i have this distinct memory of a long, blowing expanse of white ground under a grey sky. dark smudges lined the edges; pine trees, inky black against the snow. the sound of a plastic dish separating my puffy pants from the ice, a terrifying endless crunch. i was afraid to grab the sides, in case the rolled edge leaned over too far and trapped my mittened fingers against the ground. it hurt my cheeks, and my eyes, and small shreds of ice sprayed over my face and tunneled for the warmth of my neck under a scarf.

that scarf is still here. i keep it inside a table that stores all the things i don't feel like getting rid of, but also don't need to use ever again. i have two other scarves, and i still only wear one scarf, ever.

people say iowa is flat, with unbounded spreading cornfields, but i remember this hill, and other hills. i remember the hill from my house to the road, a long stretch of concrete that i was afraid to bike down for the first four years that i knew how to ride a bicycle. i remember a dense woodland where my neighbors would take me mushroom-picking, which ended at train tracks rumored to be haunted by all the ghosts of people who couldn't handle the slow, futureless daily turns of a mediocre life in the midwest.

in the second grade, we were obsessed with ghosts; a friend and i made up chants and rituals that would force ghosts to reveal themselves, and we tried them everywhere. 'chant green ghost until you see the green ghost appears, then you'll know how many times you have to say it,' was one of our experimental methods; the green ghost was a flicker of green that would appear on the screen of the old projector reel system our teacher used to show us films. i don't remember any of those films. 'ghosts come from people who died when they were sad or angry,' i whispered.

'oh, like my uncle gary!' he cheerfully responded. i only nodded; i didn't know his uncle gary, but i knew i was always helping to look for him. 'green ghost, green ghost, green ghost, green ghost, green ghost, green ghost,' he said, holding up another finger each time so he could keep track. when he exceeded ten, i started holding up my fingers to help. we got to fourteen counts before we saw the flicker again, and stifled our gasps so the teacher wouldn't hear us.

we tried fourteen as the magic number, but we never saw the ghost again that day.

once, we spotted a pair of boots sticking out from under the brush by the creek; we took a stick and moved the bushes, and saw that they ended in a pair of jeans, and then a tarp. the tarp looked long enough to cover a body. the boots didn't stir when we shouted, or when we nudged the toes.

'it's a body,' one of the other kids said. we ran away, screaming, and never told anyone else. i had this sense that people died in the woods all the time, from stories my mother told me of her childhood in far north china where wolves stole children and tornadoes picked grown men off mountains. sometimes, i walk in the woods and feel a pull, as if the earth has a memory that i released by stepping on the right rock, and i wonder how many bodies have passed by.

27 January 2018 18:21

  Commons License this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. for more details, please see my license information.