Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wednesday July 25, 2006

I had tried to go to Kinnikinnic State Park this morning, but when I arrived at around 8:30, the gate was still closed. I thought it was supposed to open at 7 am, but apparently it didn’t. Or the ranger overslept or something. So I turned around and decided to go instead to the bench I was sitting on when I heard Katie communicate with me.

I wound through the streets of suburban affluence, their mammoth tenements sprawling across treeless lots until I came to the unmarked park entrance. This was the same entrance I’d used exactly two months before, on May 25. It briefly flashed in my head that Katie was alive then; in fact, she had a little less than a month to live at that point. I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to separate time periods into before and after Katie now…Which I suppose is pointlessly torturous, but that is the path my brain takes me down…

I quickly entered the woods, ignoring the suspicious stares of the suburbanites tending their lawn. I’d meant to take the main path straight down to the bench, but when I got to the path that branched off and led to the cliff overlooking the river, I was tempted off course. The foliage seemed a bit denser now, despite the two-month drought we’ve been experiencing, and the view of the valley and hills and forest was as spectacular as I remembered.

I eased my may down the steep, twisting path, careful of the loose, gravelly footing, aware that a slip could send me tumbling over the edge. It momentarily occurred to me that maybe I might not be in the right frame of mind to standing on the edge of a cliff this morning, but I packed that thought away and concentrated on my descent. Even from up near the top of the path I could hear the river babbling some fifty feet below. I scanned the edge of the path for the marijuana I thought I’d seen growing there last time I was here, but I couldn’t find it. Probably a good thing, I assured myself. That’s part of what kept me from getting closer to Katie, after all.

I got to the huge boulder at the cliff’s edge and it looked a little out of place…had it moved? I suppose it will fall, someday. Hopefully no one will be down there when it does. I leaned on it ever so lightly, testing its solidity and steadfastness; it didn’t budge.

Looking out over the picturesque valley, my mind drifted and I found myself looking back on my morning. I woke this morning from a dream; a dream about Katie. It was the first dream I’d had about her since her death, and I’d been dreading it for the past month or so. I’m not sure what was worse, dreaming about her or the odd guilt I felt for not dreaming about her for so long…

In my dream, I was out in a wide open space; it sort of reminded me of a parking lot, and there were bookshelves along one edge of the space. I was there with thousands of people. Katie was there too, and I was aware of her being there, but I didn’t have the chance to speak to her for a long time. In this dream, she had not died. She would talk with one person or group of people for a while, and then move on to the next person, and so on. Eventually, she came to me. We hugged. I looked her in her beautiful eyes and told her I knew how she felt, and that she could, in fact, should come over and visit me anytime she wanted to. That I loved her company and that it was always a treat to talk to her. We bantered back and forth playfully for awhile, and then hugged again before we walked off together, my arm over her shoulder. I really felt that I’d made a breakthrough with her; like she was on the brink of despair and I’d brought her back, and that everything was going to be all right.

Then I woke up.

I was instantly upset and depressed at the false hope my subconscious had given me. I decided then that I would grab some tissues and head for Katie’s Spot in the state park. Which, of course, turned out to be closed. Which then brought me here, standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down with tears welling in my eyes, thinking about my dead friend.

Now, I don’t mean to mislead…I never even considered the possibility of jumping. This was just a stupid exercise in fantasy. I even did a little fantasy exercise where I acted like I was going to jump; going through the motions, contracting the muscles, confident that my instincts would not allow it, because I knew deep down that jumping off a cliff to my death was certainly not what I wanted…then it occurred to me that this was, in all likelihood, a ritual that Katie herself indulged in from time to time, and I decided to back off from the cliff, and I climbed back up the steep path.

When I was up where the path leveled off on flat ground, I began to head back towards the main path, when a westbound path caught my eye. I remembered seeing it both of the other times I’d been here, but I’d decided not to explore it those times. I couldn’t pass it up a third time, and I walked it, first into a little patch of forest, then out into the open. After around a hundred feet, I saw a fire pit off to my right. A rust-colored moss was growing out of the ashes; it had obviously been quite a while since the last fire was lit there.

The trail continued down a gradual slope, but the steepness increased the further the path went. I noticed that in this big clearing, there were a whole lot of stumps. The stumps ranged from over a foot to only an inch in diameter, and they looked fresh…less than a year old for sure. I wondered why all these trees would’ve been cut down. A disease, maybe?

Before long, the path grew as steep and twisty as the one that led to the cliff I’d just been on. And as I came around a large outcropping, I noticed to my surprise that I was standing on top of another cliff. Down below, there was the river…and another fire pit.

There were so many trees and shrubs growing on and around the cliff that I couldn’t quite tell where I was. I saw the path also went over to the right; a tight little pass through some trees and I went to check it out to see if I could get some further clues as to my whereabouts. I’d just ducked under some trees and was heading down the tiny trail when I hear some voices and froze, as is my instinct. Through the trees, I was facing west, and I could see two figures walking south. I was sure they couldn’t see me, as my clothes were dull and natural colored, and I could only barely track them by their voices and their bright white clothing.

They had moved past me, and I was about to move down the path again, when they doubled back and started coming back towards me. It was then when I realized where I was. The two men were coming up the steep, wide path where I’d first discovered that I could scale a step path easily by “falling up the mountain” (cross-reference to fall/winter in beginning). Which meant that the cliff I’d originally been standing on, which I had assumed was the cliff I could see from the pole bridge that crossed the river, I’d never actually seen from below. I almost laughed out loud. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s always a surprise when we unmask our assumptions as falsehoods. I kept my laughter to myself, however, until the men were gone.

Once they had passed, I scurried down the little path and walked around the corner and headed towards then bench along side the river. I took off my shoes and socks and sat in a half-lotus position, just like last time. Then I just sat there and watched the river flow, not really feeling anything. I wanted so much to feel something, some sadness, but there was nothing. My mind wandered again, and I reflected on how often it is that I will experience something, even some mundane thing like a red-winged blackbird’s song or the long prairie grass waving in the breeze, and I’ll just be struck with how much Katie would’ve appreciated this simple thing, this one moment in time. How could she kill herself, how, when she could delight in such simplicity? It made no sense to me. It gnawed away at me.

After a few minutes of these thoughts in this quiet atmosphere, the tears did begin to flow, for the first time in days…it felt so good to have that feeling back. I wondered if that was the sign of some problem I had, or if it was just part of the grieving. I’ve heard that this is when the real grieving takes place…at a time when everyone else seems to be over it; when everyone thinks that you should be over it, too.

A jogger ran by behind me, snapping me back into the here-and-now. I put my shoes and socks back on and started back to my car. On my way back, I stopped at both cliffs again. The landscapes at the bottom of those cliffs do look pretty similar, I thought to myself, it was an easy mistake to make, and I smiled to myself. I felt a little better after my cry.


At 11:53 AM, Blogger mcBlogger said...

Oh my, you had me in tears...

At 8:40 PM, Blogger sideshow bob said...

Thanks, McB!

This is just a rough draft of a project I'm working on, and I leave some notes for myself that may seem out of place or nonsensical, but I really do appreciate any feedback anyone has to offer.


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