My childhood home in Oshkosh lay on the outskirts of town, at the edge of a farmer’s field. It was in and beyond this field that I would tromp and discover the mysteries of the world: how the corn would burst forth from the earth, grow tall, bear abundance, and then turn dry, and how the little creek that ran through it would swell and foam in the springtime rains. As I grew older, Oshkosh started to burst forth from its own boundaries, and its houses pushed deep into those very fields: one day, a middle school appeared where a farmer’s field once stood. It, too, was bordered by corn, right up to the parking lot.
At first, I was dismayed. How could a middle school just plop itself down in the middle of the silence, of the bending leaves? But soon I found that on my evening walks, I could go down to the school when it was dark and silent, and I could lie down on the school’s warm blacktop, look up at the starry night sky, and in the middle of the parking lot, the mosquitoes wouldn’t be so thick. After that, I learned something even better: there, where the stars twinkled and the moon shone and the corn stood tall and strong, I could dance under the heavens totally obscured from any human eye, and the school building would keep my secret.
And so I danced.
Later, I moved away from Oshkosh and Wisconsin and found a new home in the middle of Chicago, of concrete and traffic and strictly regulated flowers. While my mother stayed in Oshkosh, she moved from my childhood house and was no longer surrounded by corn; actually, even my childhood home itself was no longer surrounded by corn, as a subdivision with new houses and curving roads formed a buffer between my old home and the wild, mysterious world.
One day, a couple years ago, I went to a writers’ workshop, an event that took place at a woman’s house in the Madison area. It was an overnight event, where we would stay at people’s homes for the weekend and editors would come and critique our work. I was the only one who was struck that her new house and subdivision with curving roads ran up against a farmer’s field. After dinner, I went for a night walk, and of course I went right up to where the road met the field, and I listened to the rustling of the leaves and inhaled that unmistakable scent of corn. The stars and the moon hovered in the sky. And somewhere inside of me, an old, forgotten door opened.
“Do you remember me?” I whispered to the stars and the moon, and to my surprise, tears instantly sprang at the back of my throat. More than half a lifetime had gone by. “Do you remember me?” I asked the corn.
The stars twinkled and the moon shone, and the corn stood tall and strong. Yes, of course, they whispered. Welcome home.
And so I danced.