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Forever 13

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

Cheryll Pretzloff, dark haired and funny, had an active imagination, which skewed toward fear of people jumping out of the bushes at her while we walked from my home to hers and sometimes from hers to mine. This is why she insisted I walk always on the inside of the walkway, closest to the houses, closest to the bushes behind which some nefarious person might be hiding.

She lived toward the end of Oakwood, a street about a mile west of my house on Chestnut Rd. in Independence, Ohio, a bedroom community 8 miles south of Cleveland. There was the usual turnaround a house or two south of her home and then a woods comprised of 2nd and 3rd growth young trees. About 50 or so feet inside the perimeter of this small woods was a creek, a very small rivulet that flowed to the east.

I was 13 or 14, Cheryll a year older. I didn’t know directions then. But I loved the trees and the stream. We went there frequently.

One day I wanted to explore and convinced Cheryll to meander through the woods with me. At some point we both realized we were lost. She became anxious. I, feeling the weight of responsibility for having been the one to suggest an exploration, denied the obvious, insisting I knew where we were going and that we would be ok.

I want to say we followed the stream, but think, realistically, if we’d done that, we would have reversed direction and come to our original place and been able to exit easily. I vaguely remember walking on thinking “This woods is bounded by houses on every side. If we just keep walking, we’ll come to a road.”

This is what we did. And eventually we did come to a road, got our bearings and returned to Cheryll’s home. I don’t think I ever admitted how lost or scared I had felt.

In hindsight I see that it’s easy to draw a few conclusions from this episode, realizations of how my behavior here is emblematic of how I’ve lived my life for the 60 years since Cheryll and I got lost.

1. When necessary, I take responsibility for the problems I create for others and endeavor to find solutions.

2. When I’m afraid, I seldom “fess up” to that fear, lest my vulnerability disables my ability to find solutions.

3. I am prone to head off into unchartered territory with little information other than that which my desire brings to my awareness.

Moving into uncharted waters on a whim, without regard for the kinds of consequences envisioned by other, more reasonable people, has led to some unpleasantries as well as to extraordinary experiences.

Hiding my fear—really most of my emotions—from others keeps me in prison, and I would do well to find another way of being with what I’m feeling. I’m working on this.

Taking responsibility for problems I create in the lives of others is generally a good thing, unless I also assume that they have not had a hand in the decision. In this latter case, I rob them of agency and deny myself the opportunity of asking for and possibly receiving help. To be sure, I think Cheryll would have gotten totally wound up if I had told her that I too was lost. However, there have been times during my many years on the planet when I took the full brunt of a thing on myself when I didn’t have to.

And so we live and we learn. Or we don’t. And if we don't, our lives remain static; we remain forever 13.

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