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WHEN YOU WERE TEN

BY J.R. HOGAN

A number of differing shades of green battle for dominance, shafts of early morning sun filter through the gaps in sizable branches. A soft breeze caresses your

skin; you can feel it capturing your straw-coloured locks in its gentle gusts.

The cacophony of singing birds merges with the crunching of leaves underfoot in glorious harmony, the redolent scent of wildflowers invading your nostrils.

You’re alone, but not really… The forest doesn’t belong to you, not even a little bit—instead it belongs to the bugs, the birds, the bees and whatever other creatures have chosen to make their homes here. This is their abode and you… You are merely a visitor, thanking them for granting you entry and hoping they’ll forgive your ingression.

Footsteps echo as you stroll, a gentle thwack, thwack, thwack as your shoes meet the worn-down soil of the beaten forest floor. There is such an incomparable sense of freedom here, such an aura of wonderment—one you feel you haven’t lost since childhood.

You have lost a lot as you grew, as do most; everything is changing at such a rapid pace that you’re beginning to lose your footing. Though here… Here is liberating, it’s familiar, as though everything you fear, your doubts, your confusion— in here they’re reduced to nothing but an irritating buzz that is suddenly far easier to drown out. Suddenly you’re free.
You remember coming here in the company of your brothers,

your parents; it was a warm July evening, the only reason you remember that, is because it was the day after your mother’s birthday. Much has changed since then, that is undeniable.

You weren’t as reserved as you are now, nor as respectful, though you aren’t as carefree now as you were then, nor as excitable. In a way you suppose it’s an odd sort of balance, though also a stark realisation that you are no longer who you once were.

The forest at ten, was a whole other place than it is at twenty-two and you don’t just mean in relation to the thinning of the groves of trees, or the fact that this time, this time you’re alone.

You realise that it is probably the first time you’ve been back to this particular forest since then.

When you were ten, it was bigger. When you were ten, mystery lurked around every tree trunk, every grassy hill and overgrown path. Every tiny, inconsequential thing had a story behind it, an adventure to be had.

When you were ten, you and your brothers were on a treacherous quest—though the importance didn’t lie in the end-goal, but rather in the journey that awaited you.

There were dragons here too you know, witches also; in fact, when you were ten, there was a hodgepodge of magical, mythical creatures living alongside the birds, the bees and the bugs. You had to tread carefully and you remember warning your parents to stay behind, that you’d secure a path through the endless, impassable rows of towering barbs and thorns. Though now they’re merely thistles, daisies and dandelions.

When you were ten, a fallen branch was a sword. And armed with a series of twigs and random flowers that could absolutely heal any ailment that might befall you, you were finally ready to go.

You weren’t sure whether you were going to fell a dragon or tame a wolf, but regardless, it didn’t really matter. After all, when you were ten, the thrill was in the unknown.

When you’re twenty-two the unknown frightens you, it’s no longer a call to embark on another mystical quest, instead it’s unappealing, almost… unstable.

When you were ten, this same forest was a whole other world. You didn’t realise then that there was more to the world than just your backyard, or your school, or your local town. You didn’t realise back then that there was more to the universe than what you were familiar with and way back then, this now tiny forest was gargantuan. It seemed so far removed from the world you knew, just waiting to be explored and that was exactly what you did.
You spent hours in here, searching every nook and cranny, no stone was left unturned, no tree left unclimbed. In fact, you conquered every single one, even the giant oak that you fell from multiple times, though you didn’t give up. Instead you merely laughed. You laughed and laughed until tears streamed down your flushed, freckled cheeks and your brothers thought you were crying.

Though it seems that tree is dead now, that same determination has remained with you to this day and probably will for the rest of your days.

The seasons have changed, people have changed, you have changed.

But as you stand there, in that same old forest, some of the old you from when you were a child, still remains.

After all, there’s a lot more you can change now, than when you were ten.

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