A very long time ago, a boy took me to a park by a river.
It was a day much like today, with an opaque white sky and trees like black bone fingers and a cold that's insidious-- very still, very creeping. We walked down a long hill diagonally, slipping on wet, brown leaves that crumpled over to show fire-bright bellies. When we reached the river, he turned left, and I followed, because I'd never been there before and I didn't entirely trust him. The path along the water's edge was worn, the current's flow beside us thick and sluggish like honey on a winter morning. There were things I wanted to do-- trees to climb; branches to walk along, arms extended; promising holes to poke, hunting for sleeping snakes. But he had long legs, and I was curious, so I hurried along behind him.
He had promised to show me something special.
We came to a cavern scattered with ashes, and I balked two steps beyond the overhang. He wasn't the sort of boy I would follow into a cave. Instead, he showed me the path to the side, as the secret wasn't inward, but skyward You had to claw your way up that rock, scrabbling at roots and seedlings and crags in the stone, digging in your toes and never minding your ragged nails. I was breathless when I dragged myself up onto the ledge, and I remember still the deathly cold of the stone against my belly, leaving a wet spot on my shirt.
I was young, then, and it felt like I stood on top of the forest, looking down on everyone and everything. It was dizzying, knowing there was nothing there to hold onto, nothing to catch my fall if I followed that silly siren whisper that always urges leaping. I eventually tired of daring myself and sunk to the ground beside him, letting the cold soak through my jeans and into the raw meat of me, into my bones. We sat close enough to share the barest brush of warmth and yet so very far away. If we spoke, I don't remember it. The boy was less important than the place, than the moment. I dumped him shortly after that.
But I think that was the day I learned the value of letting go, of welcoming the cold. Being warm is fine and good, but there's something to be said for nerves entirely awake, for gooseflesh and blood hungry for heat. For being open to whatever wildness wants in.
If life is a process of waking up, slowly... then that day I suppose I opened one eye.
The last time I went back to that park, the day was sunny and warm. The cavern was smaller and dirtier, the climb easier, the ledge lower than I remembered. I knew my way, could see the trail so easily. The boy died last year, I heard, and I haven't been back since.
And that's why I didn't wear a coat today.
I wanted to feel the cold.
It keeps me awake.
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