He is young. Motionless, he sits in a small dimly lit room. His fingers hang uncertainly over his keyboard. How far will he take it? More time passes and then he begins.
“I wrote my first suicide note when I was 12. It just occurred to me that if I ended up dying for whatever reason and it looked like a suicide then I should leave something behind for everyone about ‘why I did it’. I tried hard to be vague about how I was planning to off myself. The first couple drafts of the note had some stuff in there about how my parents had sucked at raising me, but they really hadn’t. I felt pretty bad about that stuff later so I ended up taking it out. There doesn’t always need to be someone to blame. Sometimes people just do things.
“My buddy Luke told me once that the first ideas he had were always the worst ones, so he would just do the last thing he ended up thinking of. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, since as time passes you’ll always be thinking of more and more things. Luke thought it made sense, though, and he was ok with it. It never worked for me because I always fell in love with the first thing I saw.”
And on. The staccato of the keys continues long into the night. And he finds himself drawn back to the first day; the day of the Wind.
“I’ve never been shot or stabbed or anything, but sometimes I wonder what it feels like. I bet it hurts a lot. The thing that hurt me the most was the Wind.
“It was August and I was standing there in the heavy Georgia heat; that heat that gets up and presses down on you, hard. I was just standing there, on our patio. All the apartments in our complex have either a balcony or a patio, but since we’re on the ground floor we have a patio. All of a sudden the wind started blowing. This is the same Wind I was talking about earlier with the guns and knives and stuff. Before the Wind, I was fine with standing still. I never want to move, mostly. But now that the Wind had come up all of a sudden I really wanted to go with it, to follow it, so I started to run. I ran down the long black road through our complex and when I reached where the road ended I just kept going. I ran under some trees with their leaves rattling hard. I ran past some lakes, too. I ran so far that I didn’t recognize where I was, really.
“You may wonder why a kid my age wouldn’t recognize where he was just a few miles from his house. Well, the answer is that I didn’t ever leave the house much. I went to school and that was pretty much it. Whenever I thought about what was going on outside and all the people that were moving around, talking to each other, doing whatever they were doing, I felt like I didn’t belong with them. I didn’t know what they talked about. I didn’t know how they do what they do. I didn’t think they’d like me. But this day was different. I was running around outside and really liking it.
“I ran hard for a while and then this big pain hit me in the side and I realized I was really sweaty and out of breath. I guess I’ve never been really athletic or good at running or anything. I was by a big lake and there was a forest in front of me. It looked pretty deep and with that Wind still blowing I was in the mood to explore, so I went in. It was darker under the trees, and there were lots of bushes and stuff that would catch on my shorts and I had to step over a lot of rocks and stuff. My legs got all scratched up, too. I kind of wondered what was under me and how many bugs would bite me and all the poison ivy I was going to get caught up in.
“As I kept walking I couldn’t feel the Wind anymore, but I could still hear it blowing through the trees higher up so I knew I should keep going. I’m not sure how long I spent walking that first day, but after a while I could see something up ahead. It was like when you’re watching a movie and they get to a clearing in the woods and the light comes down through the trees in columns and makes everything look really pretty. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that right in front of me.
“The best way to describe what I felt like walking into the clearing that first day was that it was like walking back into your living room after a long trip. It was like coming home, but without the smell of stale air and cat litter.
“I loved it there. I didn’t start walking back out until the sun started going down. That’s when I worried for the first time whether I’d be able to find my way back home, and especially how I’d be able to find my way back to the clearing. Because I knew I had to come back.
“During that summer I spent a lot of time in the clearing. I was gone so much that my parents started thinking something was wrong with me. They sat me down and were really serious and talked to me about drugs and gangs and all that. They thought I’d gone ahead and joined up. I just kind of nodded and said I knew it was all bad stuff. What do you say to that, anyway?
“But then the summer was over, fall was coming on and that means that I have to tell you about the Storm.
“It happened at night. I couldn’t get to sleep all night it was so loud. The winds were going fast and I thought I’d go deaf from all the creaking. The apartment building creaked like a rocking chair all night and you could hear the CRACKS from big branches breaking off trees and the lightening. Plus the wind was roaring around and the thunder was growling and everything. When I walked outside the next morning there were leaves everywhere. Big chunks of turf were gouged out by the falling branches. It was the biggest storm we’d had since the year I was born. Everyone talked about it. I never worried about the clearing, though.
“I made it back out to the clearing that weekend, on Saturday afternoon. I planned to stay out all day. So there I was, walking through the trees and everything. There was a lot of moss around and I was kind of looking at all the moss and thinking about it when I got within sight of the clearing. I stopped walking.
“The Storm had done it. It had to have been. All the biggest trees that I had spent the most time looking at and sitting under were lying on their sides, just all broken off. They had all crashed down during the storm. I just stood there and looked at them for a long time. Then I wanted to get closer, to touch them and have a better look.
“I walked into the clearing and went up to the closest tree. It was black and mostly hollow inside. It had been rotten. They had all been rotten on the inside. I just stood there for a while and looked at everything. Then I could feel the spit building up in my mouth really quick and my stomach was churning. I knew that I was going to be sick really soon so I kind of ran out of the clearing and threw up. Even after I had been sick I just felt horrible. It’s hard to describe how I felt. Incase you haven’t noticed I’m not exactly Shakespeare. The best way I can put it is that it was like I woke up one day and found out that my best friend had moved away without telling me. But it was more than that, even. He had known that he was going to move, he had been planning on it for months and he still didn’t tell me. That’s what it felt like. I had been lied to.
“Then I just didn’t want to be there any more, so I went back home. The next month was pretty tough.
“I thought about a lot of things that month. The more I thought about the clearing the more sick I felt. I didn’t come to any grand conclusions or anything; I just had this growing sense that the clearing hadn’t cared about how much I had loved being there. That probably sounds funny. Why would a forest care about anything? But that was it.
“I know now that I don’t want anyone else to ever look at that place the way that I did. It doesn’t deserve it.”
He paused for a moment, his rhythm broken. His expression was less that of someone trying to reach a decision and more that of someone deciding to follow through on a decision already made.
“After I do this I’m going to go away somewhere for a long time. I want to go somewhere where I can see what people are really like. At least the clearing did that much for me; it got me out into the world.
“You were always a good teacher. You don’t have to grade this if you don’t want to.”
He was finished. Without bothering to proof it, he just hit ctrl-P and then “OK”. He checked the printout, stapled the pages together, set them on his desk and went to sleep.
The next morning he woke up early. It was a Monday. He showered in a hurry, went back to his room and started packing his things up. He wasn’t just packing up his books and the paper he’d written for school, he was packing everything he was going to need on the road. He knew that his parents wouldn’t notice since they were always in such a hurry to get to work in the mornings.
He bundled up his clothes, put them in his suitcase and double checked his wallet. Everything was ready.
He sat by himself on the school bus that morning, just looking out the window. When they pulled up to the High School he was already standing in the aisle. He walked down the aisle, said “thanks”, and went down the steps. He skipped the last one, like always. The only classroom he cared about today was just off the main corridor. Mr. Klein. English. There was a drop-box on the door with a sticky note above it: “Early Auto-Biography Submissions”. Then he just walked home. His parents wouldn’t be called until the end of the school day and by then everything would be finished.
Once back home, he gathered the necessary and set out. Each footstep fell heavier than it should have, the vibrations from the ground shooting up his legs and dying. The echoes of his old footsteps were there too. They were the sound just beneath his hearing, but he could sense them. His body felt like stone, heavy and cold.
As he switched the gas can back and forth between his hands as each grew tired, it moved like a slow pendulum.
And then he had arrived. Drawing up next to the forest, he gave it a look of detached assessment. He had been immunized to the beauty of that place. He splashed the gas around a spot about fifty feet inside the tree line. He left the can, backed up, and flicked a match to life. Holding it there in his hand, smelling the sharpness of the gasoline, he felt like he had put his toes up against a line that he could only cross once.
His face was granite-set as he threw the match and watched it spin, flicker, and strike the wet ground. FWOOSH went the gas, up leaped the flames, and the heat smothered him. He just stood there, owning the heat, taking it in, allowing his hair to be singed. His eyes slid up and through the flames to the trees beyond, where he knew the clearing lay open. He could picture just how the sunlight fell there and just how the birds swam above. His lips parted as if to offer some epitaph, some send-off. But the heat continued to grow and he had no words. Turning, now walking, he left. His pace built up and up to an almost-jog. And then he was sprinting flat out, throwing the forest as far away as he could. Snatching at memories and trying to tear them out. Unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling. And so he beat on and on, a boat against the current.