The funny thing about the past is how you never know which parts of the meal of your life are going to come back up, and how. When I was a kid I had a boxed set of Misty of Chincoteague paperbacks—their paper slightly stiff, their watercolor covers slightly dated, their titles slightly belabored: Stormy, Misty’s Foal; Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague; Justin Morgan Had a Horse—and I read them all and I loved them, even though I was never one of those little girls obsessed with ponies. I loved the books because they presented an old-fashioned world of barns that needed sweeping and coal stoves that need staving, of eggs being carried from chicken coops in wooden buckets, a place way out on the edge of the world that actually depended on a lighthouse, where residents listened to gramophones and used words like gawpin’ and oncet. This past country life was as foreign and transfixing to me then as the idea of my own future self as a grown-up.
Because when you are a child, can you really know, can you really ever understand that one day you will be a woman or a man? And would you ever believe it, if the future had come up behind to you while you were curled in your beanbag chair nose-deep in Misty of Chincoteague and tapped you on the shoulder and said:
Now, dear: one day far in the future you will go to Chincoteague and you will stay in a little saltbox house. The house will be small and cozy and it will have faded green siding and purple shutters, colors which will seem to be bleeding into each other. You will go because you will be a writer, then, and you will be going to meet some friends who are also writers. It will seem like a miracle. Every window in the house will be open and a wind will be constantly blowing the sheer curtains up in arcs which will seem to be the physical embodiment of a sigh of contentment. The walls will be white and the rooms will be spare and the floor will be creaky and you will feel as if you have somehow got inside an Andrew Wyeth painting, whom you will have come to love in college, when you were an art history major. (Yes! You will go to college.) There will be a large flat lawn stretching out behind the house and the grass will be thick and damp and full of virulent mosquitoes and you will get fifty swollen red bites on the worst boney parts of your ankles and feet because one evening in the purple twilight, the sky very pale and curved and also shot through with orange, like the inside of a tulip, you will choose to play something called Polish Horseshoes, which is a game involving Frisbees and traffic cones and beer. You will be able to drink beer, then, because you will be adult. You will in fact be drinking too much, then, at that point in your life. You will be slightly lost, then, but also found. You will never know how your friends obtained the traffic cones. There will be a single happy tree in the backyard which will seem to be clapping and laughing at the game, because its jovial little arms are being tossed in a substantial evening breeze. Under the tree will be an outdoor shower and before you leave Chincoteague you will get in the shower with a man and he will make you laugh. (You think, now, that you will never even kiss a boy, but all things come in time.) You will get in the shower with him in the early morning and the wind will still be blowing and the tree will still be tossing and the air will have a razor’s edge of cold at that low hour, will be so crisp and clean as to remind you of the air in Wyoming (you will have been to Wyoming) and the sunshine will be low and soft but also bright and the leaves in the tree will be shiny and glinting and everything will be so sparkly in general that you will feel as if you and he are two tiny figures clasping hands inside a snowglobe, happiness swirling all around you.
Strange, what things come forth from our past to greet us like old friends. Strange, how unbelievable your own future would seem, were you told it today.
Liz lives and writes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.