized. Boys’ opinions started to matter. There was a shift. Though things changed, I’m the only one present for that conversation that actually did get married. You could look at their family dynamics growing up and draw conclusions, but it’s possible that sometimes you just go so far down a path that you can’t find your way back.
I’m not a tomboy any more. I don’t like dirt, sweat or bugs. I only know she was there when a familiar scent on the wind or a familiar sight in the trees wakes her up. But she’s shy and scared and much more comfortable in front of a computer.