Samantha awoke to sounds of ripping and looked up to see her mother standing beside her bed, ripping every page of the map out of the book, and then ripping it again, and then crumpling it up. Samantha cried out and reached for the book, but her mother turned and continued ripping it to shreds. The floor was covered with shreds of the map, and when Samantha protested, saying “Stop!” her mother ripped faster.
“So this is what you’ve been doing instead of math,” her mother roared. “You’ve been doodling in this sketchbook, drawing maps or patterns of who knows what. I’ve had it with you. We’ve hired tutors to help you, enrolled you in after school study, math camps, met numerous times with the teacher. It’s just not getting through to you, Samantha.”
It was true, Samantha had neglected her math homework. It just didn’t interest her. All of these worksheets and practice problems – none of it seemed to apply to anything. It didn’t mean anything, and she hated it. Her grades showed.
Her mother wanted Samantha to be a high-salaried professional, a doctor or lawyer. Samantha’s mother did have a good reason. A few years after marriage, her father died of cancer. She had chosen the homemaker route, and without a breadwinner to bring home money, she struggled to survive financially. To get by, she had taken two jobs – one at the post office, the other at a local cannery. She put Samantha into day care and hardly saw her. She exhausted herself working 80 hours a week, living in a dumpy house on the outskirts of town, still relying on food stamps and handouts from family members to get by. She swore that her child, her only child, would not work herself into a corner like this. Her child would study hard and get good grades in school. The good grades would earn her a scholarship, and she would choose a profession that paid well, one that she could rely on for a stable income without working herself to death or without relying on a man for an income.
“Samantha, what am I supposed to do with you? You just don’t seem to understand, do you.”
Samantha did understand her mother’s reasoning. She’d heard the lecture a thousand times. Her mother had drilled it into her head since she was a child. You have to get good grades to get into college. College is important so that you can get a good job. A good job is necessary for money. Without money, you’ll live a miserable existence. Yadayada yada. Although she recognized the importance of a career, right now she was still a kid. She couldn’t even drive yet. She wanted to play outside with friends. She wanted to have adventures. She wanted to draw. But more than anything else, she wanted to sing.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I think it’s time,” her mother said.
What, Samantha thought, what could she be talking about? She usually just had to endure the tirade until her mother lost energy.
“You need an environment that is a little more motivating,” her mother said. “So I’m sending you up to your grandfather’s for the rest of the school year. He’s agreed to home school you so you can get the attention you need. Maybe you’ll find a little more focus there.”
With that, her mother turned and left the room, not leaving any room for discussion.
Her grandfather had been a college teacher in his day, some twenty years ago. He knew math, though he didn’t teach it in college. He taught physics and had been an astronomer. Since he retired, no one really knew what he did, except that he always seemed to be busy. And he lived out in the country.
Seeing the book shredded on the floor, Samantha stared at the shreds blankly. She had built up so much hope around the book, had imagined so many mystical purposes it might have served. At least it had led her to the forest song. Now that the book was in shreds, she thought she would feel empty inside. But instead, she knew the book wasn’t gone. The forest song was inside of her now. It had been swimming in her mind throughout the night, becoming more and more refined as she played it in her mind. Unlike other tunes, which seemed to come and go, this one had intensified as time passed. It seemed to take on a life of its own. It played without her wanting to, and even sharpened the melodies.
Though the intent of her mother was to shock her into becoming serious about her studies, the thought of going to her grandfather’s house for the rest of the school year appealed to Samantha. Her father lived near the edge of the Wabash forest. It wouldn’t take more than a short bike ride to cross out of her grandpa’s property and up a few blocks toward the forest’s boundaries. It wasn’t the same trailhead entrance she had used in the previous hike, but a forest has many entrances, and she was sure another trail be available somewhere else.
She began packing at once, and within an hour she already had her bags ready to go. She didn’t have much, but she was sure to pack her songbooks. She hid them inside folded pants in case her mother checked her bags. She opened her bedroom door and set her bag by the front door. Her mother was doing the dishes when Samantha said, “I’m ready.”
Surprised, her mother turned and looked at Samantha for a few seconds. She had a dish and rag in hand, since she was doing the dishes. She expected Samantha to put up a fuss, to pout and fight her about it. Her mother dried her hands. “Huh,” she said. She considered that perhaps it was a good move, a worthwhile change for her. The change was already transforming her, perhaps.
They had a last supper together. Her mother prepared Samantha’s favorite food – mash potatoes and macaroni and cheese. They ate alone at the table, hardly saying anything. Her mother felt a wave of sadness come over her, and regret. Her only daughter was leaving. What hurt worse is that she seemed to want to leave. Samantha was unaffected, silent. Her mother wished she hadn’t suggested the move, because now she would be alone, and it would be quiet. But it was all the best, and she was prepared to make that sacrifice for her daughter.
Noting that her mother was quiet, and eating more slowly than usual, Samantha realized the pain she was feeling inside. But if she was feeling remorse for her departure, she didn’t open up. She stonewalled herself from opening up, and just ate slowly, at times staring into her mash potatoes. Inside Samantha’s head, she could hear the forest song playing. At first it came softly, and then it started to dominate her thoughts. It was so loud she thought it might be coming from a radio somewhere. She looked around for a radio or television playing but didn’t see anything. “Do you hear that music?” she asked her mother.
“What music, dear?” she said.
“Oh, nothing,” Samantha said.
In the morning, rather than going to school, her mother drove her out into the country to her grandpa’s house. Her mother turned off the country road onto a gravel driveway and followed it in for about ten minutes. The trees covered the view of the house until the gravel road turned and the house appeared. It was a two story brown house with an extensive deck in the front and back. The deck was a second floor deck, with a huge telescope affixed to a viewing stand.
Grandpa opened the door as soon as they drove in. He hobbled a little due to a bad leg. He had white hair and wore a red plaid shirt. He had thick black-rimmed glasses. “Sam,” he said. He always called her Sam. “I’m so glad you decided to come study out here.” And he looked right at her and winked.
That’s when Samantha noticed it — the telescope. Rather than aiming at the sky, the telescope was aimed directly into the forest.