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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

A Sense of Belonging

After our previous meeting, not everything that happened made sense to me, and I felt a little bit lost afterwards. It was a bit disorienting for me, which wasnít usually the case. Several days went by where I think I walked around in a haze oblivious to the world around me. The holidays were quickly approaching and I felt like I was falling behind the rest of the world.  I spent much of the time trying to catch up to what I had missed, but I didnít think I missed much important. I felt a little bit lost when I came back into the world. I still felt alone in the world but my perspective on this changed during our previous meeting. I couldnít explain how but it had given me a renewed energy and purpose. It had clarified some important things, and answered a few of my questions in ways I couldnít explain yet. There were also some things I didnít really understand. I still didnít know exactly who she was and I had no idea why she was interested in me. I still had many things I didnít know, but there was enough to keep motivated going forward. I finally had some idea what I was searching for. In many ways, I remained under the spell of that night, with its circling birds and her reassuring presence giving me a renewed spirit. I spent a great deal of time walking around in the ensuing weeks. In many ways, I was trying to get back to that world and its pleasures, though I didnít know precisely how to find my way back. It was getting colder and darker with almost every day. This curtailed my explorations and I didnít seem to have the same desire to explore things that I had during the summer.

There were also some practical considerations holding me back from my explorations. As winter gradually overtook autumn, the scattered icy patches became to feel almost permanent. This made it more difficult to travel on the streets, though I was getting better at avoiding them. Iíd take the long way back from school, walking through the streets deliberately on the snowier side that hadnít been melted by the mid-day sun. The air was colder than I remembered winter being, and at first, it seemed relentless. I slowly became more accustomed to it and my tolerance built up gradually. When I walked around, I was always aware of the birds in the sky and I wondered whether they were members of the same flock. I wondered if they remembered us, and what they thought of this odd couple who met up there sporadically. It was an isolated place in many ways, but we needed our distance from the world, and I knew any attempts we would make to blend in wouldnít be successful. When the birds surrounded us, it felt like they were both protecting and confining us. I still didnít understand why they had encamped there so suddenly, and why they felt the need to protect us. I knew she had a connection to their arrival but didnít know what her motivation could have been.    

I hadnít actually seen her in a few weeks and as the holidays arrived late that year, I was distracted by the usual glut of things that usually over-took that time of the year, I allowed myself to get washed into this for a little while, enchanted by the seasonís sparkling promotions and its accompanying admonitions. In the public sphere, I was still a normal little kid. I tried to act the part as best I could but, I donít think I was entirely convincing. When Iíd find myself walking alone, I was free and didnít have the same pressure. I avoided walking past the homes of people who knew me, and I wanted to have some place of my own. As the nights grew longer and colder, my trips to our place seemed to became increasingly sporadic. It was too cold for me to sit there for hours, waiting for someone who didnít show up often. The winter took as much as it gave. The increased solitude in the world was welcome, but my ability to completely escape it seemed to have been lost in the process. She was always present somewhere in the back of my mind, but many days still felt empty without her around.

I looked forward to our meetings but the other days when she wasnít around seemed to be less important in comparison. Since she never seemed to show up on a consistent schedule, I could never really time my emotions. Despite this, she had given me some important clues, which I held onto in my quiet way. Reaching the end of the year also felt like a victory in some ways. I sat through another year of seemingly endless classes and survived the constant pressure with my spirit somewhat renewed. I felt a bit stronger in some ways, but also a little more removed from the world. Despite having a sense a greater world, I still felt like I didnít really fit in, especially with kids my own age. This was something I was having a hard time putting together, and deep down, I needed those long walks to stay focused and keep myself on the right path. Distractions were plentiful in those days, and I had to find a way to keep them at bay.

Walking through the streets as winter strengthened its icy hold, I cautiously approached our hiding place once again. As I got closer, I looked around and saw that there was no one around. The streets felt quiet and deserted, and I felt like I was alone all over again. With each step closer, the worries that consumed my days became increasingly distant, disappearing behind my shoulder. It was replaced by a feeling of anticipation, even though I knew there was a chance she wouldnít be there, the protection of the forest and its tall trees would be welcome, even if I ended up exploring it alone. I approached the path way and found the hidden entrance, once again ducking underneath the trees and behind the bushes, looking for the way back up. I saw the familiar steps and walked up them slowly, and carefully. Covered by ice and branches, they werenít as inviting as they had been during the summer. There was no guard-rail or anything to protect me from falling, so I had to be very careful in my movements.

I made my way up the steps and finally reached the top of the hill, with its solid ground and flat surface welcoming me once again. It seemed strangely quiet up there, as if it too had gone into extended hibernation along with the rest of the world. I looked around and everything seemed unchanged aside from the layers of ice and snow. I walked towards the edge of the mountain and looked over the cliff. I could see the ground below covered in deep layers of snow that obscured its secrets, covering its mysteries from the world. I looked around in the snow and saw no other signs that anyone had been there. There were no foot-prints aside from my own and nothing seemed disturbed. I looked up at the trees and saw that their ice-covered branches were slowly caressing a very light wind. They were tightly-knotted together in tight patterns, making them appear intertwined inside one another, protecting the ground below from winterís harshest winds and cold. As I looked at them, I wasnít able to find a trace of any of the birds Iíd seen during our last visit. They seemed to have vanished as quickly as they appeared, leaving without a trace. It was a bit disorienting to be up there all alone but I felt more secure than I had in weeks.

The afternoon sun was still bright and I walked around for a little while, allowing myself to enjoy the unobstructed views of the ocean and town unfolding below. I felt the wind picking up a little bit but the cold didnít really permeate my body and it felt refreshing and not at all like it could have. I looked around and couldnít find any signs that anyone else had been there, though I tried. It didnít upset me though, since I knew that was the best way to do things. Slowly, I began to walk towards the other side of the clearing, and walked by the where the hidden path had been. I tried to walk closer, only to find its entrance blocked by a massive drift of snow. I wanted to go back there and find her but I knew she probably wouldnít show up in the same place again. I walked around some more and as the wind picked up, I could hear the branches begin to rustle above me. A few clutches of snow dropped down around my feet but not enough to feel dangerous. I walked closer to the trees on the other side of the mountain, the snow got a little bit deeper and my feet were completely submerged underneath the drifts. My steps became a little more difficult. I became more deliberate in my movements, but I was still eager to explore and look around. I knew there was something up there that I needed to see.

I looked around and saw the bench where we read the book and decided to sit there for awhile. I cleared it off and took a rest on it, watching and waiting. I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the wind on my face, fully allowing myself to feel the cold seep into my body. It seemed to take effect and I felt a distinct chill flowing through me. It was a relaxing sensation and gave me a sense of tranquility that I needed to have. I sat there adrift for a few minutes and when I opened my eyes, things seemed to have changed. The skies were a little bit darker and the winds had strengthened. This made me feel more isolated and alone and I felt I was only going deeper inside this place. I got up and walked around again. The stretches of tall grass that had been there in the summer and fall had receded and as I walked over the surface, it felt uneven, almost rocky. The now-barren ground revealed new patterns that I hadnít seen before. I looked around and walked carefully towards the other side of the clearing. It didnít seem like the other sections. I decided to look closer and this led me on towards a different path than I had walked before.

Continue to Part 2

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