By: Chris Thompson
Sometimes the things you hope for the most are those that destroy you in the end….
My memory wanders, as it oftentimes does when life is cruel and awful things happen. It drifts away more frequently now than it did in the past, and all the roads now lead to the same desperate place. To an endless table, piled high with emotion, where I feast upon a psychic buffet. It’s a lonely place, a table set for one, and each heaping spoonful is a visit with the memories of my past.
Tonight finds my thoughts adrift once more, only now I’m stupefied by stiff drink and smoke. But the hunger still remains, never truly dissipates no matter how much I deaden its touch, and it leaves me wanting, ravenous for days long gone. So I indulge, what else is there to do? I reason. I pull up a chair at that godforsaken table in my mind, all the colors blending into one, the endless, leaden days blurring once more into infinity and I eat my fill.
Awash in dark thoughts I stumble into the study, drift over to the fireplace and remove the object from upon the mantle. It has a delicate lightness that’s reassuring within my palm. Its existence holds a power over me, like a talisman or a charm, and again I heed its call. I close my eyes, fold my fingers gently around its form and just like that it happens, it all comes rushing back to me, the memories of the day you left.
My mind whirls with the recollections of that day, kaleidoscopic flashes of light and sound, and I steady myself, my hands pressed firmly against the study’s walls. Suddenly I’m whisked away, rocketed to the mossy fathoms of my mind. The rigidity of the wall replaced by the coarseness of a tree. I’m in a forest now, all old growth and magnificence surrounding me. It’s a magical place. Ancient. Our place. A land we’ve visited countless times before.
The golden sun filters through the treetops, flickering shadows all around. The endless blue of the morning sky, gigantic and immense, reaches wondrously overhead. The whispering of the breeze alights on my eardrums, the cool air dancing through the branches of the aspens. And the white-tailed jackrabbits, thriving at the edges of the treeline, run from their burrows to the sunny meadow, feeding upon the clover again and again.
It’s an idyllic place, and it’s all here in my mind, exactly as I remember it. Every tree, every stone, every bush. The only constant in my slowly decaying life.
I spy you from behind a tree, my breath close on the coarse brown bark. My palms pressed firmly against its massive trunk. You’ve been gazing upwards, a hand placed over your eyes, following the path of a red-tailed hawk. Watching as it rides the thermals up from the ridge. Up and down it soars, silent death on feathered wings.
Suddenly it dives, an ochre-bullet in the rippling blue, and you gasp, your eyes like radar following its sickly slanting plunge. The hawk returns to the sky and a thin smile alights upon your lips as you glimpse within its talons a lifeless form, a luckless rabbit from the clover, all slackened, bloody and limp.
You turn your head and catch me watching, the wicked smile erasing from your soft red lips. It was a moment of vulnerability, of your true self-glimpsed and you seem bothered by my intrusion.
Slowly you walk over to me, put your hands upon my shoulders, whisper forcibly within my ear that you envy that hawk. “It’s violence mixed with beauty”, you say. “Fatality on feathered wings. Never punished for its actions, but celebrated for its perfection. Its actions all primal, exactly as it needs to be. Why can’t we all be that way?”
I stand there, frozen, feeling like I’ve just learned something about you, a secret, that you’d rather I’d not known.
My mind whirls again and it’s later on that same day. We are lying in a clearing, staring up at a perfect sky. The smell of clover sweet on the wind, black flies buzzing overhead. I’m telling you about myself. About how I’ve grown since we first met. About how you taught me what loving someone does to a person. That it makes you trust in things like individuals and emotions, things that I would have never believed in by myself.
“It makes you peer deep within” I say, “to that tiny flame, to that spark of existence that flickers inside of you. And it makes you offer it up to another, so that they may see past the facades you invent, the faces you put on, to the reality that burns inside.”
You roll your head and look at me, as if trying to focus on a point that does not exist. Your expression broadcasting dissatisfaction, a frown upon your face. “No way.” you say. “People shouldn’t share such secrets about themselves. It’ll only end in hurt” And like that the conversation’s finished. Embarrassed, I turned away.
I remember that once I told you, when our love was just brand new, that I didn’t see anything I did not like about you.
And I remember you replying. “Oh but you will! I know it, you will! The days will pass and you will come up with things. And I’ll grow tired of you and feel like I’m trapped because that’s what I do”
And I shook my head, refusing to hear your words and looking deep into your eyes I said, “Okay…I’m fine with that.”
And you, pausing, looked right back up at me, surprised, eyes locked on mine, searching for some hint of ingenuity. Some explanation for my actions. But there was none. I loved you, could not fathom that the words you had just said could possibly be true.
You came up to me later on that day, in the twilight of the verdant wood. We were following the footpath down to the car, and you called out my name, told me that you were leaving, that we were through. You said it so cavalier, delivered it with such a measure of nonchalance that it caught me off guard, knocked me for a loop and I turned and faced you, thinking it all a joke.
As I stood there I searched your face for meaning, but realized quickly your words were true. The late day glow of the woods cast your shadow a thousand paces long and your eyes seemed aflame with the colors of the setting sun. I felt so small in that moment while you loomed so grand. You grasped my hand and told me that it was time.
I was angry, incredulous that it could be so easy for you to never love someone again. You said I was right but that you still had to move on, had to be on your way. And as you removed your hand from mine I looked down into my open palm. And nestled there within it, placed softly there by you, was the delicate skull of a jackrabbit, bleached white by the burning sun.
To me our love was an adventure; like doing a cannonball in summertime or running away from your home while still young or closing your eyes for a moment while driving. It all feels the same, excitement tinged with fear, and while it lasted I spun fervently within its grip.
But nowadays here I sit, surrounded by the memories, the trinkets, the symbols of our love. A piece of cloth from a skirt you tore over here. A book we loved, dog-eared and worn over there. A candid photo of you, all smiles and warmth, hung upon the wall. And a jackrabbit’s skull, sterile and white, cradled lovingly within my palm.
I’m just a jackrabbit running in the shadow of a hawk I tell myself…just waiting, hoping to be devoured again by your love.