Going Where the Wild Girls Go

Going Where the Wild Girls Go by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at JohnBdigital.com

The sun smiled its greeting, while a joyous summer breeze tickled Marie as she walked through the woods and up the hill she could never forget, towards its peak. Perfect climbing weather, much like that first time she came here, so long ago. Just like then, it compelled her to climb higher. So good to be here after all these years, she thought. She drank in all the smells of the earth, the way the sun glittered through the trees, the way the breath of the wind whispered upon her body. So good to be back.

Twenty minutes into the walk, she reached the summit of the hill she’d called the top of the world so long ago, taking a long drink of water from her thermos. It was such a satisfying feeling, to appreciate something as simple as taking a drink of water. This place had helped her learn that lesson, to see the special in the ordinary. Strange to return here, the first mountain she ever climbed back as a twelve year old. It wasn’t a mountain at all, of course. Just a big hill that happened to have the bad luck of living in the midst of suburban sprawl. But it had been her first mountain, and it would always be a mountain to her even if everyone else said otherwise. She wasn’t much for parroting others’ opinions, anyway. This place was one reason why she didn’t.

Twenty-seven years had passed since that first climb. Hard to believe, but it was true. Not much had changed here in all this time, which was hard to believe as well. Marie thought for sure this place would have been felled and shelled in the service of so-called progress, a sacrifice to the gods of the urban jungle. As an ecologist, she’d seen too much of that over the years, from malls to parking lots to factories. However, everything seemed practically the same, which in itself was so surprising.

The trees that surrounded her hike up here seemed to not have been disturbed at all. From their age, Marie could tell most of them had been here the last time she climbed the hill. Little had been done to the forest itself, she noted, based on the overgrowth she observed. It gave her a sensation of woody feel in perpetuity, populated with varied kinds of maples, oaks, and birches. Marie wouldn’t have thought anyone in this postcard of suburbia would have cared to conserve this place at all, and she was glad to have been wrong. The summit, which had always been open to the elements, was still clear. Even the flat slate rock she liked sitting on, overlooking the world, was still there. It was like everything had stayed the same, waiting for her to return. She almost forgot that over two decades had passed, and that she was no longer an innocent child. Breathing the air here, she felt that, once more. Full of possibilities.

Being on the cusp of forty and with next week’s hike on the Appalachian Trail looming, she felt compelled to return here, even though neither she or any of her family lived here anymore. This place always had a hold on her, especially when growing up. The vista of the world spread before her here, on the summit of the hill, just like it always had so long ago. Towns, trees, and buildings looked like small ants here. Cars, trucks, and long haul trailers zoomed by, on the highway below. They looked like play toys, and the thought made her smile. If she stopped her adult brain from racing, she could pretend that twenty-seven years were nothing but several seconds.

Marie felt a tickling sensation that moved up the back of her leg. It was a green tiger beetle, kissing the back of her leg as it crawled upwards. If she was the perfectly proper little girl that she was supposed to be growing up, she should be screaming at the cooties that just attacked her; probably compelling the beetle to bite her in the process. But not being what “they” wanted, she simply took a dried leaf from the ground, scooped up the beetle with it, and dropped it on the ground where it went on its merry way. It was amazing the things she was supposed to go bananas over, all in the name of playing by the rules of graceful little girl, she thought as she watched the green speck disappear.

She smiled, enjoying her reconciliation with the place she had called home for so long as a child. No, for Marie, home wasn’t the pretty two-story colonial with the roses and flowers decorated along its borders. To her, home was this hill buried in the woods. It was hidden behind the gargantuan homes with perfectly manicured lawns and identical three-car garages. You had to really be looking for this hill to find it. You had to abandon suburbia’s definition of home and its claustrophobic protection of convention to even know this place even existed. At least, that’s what she did, so many years ago. Her community looked down at this place, and scorned anyone who came here. But for Marie, it was where she learned who she really was. She learned more here about her spirit than any religious instruction or schoolbook could teach her.

As Marie sat on her favorite rock, the memories of this place came alive. She thought of the times when she was a child, so small she actually believed all the myths that were told to her, the adults in her life would warn her of this place. Bad boys came here, ones who didn’t have any responsibility, drinkers, smokers and drug users. And then there were the girls. These girls who came were the ones with no respect for anyone. What kind of boys would they attract? Girls with self-esteem knew that their place was not amongst those secret areas where concerned eyes could not keep watch over them.

As the wind blew in her ear, it carried those early lectures condemning this place. She heard these stories over the years in bits and pieces. But one particular day when she was twelve at a family party, she was instructed on the Realities of Life. Somehow the subject of this place came up, who knows why. This consortium of morals said to her, in various fragments of talking heads that started blending together after awhile, “Marie, you are a special girl who is going places. When you see any girl going here, she’s hiding out because she’s up to no good. A productive, nice girl has goals, and a girl who goes to That Hill has too much time on her hands. So, Marie, if you see any girl going here, just be glad that she isn’t you. This is where wild girls go. They’d embarrass their parents if they had parents that cared. That’s why they’re bad girls. And we all know, you are a good girl. And that means you care about your parents. You’re a Murphy girl. Murphy girls don’t act out. Don’t you have so many things that you want to do with your life?”

Up until this point, she had supposed so. She had been struck with stars at ballerinas, at smiling little girls who danced. She had believed in fairy tales where the good princess got the man and all the mean girls got sent to the corner or melted away into oblivion, to be banished where they were never heard from again. If someone gave her a compliment, she would brighten up. If someone criticized her, she would cringe and think of what she could do to get whoever it was on her side.

But it was something at that gathering of Concerned Adults that started itching at her. She wasn’t exactly sure what it was that was born in her that sleepy afternoon with boring lectures, but her adult self suspected that on that day, her child self felt accused and attacked while never even being guilty of a crime. It had felt like she’d been ganged up on. On some level, after that proper afternoon of coffee and wine spritzers for the adults and juice with one special soda for her, she realized that no matter what she did, there would always be some other warning that Good People Must Follow. She’d followed all the rules, and it still wasn’t good enough.

From that day onward, all her child self could think of was That Hill, Where The Wild Girls Go, and spent her time fantasizing how she could manage to steal herself away to go there herself. She thought of it during ballet lessons, Sunday school and choir. She thought of it during algebra and during English class. She kept imagining about That Hill where the wild girls go. She was supposed to think of horrible things, much like all the Grimm fairy tales that warned her of what happened to little girls when they wandered from their path of purity and obedience to others. The boring adults had made that very clear to her, that she must associate the hill with Bad Things happening to her. But Bad Things weren’t what she imagined, not in the least.

Going where the wild girls go is where Marie’s twelve-year-old self imagined no adults constantly correcting her. Telling her to stand up straight. Telling her to stop dreaming. Telling her to keep her room clean, because only neat girls had any class. Telling her that the boring days in classrooms and instructions where she was constantly watched was the only way to prepare herself for the world. She was tired of being told that everything she didn’t want to do was the right thing for her, and everything she did want to do, like watch TV, daydream, or explore the outdoors, was bad. She wanted to not worry all the time about what icky people thought of her. Marie imagined the hill as a place where all these things didn’t exist. She imagined daydreaming there all day. No piano, no ballet, no lectures on how she was a sinner, and instead seeing trees, feeling the air and breeze in her own private sanctuary.

Marie vowed to conquer the hill, but she knew it had to be a secret. She couldn’t even tell her friends Susie Reynolds and Caroline Danforth about it, the girls she ate at lunch with that she went to ballet with after school and whose mothers played tennis with hers. They never daydreamed at all, and made fun of her when they caught her at it, calling her a space cadet. She was tired of wishing she could be like them, never having a wrinkle in her clothes and smiling no matter what. She was tired of them making fun of her freckles and her straight amber hair, them with their shining waves of blonde and porcelain skin. Marie didn’t want to be the girl who smoked and made out with all the boys like the bad girls who cut class all of the time, but she knew she didn’t want to be like Susie and Caroline anymore either. She kept thinking that the hill would have answers for her, and couldn’t get this out of her head even if she wanted to. Which she didn’t.

After weeks of thinking of the hill, muting out the teasing of her so-called friends and endless lectures from adults, she finally got her chance. It was a day when her parents went to some boring barbeque down the road while she was supposed to have a piano lesson at home in lieu of supervision. As luck would have it, her teacher cancelled after her parents already left, and she knew she finally had her opportunity to go see the hill she wasn’t supposed to see. The luck was so tasty to her, it was better than any treat she was fed to her when she was supposedly good. So Marie got herself ready for her magnificent climb.

Marie put the old sneakers and dirty jeans on that her mother kept trying to throw out, the ones that were supposedly not for young ladies learning etiquette. They were hidden in the back of the closet, underneath the pink sweater laced with red roses that she deliberately dropped there to keep them concealed, for those rare times she could find to ride her bike when her parents weren’t around. Racing out of the house before bad luck might bring her parents home, she dashed down the street, not wanting to waste any time getting her bike. Marie was glad that the party was in the opposite direction from where she needed to go. Everything was working out perfectly. Looking back at this moment, her adult self thought, it seemed like everything was meant to be just to bring her here.

To get to the hill in the woods, you needed to walk on a long trail that took you far away from the street to get to it. She knew this because when the hill was pointed out to her, she saw the small opening in the trees that she guessed eventually would take you to the hill. Seeing this, Marie was glad that she hadn’t brought the bike. She entered the woods, following the path away from all the rules that kept her confined in perfect little houses. For a minute, she thought of Hansel and Gretel, of Red Riding Hood and the danger they faced as they roamed through the woods. It did send a shock of fear into her. But when Marie imagined the adults with their pinched faces lecturing her, she buried the fear far away. Tales like the big bad wolf was what was used to keep her away from places like this. So she kept walking.

Marie walked quickly, feeling a certain rush as she moved through the trail into the open unknown. This was an encounter that she would later identify as her first real encounter with adrenaline. It was a rush that her adult self always remembered, a rush that she used even now as incentive to move her forward on the unknown trails, journeys, and adventures that was her life. The trees, the birds, and the smells created a heady sense of adventure she never knew existed until then.

Marie’s twelve year old self learned something about herself this day that she always kept in the back of her mind ever since. In the first moments of her trail into the unknown, Marie felt a rush of terror mixed with excitement. This was not, as she learned, the same as the hairs standing on her head when her gut feeling not quite right. No, this rush of terror and excitement, while strangely disorientating in its own way, felt quite right with her soul. It was her ability to discern between timidity at new things, and her gut warning her of real danger that perhaps pushing into the unknown possible for her. Now at nearly forty, Marie believed it all began this day as a twelve year old. Despite the giddiness of fear and the rules she broke that day, she remembers that everything felt more than all right with her and her soul. It couldn’t have felt better.

Marie’s adult self remembered the smell that day, a smell that stayed with her, and is still vibrant in the air today. It was a salty odor, that made her nose feel sleepy and weighted down. She learned later that it was moss, dew, rotting wood, and the wildness of the outdoors. It was so much better than all the smells of bad cafeteria food in school, and the noxious odor of downtown. It was better than the strange sweet chemical smell that permeated her home screaming, “I’M CLEAN!!! SEE???!!!” for everyone who ventured there to nod with wonderment at imitation sterility. In a way, Marie got her first high from that first inhalation of fresh air. This impact of the outdoors upon her senses became her drug. She’d gotten her first taste at six, and it seemed she never forgot it. Now, at twelve, she was fully hooked. It was an addiction she happily never broke.

The trees she’d walked past that day as a twelve year old seemed to greet her. Unlike the world of buildings and artifice, as she moved by them, she wanted to pay attention. Marie thought of all the museums she’d been dragged to, where she was told to pay attention to what was great in the world. She thought of going to the mall, being told by her friends, adults, and old salespeople what was beautiful. It was all so fake compared to what she saw now on this trail. She watched the trees swaying in the breeze as she made that first climb. The trees danced a sweet dance, and she smiled a smile she would never forget. This is what was beautiful. The world wasn’t a boring place to be endured. At twelve, Marie had finally found what was good in her life, and it was here on That Hill. It was like some strange question that she didn’t even know she’d been asking was finally being answered. It was all right in front of her, here on this trail in the woods where she wasn’t supposed to go.

At a certain point that first day, the trail started to pitch upwards. She felt the strain on her ankles and the back of her legs, like she was waking up a part of her body that never knew it what it was like to be used. The pull she felt shot strange sensations through her, the kind she got when she played kickball in gym. Her breathing got heavier as the hill got steeper. With all the foliage and bushes, it was hard to see where the hill was taking her. She had no idea what rested on the other side of the unknown. The nursery song “The Bear Went Over The Mountain” started singing in her head. Even though she always thought the song was stupid, she found herself breathing to the melody that checked in to her head like a guest in a hotel. It didn’t sound so bad, for some reason, out here alone on a trail. Maybe she was like the bear going over the mountain, hoping to see the other side. What was there? The question and the song pushed her forward. Even the aches she felt and the sudden thirst she’d developed felt good. Marie couldn’t explain why, because her experience here felt so much different from what she’d learned life was about. She was supposed to be careful, graceful. Nothing about this place felt careful or graceful at all. But it did feel good. So she kept going.

Up until now, the light had been filtered by the trees that surrounded her. But just ahead, everything seemed a little brighter. Marie couldn’t quite see what was causing it, because the trail was twisting about. But it got brighter and brighter the more she walked towards it, and soon the winding trail led her to a path that pointed straight up to a wide clearing. She could see open grass there, and where the light was, the forest ended. Her heart was already beating from the effort, but seemed to beat in a quicker way once she saw this light. She felt like the bear finding the other side of the mountain, and she was glad.

As she left the woods, she stepped into a bright new world filled with sunshine. It was a flat grassy opening, with trees surrounding it on three sides. But on one side, it just veered into nothingness. A strong breeze hit her as she headed towards that void. The wind was stronger here than on the suburban streets, with nothing to break it. It was a mercurial kind of wind, a friend to a traveler in the summer, like that first time, and an enemy in the winter, when it would bite into you. She learned to tolerate its moods over the years, and perhaps it was because of this warm embrace she’d gotten from the initial greeting, she felt as though she was welcomed here.

As she got closer to the edge, she saw several flat stones overlooking the horizon. She sat down on one of them, feeling relief at being off her feet, but oddly satisfied with the fact that she’d accomplished climbing this hill. What was more, it had been her accomplishment, and hers only. Not some assignment that some teacher assigned her. Not some chore that her parents assigned her. Not some music piece that others said she should play, or dance move that others would sigh over when they saw her. No, this was something she’d set out to do for herself, her goal alone. It was all hers, the journey and the accomplishment. Marie didn’t quite recognize the feeling, but later on she would say, sitting on the hill after climbing to the top was the first time she actually accomplished something worthwhile. Whatever it was she experienced then, it was a great feeling.

She hadn’t known how long she stayed at the place, doesn’t remember now either. The drop in front of her seemed to go on forever, making her dizzy with excitement, and with the wind it made her feel like she was flying. Her gaze moved from the awesome height to the horizon. All the towns that she had been to as a child were spread out in miniature. And the trees she saw, they went on forever. She never knew what the world looked like, but she got the idea in this moment. Marie watched the tiny ants of cars that sped on the highway way down below. She had wondered where they were going, and created journeys for them in her mind. She imagined herself in those cars, soaring to distances far away on some mission that took her far away from the neatly manicured lawns and malls that assaulted her senses, reminding her of the life she was supposed to want in the guise of dinner parties and pretty things you could buy. Her adult self looked back at that twelve year old, and marveled at her. It was like this hill was waiting for her to come here, to tell her what her life purpose was supposed to be. Marie felt everything had been answered for her.

As she was leaving the plateau heading for the trail, she saw a couple of boys walking up the hill that she’d come up herself. When they came closer, she could see that they were older than her, and that they were smoking cigarettes. One was holding a six pack of beer. A strange sense of fear went through her. These were the bad boys that everyone warned her about, smoking and drinking. She didn’t really know them, although she thought she’d seen them from somewhere before. They were both taller than her, kind of good looking if you liked the bad boy look with longish hair. Marie guessed they were older than she, because she didn’t know them from school. She didn’t know what she liked yet in boys, but she knew when boys were considered cute, and these two would be in certain circumstances. Instinctively, she seemed to know this wouldn’t be one of those times.

The hairs on her head seemed to be an a strange standby, ready to jump to full throttle at a moment’s notice, but they didn’t. The boys got closer, got louder. One of them waved at her, while the other kept talking. They passed her and began heading away from her, towards the back of the hill to another patch of woods. She waved back, and then they were gone. They hadn’t even spoken to her, even though they’d seen her. It was another strange lesson that she received in that experience. You couldn’t predict a person’s behavior based on what they looked like. Which made appearances seem even more ridiculous than they were just a moment before. Life had become more complicated in that one moment, a strange puzzle that she wanted to explore further. The peace she’d gotten in asking the mountain came back. She knew she was permanently hooked on this place.

Over the next six years, until she left this neighborhood for good, Marie came back to this place as often as she could. It was her personal sanctuary that almost no one knew about, her individual rebellion. Some girls chose drugs, some chose boys they shouldn’t be with, some chose the piercings and tattoos which showed their outer defiance. Other girls broke no rules at all, like Susie and Caroline, with their perfect clothes and smiles. Marie found her wildness here in the open, where she could dream of faraway places and the open road that was exemplified by the highway below her. She had her first kiss here at fourteen with a not-so-bad boy named Colin Doherty, one who didn’t smoke and didn’t drink and became her boyfriend for three months. She also ran into the bad boys who smoked and drank, and some of the wild girls who did the same, all of them became friends of hers in some way. Marie stayed well on the outskirts of the trappings of what a wild girl was perceived as. The code for what made up a wild girl seemed to be just as restrictive as it was for good girls. Wild girls were supposed to hate everybody, put out for any boy who asked, and get drunk and high as often as possible, in other words, be a Perfect Bad Girl. If you deviated from the code in any way, it was just as much an outrage to those clan members as it was with all the perfect people sitting in her parents’ living room drinking wine spritzers over deviating from the Perfect Good Girl.

She came here to this hill to define her own sense of wildness. It helped her tell off her parents by quitting ballet, piano, and Sunday school. Everyone was afraid for her, knowing the world contained one kind of girl or the other, and she knew she was fast falling from being the Perfect Good Girl to Perfect Bad Girl. In coming here, defining herself, she found the courage to be her Own Girl. This is what That Hill gave her, all those years ago. When she last came here, she had just graduated high school. She was going to move across the country with her friend Andie who was just as restless as she. They’d spend a year with Andie and her cousins, exploring the mountains there while trying to figure out what to do next. Marie asked the hill to bless her, not knowing when she’d return. But she knew that the hill had seeped so deeply into her system that she’d do anything to be outdoors as much as she could. No boring desk job would satisfy her at this point in her life, and this hill did it for her.

Back then, barely into adulthood, Marie had no way of knowing the perfect family she’d grown up with would implode and explode into smithereens. She had no idea that after all their homage to suburban success, they would all desert the perfect neighborhood for separate corners in the world, all within in the next two years. That because of this unforeseen crisis of familial identity, it would be years and years before she would return, on the verge of forty. A loud crack coming from the woods transported her from the past, to the beauty of the place in the present. Everything was so much the same, Marie marveled, and yet so different.

Next week, Marie would be on the Appalachian Trail, accompanied only by her boyfriend Brian. If everything went to plan, she’d be in North Carolina or Tennessee when she turned forty. It was her way of marking one section of life from the other. After more than twenty years on her own, she’d come to define her own life her own way, letting herself wander where she wanted to and stop when the mood struck her right. It was her own way of settling down, a kind of life plan where the entire world became her home instead of curtailing her existence to a small postage stamp of suburban land. And she’d been lucky enough to find a career that allowed her to roam around the outdoors. Lucky enough to want only the basics, so she could afford to do something like forsake the working world for five months and go wandering in the woods.

If she hadn’t come to this hill as a defiant and curious twelve year old, she may never have found the wild girl inside who wanted to come out so badly to play. What would have her life looked like if she kept that girl bound and gagged in some dungeon in her soul? What if Marie silenced her, succumbing to the doctrine that more was always better, and drifted from the path she chose for herself? Would she be like her parents, so rigid that they shattered? Marie had no way of knowing what that alternate history looked like. But she was glad that she rejected it. She was glad she came here so long ago, as a twelve year old girl, and set that wild girl within her free.

The wind picked up a bit as she sat on the rock, marveling at all of this. So much had happened all these years, but it was like all this time, this place still remained here, waiting for her return. Marie was glad it was still here for her, that it hadn’t been mowed down into a suburban cul-de-sac or mall parking lot. Knowing the milestone that awaited her in the near future, she asked this place for a blessing. Its blessings had sustained her all these years, and she believed it would do so again. She felt the inner peace she did all those years ago, as a twelve year old making her first real decision in her life. It was strange how so much had changed, and yet it was all the same, like the scent of freedom the hill brought to her. She inhaled one last gulp of this familiar air, like taking a last good look at an old friend. Because this was exactly what this place was to her. It felt like heaven, and she sighed. One last look at the vista, and she left the rock that she’d visited so many times over the years.

As Marie approached the woods, a figure appeared near the opening. A girl, about twelve or thirteen, was walking up the hill. Marie blinked. It was as if she was seeing herself back then, in reverse. The girl wore jeans and sneakers, just as Marie had that first day. Marie smiled at the girl’s approach. She was glad to see that adventure hadn’t quite died in this suburban cast of smiles and chemical cleanliness. It was good to see this young girl, happy to see the mirror of herself twenty-seven years in the past. The girl saw her and waved, so Marie waved back. Two females on the hill, defying convention. Going where the wild girls go, this was where Marie had found the courage to define herself. Looking at the girl approaching her, Marie asked for the blessing of the mountain to be extended to her. As she passed by the girl to leave the hill, it felt like she was passing some kind of torch on. She smiled at the thought, and at the girl who had arrived at this place just as she had so long ago.

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