Opening My Eyes

Something strange has happened, and left me changed. Maybe death does that to everyone. Maybe losing a friend makes people look back more, appreciate more, look around themselves more. Today I left the house for the first time in several days, and decided to go for a walk somewhere. I thought I’d go by the lake, but then realized I didn’t bring a sweater and it might be cold, so I started to turn around, but where I was kind of… stopped me. I had pulled off the highway at just the little road where I once lived as a kid. It was a little row of slum-houses that were miserable then, and I don’t know how the hell after 20 years the things still stand. My grandmother and I lived there from when I was about 8 or 9 until I was 12, when we moved into apartments in town. It was the last “actual house” I’d have lived in for decades of apartments and cities. And likely for good reason, as I recall the heater shooting fireballs from the wall as I played Nintendo, thinking our house looked like the underground pipes in Super Mario-land. I pulled down the little road to the end, where it turned into gravel, and kept going. This was one of my favorite “worlds” to explore as a kid–this little dirt road that led down to a tiny creek. I got to the creek and parked the car and got out, and looked around me. I hadn’t been here in over 20 years. It was still more or less the same. But smaller. Or I was bigger, most likely. I was completely alone, and far from the reaches of anyone. I was where I’d dreamed of being back in New York–where I’d always think, “God, what I wouldn’t give to just go to the middle of a field, far from all of this noise and all of these people–and just be there.” I’d promised myself every time I came to Arkansas that’s what I’d do–promised to take the time alone to let go of all of the chaos of New York and my mind, and just exist. But I never have, really. Not much, anyway. I’ve spent most of my time on a computer, either chatting with people I miss back in the city or writing for work. Or just bemoaning that I was here at all. How much time can a person really spend wishing they were somewhere else than where they are? Because I worry I’ve spent most of my life in that state. And losing someone has made me realize that these things are meaningless devourers of our lives. I’ve devoured over half my life wishing for things to be different or regretting things from the past or simply hating myself for whatever reasons I might have dreamed up that day. So rarely have I just taken in a moment, looking at the past, the present, and the future, all at once–and breathed. I stood in that open field for several moments, staring at the sky and the trees. And I prayed. Not any big, magical prayer or anything formal. Just “Thanks.” And I said goodbye to Java and knew that he’d always be here–in this sky, in these trees, in other trees. He’ll always be inside beauty when I see it.
I remembered back to the times I spent here with my friends, biking down to the water to skip stones or create adventures. With Jan. With Sarah. With Rachel. With Shingo.
And I thought for a long time about Shingo, who had lived just across the street from the little shanty row. I thought about how I’d go play on her trampoline. How I got scared at a slumber party and went home at 9pm and felt like a coward. How we used to play pretend, or ride bikes, or make up games. I thought about how her death a year ago had shattered me. I remembered how, in Mississippi at the camp I was teaching, I found the news online, and spent hours sobbing. Not knowing how to grasp it. Not understanding what could let this happen. How I could have been friends with someone who took her own life and her child’s. Not understanding the world, or God, or life, or death. And standing in that field, saying goodbye to so much, it didn’t matter as much. It was still sad, but she was still that little girl who rode bikes with me and played pretend. That part of her still “is.” Just like the parts of all of us that are genuine and true and innocent “are,” and always will be.
I walked back to the car and drove the gravel drive back, and I smiled, remembering all of those silly little memories that I’d forgotten for so long. As I drove back into Arkadelphia, I saw everything–as if I hadn’t seen it before. Not with the passing disdain with which I drove past each street, anxious to get home, to my room, to my computer–to escape. I just saw it. And I was here. And being able to be here and to accept it, and to live in this moment–is as much a blessing as leaving it to start a new life somewhere else. “Whereas I was blind, now I see.”

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