Scars

Creative Nonfiction
Dian Parker


Photo Credit: Matthew Rutledge/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Eli came to visit with his girlfriend. I was happily married now. Eli didn’t appear happy.

When I’d first told Eli I was getting married, without hesitation he had kissed my hand, said he was thrilled. We were having lunch.

For years I still wanted Eli, even after we broke up. Felt he was my true love, my for-all-time love. But after six years he broke up with me saying we were holding each other down. We were meant to fly, just not together.

I was devastated. Six years is a long time when you’re young. When you think you’ve got it all worked out.

Being married was not my intention but age and finances interfered. My husband’s social security was more than my meager helping. I’d take a third of his. We had savings. We’d live OK. We were in love.

But the other one, when he came to visit us with his girlfriend, turned strange, manic even. He pounded my husband on the back, telling him he’d done great. Our small house was lovely, and our view stellar. Ripe with green. Quiet. Secluded. Who wouldn’t admire our life, especially Eli who still rented a room in his friend’s house? But his girlfriend was sweet, smart and attentive. I was happy for him.

I was not happy, however, with how he took a painting off our wall to see if I’d really painted it, examining the back for marks of forgery I suppose. Or how he paced around the house looking at everything, anxious, pretending all was well. It wasn’t with him. I was well. I was really well. I was living, finally, my dream.

When Eli and I first met, I was working as a theatre director. I had plenty of work and Eli was a construction worker. His body was muscular. He had a wonderful, strong jaw and thick wavy hair. By the time we broke up, he’d lost most of his hair. He was still lean but his muscles had diminished, through no fault of mine.

Before Eli broke up with me, I had given up theatre to travel around the world with him. We only managed to hitchhike through the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, never making it to India which had been our intention. That was fine with me. After two years of carrying a backpack through deserts, sleeping on a thin Ensolite pad on church steps, and huddled against stone walls in goat fields, I’d had enough. Eli hadn’t. He always wanted more. More adventure, more risk, more hardship.

After the trip, back in Seattle, we rode our bikes every morning. Five miles for our lattes and croissants to a little hole-in-the-wall café. It was in this café that he, out of the blue (at least to me), announced that it was over. I laughed. It was so ridiculous. We’d just finished (for him, triumphantly), a two-year trip to Palmyra, Damascus, Aleppo, Sinai, Cappadocia. We had traveled well together, mostly because I let him lead, stifling my intense discomfort with the heat and cold and incessant company of men. Eli always wanted the next village, the next mountain pass, the next bend in the road. Even late at night after walking miles in blistering heat he’d search out the best place to lay our sleeping bags. I’d beg him to stop. Not one more mile. But he’d smile and kiss me, saying, “My beauty, you’ll see. I know there has to be a grove of trees soon.” Or a rowboat to turn over and sleep under. Or a beach with sand to carve for a bed (sand is hard, no matter how many indentations you make). Once we found an abandoned, wooden lean-to on a beach in Egypt. The first night for dinner we heated up a can of foul, the Egyptian white bean. We had a stale heel of bread and when Eli went to dip it in the can, the whole mess tipped over into the sand. We ate it anyway. The grit was hard to keep down.

*

Mid-afternoon light hems the forest floor. An old growth cedar exudes calm and wisdom. I need this now, to calm down, terrorized by lack of money and the fear of being without Eli, my one true love.

I melt into the ragged bark of the tree, the tender smell of damp moss, the soft cedar breeze. When I stand, the light has severely shifted. Hours have passed unawares. I gather a bough of cedar from the forest floor and tuck it down my shirt, the fan cool against my skin. A slim piece of bark goes in my pocket.

I reach my arms around the wide girth of the cedar, only covering half the circumference with my reach. It is then I feel the gash, a deep irruption in the vertical bark.

Walking around the broad base, I see the cut, a deep slice from a woodsman’s axe long ago. I run my fingers along the wound, now grown over with living black tissue, like an old scar. This forest hasn’t been logged for one hundred years and this tree is well over two hundred, towering above the rest. It had survived the last logging. Why?

Once home, I turn on some drum music, heavy and tribal. I do this when I’m sad, as I am so often these days. In one hand I hold the bark and in the other the cedar bough. It is night and the room is densely black. Closing my eyes, I dance. I will dance long enough to forget myself.

My mind moves inside the layered branches, the thick bark, the tip of the dark green crown. Branches sway in the soft breeze of spring and the icy winds of winter. I dance through thunder and lightning storms, through scorching heat that dries up moss. I dance in the sweet loamy soil surrounding the roots, connected to other roots—lifelines crisscrossing beneath the forest floor. The tree grows taller and taller, hundreds of feet up, and out, and down. Never ceasing.

The axe man begins to cut. The first blow ricochets. The second blow howls in the wind. The third blow spikes downward. To the others. They all know what is coming.

Abruptly, the jagged vibrations stop. There are no more blows.

Human again, gone out of the tree, back inside my hot body, a flattening exhaustion overtakes and I drop to my knees.

The moment has passed. A realization remains. The logger stopped his axe because, two hundred years later, I would dance this tree. The tree and I were one, for one long moment. The tree could not be chopped down and carried away. For I was coming. And I was alive.

*

The scar of Eli remained with me for fifteen years. During those fifteen years after Eli ended us and meeting my husband, I was without a man. I had decided if Eli wasn’t having me, I wouldn’t have anyone else.

Over the years we remained friends. He helped me build a deck around my yurt. Loaned me his truck when I was building my underground (secretly). Late at night we often drove up secluded logging roads into the hills to sleep under the night sky. He’d build a fire and we’d drink wine and eat cheese and bread and stare at the stars. We slept in each other’s arms but never made love anymore. He was my mountain man, my nature boy, my other world—away from cities and social life and money woes. Eli was fearless in the wild and a bumbling fool in society. He left me because he wanted to go into the world of men: politics and dissonance. I wanted out of society, away from cities, into the wild. Untenable.

When Eli visited Tommy and me that last time, he and his girlfriend were supposed to stay three days. They stayed only one night. I was stunned when I woke the next morning and Eli was gone. I’d thought we’d had a lovely day, walking around our land and taking a drive down dirt roads. I’d fixed his favorite food: pasta with lots of garlic, and wine. They went to their room and Tommy and I went to ours. In the morning they were gone.

He left me a note.

Sweet Dian… my apologies to have so quickly worn out your welcome. All fine graces to you. Perhaps, once I am well beyond my present life, we can greet on fresh plains once again. Love, E

I didn’t understand, except that he had scars too.

Eli and I were one once, for one long moment. He ended us. It took a mere fifteen years to the tree’s two hundred, but I found, despite my scars, I could not be chopped down. For I was coming. And I am alive.

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Dian Parker’s essays and short stories have been published in The Rupture, Anomaly, In the Fray, 3 AM Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Northern New England Review, Woven Tale Press, Cold Lake Anthology, Kingdoms in the Wild, and others. Parker’s arts writing has been published in Art New England, Vermont Art Guide, Kolaj Magazine, and nature writing in Northern Woodlands/Outside Story, Nature Writing, and OpEd News. She is the curator for White River Gallery in Vermont. Email: dianparker9[at]gmail.com