You lived in the mountains, your family and you. I grew up with you there, once a year. Those mountains were beautiful–so tall and steep that my ears would pop before we got very far. Daddy would have to drive through a maze of woods with only the paved trail to guide us around and around the mountain. The clouds would meet us eye-to-eye and the fog would greet us each morning on the way down and up again.
You never were too conveniently close to anything. I remember we would spend most of the time outside just picking at the ground and staring up at the sky. We talked about anything; everything was a game.
Then we got older and you and I changed. Until then, I could comfortably say I had known you since infancy yet still the earliest memory I had of you and I was of us playing on my swing set when we were toddlers. As we got older, it was harder for you to understand boundaries, and it was harder for me to tell you how I really felt. Growing up isn’t hard because of bills or work. Growing up gets hard when what once were simple friendships try to morph into something more. I wasn’t ready, and that’s when we fell apart.
We didn’t talk the same way anymore. I would have never been able to sit and stare at the sky with you anymore. I wanted more in a conversation than what you had to offer. All of our conversations were advances and misunderstandings. Those Tennessee mountains meant the world to me, and when I wasn’t guaranteed an annual visit, I stopped remembering as clearly. And as my memory of you fades, I forget just how tall those mountains really were. Were they tall because I was so small? Perhaps the mountains were magical because of my memories–a frosty oasis in the autumn and a rocky vacation in the summer–like a kiss from Disney.
I know some of it’s my fault. I might have even led you on in ways I never intended. You never could understand just how different we both were, and how I could never see it working. You were so focused on your life in the mountains and I was focused on my schoolwork and life beyond me. Your best friends were hunters and fishermen; you loved country music and those neighbors of yours with the missing teeth.
Fishing has always been an occasional pastime of mine, but by no means a passion. I hate country music. I always had my hands out for a new book, and I was working hard in school for something more than the town in which I lived. My best friends had all of their teeth, and I wasn’t comfortable isolating myself to a mountain or countryside without resources, without knowledge, without the chance to fly.
You would watch birds fly overhead and shoot them down. I always wanted to be the bird that got away.
I still speak dearly of those mountains in Tennessee. Those mountains are just another part of the south that makes me want to stay. You’ll probably never speak to me again, but just know, despite it all, I do still care about you. I want you to learn new things, I want you to grow. I want you to find love, and I want you to be happy.
Maybe one day we’ll meet again and things will be different. Until then, know that we’ll always have the mountains.