On either side of the front door to the inky, smelly, dilapidated mansion were two hedge plants, taller than a very tall man and as wide as our pick-up. Now, hedge smells a certain way. Hedge smells a helk of a lot better than old folk, chewing tobacco and black coffee in oily mugs. I still lean in and smell a hedge whenever I get the chance, whenever I pass one by. I used to walk out of that smelly house and immediately bury my nose in the hedge.
For me hedge smells like freedom. The way a car radio sounds like freedom. The way my own personal set of apartment keys feels like freedom. The way an attractive man looks like freedom, foolishly. The way a cigarette tastes like freedom. I’d edit the illusions but they are my truths. These are the things in which I have identified freedom. Recognizing their traps and tricks, I have let at least one go. But I shall never let go of the rest.
As soon as the bitter note of hedge would meet my little girl nose I knew I was free. Free until dark. When I had to go back inside.
At first, shell-shocked, I would go as far from the mansion as I could. For a while my little bare legs would take me up creek to a bridge where I’d sit and watch the iridescent water saunter on by me. Hunter Creek. My dad was the first to show me Hunter Creek, of course. My dad showed me enough trails enough times that I knew how get to my Grandpa John’s house on Fizer Road, about two miles away–both by street and by trail. I also knew how to get to the elementary school and to the mouth of the Klamath River. I could probably get to the Mini-Mart too. I knew the best blackberry patches and where to find a mud bog so thick it could pass for quicksand. I told a couple boys in my first-grade class about the quicksand but they didn’t believe me. Boys were always challenging me. They thought I lied about things. The boys would stare at me for a good long while before excluding me from their games of kickball and football and other boy sports. I was always stuck between the boys and the girls but more drawn to the boy games and the boy talk. The playground attendant would tell me ‘you can’t play football ’cause you’ll scrape up your bare knees even worse. Come over here and play with the girls.’ Later I would stop wearing dresses and only wear jeans and stir-ups. As means to play with the boys.
Despite all the special places my dad showed me, places he’d gone to “when he was a boy”, I finally found my special place–a rose tree right in front of the mansion. It was a place where me and my best friend and cat, Kitty Rose, could both go. And dummies never saw us there. Hiding in plain sight, she and I, up in The Rose Tree.
The Rose Tree had a trunk about as big a’ round as my dad and branches as thick as necks. The bark was smooth and dusty. Until I met The Rose Tree I thought roses only grew on bushes. I also thought ‘every rose had it’s thorn’ that’s because I heard the song ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’. So when we first started goin’ up there I would be weary, always looking for thorns. But there just weren’t any. Talk about magic.
I’d watch the old folk walk by, Kitty Rose and I perched at the top of The Rose Tree. The villains would mutter to themselves and look out to the fields, the hillside, the barn. They were looking for something, and I always wondered what. I knew it wasn’t me ’cause I didn’t matter til bedtime.