Last weekend I went camping with some friends. There was a wind warning for our area, a stay indoors and away from trees warning. As we made our way to the river island where we were setting up camp, in the distance we heard a massive tree falling. First, there was the intense repetitive cracking, like gunfire, then the long wheezing fall, and the final crash into the undergrowth, shockwaves moving out. The silence that enters behind a fallen tree is immense and stretches like the sky.
We carried in far too much stuff for one night, set up a peaceful little camp on the banks of the Susquehanna River, and fed the fire. We sat around the flames and talked about life. There are things you will say at midnight in the dancing shadows that you would not say at any other time, at any other place.
We slept shoulder to shoulder in a four-man tent, and I sank into my sleeping bag, the cold nipping at the top of my head. The 30 mph wind rushed through the trees, sounding like raging water. I woke in the night, wondering if the dam had released the river, if what I heard was the swift approach of liquid swallowing everything.
* * * * *
These days, our house is a maze of boxes. The walls in almost every room are lined with them, the living room contains stacks of boxed books, and plastic containers cover half of the dining room table. This evening we ate dinner close together, our elbows bumping.
We move in 3 ½ weeks from this house where we’ve lived for seven years. The term bittersweet was created for days like these.
I’ve felt a kind of numbness for about a year now, as if my major emotions have been wrapped in gauze. The days pass. I love Maile. I hang out with the kids. I do the work I have to do. But there’s a kind of filter covering everything, the kind of filter that feels like a sigh. While being very aware of everything, of the strangest tiny details, I feel sort of on the outside, much like an observer of my own life.
I sense the sadness of those around me, of those living with cancer or difficult relationships or health problems or financial disappointment. There has been death—relatives, friends, my parents’ friends. I know the pain is there—I am aware of its heaviness. And yet I cannot feel it at a deep level.
* * * * *
When we woke up in the morning, the sun shone bright off the water and small branches and leaves littered the campsite, little pieces blown off by the wind. I stood by the glaring light, my eyes dazed, and I wondered about the nature of night, the way it passes, the way morning can make it feel like the dark never happened. The way middle-of-the-night fear washes off.
The next day, at home, I climbed the ladder and took down the books from the highest shelf: American Short Stories, and Shakespeare’s Complete Works, and the old German Bible I inherited from my grandmother. It was the last of the books. The shelves are empty now.
We box up our lives, don’t we? This here, that over there. What if we ever took the time to unpack all that we have hidden?
I looked at the stark shelves, the piles of boxed books. I sat in the armchair, and I fell asleep.