Part 1 Here
Part 2 Here
Part 3 Here
Part 4 Here
but to find your way back you'll need a guide.
Bring the boy who died.
-last line of the letter.
There's a belief that all roadside attractions were once spots of great power. Locations of shrines and temples now stand covered by giant concrete dinosaurs, houses with notorious pasts or shacks shaped like food selling postcards and tiny spoons. I don't know if this is really true but even now when I pass one I feel something. Its like the itch in the palm a man feels after his hand had been cut off. Something I no longer have feels something that isn't there.
When I was six a flaw was discovered in my heart. A pretty big flaw, but one that could be fixed. The doctor who did it was a large man, almost giant. Sitting in his office with my parents all I could do was stare at his hands. How could hands that big fit inside my chest?
That doesn't matter though, it's only a small part of the big story. It hardly even matters that during the surgery something went wrong and I died. My parents tell me my heart stopped beating for five minutes, thirty-eight seconds.
What matters is what happened during this time.
I was on a path of some sort, surrounded by trees and bushes. I could see it leading down to an large, open glade in the woods. The path was wide and there were lots of people walking towards the glade. Some were running towards it, other stepped slowly. I was the only one I could see standing still. The woods around us looked very deep and unsettlingly dark, unlit by the light that warmed the glade ahead. Everywhere beneath the trees grew an unbroken wall of thorny scrub...except for maybe one small, small opening leading off to...somewhere back in the woods.
Behind me the path disappeared over a tall hill. That way looked too hard and everyone else was heading down to the glade. I started walking that way too. It was farther away than it looked and bigger than I thought. Getting there, it reminded me of grampa's fields. There was even a small brook running through the center like the creek on grandpa's farm. When I entered it I saw many openings to my left and right where men, women and children flowed in. Way across the glen, across the stream I could see a lone opening that led into the forest again.
I stood there kicking the dirt for bit, unsure what I should do, then entered the glade.
Lots of people wandered around in the field. Some seemed like they had been there a long time. They sat and talked among tall trees that grew in clumps through this pasture. Some people just ran through the glen, crossed the small brook at it's center and plunged into an opening on the other side. Actually, it seemed a lot headed to that opening. I could understand why. Even from a distance I smelled pizza and could hear my favorite Saturday morning cartoon show playing on a tv down that path. I saw an man break into a smile as he approached the opening and call out someone's name. I wondered if the person he had saw owned the tv and if they'd let me watch it...
I also saw others that would move away from the opening and force their way into the thorny shrubs that surrounded the glen. I could hear them cursing and yelling deep in the woods. Eventually they'd pop out near where they went in then turn around and force their way back through the thorns. They might be standing right next to the opening with the pizza and the tv, but they'd ignore it. That seemed pretty silly to me, even as young as I was. If they didn't want to be here why didn't they just go back the way they came rather than tatter themselves through the thorns?
Home. Home sounded good, even better than pizza and The Smurfs. Looking around I saw dozens of places were people streamed into the field. I couldn't remember which trail I had come in on! I ran from path to path but they all looked the same! I started to become afraid. I was lost! My dad had always taught me that if I got lost in the woods I was supposed to hug a tree and blow the whistle he had given me until people found me. We had never gone anywhere with lots of strangers so I didn't know what to do in this case. I wanted to leave the field and go home to my toys and mom's cookies and my cat...
So I ended up doing what any lost, six year old boy would do. I cried. I cried because I was lost and I wanted my parents to find me and I cried because I was ashamed of my crying and I cried anyway...and then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Turning, I saw an old man beside me. He had more hair in his ears and nose than on his head and his face was lined with with deep wrinkles. The sun had weathered his skin the shade of dark copper and even though he was staring right at me I couldn't figure out what colors his eyes were. He smiled and pointed at my left foot. It was caked in dirt from when..from when I had kicked the ground! I needed to find the opening with the skuffed up patch of dirt!
The old man laughed and held out his palm. It took me a minute to realize he was expecting a tip. I knew I didn't have any money on me and I guess he saw my lip start to quiver. With a wink he reached over and pulled out two gold-colored coins from behind my ear. Then he walked away, flipping the coins into the air and catching it over and over again.
I turned and ran back to the paths leading into the glen. Looking carefully I found a small patch of torn grass and immediately plunged back along the path behind it. Going up the hill seemed to take lot of energy but I pressed on, higher and higher. The crowds of people thined out and the path got smaller and steeper. Looking back I could see the field far below me, which was odd because from down there the surroundings were just flat woods. There were no mountains but somehow I was on one now.
I couldn't get any higher. My legs were like rubber and my breathes were coming in deep gasps. I couldn't see how this path could lead home. I began crying again. Somehow I knew hugging a tree here wasn't the right thing to do. I hadn't seen anyone else on the path in a long time. Nobody would come looking for me.
I just wanted to go home! Maybe the old guy would help me again... I started back down the path.
I don't know how long I walked but at least it was easier going down than coming up. After a while I noticed others around me again, but none were the old man and anyway they all were ignoring me. I was still on my own. Head down, still sniffling I trudged on.
And found one of the gold coins! It had been trampled into the dirt and I would have missed it if I hadn't been staring down at the ground as I walked. I bent down to pick it up...and saw the small opening through the thorn bushes I had seen at the beginning of this whole thing! Forgetting the coin I walked over to what looked like a game trail heading off into the woods. It couldn't be a coincidence. Without a second thought I crawled off the well-trodden path and into the forest, following this strange little way.
Thorns tore at me as I crawled. One peirced deeply into my wrist, several stabbed me in the chest, somehow one tore into my crotch. The pain grew as I struggled forward...
And woke up in AGONY. Tubes ran from my nose, arms, chest and groin. My lips were cracked and my mouth was bone dry. It all hurt so friggen badly!
The pain went on for days then weeks. Nurses, the doctor and family came by. The doctor was okay because he ignored me and just read the charts hanging from my bed. Family visits were loud and confusing. Why did mon and dad look so miserable? I was the one in pain.
The nurses were the worst. They were the ones that made me cough. Every two hours, day and night for weeks they'd show up at my bedside and make me cough. It was supposed to help clear out my lungs, but there was a glee in their eyes as they hit me on the back or pinched my mouth and nose shut until I ragged coughs burst from me. The ribs the doctor had split to get his big hands into my chest ribboned me with agony. They would pound and hit me as I coughed, as things tore loose in my chest. Then they would leave and I would lay there in a haze of blood, sputem and pain.
And worse, knowing they would come back. Watching the clock tick down to these monsters' return...
But then one day I got wheeled out of the hospital and dad laid me down in the back of the car. This was before child seats or even seat belt laws. I was still in pain. Every breath stretched my broken ribs, my torn guts. As dad shut the car door I heard the the nurse remind him to make me cough several times a day. Then she laughed and walked back into the hospital.
It took a year for the pain to go away. But in it's place a new sensation grew. I could somehow feel the thin places of the world. The places where maybe close by there were thorns and then a path down to a field...
Now here in the dark, sitting in grampa's car as the sound of drums drifted down from Bear Butte...I could feel the thorns were very near.
I rubbed my hand across the scar on my chest.
Very near indeed.
To be continued...
Friday, September 07, 2007
Part 1 Here