“Keep going,” that was my mantra, my philosophy of life, the shower told me this morning. In one of those “aha” shower moments, all had been revealed, distilled, boiled down to a two word inscription etched into my way of being. More like a prescription telling me what to do, how to think by not thinking, just moving, lurching, listing, meandering forward. Keep the momentum up, head down, go stride by stride, and don’t look back. For writing, just write. Hit-and-miss, scatterschot approach, just write, don’t analyze, lurch, list, meander, don’t go back to figure out why some pieces are rejected, while others find a home.
And there I was on a September afternoon, a high school freshman lost in the woods. “Keep going,” I told myself over and over once the woods had closed behind me, and I could not see any way out. Forward was my only option, I told my not-quite fifteen-year old self. Straight ahead, I remember saying, unaware of my own stupidity. How would I have known what was straight in the unmarked path I was forcing in a dense forest of oaks and brambles, green canopy blotting the sun, thick layer of brown leaves rustling with every stride.
I was new to the area, my family still unpacking boxes at the new house. The area itself was new, new houses, new streets everywhere as neighborhoods mushroomed into existence. I had stayed after school to attend an organizational meeting of the art club. It was a small group that showed up, mostly upperclassmen who seemed to know each other, and in short order had nominated and elected themselves to take over as president, vice president, and treasurer. I was a stranger and a newcomer, and felt more and more awkward as I listened to the actitivities they wanted to plan. Seemed mostly to be about service, less about art. They wanted to recruit more members, so we made posters—large, yellow palettes with glued on orange letters that said, “JOIN.”
The scene in the art room replayed in my head as I walked home that sunny afternoon. I tried so hard to understand what it meant, what it said about my place in a club of older girls devoted to service, when I wanted to make more art. Alone with my thoughts, I missed my turn, then tried to correct my mistake by compounding it with a wrong turn.
Houses under construction everywhere, and a school. I knew this was not a landmark I should see, and heard the construction crew shouting something at me. I kept going, a young girl already wary of older men watching me. I kept my eyes trained on the woods I saw straight ahead. Maybe these were the right woods after all, the ones with the shortcut home someone had told me about.
Lost in thought, now lost in the woods, I tramped along clinging to my notebook, holding it over my head as I barreled across a creek. “Keep going.” Straight ahead, straight across the creek, brown water stinging the cuts and scratches on my legs and rising to my waist.
My mother would not be expecting me, she knew about the art club meeting. I kept going, screaming for help now. Screaming in a high voice, screaming in a lower tone when my vocal chords began to hurt.
I have no idea how long my dogged denial and perseverance made me march though the brambly woods. I emerged onto a practice field of a junior high school where the football team found me and took me to the principal. He was gentle as I explained my family had just moved to the area. Did I know my phone number, he asked. I dug deep, searched for the digits just barely committed to memory. Our red and white station wagon appeared, and I got in the front seat next to my mother without a word.
The shower releases me in a cloud of stream, but not before I realize why the lost-in-the-woods misadventure has resurfaced. It’s about the writing, about not taking the time to figure out why I’m lost in a woods still trying to write a piece about my grandfather in World War I. A piece that hasn’t known who’s story I am writing, mine or my grandfather’s. I know now that it will have to be re-written yet again. I know now why, I know what it is about. Lots of wrong turns lurching, listing, meandering. Eventually though, a right turn will get my grandpa—and me—back on track. Keep going.