by Riley Cannon
Worn by the Weather
Winter's coming on. The trees are stripped of almost all their leaves and the sky has that look today, gray and heavy, drizzling icy rain that could turn to snow tonight. A flock of geese just went by and there was a mournful note in their honking, as if they were longing for the summer just past and not certain of seeing another spring.
I loved winter when I was a kid, the crisp white blanket of new fallen snow before anyone had tramped it. Remember that, the excitement of rushing to the window to watch the first snow of the season, the magic and the mystery of it? And how you couldn't pull on your boots and mittens fast enough, you were so eager to get out of doors and feel the snow. How you'd turn your face up to it, eyes closed as the soft, cold flakes floated down to kiss your skin? It even smelled good, so fresh and clean and like the whole wide world was brand new. The only thing better was the hot chocolate and cinnamon toast waiting for you later on.
And then you grow up and discover snow is nothing but a miserable pain in the ass. A chore to be shoveled out of the driveway. A gray and slushy eyesore clogging the gutters. And a menace to navigate through on your way home at rush hour.
Funny how things swing around. I think snow will hold a beauty for me once again this year -- a desolate and quiet splendor, spread white and cold across an empty field...
They tore down Oz today. Demolished it to its foundations and sowed the land with salt.
Okay, I made up that part. Want to hear something crazy, though? I wouldn't actually want to see it made barren and inhospitable. Wouldn't it be amazing if something beautiful could grow there now, nourished in that soil drenched with blood and misery, and defying all the odds?
I'd like to see that in the spring, see just one stubborn, gaudy flower improbably push its way through the dirt and rubble.
I wasn't sure I'd go and watch them tear it down. I had about convinced myself that could serve no real purpose. Why rake up all those memories? Of course in the end I couldn't keep away. I wasn't the only one, and that was strange, to glance around and spot a familiar face sprinkled through the crowd. Probably they recognized me as well. No one stopped to say hello, no one got together afterward to chat over good old times.
It was good for me, though. To watch it be dismantled brick by brick -- that gave me the truest sense of liberty I've known in years, a sense of peace that goes deep down to my bones. All my ghosts are laid to rest at last.
Well... almost all my ghosts...
They really did an amazing job carving this stone. If I close my eyes, I can feel every letter sharp and clear under my fingers -- C H R I S... The stone's so cold, though, and there's moss along one side.
You've been gone twenty-five years, Chris, a quarter of a century. Can you believe it's been that long? Sometimes it feels like it was only yesterday since I saw you, since I touched you and felt the beating of your heart. Since your breath caressed my cheek and I felt the heat of your lips against mine.
Other times it feels like it's been a thousand years.
Why'd you have to do that, Chris? Why did you have to leave me? I would have forgiven you, I would have loved you again. I never stopped, Chris, I never did.
The stone's chilly against my lips, rough, and damp from the freezing rain.
I've dreamed you every night these past few days. Last night you were waiting for me at a bus stop. You were sitting on the bench with your arms spread out along it and your legs stretched out, taking up all the available space like you always used to do. You looked...beautiful, young and alive and like I could reach right out and touch you. When you saw me, your face lit up with the brightest, most enormous smile that it almost hurt me to see.
Then you tilted your head just a bit and your smile softened and you asked me, "Where ya been, Beech? I've been waitin' here a long, long time."
I don't think you have to wait much longer, Chris. There's nothing left to tie me here.