"Hey," he said. I told him what I wanted to see, and he reminded me of the whereabouts but said he wasn't sure what, if anything, remained of it. When I conveyed the information to my dad, he said (of my friend): "That's who you need to call to take you in there."
"He can't, Dad," I said. "He's in the hospital. He's been in the hospital for over a month."
"I wish your brother could take you in there," Dad said. (My brother was--is--in Baltimore preparing for another surgery.) Dad sighed. He'd talked me out of taking the girls, already, and knew I wouldn't be dissuaded further.
"We'll drive over that way, but it's not like it used to be," Dad said, and later: "You see that real people live here, now, but I don't want to disappoint you. I'm not opposed to knocking on this man's door and asking for permission."
I nodded. "Ask him exactly where it is, too."
Dad glanced at me. "I know exactly where it is, based upon the sun," he said, "but go on and ask him yourself." And--having learned a long time ago to ask for what I want--I opened the truck door without hesitation. The man stepped out of his house to greet me well before I reached his door. I extended my hand; told him my name and my dad's name; told him what I was after.
"Of course," he said. "You're more than welcome. I'll take you there, myself." So we walked together (the man, Dad, Cade, and I), the man answering my questions on the way and after we'd arrived, too, as Cade and I explored and I photographed. He'd made the area so much better (cleaner and more easily accessible), but the thing was just how I remembered, and the creek below, too, flowing through mountain laurel.
Most everything seems smaller when you're older, but this didn't, and--especially in seeing my young teen there (his face so like mine used to be)--I slid back more than two decades despite a pull in my left knee. When we finished, I thanked the man: told him he'd blessed me, that I'd show the photos to my friend in the hospital, that I'll return soon with my daughters. He was glad for all of it.
My dad--having never seen it before--was glad, too. "I'm glad you pestered me about it," he said. "I'm glad I didn't miss the adventure."
I wish I could say what I feel but haven't words, really: so many things I miss from my days of play in that place: my horse and my friend's horse (both dead and in the ground); my friend's health; my brother's health; so many of our playmates lost to themselves, me, or all of us. And though in good health, myself, I feel threatened because my witnesses (the witnesses to so much of what I hold dear) are in jeopardy.
I feel as though, at any moment, the best parts of who I am might slip away. I'm tired and frightened, beat down and sore. I want to be an emotional rock, and I'm not. I'm just heavy.