Trees of Eden

Looking through the train window, he noticed a blur of fall color. The whirr of branches and leaves pulled in his gaze, and he slipped into a trance of yellow and orange. After several lost minutes, he realized that the sweep of the passing bouquet had stifled his ability to make out any of the individual trees that, collected together, called out to his spellbound eyes. So he leaned forward, picking out one tree on the horizon and tracing it with his eyes as it traveled along the length of the window frame. This way, he could see how the bark was a rugged cream color on one tree and a dark grey on another; how what looked like an old oak had pale green lichen draped over its torso; how a sapling of some species he couldn’t identify had decaying leaves that refused to fall off.

And then he thought that love is like a forest as a train rolls by. He felt regret that there were so many trees in a forest—trees that, had they been in his back yard, would have been affectionately ingrained in his memory. But these trees were not loved, not known. They just sat there, on the side of the tracks, and waited patiently to die—their existence meaning nothing to no-one. Perhaps one day they would be made into paper, and someone would write something down on what was left of them, and maybe, just maybe, that something would be important.

Love was like the trees that nobody came to look at. Love was mere chance; luck. Love was the way you would be forced to focus on one tree because the whole array of colors was too overwhelming for your senses. Love was the way you couldn’t focus on reading Nietzsche because that woman in the pink blouse to your right was telling her friend Carl about how her daughter Samantha had failed her Chemistry test.

There were countless other trees, other people that you would never meet; the fact that you chose this one to pay attention to—to love—was meaningless and random and stupid.

Love was like life, and life was like the shadows among the gaps in the trees of a forest that nobody came to look at.

29 October, 2013

 

Dusk in Albuquerque

There was a protracted beeping sound. A change.

Things were fast, unusual, cold. Everything felt heavy; it was dark.

He turned around the corner and saw the cars moving   their red tail lights swaying behind them in their turns   down a long wide avenue that stretched out into a vast plain. The line of automobiles swept past him, a rushing sound like wind.

In the brief space between seconds he noticed that all the cars were moving in one direction—like everything had a course and a purpose—and then in that instant he knew that things were good and beautiful, that the end was not the end but rather a path that led toward another beginning that in turn would weave its way forward and into eternity—that very longed-for place where heaven would greet him with a light most divine and pure, most spoken-of and longed-for by so many—by everyone, secretly. He exhaled.

But now the vision was gone, vanished with the brilliant red lights and the endless pale horizon. He reached out from behind the darkness and grasped after the retreating colors and the sounds. He found himself turning a corner.

Suddenly, he was lying on his back in the familiar hospital bed with the small buttons to press and the steel rail to drape his leg over. But he was not in the hospital, no, he was in an even more familiar place: it was his bedroom, the one he’d slept in as a child before they had moved to Jersey so his father could work at IBM. The colors on the walls were clean against the outlines of the Superman and Batman posters, and he smiled. In the foreground stood his mother; she was young, like in the photos, and smiling that same smile with her dark ebullient eyes. She looked beautiful, his mother.

Yet something frightened him because she was so still; she became rigid and mechanical. She was just an image, a giant cut-out of an old photograph—the very same one that was in the foyer of the New York City apartment he’d rented in the 70’s.

It disappeared and in her place was just the brightly painted wall. To the left of the bed stood John and Steve, and he knew exactly where he was. This was where he’d been right before everything had started to move so fast, right before he’d started to die.

“We’ll see you there soon, old friend,” John had said.

“I’ve heard there is no pain, that everything floats off in a wash of color and light,” Steve had said.

And then it all came back to him: how he had been brave and not minded the dying part; how he’d lived a good long life and was prepared to face the ‘next,’ whatever it would be.

The scene blurred back into darkness, and in that moment he felt an excruciating tremor of loneliness. He ran. Sprinting away from the scene, the last moments he could remember, he tried to fight his way back to the normal world where things made sense. You spend your whole life trying to make sense of things and when you finally start to feel at ease with it all it’s taken away from you. It wasn’t fair it wasn’t fair it isn’t fair let me out! he shrieked into the air, colder now than before, like those alpine lakes he’d visited in Montana, the way they would stab you a thousand times and take the air out of your lungs.

Smothered by the cold, he pushed the wave off himself and continued to run. But there was no burning feeling in his legs—they worked tirelessly in an attempt to rush him back into the world that he knew—that spherical object with a molten core, with gravity and respiration and exhaustion, with streets that ran in both directions and led somewhere that didn’t vanish.

They said your life flashes in front of your eyes. But this was not life; this was something else.

There, receding before him—it was his desire to live! He wanted to shout, to call it back, but couldn’t; he pressed with all his might against the ground and shot forward across the maze of street corners with their dark alleyways shifting themselves into a blur until he found himself suddenly in a tide of pedestrians intermixed with carts and rickshaws; behind it all stood the Saigon cathedral. It had been forty years since he had been there, and yet it was so vivid he was right there and could smell the motor oil and hear the rumble of the small engines as they floated by—their expressions determined—to work—to rest—but above all else to live—to live!

Now everything began to evaporate around him as his legs gave up their pounding and slowly he began to feel relaxed. Shadows filtered down across the horizon like a curtain in water, swaying almost lovingly across the sky and falling over his thoughts. He closed his eyes and fell backward.

Suddenly, he felt an urge to look once more at those scenes from his past—to experience one last time the beauty of his now receding life. His eyes burst open, and he searched the horizon for some sign. Above him, hanging in the sky, was projected the image of his childhood friend’s dog, the chihuahua that would visit his family’s house from time to time looking for a treat. The dog, Stella, was grinning a big wide-toothed grin and wearing aviator sunglasses. Smoking a cigar, Stella winked at him; then it all, everything, began to melt into the knowledge that this was his last waking moment and with that—this, his last realization ever—he shuddered as he tried to