It was a fairly warm summer day in late 1996. The setting is Hasting, Nebraska a rural city in the heartland of America. In the middle of a big field, on the outskirts of town, sits an old abandoned brick factory. As is often the case with most small towns trying to repurpose the old into new while preserving their past, this place was converted into a city park. It was called Brick Yard Park.
It was one of these big parks with lots of trees, water ways, multiple playgrounds and, the reason we went, a big walking trail that ran throughout the park and along the perimeter. I can’t tell you how many weekends were spent traversing this park. It was one of the few family outings everyone could agree on. My sisters would split off and run around the playground areas. Mom would usually walk the dog. As for me, I would take a long walk through the park with my dad. This became a habit of ours.
My dad and I rarely talked. The only activities we shared was doing yard work, fixing the car and watching basketball. The rest of the time we pretty much avoided each other at all costs. It was different on the walking trail. We were alone. There was something about the cool breeze, the fresh air, the sounds of nature all around, it made us open up. We didn’t talk often and it usually took a few minutes to warm up but those walks around the park were when we did our most communicating.
Dad would tell me about his life. The things that were important to him. Usually he’d share the latest Bible passage he was deep into studying. Then he would see a car drive by and tell me the exact year and model it was and what age he was when he owned his first whatever car it was. My dad was a big car guy of course so he always talked cars. I’ll get to that later.
Whenever we moved to a new town the first thing we did as a family was found a new park. My dad and I would scope out a new walking trail. Sometimes mom or one of my sisters would join us. Believe it or not, we were actually a very close and loving family. Most of the time it was trails like that one in Hastings, a paved sidewalk in a city space designated for walking. Sometimes we’d come across one that was really cool, like Twin Falls, Idaho. They had one that was built into the side of the canyon it was called Canyon Rim Park. Oh it was gorgeous. Talk about being in the wilderness. This was down in a crevasse in the earth, trees and water all around. It did have some paved parts but it also had dirt trails you could take into the woods if you dared. This was also a nice park with a playground, picnic area and other sights to see. As always, we were there mostly for the walking.
I remember every single walk telling my parents about whatever thing currently had me excited be it my music, breakdancing, video games, computer programming, trading cards, or my writing. They always encouraged me to follow my dreams while also keeping an eye out for a steady job to pay the bills. Each conversation was equal parts relief, joy, family bonding and dread. The dread was the voice in the back of my mind nagging me to tell my parents I was different. I never could drum up that courage though.
In the summer of 2018 my parents had returned to Jackpot, Nevada. The small town where I ended my high school career to start pursuing music full time, among other things we’ll get to later. I had recently quit my newspaper job to move back out west. I was ready to start finding out who Stephanie really was but I was too afraid to do that in Texas. I ended up moving back in with my parents. The town didn’t have much in the way of actual walking trails. Rather what we did, because it was so small, was walk around pretty much the whole town and just absorb the desert air. It was dry, mostly brown and yellow and smelled a lot different than Nebraska or Kansas that’s for sure. Side note, believe it or not Kansas and Nebraska actually their own distinct smells. I’ll come back to that someday too. Trust me my heart aches to talk more about Kansas.
As we walked up the side of the mountain along the trail we talked about our plans for the future, as we always did. And as usual my plans were in flux as I had just started my own newspaper and they were curious what I was doing with my life. I didn’t bring myself to tell them I had left my job to start transitioning into a woman. I was still very afraid to do so. Instead I just savored what would be the last walk they would ever take with their son. It was one year later I started coming out to people and two years to the month I told my mom the news I was a woman. Needless to say things changed.
Through the good times and the bad times we went for walks when we needed to clear our heads or just slow life down. I sometimes I’d walk side by side one of my sisters, one or both of my parents and even friends on occasion. It’s a fundamental part of being human. Returning to our roots is very primal.
Now, I walk alone on an empty trail. My sisters have all scattered the wind married with their own families. Two of them refuse to accept I am trans, one tries but lives a free spirited life and rarely finds the time to check in. My parents keep me at a safe distance. Even my adopted sister rejects me when I ask her to go for a walk with me despite how desperately wish I had someone to walk with. To be fair all is not entirely lost. I have a guy friend who invites me for walks sometimes around the park, but we mostly chase Pokemon on our phones. It’s not bad but not the same.
What do you do when your heart is empty and the walking trail goes cold. Do you walk it alone and let the ghosts of your memories haunt you? Do you push forward into the unknown with nobody by your side to bounce ideas off? Maybe you sit in your bedroom in the dark at 5 a.m. typing away on your laptop in tears as you ponder what you’ve lost. I don’t have an answer. I just know even on a hot 95 degree Texas summer day that lonely walking trail feels mighty cold and alone.