Walking Home by River Kozhar
Walking home as a child was an experience in shifting realities. It was like the moment in a fairy tale where the heroine rides through a forest that changes into a magical wood, riding from light to darkness, and from summer to an unnatural winter.
Near the school, there were other children, other voices twirling through the air like faeries, but halfway home, I lost the last of them. Dusk gathered around me, around that place, as my footsteps carried me toward a castle rising up into a sky that was always night, and a silence that hung as heavily as chains.
I don’t know if there was a Before, but maybe there was a toddler once—perfect, happy—who was afraid of all the wrong things. Maybe there was a child who hadn’t yet seen the shadows, and learned that she should hide in them.
At school, people bickered and laughed and crafted, and no one thought twice about how their noise shattered a silence that should never be broken, about how their very existence was an imposition. At school, freedom was a dream I heard in the music of their laughter, in the ease of their footsteps, in the light in their eyes. It was incomprehensible, and yet right, or beautiful, or good. But it faded like a mirage when the bell rang, when guardianship once again meant ownership on the ground.
At home, I worked and hid, adapting to the schedule and ways of those with power. I learned to scream without sound, to slip as silently as a wraith from one room to the next, knowing that someone’s anger could be the death of me. At home, I knew the best places to hide, and I knew they couldn’t save me.
Every day, I walked from truth to lies and back to truth, like a sun rising and falling too unsteadily for me to ever learn the difference between night and day. My feet plodded along to the drumbeat of my sentence, feeling flickering into apathy, kindness to cruelty, possibility vanishing into the smoke of imprisonment.
Each day I returned to my parents’ house like a creature feeling the end of its chain, but I never forgot what I had glimpsed outside of it; what I had felt, in a battered heart still pumping like an old train that should have shut down years ago.
Every day I walked home, but every day, too, I dreamed of another one, just over my shoulder, back toward the sunset.
River Kozhar is the nonfiction nom-de-plume of an author with prose and poetry published in 85+ different literary magazines, including Best Canadian Essays 2021. Her nonfiction focusses primarily on oppression, otherness, loss, and trauma. She is a young (disabled) retiree and a social justice advocate, and she lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Website: http://riverkozharauthor.wordpress.com/