She exuded innocence and purity; her name even implied it. It was the name of a storybook character; it conjured the image of a hoop-skirted shepherd girl in pastel. The name was fitting for a pastor because it planted the image of the pure Christ child into parishioners’ minds. But she was the pastor’s daughter, and on her, the name decorated her existence with a subtle charm and irony that many did not grasp. Her blue eyes were big and inviting and her blonde hair was nearly the same color as her fair skin. She was tall. She was thin.
She spent her evenings in her room reading her Bible and imagining the adventures she would have that one day when her father would finally let her out, when he would have no choice but to let her out because she would be old enough. In that fateful summer, on her magical eighteenth birthday, the tarnished wooden floor of her parents’ house would disappear beneath her and her toes would take root in nothing but the ever shifting topsoils of the world. She would sigh. It was still a long year before the time on her captivity ran out, and so she had to bide her time until then.
Things began to change though, when she met the group. They were in church. They appeared harmless. They arrived to service dressed respectfully and with their families. They had gone to Sunday school in the years that they had grown up in that southern town. They sat together in church though; they sat in the back pew.
No one noticed that when the service started, the group would wander out of the church and idle outside in a cluster of trees, hidden from the view of church-goers and passersby. She was sick that day, so she couldn’t go to church. She sat in her pale blue bedroom reading Gulliver’s Travels and occasionally looking up and out her bedroom window at the back of the church that her family was in. The radio in her room was playing Chopin. When she turned a page, she heard the chapel door close. Four of them were sneaking out toward the trees. She closed her book and she watched each of them sprint catlike across the gravel parking lot and into the grass, then disappear instantly.
Something made her stand. The floor was chilly beneath her bedwarm toes, but she just slid them into tennis shoes. Her nightgown was, in retrospect, a bit matronly, so thank God they found charm in it as retro and not otherwise. Still a little dizzy, she opened the front door of her old house and stepped out. The earth gave a little bit under her worn tennis shoe. She felt slightly heavier than usual.
The group looked up from their cigarettes when they heard a twig break outside of their fortress, then she was there, her long blonde hair loose around her shoulders and catching the Sunday morning sun in it. Not many words were exchanged between them; they had an understanding.
She couldn’t make it to the hideout every Sunday, but she did what she could.
She began to realize that she would be considered clever if she could say unexpected things and fashion herself to look edgy. She learned that she could work with her parents’ strictly conservative clothing guidelines to ironically make herself cool. She began shopping in thrift stores downtown. She began drinking coffee.
When her older sister announced her engagement, she realized that it was only a matter of time before the same was expected of her. College wasn’t an expectation of her family’s for her, even though this was 2008 and American society seemed well past that. So she stopped going to school. Instead, she would smoke and drink with the group during the day. They would stay downtown, near the college where they could blend in. She would sober up just enough before it was time to go home, back to the fantasy world that used to be her reality. It was her senior year of high school and she would never graduate.
She kept a journal. She had always kept a journal. It was where she wrote down her plans for after she left home, when she was free to do what she wanted. On the inside cover of her journal, she kept a tally list of how many times she had been drunk in her life and how many times she had been high. She made a promise to herself that she would never lose count.
She stopped sleeping at night. When the sun went down, she would climb out her window and run down the long path to the road where a truck waited to take her away.
The group was comprised of people who spent their time searching for a new, exotic state of mind. In pursuit of individualism, each of them altered their own names in some way, or they traded their birthdays for new ones; they fashioned new identities for themselves. She thought that she had kept a hold on who she was, she thought that she had stored that hoop-skirted girl in pastel in her back pocket. She thought that girl would stay waiting for her forever.
She turned eighteen and she left home immediately to move in with her twenty-two year old boyfriend. They’re married now and so she took his name. She has a common name now like Smith or Johnson. She cleans her house to Chopin while he’s out working but she hardly ever sees the group anymore. Sometimes she’ll make a drink for herself in the middle of the day. She still writes in her journal every once in a while, but there is no list on the front cover. Her hair has darkened with age and she has gained weight.
She feels a certain satisfaction for having spited and tricked her parents. She doesn’t realize that she has landed herself with the exact same fate each of her older sisters had as well, which is exactly what her parents expected of her.
The shepherd girl in pastel is gone.