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What the Wind Whispers

Arthi Prabhakar

Anyone that knows me knows about my “rebrand.”

“Where are you from?” they ask. “Jersey,” I reply, knowing full well that I spent the last decade of my life residing in Texas. My excuse is that I grew up there, so technically, I am from Jersey. But I’m just fooling everyone, including myself. Though my aversion to Texas is indeed multifaceted, if I’m being truthful, the seed was planted in a singular moment.


My scraggly legs trembled as I dragged a log across the leaf-littered ground. It was only five feet, but by the time the log reached its resting point, I felt as though I was on my last breath. Crouching over, I let the early March wind of the Northeast come to my rescue. She filled my lungs, my mind, my spirit. I savored the feeling she created within me, and let myself get lost in the joy. Little did I know then, these sorts of moments were so incredibly fleeting. Look up! she urged. I lifted my eyes and realized that with my friend Hayley and my sister Archana’s contributions, we had arranged four logs into a square. Our little patch of wood had the foundation of a home. 

Over the course of the next week, we worked tirelessly to construct a cabin shrouded in the emerald foliage, only accessible by sunlight and row of branches laid across a stream. In our eyes, it was a palace—full fantasies that we weren’t yet old enough to know were only realizable in our dreams. The world was still a beautiful place, with limitless opportunity, and the things that made our parents scared were so far in the future that they may as well not have existed. 

Branch by branch, we built a wall. 

One wall became four. We stretched the bounds of our boundless pre-teen minds and found a sense of resourcefulness we still had the pride to applaud. Discarded solar panels served as the base to our mud roof. A runaway tire functioned as our first piece of furniture. An abandoned red hoodie formed the flag for our undefended fort. We gave silent thanks to the former owner of each treasure that embellished our wooded oasis. After a week of arduous labor, we stepped back to view the cabin in its unadulterated glory. A crow swooped through the branches and perched on the roof above the door, completing the postcard-worthy image. I can’t remember a time when I was happier. 

My sister and I bade goodbye to Hayley on that seventh day, promising that after returning from our spring break trip to Dallas we would finally be able to enjoy the spoils of our work. We planned to visit the cabin every day after school, where we could complete our still hand-written homework on the mossy ground and film our three-person reality TV series under the shaded cover. The prospect of inviting our parents over filled us with such zest, for they could witness the miracle that three twelve-year-olds were able to create. 

One week later, we stood at the entrance to the forest. What once looked so familiar now seemed like a foreign land, ravaged by the elements. Crossing the river that day was intimidating; while there had previously been yards of space between us and the stream, waves now reached up and grabbed our toes with every gale that blew. The three of us were still in denial as we observed the remnants of our carefully constructed home. 

“Maybe we’re in the wrong place,” my sister said hesitantly. We stared blankly at the red hoodie, splayed on the ground, still loyally marking our spot.


I was jerked awake by a dramatically large clunk as our U-Haul exited off the highway. “Oh good,” my dad said, noticing I was awake. “We’re almost here. You can help take your stuff up to your room.” He decelerated as we turned into our new development, slowing the blur so that we could properly take note of our new surroundings. I gaped in awe at our new neighbors. White and black and brown, they all lined up at the fence, judging us as much as we were judging them. This was not real. Horses? Right next door? What everyone thought about Texas really was true, after all. The farm owner’s son emerged from the barn wearing a flannel shirt and cut off jean shorts. Though he waved to us warmly, I faked a smile as the truck bounced past.

While my sister and I had obliviously enjoyed our spring break in Dallas, my parents were hard at work scouting for a new house. We didn’t know this then, so when they finally broke the news to us one evening, we were utterly blindsided. Few words were exchanged with my father though I was stuck in a truck with him for two days straight. It would take quite a long time before I could even think about forgiving him for ripping us from our home.

We pulled up to a house that was more grandiose than anything I had seen in Jersey. I tuned out the droning of my father, who was busy explaining inflation and the housing market, trying yet again to convince me that this move was the right one. I was confused. This house should’ve felt like a palace. It was so big. My sister and I would even get our own rooms!

But my mind kept drifting back our little home in the forest. 


While my appreciation of Texas has grown over the years, I would be lying if I said that I was able to overcome pain of leaving my true home or if I said I was able to find a way to make Texas feel like my new home. I still feel nostalgic about my wooded Jersey dream. We never got to rebuild what we lost, and that feeling seeped into my now fully-grown bones.

That was my palace, and it always will be.

That is the place where my roots will forever lay. Where my soul will grow with the trees, slow but strong. Where the river still teaches me about movement and change. The memories will remain with me always; the way the sun slants at each hour of the day, and the song the birds sing into the misty skies. Escaping the dry heat of Texas and moving to Roanoke offers me new hope—hope that soon, I might feel the same early March wind of the Northeast. And if I’m lucky, I’ll hear her familiar, comforting whisper: 

Welcome home. 


Arthi Prabhakar

Class of 2026