A feeling hanging in the air gives a chill. I move to the window and pull the shades open. Still Life, a Rockwell painting un-paused. In a moment my existence becomes the never ending notion that "theres something that I have to do today". I hurry and throw on last nights jeans, they smell like Jennifer, it comforts me. Taking a page out of my fathers playbook I hit the street immediately.
I make a left turn and head for the ocean. Cutting through the park I imagine myself a savage tribesman, built for hunting. I decide to be anonymous, to move silent and purposeful. My cells feel alive at this pace, A thick coat of sweat builds on my skin and I ache for water.
Feeling the ocean breeze I stand before a giant tree folded in on itself as though it were a living celtic knot. I am awestruck by its perfect existence. I touch it's bark and a dried piece flakes off into my hand. Wanting more than anything to share this beauty I place the bark in the ocean. It floats gently on the surface, braving the waves, It's direction almost seems purposeful.
Feeling too attached I remove myself from thoughts of the tree. I remember my life in the tribe, I remember last night.
An old man approaches, his name is Patton. In a moment he'll introduce himself.
"You've come an awful long way fella"
Someone told me it's a quick way to get somewhere.
"Nothing happens quickly when the moment is time"
Nathan, in case you were wondering
"I'd never ask, The commitment implied is a promise. Names Patton"
Something tells me you want to give me advice.
" I want to remind you of your life, to give you what you asked for. I want to return the favor"
I haven't done anything for you.
Jennifer works at the coffee house, she's waiting outside.
"Why am I not surprised?"
No reason to be, you knew I'd get here.
"There was a time when I thought you'd forget, Nothing memorable ever happened over coffee."
You don't need me to tell you that isn't true.
She smiles and invites me in for a hug, impact creating the big bang theory. I feel the weightlessness of adoration and remind myself that there is much left to do. She lets go first because she is brave. I turn and move quickly, all I want is to stay.
Walking steadily I come to the hill i'd ride my bike down as a child. Laughter fills me as memories flood, Philip and Tommy waiting at the bottom as i prepared to tempt the fates. I think of Edwin and wish he was standing beside me.
I make a right and walk hard, The thought creeps in and I know i'll be alone for a while. I begin to miss the tribe. I come to the tallest building and sit in the shadow it casts. Reaching into my pocket I remove a chunk of tree bark, Instinctively I take a large bite than begin etching something into the ground beneath my feet.
The wind carries her scent as I open my eyes. I am lying on the roof of the tallest building, as close as i can get to the sun on a cloudy day. I remember my father and the words he spoke most often…
"I have learned more from you than I could ever teach, you are my greatest creation and a triumph. You will learn these lessons someday and you will know peace"
Her summer dress is perfect, I think noticing the coffee stain just above her left breast. She's beginning to show, She kisses me warmly and says she'd like the name Moon if it's a girl. I softly kiss her forehead, knowing we'll name him Edwin.
We lay perfectly still in the afternoon sun, listening to the world move around us. She's alive in time, this reminds me i'm running late.
Running with purpose I come to a stop as I see Tommy and Philip sitting in a knotted tree.
"Well look who it is Phil! I can't believe you'd travel this far… Everything you need you already have man!"
I didn't bring my bike.
"Tommy's got his, I've got mine… guess you'll have to catch us."
I want to chase them as they speed off in the distance but I know I won't. Philip goes to law School. Tommy is gunned down trying to stop a robbery at his grandfathers Liquor store.
I feel someone take my hand.
I pray that it's her.
Edwin looks up at me, his eyes shut tight, his head is bleeding.
"None of this has ever been your fault Dad. It's ok to come home."
I have so much left to learn son, I'm afraid you can't teach me.
"Can I walk with you for a while?"
Nothing would make me happier, where would you like to go?
" take me to the ocean"
The sun fades and brings with it conflict. I can feel the time passing quicker now and there is much to get done. I try and remember what its like to sing in the shower, to smile endlessly at someone who doesn't notice you looking. I think of Patton and wonder what, if anything I could ever do for him.
At the mercy of the moment I look around me and see sketches of pain. Eyes welled with tears, doubt, emptiness and fear. I see a woman in the distance, she is glowing in the darkness. I go to her and she waits with open arms. She embraces me softly and kisses the top of my head, I pray in vain that she will hold me forever as she lets go.
"You did not want to see me."
Not now. Not like this, I've learned nothing… I'm more afraid then ever before.
" Everything you've seen is what you asked to see. The very existence of all thats around you is proof of your growth"
Do you think I can come home? I'm not sure I remember the way.
"Remember how you got here and you'll find your way home"
She extends her hand and places it over mine. I look down to see a piece of tree bark it my hand, it has what appears to be a bite mark on one side. All I can think of is Jennifer.
I walk through the thick air of the evening making turns I've never made before yet knowing exactly where I am.
I remember my 7th birthday, Mother distracting me with cake batter as Father wheeled in my birthday present, a brand new bike! I smile wide and jump in place, dad says it's ok to take it out for a ride.
Feeling emboldened by my training wheels I take off down the block care free and full of life. I come to the biggest hill in the neighborhood at the bottom are two kids I've never met before hanging out next to their bikes. I decide I should introduce myself… only one way to do that.
My thoughts are interrupted by a familiar smell. I turn right and head for my apartment. As I open the door I see the living angel with my own eyes, Jennifer is waiting for me and she is beautiful. She removes her silk robe to reveal her impossible body. She grabs me firmly and begs me to hold her forever.
I remove my shirt, she kisses my chest. I close my eyes and whisper my love. She puts her finger over my lip and brings her mouth to my ear
"tell me when you wake up"
The rest is a dream
Lying in the afterglow I pick up the newspaper, not surprisingly the headline is unsettling.
TREE OF WOE
My eyes well with tears as I read the details. A boy falls from a tree, his head is cracked and bleeding, his parents rush him to the family car and speed off for the hospital. In their panic they fail to notice a young boy riding his bike down the tallest hill in the neighborhood until the last possible second.
Father slams his foot on the breaks instinctively and sends the family car careening into the local coffee shop. The boy on the bike is unharmed. The boy in the car is killed. The mother is hospitalized and Father lies in a coma. Names are withheld at the families request.
I close the paper and stare as the sun begins to peak through the curtains. I am alone in bed. I make my way to the window and open the shades. Lovely day outside, Think I'll head to the ocean.
Making my way past the coffee shop I see an old man across the street smiling at me, I return the greeting and wave. He nods his head and makes a left round the corner. I cut through the park and head to my favorite spot, the knotted old tree I used to climb as a kid.
I arrive and find the tree as inviting as ever and for a moment I feel totally calm. I reach out to touch the massive trunk and a piece of bark falls into my hand revealing Writing etched in the old tree.
Weightless, free, unafraid
Jennifer Martin loves Nathan Patton.
I look out at the ocean and watch as Edwin places a piece of tree bark into the water. I breathe for what feels like the first time.
I open my eyes and see Jennifer. She's older and appears shocked. I can't process what she's saying.
She tells me she knew I'd come back
She tells me we can go home.
I kiss her and reply, I love you.