Looking deep into the loud, flamboyant wallpaper that adorned the walls of the century old farmhouse, I realized that I had never felt so out of place and alone in my life. I studied the details in the swirls and curves that made up the golden and maroon paisley pattern, doing anything I could not to look upon the faces of those who stood around me. I shuffled my feet in awkward uneasiness as the ancient floorboards squeaked below me and the hardy, metallic laughter floated through the ears I was trying so desperately to shut. A vintage chandelier hung above me in significant grandeur, cobwebs suspended from the gold and crystal material. For a moment I considered the consequences of the cumbrous antique shattering to the ground, glass exploding and skating across the beautiful dark floors, erupting in a firework of lustrous combustion. Nothing could be more traumatic than the situation I currently found myself in.
I found it odd. Everything that filled the old-fashioned home was the recipe for a perfect family reunion, yet an uneasiness still sat heavily on my chest. As I sat in a distinctively quiet corner away from the activity that carried throughout all three levels, in an intractable and dusty red velvet loveseat, I people watched. I watched cousins hug each other, happily reunited after weeks apart. I spied as toddlers whispered secrets into each others ears, just before their parents swooped them away for their naps. I witnessed pregnant women glowing as the elderly rubbed their bulging bellies, smiling with pride as they gush over how much they had grown since the last visit. I so desperately wanted to be a part of the love that exploded all around me. The problem with this is that one usually “people watches” strangers. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they felt like to me.
Children ran up and down the grand maple staircase as their braids bounced against their backs, ball caps fell from their heads, and squeals of excitement finally broke free from the hour and a half church service I had been forced to sit through in a starched, pink and white polka dotted dress my mother had picked out just for the occasion. She assured to not worry though, “since everyone would just think it was just SO adorable.” Besides my discomfort, I was relieved to get a whiff of the comforting smell of gravy drenched foods and the aroma of hot, succulent beef that floated from the kitchen. Adults chattered mindlessly about their corn yields, and just like every other year, how high school football was probably a gift sent directly from God himself. Music danced from a piano just to my left as it pumped out millions of eager, bluegrass gospel notes a minute. The chaos that was occurring throughout the house made my head spin and my stomach sour.
Darlington, Indiana was probably the worst place on earth, and my twelve-year-old self was positive of it. I hated the tiny, isolated town from the moment I entered its city limits. I had never understood why anyone would cut themselves off from the rest of the world so voluntarily, giving up the chance to live by anything other than a row of who knows what or a herd of who cares. The funny thing is though, I had always thought and lived in the epitome of what one would call, “the middle of nowhere,” but that was until I finally visited my dad’s hometown for the very first time in my young, pre-teen life. Dense rows of corn and soybeans replaced any sign of civilization that could have taken its place. Through the thickness of the vegetation that grew from the “purest soil in the USA,” according to my father, were endless miles of dirt roads that led to absolutely nowhere. Its eternity was daunting in it’s perpetuation. I didn’t understand how the end of a dirt road magically disappeared into where the horizon kissed God’s earth. It was suffocating to know that there was no way out of the compact growth that enveloped the microscopic town.
Prior to the day I found myself sitting alone in the red velvet loveseat, I found myself sitting in the back of the family car, traveling three silent hours to spend a day in the ghost town where my father spent his youth. We entered the brilliant farmhouse as a compact cluster of outsiders, huddled together as we knew we were being inspected, dissected, and calculated with every step we took and every word we spoke. Mumbled, anguished expressions of what had been lost over the last ten years stumbled between my father and those that sat across from us at the dining room table. As I sat glued to my mother, I looked up to her to see the pained, embarrassed crimson that spread rapidly across her cheeks. We had no idea what we had done to deserve such isolation from the group of people that should’ve meant so much to us. She felt the same edged, stale air on her skin as I. We never knew what to say, so we rarely spoke, only making small, polite remarks whenever we found it was appropriate. I could never tell if their small talk was intended to get to know us better, or to interview us for accusation. Where had we been all these years? Why did we never reach out? We didn’t know either. With every passing question and every failed attempt to make conversation time moved slower and slower. My stomach churned and tears welled in my dark eyes. We both burned with the same restless urge to retreat back to the car we had only been in fifteen minutes ago.
I studied my small feet as they swung back and forth to the rhythm of uneasiness that floated around the table. I had the notion that I was able to wear my sixteen-year-old brother’s Chuck Taylor’s as a twelve-year-old girl. Dusted with dirt, their once deep black canvas had lost their shoe store novelty thanks to one year spent in the halls of a new high school. As tomboyish and hideous as they were to look at, they gave me comfort knowing I had someone waiting for me to walk back to; a real family, not including the ones that sat beside me and shared the bread, along with my blood.
It’s easy to disappear when you’re just a tiny speck of matter. The grandeur of Uncle Jack and Aunt Cindy’s antique farmhouse suggested a sort of rural royalty, despite the fact it was settled smack dab upon acres of roaming livestock. The farmhouse had been in my father’s family for generations, and had taken on a museum-like quality. The delicate molding that surrounded the arched ceiling was slowly fading from its bright whiteness I could tell it once adorned, while the delicate hand painted tea set lay perfectly on the coffee table, displaying its age in grace. As I slipped through the French doors that split the kitchen and dining room, I ran out of the the constraining atmosphere that had held me in for what felt like centuries. I sprinted into the free, open air that I had so desperately longed for. The cool, summer breeze hit my skin with such an intensity that it sent tiny, freckled goose bumps down my small arms and legs.
Filling my lungs with the clean, summer air, I began walking. Walking through the center of the dusty dirt roads, I had the strongest urge to run away; I prayed that God would help me take off far, far, away from the house that contained the strangers I was forced to call my kin. Looking into the blended endlessness of the sky, corn, and road, I realized I couldn’t. I was trapped in an endless jumble of twists and turns, jailed by the knee high, pale yellow and green chains that surrounded me. I ran, clunky feet pounding against the hard, uneven ground, heart pumping from my chest and tears streaming down my red face. No matter how fast or far my small legs tried to carry me, I couldn’t break the rural walls that sealed me in. They had no intentions of letting me go any which way but straight, with no plan of ever leading to an escape or exit. Huffing and puffing, I forced myself to walk back towards the farmhouse. I made exasperated movements that were trudged and embarrassed as I shamefully walked back to my distraught mother. She was terrified that I had been swallowed whole in the jungle of flora surrounding my father’s boyhood home, when in reality, the most dangerous thing lurking in the stalks of corn were the ginormous pieces of farm equipment, sharp and sturdy in their design.
I was torn from my memories when I was simultaneously attacked by dozens of eager eyed, grinning faces leaning over me, urging me to come meet cousins, aunts, and uncles. I found myself in the centerpiece of the antique farmhouse: a beautiful kitchen filled with a chaotic cluster of hyper children, snoozing elderly, and boisterous adults who laughed too loud too often. The golden light poured in from the white-shuttered windows onto the red tablecloth scattered with dainty yellow and green butterflies. On the table were an assortment of apple and pumpkin butters, along with hot, fresh bread straight from the oven, and plump berries picked from the garden just that morning. I don’t think I had ever been hungrier than I was at that moment, but just as any stubborn child, I refused any food that came my way in a desperate attempt to let everyone know how independent I was. Besides, I was too busy taking in everything that chaotically surrounded me. The kitchen walls were like a museum of family generations that had lived here before my Uncle Jack, Aunt Cindy, and their children. The pictures vaunted warm smiles, arms wrapped around one another, accompanied by the faces of glowing children and slobbering puppies. Love and affection radiated from the frames, making me feel more out of place than I already did. I wanted to feel the love I viewed through the wooden picture frames, but I couldn’t with the mass of relatives tugging at my arms, pointing me in the direction of new strangers that had been “dying to meet me.” I was confused, and my childish conceptions couldn’t wrap itself around the question of why no one had taken the opportunity to do so earlier.
We gathered to say grace around a long, dignified wooden table that could, impressively, seat the entirety of every Hunt that gathered together that day. There were a lot of us, and we were loud. With every Colt touchdown that came from the TV screen there was a rupture of cheers that shook the floor boards and shot straight up to Heaven. Amidst the noise, I ran my hands along the rough, perfectly crafted wood and marveled at the at the way the wood moved seamlessly within every crevice. Looking up from the table, my eyes caught sight of a bouncy, young girl, probably around my age, looking at me intently with deep hazel eyes. At first, I thought I was looking into a mirror. I studied her critically, noticing that most of her characteristics matched mine completely. Her skin radiated with youthful joy as her cheeks glowed a soft pink, glimmering from the heat that came from the overpopulated kitchen. Her mouth moved faster than she could keep up, and as she blabbed about her new boots and new animals she kept tripping over tongue, slowing down just to speed up her chattering, crooked and new adult teeth once again. I swear she was talking so fast she was making the freckles on her nose dance. Her long, loose braids shook with excitement as she told me how thrilled she was to finish her cheddar mac and cheese just so she could go play with her goats after dinner. We giggled together; staccatos of high pitched laughter joined the rest of the commotion that filled the large, warm dining room. A new found happiness rose within me as I realized that I had discovered a friend within the mass of strangers I had been forced to spend my Sunday afternoon with, and she was just like me. Not only did we have identical hazel eyes and long, dirty blonde ringlets, or the fact that we shared a hatred for any vegetable with the word “bean” in it, I knew we possessed the same bubbles in our souls I had been waiting to let loose since I had been in Darlington.
After dinner, Laura and I found ourselves on the dirt roads that intertwined between rows of corn and the occasional dairy barn. It was the most gorgeous day I had ever witnessed, and I felt privileged to be in its presence. As a child growing up in a small farming community, the importance of spending time in the open air and being appreciative of the nature we were given to explore was engrained in my mind from the time I was able to walk across those grounds for myself. Violet rays began to sink over us as we played hide and seek between rows of corn while glimpses of periwinkle melted over our cheeky faces; we gleefully shrieked with joy as a fat, discombobulated goat hobbled on the side of the road as if it were in a drunken haze, lost from the farmer it belonged to. Bird began to sing their sleepy songs, rising high the songs we squealed to each other.
I was finally liberated from the paisley walls that had suffocated me and made me feel trapped, with someone I collectively blamed for my imprisonment. We raced each other down the bumpy gravel road of the country side, huffing and puffing as we realized neither of us were really that fast anyway. It had never crossed my mind that just a few short weeks ago, I was running those very same dusty, abandoned back roads with loneliness and anger within my heart. This time, I didn’t feel trapped by the endlessness of the sky, fields, and road that surrounded me, but appreciative that I was a part of the beauty that was being created around me; I was gleeful that I had finally found someone to share its beauty with. I had never felt so loved until this moment as I found myself with Laura, all while finding ourselves lost within the mazes of a corn field. I felt shame throughout myself as I realized I had once felt hatred towards the family I had found by my side. Running through the clear summer night, I felt a sense of gratification for the walls I had finally torn down, allowing giggles and love to finally make an entrance into the preconceived notions I had once had about my new family. We wailed our hands in the air and gleefully raised our faces to the setting sun, dancing in the glow of the midsummer twilight to the songs we sang to the scarecrows.