Last weekend, after an emergency trip to the mall, I decided to walk home along the highway. I figured that way, I could stop and check out the sale outside the Aquatic Center, which is more or less the halfway point between my parent’s house and the mall. When I left the Aquatic Center, I remembered that my usual shortcut (which isn’t actually all that short) had been ruined by a tractor the previous week, and that, to get home by foot, I would have to walk about a quarter mile to the second gap, another quarter mile in, and then yet another quarter mile uphill without the option of taking the old shortcut. Bear in mind, I had been using this shortcut for a little over twenty years, so losing it to construction threw my entire reality off kilter.
As I neared the first gap – the Bonne Terre gap – I remembered two things: one was a little game we played as children. Basically, we would pick a new leader every so often and this leader would walk through the bushes trying to find a new route to our houses at the top of the hill while the rest of us followed. The second thing I remembered was that I had an aunt who lived along the road inside the Bonne Terre gap whose backyard was only separated from our yard by a small bushy lot. Feeling inspired by the potential for an adventure (and the potential for a new shortcut), I decided that I would nominate myself as the leader of my own one woman pack and find a new shortcut home.
As I walked along the Bonne Terre road, my eyes kept scanning any and every patch of bush, pondering over which spot could possibly bring me closer to my destination. For a ways, nothing seemed even remotely promising, and I was beginning to lose faith, when lo and behold, I spotted something peaking out over the clump of trees I’d just been surveying.
The house! Okay, so I’m almost home. My aunt’s house should be just around the corner, then…
Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the foot of my aunt’s driveway. Though encouraged by making it this far, I proceeded slowly, as there were two men standing in the driveway next door, talking. I wasn’t sure if I should continue with my plan of going straight to the back of her house and into the bushes for two reasons: First of all, the two men were already looking at me, probably wondering what exactly I was doing. A young girl, just walking straight off the road, past the house, and hopping into the bushes might be cause for alarm. I didn’t want to look like I was up to any funny business. Secondly, now that I had a chance to get a closer look at the bushes, they seemed quite a bit thicker than I had anticipated. And yet, my momentary uncertainty quickly dissipated at my very next thought: I am so close now, and if I don’t pass through these bushes, I have to walk over half a mile more home.
My decision was made. I resumed my mission, inching slowly towards the bushes, at which point the two men lost interest in me and went into the neighbor’s house. Perfect! I successfully intimidated them with my extreme weirdness, causing them to retreat. Now, it was just a matter of getting through the next thick patch of trees and unexpectedly tall elephant grass. Luckily, I had worn long tights and sleeves past my elbows. While they weren’t exactly long sleeves, I hoped they would suffice in protecting my arms from cuts and scratches.
I fought my way through the first round of elephant grass, which was small and sparse enough that it allowed me to regain quite a bit of confidence by the time I discovered a small clearing just beyond it. Maybe this would be even easier than I thought! I paused in the clearing, mentally preparing myself for Round 2, or what I was thinking of as my next “Tarzan swing” through the trees. Ready to push on, I held my breath, shoving my arms ahead of me, and clearing the path through the tall grass. This one was a lot longer and thicker. Such a stretch that I actually had to remind myself to start breathing midway through, realizing that I had been holding my breath for dramatic effect and was now in desperate need of oxygen.
When I finally made it to the next small clearing in the bushes, I was suddenly overcome with feeling extremely small and overwhelmed. My initial adrenaline rush was wearing off and I was starting to think that I had perhaps bitten off more than I was willing to chew. The bush seemed to be getting progressively worse – longer, bigger, thicker, hotter… I was also feeling progressively worse – hotter, itchier, tired, and irritated with myself. What in the name of rock-dwelling had I been thinking? This is a tropical island, covered in dense tropical forests. It’s hot and humid here. I don’t even have any tools to help me. Seriously? What were you expecting, Adventure Girl? Please don’t tell me you’ve gotten yourself lost…
At this point, I figured I had three options: I could either 1) go back through the bushes I had just pushed through and take the long walk home; 2) be brave and push through the unknown, making my trip home potentially quicker, but not necessarily easier; or 3) sit here in this clearing, bawl my eyes out, and come up as “missing” on Monday night’s news. I decided that Monday’s Missing Report wasn’t really the kind of exposure I wanted, so I had to push through the bushes in one direction or another. I finally came to the conclusion that if I had to hack through the bush again, I wanted to be at home at the end of the fight, not facing another half-mile trek.
My new strategy involved seeking out the weakest links in the bushes. Any area that seemed to be on the clearer end of the spectrum would help me connect the dots to my path home. This led me farther and farther to my left, to areas with more trees and less elephant grass. It was beginning to look promising! My confidence was up. I was walking faster, jumping over branches of fallen trees, and really beginning to gain momentum. I felt empowered, running through the forest like one of the Na’vi from Avatar. Just the way it should be. I beamed, delighted by my little jungle fantasy.
When I finally made it into my yard, I was so pumped that I didn’t even initially realize that I was home. Sure, there was notably less elephant grass and more papaya trees, but I just kept running, and thinking, Yes! A clearing! A clearing!
Reaching the house, I burst through the door, panting, and soaked in sweat. As I undressed in the bathroom, I couldn’t stop smiling at my accomplishment. I had just successfully braved my way through the bush and created my own new “shortcut”. It may not have actually been shorter, and yes – my arms were covered in bloody cuts and scrapes – but this was victory, no doubt about that. I did not get lost. I wasn’t going to come up missing on the news. I had made it home.
I stepped into the shower gracefully, and let the water run over my battle scars. I may be wounded, but I’m a warrior. This island is no match for me, that much is clear.