Dear Nate

You were even younger than me when it happened, so I’m sure you wouldn’t remember, but my brother wrecked in almost exactly the same place when he was still in high school. Rolled his truck, over and over again. By the time it stopped moving, it looked like a piñata. He walked away without a scratch. Now, a decade later, we both know how that curve in the road broke a different family’s hearts.

You were pretty much the only one in school I didn’t know, and people loved you so much, I’m sure I was the only one you didn’t know. But I still felt it when you left. Now, when people go outside, even breathing seems louder than it did when you were here. Because we’re all in a hush. Because people are slower with their words now, and their tempers. And their cars.

I hear they’ll be putting on a 5k to help your family. I’m not good at much, but that’s something I can do for you. I know that kind of pain is something you’re familiar with; even though we didn’t do it at the same time, everybody’s talking about how you ran track. So I know you know the struggle of fitting school into sports and putting up with Holzhauer and fundraisers and only eating carbs. I know you know the pit that forms in your stomach every time you lace up your spikes. Every day, I struggle with the people you struggled with. That’s as close as I can come to knowing you. That’s as close as I come to feeling you. When I grind my spikes into the rubber and set, just like I know you did.

I feel you when I pass those two tree trunks on my way home, like you must have done a thousand times, when they were still whole. When I groan at the speed limit on 301, like you probably did that day. But now I stick to it. Not for my sake, but for yours.

It’s sunny and 75 degrees out now, so unlike the blizzard that it seems like a lifetime ago. But that’s just Ohio. It’s impossible not to think of you when the roads are shiny and the plows outnumber the cars, but we all have to remind ourselves on a day like today that it’s only been a few weeks. But we’re reminded.

You’re on walls and windows, you’re on doors and bumpers. You’re on everyone’s bio; on every cafe’s tip jar. And you’re in everybody’s head. God, let you be home. Above us, keeping us safe. It would feel cozier if you were. Though I guess in a way, you’re here no matter what. You’re carved around the trunks of those two trees that bid all of us to slow down and buckle up. You gaze up from the tripod marks left in the pavement outside the school by news crews, telling us to be gracious with each other. Because you never know when the drive home is going to be farther than you thought.

 

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The Necklace

The rotors beat the air outside in a great whooshing drumbeat. Whirls of snow and icy air billow past the windows as I slide my boots into the straps on my snowboard. The pilot turns and nods at me through the cockpit door, giving a thumbs up. I pull my scarf and goggles over my face. Giddy, I slide open the outer doors and push myself from the helicopter. Falling blindly through the gales of snow, I brace myself, knowing the ground is coming up fast.

I land with a painful jolt, but the ground is steep, and I’m already moving. The din of the helicopter recedes as I speed down the mountain, which is bare for quite a while before sprouting a line of pine trees farther below. This is the only time I don’t mind the snow; here, where you can come as close as you can to flying without leaving the ground. The rushing of the wind sounds far away and muted through the scarf, and this high up, my ears are popped anyway.

The treeline is approaching rapidly, and the weathered pines behind it are mazelike and close together. But I knew what I signed up for when I booked the helicopter ride. I’m ready for this. Straightening slightly to catch more drag, I coast into the trees, swerving in long arcs to slow my descent. I know not to be misled by the sudden appearance of the trees; it’s still a long way down. I press a hand tightly against my coat and feel the sharp edge of my grandmother’s necklace. Good, it’s still there.

A low branch snaps off against my sleeve. I need to pay more attention. The woods are getting thicker. Weaving around a heap of toppled evergreens, I straighten my legs and stretch my back out in an effortless curve. I imagine I look something like a motorcycle racer rounding a bend, the way I’m hanging over the ground.

As I round the pile of fallen trees, I start to pull upright. Then something strikes the board so hard my toes go numb. The world reels around me as I tumble forward, head first, arms waving. I see a puff of snow rising off the hidden root I just stuck before I complete my revolution and my back hits the ground. A purple light flashes around the edges of my vision and black crop circles dance over my eyes. My sight clears in time for me to see the splash of white that shoots into the air all around me from hitting the ground. And in the center of the snowy wave, hung suspended in the air above me, is my grandmother’s necklace.

Then the world catches up, and I’m moving again, sliding through the woods down the mountainside as the necklace whistles through the air above. Momentum carries the necklace in the same direction as I’m moving. I dig my board into the snow, rising partway off the ground, and swipe at the necklace. I miss by a hairsbreadth and hit the ground again, now noticing the pine I’m undoubtedly going to connect with. I smash into the base of the trunk with a splintering crack, and the crop circles return, along with a pain like a migraine throughout my head. The impact sends me spinning diagonally through the trees and I strike another one, this time with my hip. My right side goes numb, and the jolt lifts me off the ground and propels me forward. In the periphery of my vision, I see a thread of silver cutting a thin line through the snow. It’s not far off, I can get to it.

I angle my legs to land board-first and ready myself to snatch the tumbling necklace as I speed past it. Just before I land back on the ground, a sizable pine bough seemingly stretches out from nowhere and catches me in the front of my ribcage. What breath I have left is knocked out of me. The bough splits in half and I move straight through it as I’m thrown down violently into the snow, my ribs bruised and my ears ringing. Gravity doesn’t care that I can’t see or hear or breath, and pulls me relentlessly down the mountain. I raise my head above the flurry of white and can still see the clear trail carved through the snow by grandma’s necklace. Raising my arms and legs off the ground, I cast my weight forward, aiming to intercept it.

Ten feet… five feet….

I stretch out as far as I can and seize the chain. Only now do I realize that I’ve barreled out of the trees and am heading straight for the edge of a precipice.

 

 

Last Night’s Dream (Perfect Timing, Brain!)

The dread order was given, and I was to leave.

So I made to depart- to through webs of fate move

Which, wrapping and pulling, quick tried to reverse me

Tried turn me around, and, to the face of my love

Have my aching heart emptied, ere it was too late

***

The mind fought the heart, dueling over the soul

-I turned, facing her and her ironwilled gaze-

And by then o’er my body my heart had control

Bidding me to her walk, and to hold by the waist

As we gazed into each other’s razor-sharp eyes

***

…To what lay beneath: our weary and roiling souls:

Very tired, but hopeful, though by no means sure

Together we’d always stood; apart, we weren’t whole

Alone, we would be like on two Makins immured

On our own dead atolls of regret and ruin

***

That fate, above all the others which drew so near

Compelled without thought me to swallow my terror

And wrestle with useless and unruly fear

I stooped lower; she, still in my arms, heard me whisper,

“I love you, and I have to do this at least once.”

***

From her small lips came a smaller gasp, defied

As I kissed her; a token that I loved her most

Her blazing green eyes did hold mine in surprise,

Then their bright sparks went out as she let them close

And then leaned into both my soft kiss and scarred arms

***

My mind took me quickly to a new time and place

Or rather an old one, as key turned in time’s lock

And I remembered her perfume, the look on her face

The rolling, gold hills; the dark, water-stained dock

And the warm, sure, real weight of her in my embrace

***

We stared across seething and sparkling waves

Wishing forever to stay in that secret place

But to our cruel fate we were only but slaves

And reaving time’s fearful pull did take her away

And I was left cold, pointless, and full of regret

***

I found her again, late in life; on narrow chance

Just in time to needs answer to strangers’ blood calls

Those webs pulled again via dual happenstance

And dark war sounded to my family, friends, and all

We answered, my brothers and I, and our father

***

And marched to our young deaths as was sounded the call

Then my eyes opened quickly; bright and alive

As did my lips to let out the groan of appall

Only a dream; that ruefully or joyfully?

Life was still mine, but love never was

Week I, Group II

P.S. I know the rhythm’s off; gosh, what do you want from me?!