The snow finally stops, with only a few flakes still drifting across the parking lot, swirling in one final performance before the white sky lifts its curtain and reveals the sparkling, clear night waiting to take the stage. They look behind their shoulder at the hotel, but the curtains are closed and their benefactor remains hidden in the shadows. They sigh. Where to now?
The road ahead is empty, the trail winding through mountains full of stories yet to be read. The road behind, however, is all too familiar, with its tales of loneliness ever increasing. They did not want to go back there, to that place where they felt each day the darkness grew, and the disconnect between them and their classmates’ widened more and more so a great chasm was building. This was an opportunity to escape, to get to the other side of the window and explore the golden fields where each flower bloomed in an array of silver and blue, red and yellow, green and purple.
She hears the whispers Like crickets Hopping from tree to tree Following, following, following Until she turns And the whispers fade Beyond the grove that Waits, waits, waits She hears the laughs Quiet and soft Like school girls trying to Hold in secrets that were Meant to be free And she turns And she follows Even as the laughter Fades, fades, fades Beyond the grove that Waits, waits, waits They don't hear her slip Between the trees and their Shining leaves that Whistle, whistle, whistle Against the wind whose kiss Is warmer and sweeter Than theirs So she follows and Waits, waits, waits For the voices to Sing, sing, sing Out of the shadows from Beyond the grove that Waits, waits, waits They don't hear her slip Inside their walls where The fairies and elves And all those things that Are not to exist Whisper and laugh Sing and glow In beautiful colors Green and blue Red and yellow All those that are not To exist Beyond the grove where Grey and black and all Things without color Without wings Wait, wait, wait To steal them away and Make them cold again She sees them whisper And laugh and sing and Glow, glow, glow All those wondrous colors She has lost From their cold And the fairies and elves And all those who are not To exist Smile, smile, smile Wave, wave , wave For her to come sit With those who have wandered Beyond the grove which Waits, waits, waits For them to find Happiness
Yet each window is the same; they look out onto a valley that is green and bright until awkward feet land upon it, turning the soil loose and exposing its flaws. The greenness isn’t really green but dry and withered, much to their disappointment. Time and time again they are met with the same thing. Soon enough they will be crestfallen, their search for something meaningful never coming to fruition.
Behind them lies their life, full of faces who do not care if they are among them or not, who tell them they must sit over there, far from everyone else. Time and time again this becomes stamped into their brain, and they withdraw, more so than usual. Ahead lies something new, something exciting that perhaps their benefactor would tell which would change everything for the better. What they do not know is that much would be the same, the tale spun differently with the same result. Because no matter what they cannot be wanting more. They cannot want to spend time talking face to face on the phone, or go on wild adventures to Amsterdam, Chicago, or Ireland, or crash in the same house, in the same room, or grab lunch one on one and with others. The list goes on and on, a list of simple things often taken for granted but nonetheless something that someone like them wants but can never have. That is not how fate has designed it. They are not meant to ask for more, and must be content with what they are allowed, whether it is looming like a shadow in the background or submerging into the most pleasurable and meaningful depths of a pool which can only expand and grow if those are willing to let it. Otherwise, the pool is just a puddle where its not worth more than a quick step or kick, and then its time to move on, go elsewhere.
“What do I do now?” The indecisiveness persists, and they reach into their pocket, searching for something, anything to write on as they head south, leaving the snow tipped mountains behind.
One day, as a parting graduation gift- because prom had been out of the question, with the noise and the dress attire and the lack of social cues presenting a major, undesirable problem- they were given a trip to North Carolina to be among the Appalachian mountains, which was much more suitable anyway. The program, Outward Bound, was designed to build character, much in the sense the story Holes did, minus the blatant child abuse and treasure hunt, although one could argue the real treasure was the friendship and self discovery made along the way( ah yes, the chorus of groans and laughter trumpet over the silence).
It was terrifying, for they were stepping onto a plane for the first time by themselves. But their parents needed to do something; the social skills group failed because they were too old to be a part of it, the private doctor failed because the utter disdain and dislike was too much for them to keep stomaching, and the designated play dates with sought after teammates and classmates yielded no long term results. Yet it was also exciting, because here was a chance to do something new, to break away from the shadows that nearly drowned them and to breathe fresh air again. So it was here, this exact trip, where the passion for travel burgeoned, and from here they would begin to take more solo trips.
The faces were new and strange, but there was no turning back. They followed silently, wondering if this mystery would unravel in a good or bad way. In the beginning it was simple; they trudged along carrying a fifty pound pack filled with food and gear, sweating through clothes that needed to last four days before they were allowed to switch to another set. By the end of two weeks, it would be a lot more grueling, yet still satisfying, a grin peeling across the grim and dirt and exhaustion. If they could survive this, this two week camping and rock climbing trek through mountains and bears, beehives and thunderstorms, rock walls and a solo night, then they would be able to conquer what would came later. For later they would need what they built to withstand the emotional turmoil which would prove more challenging than the physical.
Each day they hiked seven or eight miles over hills and flat surfaces which wound through forests of dense trees and bare patches, of rivers and streams both drinkable and undrinkable. Each night they would make camp, learning to set up tarp beneath a tent to keep the potential rain from seeping in, setting a fire and cooking the most simplest of food, and hanging a trap to prevent bears and raccoons from sneaking away with a delicious meal of bagels and grits. Unfortunately, a raccoon would take off with a days supply of breakfast, forcing us to ration our meals and dig into the piles of apple and oranges in which everything, core and sticker included, had to be devoured. On two more occasions- once while they slept and the other while the three other girls cooked in the pouring rain beneath yellow jumpsuits- bears would come and visit. Despite the banging of pots and pans as well as screaming, they would not wake, undisturbed and unfazed by the creature who stood over five feet tall on two legs.
During the day they stopped in designated places, searching the sheer cliffs for more rugged faces that provided more natural holds. Rock climbing was something never attempted before, and it would become something they would want to do again and again, the lack of confidence in their knot tying abilities the only thing holding them back. For the struggle of quickly and seamlessly forming the necessary knots would create a frustration that no one would take the time to ease, to see past and go to the root of the matter, which would turn them away from a pursuit in a career that best suited their personality. Support given can carry someone a long way, but without support a person falls and scrambles, falls and scrambles until it is easier just to stay at the bottom.
“What is the point? What is the point of getting out of a hole whose walls are too tall and you are too exhausted to keep clawing, to keep digging for hand holds that you keep slipping from?” the murmur to themselves, working out an idea, as the wind tugs on their hair. The hotel is just a dot falling swiftly behind, inching closer from the horizon. Yet the paper floats, sailing on a boat through a breeze intent on chasing them, swirling around and around their poorly covered body. Their stiff and shaking fingers reach out and grab the paper. On one side is a letter, addressed to them, and on the other side is a bucket list.
For years, the letter was kept, tucked away in a box full of reminders and memories which instigated the most electrifying of all feelings: happiness. Too often the world is dark and it becomes hard to see, and we stumble, falling into mud which seems impossible to get out of. But there is always a rope, a rope shimmering with the love of the ocean, the quietness of a night spent sitting on a porch staring at the stars, the sweet warmth of blanket hugging the body as it watches a movie, and so on and so on. Once we grab the rope we are no longer lost, and we walk once more without our legs hindered by the dragging mud.
They would write that letter sitting on top of the mountain, their breathing coming heavy after scaling a high wall overlooking a valley of trees. It was supposed to be a moment of self reflection, but there was not much they wanted to reflect on. They could feel the hope was waning, as day after day they started to see the same pattern emerge that always did: the boys hung together in their cluster, the other girls hung in theirs, and they were left in between, neither belonging to boy or girl. They thought this pattern would go away, and in a few months it would get worse as they would become isolated, cut off from the only people that they called their friends. Gradually, they would come to accept that they were never allowed anywhere near anybody, and the shifting of shoulders and the explicit remarks of staying aware would force them to withdraw south even further. Weddings and galas and large group events would become difficult because over and over they were taught the single, detrimental question: who would want them there?
The people they traveled with for two weeks were not worth the question because they would never see any of them again, so it didn’t bother her. Except for the two boys, Future Army Man and the Nerd Boy Wonder. They were kind and easygoing, giving hope that there is always someone to talk too. Future Army Man would end up dislocating his shoulder, so they carried his bag until the next rest area where we distributed his stuff among ourselves to ease the load and I gave him my walking stick, which he secretly coveted because they would occasionally use it as a bayonet, swinging it around and around in a display of childish fun. They would be happy when, on the way home, they got to travel with them a little further after they are forced to leave the plane and travel two hours by bus to their next connecting flight. Still, long after they parted ways they would think of them and wonder what ever happened to him.
Under the clouds And over the hills They walk as one Smiling and laughing But not the way That lovers do But the way of those Trying to mend broken Smiles and find lost Laughter Stolen by a thief Who plundered hearts Ruthlessly Under the clouds And over the hills They walk as one Smiling and laughing They way they used to As those who had yet To meet the thief Who stole and Plundered hearts Ruthlessly Under the clouds And over the hills They stop and part Returning to their own Land from which they Came to find who They were before The thief Stole and plundered For the very last time Because they are no longer Afraid of The thief who steals and Plunders hearts Ruthlessly.
The adventure south to North Carolina would be well worth it, as any adventure would be, whether it is bad or good there is something to be gained. Climbing the walls would push their body to another level and give a view of the world they have never seen before. It is not everyday they get to stand up high and see what crawls or miles and miles. Taking a saw a removing a branch from the trail would build a skill they never thought of ever using, nor would they realize the serenity that came from lying beneath the stars and moon and the strength they had for getting through a rainy night which saw them seek shelter inside a thick rain suit while wrapped like a burrito inside a sleeping bag and tarp. They would know what to do when they step on a beehive, which was to run as far away as possible after whoever steps on it screams “Bee!” and takes one for the team, and how to protect their butt using a ground pad when lightning struck. They would know that there were people out there worth all the marbles to get to, and to never stop climbing no matter how many times they slip. They would not stop trying to get over the wall, with or without a hand to make it easier to get up.
They, however, do not know this yet.
Chasing the paper on two stubby little legs belonging to a toddler is a postcard, whirling around and around in circles above their head. They grasp it, and just as they do Darth Vader pulls up, the lights flashing dizzily back and forth.
“Are you trying to blind me or something?” they cry out, annoyed and upset by the overwhelming display.
“If it will get you to stop wandering around, which I know is a favorite thing to do, in the freezing cold, then yes I am. Now get in.”
” I thought you wanted me to go away?”
” I changed my mind, okay? Besides, how are you going to get back? The nearest Time Portal is in Denver. You’ll freeze before you get there, and then I’ll freeze, and I’d rather us not freeze.”
Begrudgingly, they hustle over to the passenger side and jump in, cranking the heat up all the way.
“So you want be to take you back?”
They pause, looking down at the letter and postcard crumpled between their finger. ” No. Take me forward. But maybe, like, to a desert or the center of the sun.”