Picture a blue trailer built in the 1970s, with a wide yard on three sides and green linoleum in the kitchen. Place it at the end of a street lined in locust trees. Imagine a square window at the end of the trailer, no more than a foot wide. The curtain is pulled to the side, and at night the warm glow of the kitchen light is always visible through this window.
We moved to the trailer when I was six years old, after my parents separated. When the last of the summer thunderstorms struck, my sister and I lay awake in awe at the sound of rain pounding the thin walls. There was a feeling of confinement to the trailer and also a sense of expansiveness, as if we were closer to the world outside of it.
The town we now lived in had been a trading post on a creek in 1841, managed by French-Indian fur trader Louis Chartran. The creek took his name, which later tongues murmured into “Shattron,” which evolved again before it became recognizable.
Chadron, Nebraska: part prairie grassland, part forested hills, part sidewalk that pierced my heel with a locus thorn, part trails we wandered at age ten pretending to be lost explorers, part tree near those trails where a math professor was found burned and bound, part steady hum of the wind.
After the trailer was painted tan with white trim, after my mom and sister moved to New Mexico, after my childhood bus driver retired, after forest fires charred 40 square miles of trees and got us onto CNN, I moved into a basement apartment on the corner of 2nd and Bordeaux (named for another French fur trader). That winter, I managed to get three flat tires. That spring, I graduated as high school valedictorian. That summer, a local author published a book about the math professor, who had lived, he wrote, in the basement of a white house on the corner of 2nd and Bordeaux.
I had moved to Boston for school, but the place was still inside me.