In the trees overhead were a half dozen bird’s nests, splintered and sagging under a chilly November rain. The reminders left behind by the creatures headed to Florida as the coming winter chased them away. Yet, in their emptiness and dilapidation I saw the promise of the winter. Phil Jackson writes about the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the successful shot. I caught in the air the faint smell of the coming winter; the snows, the ice, the winds that force me to cinch up my scarf . But always, always, at the end of the winter comes the spring. Spring training in Florida and Arizona (funny how we go south as the birds finally say “Everybody suit up. We can go north again!” The picnics, the dogs returning to the park with their people, people who walk along with an annual glint in their eye. The layers of leaves on the floor of my park that will remain untouched by rakes and be left under the burden of the snow until the first melt. The eternal clock that wakes up the flowers and directs them to true north.
I walked steadily and with great measure to the bench where He sat. He patted the space next to Him on the bench. I pulled my headphones from my neck and put them in my hoody. We sat there, uncomfortably close to each other, for a few moments.
“Gonna be cold soon,” He said. He pulled a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels from a brown paper bag. He cracked the seal on the pint and drew from it, deeply and with sickening satisfaction. I lit a cigarette and blew a smoke ring.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” I replied and watched the three squirrels that had approached us. The one in the middle seemed the most curious and fascinated by us. He scampered almost close enough to our feet to touch. He cocked his head in nervous confusion and stared.
“Fucking insects,” He said and grabbed a large stick and hurled it at the squirrel, who took the hint and scampered away. I could only sigh deeply and drag on my cigarette. He was an ugly reality of my world that I would forever have to face. He wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want Him to. He assumed a hunched-over position on the bench to mirror my own and offered the flask to me. I turned my head from staring at the bird’s nests to face Him. I licked my lips once. But because it was dry, not to whet my whistle. He shrugged with a smile and withdrew the bottle.
“Still no word from the Humane Society, I take it?” He grinned and flickered his eyebrows up and down.
“Still no word,” I said.
“Well you got that incredibly challenging and demanding gig hocking steaks starting on Monday though!” He clapped me on the back.
“I do,” I said.
“Hey, who knows, that just might pan out into a full-time gig hocking steaks to the plebes!”
“I hope it does.”
His smile flattened immediately “What?”
“I said I hope it does,” enunciating each word and with increased volume. “But if it doesn’t, so be it.”
He detected my maneuver and acted accordingly. “Yep, so be it. Then you’ll just have to go back to relying on mommy and daddy’s dole.” He had turned to face me. I faced Him.
“Not bloody likely,” I said calmly and dragged. I blew the smoke ring in his face. “I mean, yes, maybe briefly but I’m coming to accept that.” This caused Him to spit-take a cloud of whiskey all over the leaves at our feet.
“What?! Accepting that you’re nothing more than a useless trust-fund baby?”
“No. Accepting that my parents and my family and my friends understand just how powerful you are and their need to constantly remind me of that and not get bogged down in worrying about something as stupid and trivial as money.”
He took the bait. He just needs a way in and I set him up for the bear trap.
“That’s right, Ahab. I am more powerful than they even realize and I will take you again.” Just a little more.
“I know,” I said with mock meekness. “But just not now. Please, just let me get back on my feet.”
“Not only will that never happen, not only will you not get the job at the Humane Society you want so much, but you won’t get another full-timer until I decide to compound your misery enough for you to come back to me for good.”
Bear trap sprung.
“Of course, with a temp job, I will have a lot of time on my hands. So I’m going to volunteer as a dog-walker again. That’ll take care of serving that need.”
Again, his face turned to stone.
“And while I am at it, since I have all this time on my hands, I’m going to write the book about life since the brain surgery and recovering from that and recovering from addiction. Who knows, I might even give you some air time.”
He noticeable balked at this.
“Yeah. I’m going to finally tell the story. Of all of it. Of every last painful, gritty, sticky part of this trip. I’m going to talk about you, about my fall from grace, about just how much I hated myself. Which is a lot. And how it started again. And I’m going to talk about you. But because I can never get rid of you. I’m going to write about that and how I shouldn’t want to.
I paused and looked up at the bird’s nest again and the grey clouds looming over them.
“The most important thing I’ve come to realize is that there will always be a spring, just as there will always be a winter,” I said as I surveyed the bareness of the trees that stood all around me. “My first time at the Humane Society, my first few months at Petsmart, that was a spring and a glorious spring it was because I had found my calling. And this, right now, has all the trappings of a markedly unwelcome winter. But winter never lasts forever. There is always another spring, another summer, another glorious bloom of the prism of color to expand upon my life. Spring will come again for me and it will come and it will shine a brilliance that stamps you out like an exploding sunrise stamps out the darkest night.”
He scoffed a half-hearted scoff and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. “Big deal,” He said hollowly. “You know and I know that at the end of the day it’s just you and me. Working the temp job, working out, whatever. At the end of the day, it’s always just you and me,” he said and drank. He stood up and started relieving himself in the bushes. “Besides, you- Hey, where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m finishing my walk,” I said as I started my progress along the path again.
“I’m not done talking to you!”
But I’m done walking to you.”
Overhead, the gray clouds parted just enough to shine the smallest beam of purple, green and blue in my path.