Tribute to my friend
"Let's bike down to the creek today."
"Sure. But isn't it going to be muddy?"
It was mid-spring of my fourth grade year as I stood there looking at my friend Emily questioningly. Her straight brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and held with an elastic tie; deep muddy brown eyes that left a hint of amber sparkling in their depths. In her grey t-shirt, jeans, and everyday sneakers; with her fearless, and sometimes brash, attitude – she didn't care if she got muddy or wet. But for some reason – I did. I was always afraid that I was going to fall in the creek and go home soaking wet or covered with mud – that would have been a disaster. I wanted to go exploring, though, so I was ready to agree with whatever she said next.
"Maybe, but you could always wipe it off," Emily answered sensibly. She always had a sensible answer for me. She understood my paranoia and was trying to make me snap out of it, but most often she sympathized.
"OK," I said, "good idea. Let's go!" We hopped on our bikes and pedaled the two winding blocks to the small creek that meandered through the neighborhood – just outside of private property. There was a small indent of blacktop, like a mini parking space, near the path we used to go down; that's where we always parked our bikes. I had given up a while ago worrying that our bikes would be stolen. It hadn't happened yet, so it probably wouldn't; and besides, Emily said that her neighborhood was one of the 'top safest' – though for no good reason I was positive that wasn't true.
We found the trail and half-stumbled down the hill to the bank. We could smell the scent of creek water, and hear it gurgle over the rocks.
"You lead," I told Emily. "You go faster than me, I'm always so careful so I won't fall in."
"Sure," she answered. This was our normal arrangement. Sometimes I led, but in truth I was too careful – I always worried that I would fall in and get wet. Often times we went exploring, sometimes going one way up the creek, and sometimes the other. I didn't have a creek by my house and loved the chance to go exploring in the "wild" outdoors, instead of just playing in my backyard. Every so often I wanted to lead, and Emily let me; she might complain that I was going too slowly, but she let me lead when I wanted and didn't complain too much. Nevertheless, she could always find the paths quicker than I could, and it was just plain easier to let her lead.
We hopped from rock to rock, switching banks as we went along.
"Slow down," I begged. "Wait up. How did you get across here?"
"I jumped," she answered, "from that rock to there to there."
"Are you sure?" I asked, "I don't think I can make it." My heart beat faster, warning me of tripping, sliding, falling, splashing, getting wet, muddy – I shook my head to clear it. Timidly I stepped into the middle of the creek.
"Of course you can make it!" Emily said encouragingly. "There, you're halfway already. Now I'll move back and you leap over to this bank. Are you ready? Go!" A second behind the command, I figured I'd have to get over somehow, and jumped.
"Hey! That wasn't so hard!" I exclaimed.
"No," agreed Emily, "you just have to get yourself to do it. Nothing is really that bad. It just looks it."
The next part of the creek didn't have any way to travel through it. The creek went through a channel where the bank was steep and slippery – basically like a miniature cliff. There were no stones to step across and it was only shallow enough if you wanted to wade up to your knees. Instead, we had to race along the back of somebody's yard. We clambered up the bank and sat crouching on the ground behind some bushes. I was worried that someone would see us and we'd be caught trespassing; my adrenaline was pumping and I was so sensitive I would have jumped a mile high had someone said 'boo'. But somehow, it was still fun.
Emily ran across first. Scurrying through the only space without bushes, she didn't look up at the house – but I did. It was pretty big, and had huge windows in the back – with someone in the window seat. She looked to be about 15 – a lot older than I was – with brown hair…I think. It was kind of hard to tell at that distance.
There's someone there! I thought fearfully. I'll wait until she goes away. I stood there for what felt like a few minutes, but the person didn't leave. She just sat there as if amused, waiting for me to cross. Pretty soon Emily came back.
"What are you waiting for?"
"There's a girl sitting up there watching us," I pointed. I could barely see her face, but I could guess what she was thinking. She had no expression but she was doubtless thinking something like: 'Get out of my yard!'
"Really?" Emily looked to see where I was pointing. "Oh. How long has she been there?" She looked at me curiously, probably wondering my I was so frightened of a girl watching us. But then again, Emily knew why, she just didn't bother to care. As long as nobody caught her, and what she was doing wasn't specifically wrong, Emily didn't get freaked out like I did.
"She's been there since before you went across; and she doesn't look like leaving anytime soon." What went unspoken – but we both knew I meant it – was the desire not to cross while the girl was watching us.
"Yeah, well. In that case we should just cross anyway."
"But, we're on her property. We're trespassing!" I didn't want her to call the police; then we'd get caught and go to jail!
"Yes, but we're only crossing." Emily knew that I didn't care as much as I let on, and if she pushed enough I would agree. Because deep down I knew it too, and that's what Emily was trying to get me to show – the fact that I really didn't care, and would let whatever happens, happen.
"Still, what if she catches us?" I hated getting in trouble, and it would be so embarrassing. However, I was beginning to understand Emily's philosophy; as long as I believed nothing bad would happen – most of the time it wouldn't. That didn't mean I shouldn't watch out in case it did, but I should take what comes and not freak out about something just slightly possible.
"Well, she's watching us right now, and it's not like she's going to call the police or anything. We're not going to get in trouble," Emily had read my mind and told me exactly what I needed to hear. That in no way, no how, were we going to get in trouble. That the chance of getting caught was so slight it wasn't even worth having in your mind.
"Oh, okay," I sullenly agreed – I couldn't give up too easily, "you can go first again,"
"OK, bye," and Emily ran across.
I looked up at the window again. That girl was not moving anytime soon. She looked like she was enjoying watching us run across, for goodness' sake. Oh, well. 'We're not going to get in trouble; we're not going to get in trouble' repeated over and over in my mind, and I ran across.
Meeting Emily on the other side, we both looked back up at the window. Yup, she was still there – still enjoying the view. Too bad, I convinced myself, I didn't care any more.
Taking Emily's philosophy to heart, I decided to lead for a little while. I found that once I stopped worrying about what might happen I could focus better on what would. And surprise, surprise! I could have a lot more fun that way.
We continued on down the creek, stopping at islands or in forested areas periodically. Then it was time to go back home to have lunch. As we passed the girl's house again I glanced up at the window. She was still there – and pointing at us! She was showing us to her mother and laughing! Oh, well. I didn't care anymore; I wasn't afraid of her. Point all you want, I thought, I'm having fun.