(Thank you to my dear friend Skyler for the photos for this project)
I wandered through the forests, at the insistence of my friends, who had told me a few days in the woods would allow me to clear my head, and make sense of the darkness I had been living with for the better part of the last few months. It had been a dark few months, and even though I had been trying my hardest to forget her, she still remained at the forefront of my mind. Her hazel eyes sat on my soul and infested every thought. I had begun taking sleeping pills to avoid the burden of sleeplessness, but I had begun to build up a tolerance to them, and now I was forced to take much more than the recommended dosage if I wanted to have the opportunity to sleep, even if it came with the possibility of the unfortunate side-effect of death. Sleep was the only place I was free, after all, unless she found her way into my subconscious and infiltrated my dreams, ruining the only time throughout the day when I didn’t wish I was dead.
“Go to the woods,” Adam said. “Get into the woods and stay there until you see beauty in the world again.”
I was never a camper, and Adam knew this about me. I didn’t want to be so exposed to the elements. I preferred to be exposed in other areas of my life, which apparently hadn’t been working out for me so well. Everywhere I looked now was cold, and grey. It didn’t matter how many brightly colored shirts I wore, my life was drab and dull. The thought of ending it all had crossed my mind on more than one occasion. The only thing that had kept me going was the ongoing support of my closest friends, who were constantly making sure I was doing ok. I could tell I had become more of a nuisance on them than anything else, and I thought maybe I should take their advice and go into the woods until I remembered what it was like to feel anything but the melancholy that was weighing me down.
Carrying the pack loaded with more gear than I ever thought I would want to carry with me anywhere, I trudged through the woods hating every mosquito that sucked my blood, and every spider that bit me while I slept. The first night was long, and filled with anger and hatred for the world. Even in the so-called beauty that surrounded me, all I could see was the vileness the world possessed through the veil my broken heart had placed over my eyes. I beat the trees. I cursed a god I wasn’t convinced existed, but was thankful for the option to blame him for my problems.
Whenever I closed my eyes I saw her hazel eyes, brunette hair, and perfectly crooked smile, and hated the world. I cursed Adam’s name for suggesting this special brand of torture; stuck in the woods with no electricity, no phone, no shower, or toilet. There was nothing to distract me from my thoughts and that was worse than seeing the mundane, boorishness of the world. I was being held prisoner by my own thoughts, and I would have given anything to be released from my self-imposed incarceration. I wished she had never been in my life. I wished she would never be in my life again, even though I knew the futility of that hope. I screamed, “FUCK,” to the night sky in hopes that someone in the heavens would hear me and take the pain away from me. After hours of only wanting to sleep, escape into a fiction where there was a chance I was no longer myself, and yelling, crying, and hating everything in this world I passed out like a toddler who had worn himself out after a tantrum about not being able to watch his favorite television show because he had refused to do his chores.
I awoke when the sun had begun to crack through trees, shining blinding light through my closed eyelids. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and looked around. My campsite was a mess. I got out of my hammock and quickly brushed my teeth and packed up all of my gear. I brushed my teeth, ate an energy bar, and drank some water. Throwing my pack on my back I headed east, in search of anything that, as Adam described it, would make me see the beauty in the world.
The sun grew higher in the sky, and everywhere I looked I could see green. The birds flew over head, singing their songs of summer, and would land on the branches above me and appear to be chirping directly at me. I wondered what they were saying. Was it warnings about some danger lying ahead? Could they have been giving me positive affirmations on my life? Or were they just attempting to warn others of their kind that their was an intruder among them? I kept hiking, searching for answers in nature, as so many people had purportedly done before me. I was a city boy looking for answers in the last place I thought I would ever be looking for them.
My legs were growing tired and the sweat that was pouring out of every one of my glands had begun to soak my shirt. I continued to get hotter and more uncomfortable as I went on, and began to think this trek was an ill-conceived idea, perfect for some, but not right for everybody, including me. Even if there was a lack of color and an array of foul, nostril burning smells, I was missing the city streets I normally found myself wandering at nights.
I came to a break in the trees and upon a river that flowed through the heart of the forest. Wanting to wash the sweat, stink, and anger of my decisions away, I stripped down to my underwear and waded out into the water until it was up to my waste. I ran my finger across the water’s surface, watching the small trench that was left by my force, then being quickly replaced by the water that seemingly was unhappy with the displacement, and wanting it’s world to be fixed. I continued to do this and wondered how it could be that even though the water’s world had been disrupted so abruptly it was capable to repairing itself with little to no effort. I wanted to be that water. I wanted to be able to repair every part of me that was broken. I wanted to leave behind all of the anger, and pain, and baggage I carried with me everywhere I went.
Closing my eyes I dove into the chilly, yet refreshing, depths of the river, and began swimming. I didn’t know where I was swimming to, or what sort of dangers rest below the water’s surface, but I swam with little care to much of anything. The water was clear, until I swam by with the force of a swimmer going for gold, when I would stir up the mirk at the bottom and it would grow cloudy around me. I felt a sense of power, and in a way I began to feel free from all that had been weighing on me for what at this point had been too long. I was tired of being tired. I was tired of holding onto the past. I was tired of every negative thought that crossed my mind and weighed upon me until even the daytime seemed darker than the nights. I swam until my arms ached, my back stung, my legs hurt, and my lungs screamed at me, thanking me for allowing them to feel something other than just emotional pain and regret. For a moment I thought of Virginia Woolf, and realized the fallacy of her thinking, for in that moment I didn’t want to die, I wanted to live, I wanted to be, I wanted to exist.
I rolled over onto my back, and started stroking softly through the water, staring up at the bluest of blue skies and the sun moved further into the west. I exhaled a breath of pure happiness, an action I had not performed in longer than I could recall. I inhaled, and was happy I was breathing for the first time in more days than I could count. Floating there in my underwear, lightly stroking my arms to remain afloat, I smiled. It was the first genuine smile I remembered experiencing in longer than she and I had been apart. The first from before we parted ways. The first from before it was obvious she and I were never meant to be. It was the most virgin smile I had ever experienced, and I wanted to remember that moment, that smile for all of eternity, for in that moment I was happy, and I never wanted to give up on the hope that I was filled with right then. As the sun set, and the water cooled, I knew everything was going to be ok.
I stayed in the water until the sun had set, and the stars had started exposing themselves to me, slowly at first. One would appear, then another would poke out, letting me know that I was not alone. Soon I was surrounded by millions of twinkling friends, who all were glimmering in support of me, each one offering up his own words of encouragement. Like a child who was given a taste of freedom, I splashed and played in the water in barbaric fashion, showing that nothing in this world would bother me again, because I had found happiness in that moment and I was not one to let it go.
My body grew tired, and I knew I would soon have to get out of the water to make camp for the night. I put my hammock up at the water’s edge, and settled in, staring up at the night sky, thanking each and every one of my new friends I had met that night while I swam unencumbered by sadness. In the moment when I had forgotten how to be sad, while remembering that hope wasn’t always a bad word. Slowly, I drifted off to sleep, and even in my subconscious I was still existing on that river bed, and I had never had a better dream.
I swam in my dream, and around me bioluminescent beings danced and spun in a mystical ballet of hope, happiness and freedom. We swam together through the river as though nothing else in the world existed, it was only us, and everything in the world was ours. We swam for miles and miles, until they abandoned me suddenly, leading the way, which I obediently followed. They lead me down the river as the sun began to appear in the sky, and they slowly faded away in the daylight. I stood in the river and looked around. The air was perfect, and in the distance I saw an object floating along.
I could make out a canoe softly bobbing up and down in the wake. I dove in and swam in its direction, wanting to know what this could possibly be, or symbolize. I swam closer and I could make out a person on the boat. As I got closer I could see the person was a woman, a beautiful woman, with golden hair, and fair skin. She was basking in the sun, and had her head turned up as though there wasn’t a care in the world. I didn’t know who she was, but there was something about her that made me believe in the possibility of tomorrow. I knew that when I awoke, even if this girl in my dream was nothing more than a figment of my imagination she was the beacon of hope I had been looking for, and somehow I knew that when I awoke, everything was going to be okay. For this, I was thankful. For Adam, I was thankful. For my dreams, I was thankful. For this mystery girl of my dream, I was thankful. For the knowledge that I was going to be okay, I was thankful. For my life, I was thankful.