Let’s wander through the mind’s eye back to 1999. I was only four years old then, and the world was as fantastical and magical as any child could ever dream. Each place and each action had a story behind it. From getting ice cream to collecting to sea glass to walking over broken, wooden bridges in the forest, my whole childhood was enchanted. All of history and tradition coupled with folk legends and fairytales made it so.
There was one place, however, that no amount of storytelling could ever make a worthwhile journey of. That place was plainly and simply the walk down my street. I was a bold child, frequently barreling alone through the pitch-black tunnels and dungeons of Fort Williams that have now been blocked off. I would climb literally to the tops of trees and would even roam stealthily like a cat through the dead of night in a game of man-hunt. But my street, my very own neighborhood, gave me the sort of heeby-jeebies that one cannot overcome.
I hardly ever saw another living human anywhere in my neighborhood. In fact, I used to believe the house across the street was haunted. I never would see anyone come or go from the home, no cars in the driveway, no lights turned on at night, and the grass was never cut in the summertime. Yet, gardens always bloomed and freshly planted vegetables grew from pots on the back porch each spring. And sometimes, in the dead of night, I would’ve testified to seeing the movement of ghosts in those darkened windows. I would wait and watch for many hours to see if any sign of life would emerge, but it never did. So, obviously, it must have been the home of ghosts. Maybe someone had died there? Or, better yet, maybe some had been killed there? The scenarios were endless.
That’s only the step outside my door, however. Many more homes further down possessed their own horrific quality for my childhood self. The first stretch down the road was not too bad. It’s where my dad and I still to this day play frisbee. The old woman in the little, red house next door always bought girl scout cookies from me. The people across from her and next to the haunted house had a large family. The next two houses beyond that were also family homes. It was past that point that I would start to walk a little faster, eyes flicking left and right, cautiously listening for any strange sound.
The house with the witch, as I always called it, was next on the walk. She was quite old, but still lived on her own, which always shocked me. Her frail figure was far stronger than you could’ve guessed. Though short in stature, her silhouette always seemed to loom tall and heavy over the rest of the world. Whenever you walked past, her two giant German Shepherds always ran menacingly to the chain-link edge of the fenced-in backyard. They would howl, bark, jump, and dig in their effort to be unleashed upon you. Their lunacy was what truly infuriated the old witch. She would come running down her driveway, shaking her fist in the stereotypical way of old grouches, and yelling in a raspy voice that I now know comes from years of chain-smoking. She would curse at you, blame you for “riling up the puppies” or “teasing the dogs with your freedom,” and then watch with laughter as your little feet ran in the other direction. I still believe that she really was vile, and I cannot say whether or not she is still alive.
Just one door past her house was the truly terrifying moment of the journey — The Stop Sign. A tall tree with many branches shot up from the ground parallel to The Stop Sign. This stop sign was the marker of the unknown. I didn’t know anyone, nor had I ever seen anyone, in the six homes past The Stop Sign, but five of them had monstrous dogs that would jump on the windows, bearing their large fangs at you. Not to mention, all of these homes had shingles and siding falling off. One of them even had black trash bags plastered over all the windows, taking on a life of its own with an air of dark, demeaning vehemence.
Finally, I would arrive at the end of my street. A small patch of grass filled with dandelions or snow, depending on the season, was the safe haven at the end of the treacherous journey. A crab apple tree bore its fruit happily for me, so that, after a jump through the trees, I could feed the horses on the side.
Then, of course, we’d have to repeat the walk back to my home. Usually, this journey was done at a sprint. But finally, we would come back to the safety of the frisbee stretch, and I would feel at home once more.
Wandering around the neighborhood is now a familiar task. From walking with the dog, my niece, or my thoughts, the all too wonted streets around my home have become a near graveyard of stimulus. I could not tell you what the house three doors down looks like anymore. I could not tell you its shape, size, or color. I could not even tell you who lived there, although I’m not sure I ever could have. All I have left are the impressions of childhood that still linger in my mind’s associations with each step down the hill.
Now I know that those impressions are silly, irrational, and ridiculous, but I find myself walking with a quick step, perked ears, and a speeding heart rate whenever I walk down my street today. Those places, like all the magical places of my childhood, will forever be the homes of ghosts, witches, and frightening creatures. I often keep my eyes directed away from the buildings — either on the sky or the ground — because of these lasting impressions. It seems I could have missed a lot by doing so. Then again, it also seems that I’ve created magic in the only place I thought there was none. So, perhaps I didn’t miss much of anything at all.
All pictures were taken on May 20, 2014 (not in 1999).