For Things Left Behind

Dust billows behind the Saturn as my thumb traces the grooves on the gear shift. I glance away from the dirt road and lock eyes with Calla in the rearview mirror for a moment and then refocus ahead. I can’t help it every once in a while—Calla is back from college in New York City; her eyes are gray and wise, and she is the only person I’ve ever met that can pull off that short of a pixie cut. When I am around her I feel reckless.

Eventually we reach our destination: the side of Emma Creek Road, a little enclave protected by a line of trees on one side and nothing but vast fields of wheat on the other. The sun is beginning to dip below the horizon, and the wheat is golden, glowing. It must have rained earlier in the day because the Kansas sky holds pink and yellow and the clouds are messy, big and streaked everywhere. The air is cool; I can smell the beginnings of autumn through the cracked window. My last autumn in this town before I leave for college.

I park the car and we all get out—me, Calla, and two of my other friends. Calla pulls out a cigarette and leans against my car, lighting it with knowing hands and then leaning back, face tipped back towards the sky. She says something about the skies in New York, but I don’t really hear her. I wonder if anyone has ever written poetry about her.

How is one supposed to leave all this behind? I stare at the sky, the road, the wheat, the girl. That’s how. Calla has come back from just a year in college changed, enlightened. I know that I want that, too. The cool air grazes my naked knees and I am keenly aware of the moment. I make sure to keep track of every little detail; I think I will want them later.

Naomi’s boyfriend has done something stupid. We sit in the front part of the mainstage bleachers with the rest of our camp, and she tells me about it, her voice strained. Soon, tears form in her eyes, like I know they will, and I sit closer, legs overlapping with hers and hands intertwining tightly. She presses her forehead against mine.

“At least I’m crying about this and not because it’s your last festival,” she says.

It is something we both know, something neither have us have dared to speak yet. Next September, for the first time since the sixth grade, she will be the only one of us coming back to the Walnut Valley Music Festival, our mutual happy place. I don’t know where I’ll be yet, but I know I won’t be in Kansas. She is one year younger, stuck in high school one year longer.

I laugh, but then we both pause, looking at each other, and suddenly tears begin to well in my eyes. It catches me off-guard. Was I crying about this already?

“Nononononono,” she says, her whole body shaking from both laughter and tears. “Not you too.”

I look to my left, where several teenage boys in our group are watching the music, oblivious, for now. I turn back to Naomi and point to the very top of the bleachers. “Let’s go up,” I say. She nods.

We leap over each row of people, careful to dodge all the elderly hippies, and jog up the stairs to the top. It is easily high enough to see the whole campground, the shops over the back, and all the people below. It is cooler, and as soon as we sit down, we snuggle in close to each other. Soon we are weeping, fat tears rolling down our cheeks in sync, dripping on each others shirt sleeves. We are laughing, too, at the fools we are making of ourselves, and the shaking of our bodies becomes hard to distinguish between person and reason—from who is crying, and if from joy or sorrow. I hold her so tightly that my arms ache.

I give into the sadness; I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I am feeling this much this soon. After all, I grew up coming here. I made music here. I heard music here. I even fell in love here…

...The adults were all drunk, as they often were at one in the morning, especially if we were camping. Mennonites letting loose is really just beer and a lot of guitar playing. I still couldn’t fathom how I got invited to this festival, as my parents were too old to be in the in-group of Mennonite families who went every year. But I was there, and so were my friends, and so was that boy, and so even though my young eyes were heavy, I would not give in to sleep.

I imagined there were other kids around the fire. I knew Naomi was next to me on my lawn chair, because I could feel her knobbly, fleece-covered elbow pressed into my side. But other than that, all I could see for sure was him.

He was not usually shy, but I thought that the quiet magic of the fire and cicadas makes his voice want to stay hushed. His fingers, long and a little stubby at the ends, plucked at each guitar string seamlessly. I wanted to grab his hand and hold it tight. I couldn’t pull my eyes away; the darkness hid my stupid smile from the others. His face, framed by soft curls, was lit only by the dancing firelight. I had a feeling in my chest, like I do when the whole ensemble in a song drops out and all that can be heard is a singular violin, holding its note high and clear. It sings, and makes me want to weep, but I do not know why. I had another feeling, too, deep in my stomach, that made me want to do things I didn’t quite know about yet. He was the first boy I’d ever been remotely interested in talking to. I didn’t know then that he would leave, and that there would be other boys—though none quite like him. He was the only thing I saw, and the only thing that would matter for the coming months.

He looked up at me and smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners, and I melted.

The later it got, the further I fell. At that rate, I’d be in love by sunrise…

... I ran here and laughed and played and even sneaked some whiskey once from the grown-ups here. I came here, every year, with my best friend in the whole world. All of those things make me cry in this moment, because I won’t have them come next year. The place where time stops; the person I have been glued to since preschool. I let myself cry for her, for the boy, for the festival. For things lost, for Kansas.

There is sweat, so much sweat. We have the windows open, and the humid spring air has seeped in, making it that much warmer. As I bend down and let my arms dangle, fingertips grazing the rubbery floor, a drop falls from my forehead. I smile. I did that, by my own willpower and strength. I wonder how I will workout when I’m at EMU next year, where there are no dance classes. It is funny—how something that has defined me my whole life will be gone in just a few weeks.

“Alright ladies, from the top. Last time.”

I snap up and jog backwards to the back of the dance studio. I stop and let my head fall, facing the ground, arms at my sides, feet together. I am the fourth in a line of five girls, and we wait in quiet anticipation, listening only to the sound of each others’ heavy breathing. Then the song’s first note breaks the silence.

Hold one, prep two, turn three and four, down five, look six, sway seven, eight, hit one—

Sharp two, hands,”

—three and four and five—

“Look six,”

—point seven, melt eeeight, one.

My teacher’s sharp claps jolt me into each pose, arm here, leg there, until I make some shape, hopefully the right one. Her voice softens when it’s time to melt, and then we hold still, energy oozing from every pore. Cool skin meets warm; we are one being, twirling and stretching and never stopping. A fluid body of limbs and breaths. With each slow, heavy chord, we expand and contract, waxing and waning, pouring in just as much of our hearts as we can without collapsing. Our hands reach for something we cannot see. I try to turn faster than usual, to breathe harder than usual, so maybe, just maybe, I will be able to hold on to this feeling after.

Then the music stops; it’s time to do it all over again. Even when the teacher says it is, it is almost never the last time.

The air is thick and smoky, and so is the sky. The clouds are weighed down, more gray than white, and it gives the July flowers that much more color. We run between the backyard, the garage, and the driveway, playing games that we are too old to with the children, but we don’t mind. It is a party, one of the parties that Naomi’s family often throws, that I always arrive early to and stay with my parents at long into the night, even after everyone else is gone. The last of these gatherings before I leave for college.

I haven’t noticed how dark the sky has become. Is it that late? I look at the time on my phone. 3:24. No—I wonder if it is going to storm.

We are playing basketball out on the driveway, the pavement warm under our bare feet. We are sweating, working hard to move through the thick air.

And then that air is cool. We all notice it. We pause. A chill creeps up my arms, but I am not scared, only excited. It is silent.

And then the skies break.

A few fat drops fall, for a few seconds, and then it is raining incessantly, passionately. The children shriek and I hold out my own hands for a moment, palms up, leaning back to feel the drops on my face before running into the garage. My shirt is already sticking to my stomach, and I look at Naomi, whose hair is stuck in dark blonde curls to her neck. She looks so old. We giggle, flicking the drops off the ends of our noses.

Someone brings out food, and we eat and dry off while the violent, deafening discord continues outside, ignoring us. When it ends, minutes, or maybe hours later, the sky is a faded yellow and it reminds me of when we were children, rubbing dandelions on the backs of our hands.

The day fades to evening and the air becomes thick again, but the sky is clear and bright black. Occasionally a cool breeze drifts in under the garage door, reminiscent of the storm, but it is mostly summer once again.

The adults have turned on music and the many parents of small children are giving the “five more minutes.”

“I have a song I really think you’d like,” Naomi’s dad says to me. A parting gift, he says. He goes to the speaker in the corner. I am excited; this is the highest form of compliment.

The song begins, and the garage grows softer. It is slower than the other songs have been, and it tugs at something in my gut. I glance over at my dad, sitting in a lawn chair. He is bobbing his head in time to the song, eyes closed, and I know that the song is good because he likes it. I wonder what I will do without him as my music confidante...

…“Daddy, will you play the song?”

My dad looked up from his newspaper and sighed, lips pursed, feigning exasperation. “Oh, I suppose.”

I sat on the arm of the couch, facing the piano, tiny legs swinging above the carpet, big eyes wide and watching him expectantly. He pushed himself up and out of the recliner ever so slowly, groaning as if it was very difficult. I giggled.

He plopped down on the bench, and it creaked, as always. Before he even got settled, his fingers began to fly.

I didn’t know that that song that I loved so much was called “Big Legged Woman.” I also didn’t know that those hands were same ones that had opened for Buddy Guy and played in B.B. King’s club. I didn’t know these things, and if I did, I wouldn’t have known to be impressed by them yet. They were just daddy’s fingers, playing only for me, that same tune I’d heard so many times.


He couldn’t hear me.

“DADDY!” Notes crashed to a halt.

“What is it, little bug?”

“Will you teach me?”

I’m not sure what possessed me; I’d always been content just to watch. But I slid onto the bench next to him, elbow pressed into his faded Hawaiian shirt, and wrapped my small arms around his thick one.

“Alright. Start on C.”

C, E flat, E, G, A, C, B flat, G, F, E flat. Basically a blues scale. My fingers pressed each key awkwardly, not quite hitting the rhythm. My hands were just big enough for a fifth. Eventually I got bored and stopped, asking him to just play it himself. I snuggled into his side and felt the vibrations of the piano through his arm…

...My dad looks up and we lock eyes; a smile and a knowing look pass between us. I hold back tears. The song is The Colored Night by Blind Pilot. A perfect slow dancing song. I grab Naomi’s hand, and we wrap our soft arms around each others’ necks, twirling, swaying. I bury my head in her neck, smelling her shampoo, and pray that that scent will stay with me for the months to come.

Springtime in Virginia is beautiful. I am constantly distracted by students in bright raincoats coming in as I sit with my friends in the cafeteria. Raucous, obnoxious laughter streams constantly from our over-packed table. I am telling them about how it seems like every time I start liking someone here, they just end up finding a More Mennonite Girl (MMG). This gets a big laugh. We stay much longer than we should, inside jokes weaving their way through absurd conversations. Eventually, we all part ways, and I begin the walk up to my room, still smiling. My phone buzzes. A text from Naomi.

Call when you can. College decision made :)

I smile. I already know what it will be; she hasn’t stopped talking about a college in Minnesota since her visit. I call, she tells. I congratulate. We talk for a while about what she’s excited about, nervous for. I give advice, but there is so much I want to tell her, that I won’t. Like:

Savor the storms. Kansas has the best ones.

Things are going to change. A lot. But in the best way.

You’ll learn so much at college, about yourself, about others. You’ll learn to think more critically. You’ll make friends you never want to lose. You’ll start to find out what you really love and what you really, really don’t. You may even meet the love of your life—but don’t let those MMGs get you down.

Try to find some hands to hold you. To feed you when you are sick. To dance with you. To play music for you, to wipe away your tears. To help carry the load when it becomes too heavy.

And you should be excited, you really should be. But don’t forget to enjoy what you have now. That place will always be there—but not that time and those moments.

Sometimes, it hurts.

Sometimes, you’ll just want to go home.

About the Author

Kate Szambecki

Kate Szambecki is a sophomore at Eastern Mennonite University, studying English and Digital Communications. She is one of the Editors in Chief of The Weather Vane, EMU’s student run newspaper. She enjoys reading, writing, playing music and spending time with her friends. She is from Newton, Kansas.