As an English and Literature major in my undergrad, I took many classes that focused on different literary movements. However, there was one class that stood out from the others, because it was so different and it required me to delve inside myself more than any of the other classes combined. The class focused on place in literature. On the first day of class, my professor asked the class to consider where our place is, and who was in it; in other words, "Who do you let run around in your soul's back country, and why are you so picky? Where is that back country?"
I had never thought about my soul's back country as being rooted in an actual place. I mean, a real, dirt-grass-tree-road-mountain place. I’m not so sure it surprised me when I discovered where it was.
Once I figured it out, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was haunted by it. And the only way to free the ghosts was to write them out.
This place is not what it once was. We tear down the memories of the tragedies and build a façade so the tourists don’t know of the brittle bones hiding deep in the closets. We hope that the movement of the earth will break them. But we are cursed again, because if they do break, they turn into dust, dust that seeps into our senses and bleeds into our skin.
And it is not only the skeletons that we cannot bear to see. It is also the ghosts that linger around every bend, in every field and forest, on every mountain top and in the halls of churches and schools. It is those who cut deeply into our own bones who haunt us. They lurk on back roads and dim-lit street corners, their eyes down and their images blurred.
But they are there.
The noises of this place, this once-small town are not sounds I am familiar with any longer. Trucks bellow their way down our main street, and they roll through without looking back at us, or stopping for us, since our coffee shop is now an Italian restaurant. But the tourists do. No one born and bred here who still sees the image of a small farming town wants phony Italian food. But they do. They are the only ones who want to stop in our shops, because the gifts in our shops are worthless but over-priced, depicting images of what we once were. The shouts to friends no longer come from the other side of the street; they come from strangers in cars passing by, cursing the traffic that now clogs the central artery of the town.
This place is too much for me.
I can't stay here any longer. The trees I once played in are gone. The acres and acres of free fields are developed and built up with people who never knew what once roamed there, who had never lain down in the sweet grass of the field and stared at the airplanes buzzing overhead.
The road leading out of town is so inviting. There is a world beyond this place, one untouched and unmarred by me and the spirits that tag along beside me. I give one final sigh, but I feel something creeping…
I cock my head to the left. My eyes travel the expanse of my valley, across the mountain tops, into the waters of the lake, into those green fields whose seeds have not yet left me. I want to shut my ears to the freight train of longing, waiting to drag me back down its tracks. I do not want to hear it calling me back. I do not want to be called home.
I will stand here in silence, until I feel it coming.
The wind swept from the edge of the valley; it rolled swiftly and smoothly and gathered every ghost into its outstretched arms. They glided along within it, stretched and sprawled, larger than life and not life at all, but life pulsed inside it and I felt it approaching me, although I could not see it. But I heard it. I braced myself for the roar and the growl and the ferocity of the phantoms inside it, but it reached me as a calm before any storm does, quietly and warmly. It simply slipped into my hair, lifting the locks away from my ears, and whispered to me softly, asking me to listen.