The school bus dropped me off at the corner where the red-dirt Rural Route 61 met the two-lane state highway headed out of town towards the Indian Meridian. I picked my way carefully between the ruts and gullies in the road as it sloped gently up past the quarter-mile row of widely spaced houses on the right. Behind the wall of cedar trees on the left lay nothing but a great expanse of cattle pasture.
My house, the house my parents were renting until our old place in the previous town finally sold, was the very last one in the line. A brown brick ranch, it crouched against the prairie, huddled in the angry wind. It seemed to shy away from the house next door as it was situated on the lot closer to the barbed wire fence that separated the lawn (if you could even call it that) from the pasture beyond us, making it appear that we preferred the lowing herd of cattle to our human neighbors.
I trudged up the long gravel circle drive (where I would later learn to drive a stick shift) and let myself in the front door. Everything in the house was dark brown: the shag carpet, the woodwork, the heavy drapes, the wall of brick surrounding the fireplace, the kitchen tile. Unfortunately, my parents' furniture was also all brown, amplifying the feeling of living in a dark, warm hole in the ground. Like a prairie dog den, or the sod houses of our frontier forebears.
Some days when the weather was less brutal than usual, after dumping my backpack and changing into shorts, I would take a notebook and a snack and head back down the driveway and around the corner of the pasture fence out into the uninhabited, untraveled section of the road. Past the line of houses, the windbreak of cedars across the street came to a sudden end and the red clay road ran up between open vistas of grassland on either side. It finally crested the long, low rise right in front of an old, boarded up one-room country schoolhouse before rolling back down to end at an intersection with another two-lane state highway below.
The pasture fence formed a neat square around the back of the ramshackle clapboard school, and someone mowed the grass down around it semi-regularly. From my perch on the peeling front steps, I could study the endless miles of country that tumbled in lazy swells and fanned out in a flat, vast plain under the bowl of turquoise sky. Patches of irrigated green wheat fields hopscotched across the expanse of dry prairie where tall, brown grasses whispered back to the wailing wind. A lonely farmhouse with a sagging porch and a yard full of trucks stood in the shadow of an actual windmill. In the distance, the red-brick town, a series of repeating rectangles within rectangles, sat tucked into the elbow formed by the slash of beige Interstate crossing the muddy Cimarron River.
The land was so flat and wide and the visible horizon was so incredibly distant that any people present in the landscape were dwarfed to invisibility, leaving me with the feeling of being the only living creature alone in a giant glass-domed terrarium. With so much of a view, I wondered how there could possibly be so little to see. How far would I have to go past that point where the highway disappeared into the china blue sky before I found something, anything?
The Brown House was supposedly a temporary doldrums, a pit stop during a time of transition, but years later we were still drifting around in it, biding our time, waiting for the winds to change. As the teenager in the household, I believed I felt the impotent passage of time more acutely than everyone else, even though I was counting down the years to a specific, known moment when my life would surely begin. By what method did my parents count down their own uncertain time? When they walked up the road and looked out over the landscape, was there something in that view that they were longing for?
They did finally sell the old house and build a new, brighter house on the other side of town at the beginning of my senior year. My brother mostly grew up in that house, and my parents live there still, but I did not stay there very long. Just a small handful of months after the move, I was headed out of town on that Interstate highway, bound for college and the wider world beyond that vanishing point on the horizon where you can no longer see where the road goes.