I’m going to make up some of the piece for effect. Sometimes, the metaphor unfolds from the writing but this one I’ve sort of planned out. I use symbols and images to feel more real–to create something I can’t just vent over the phone while staring at refrigerated biscuits in the store after work. Symbols and images creating the here-but-away glazed effect of the internet where one’s soul is felt in tiny comment bubbles but the vulnerability of immediate physical proximately can be easily avoided. Instead of what I could say easily in person (and no one likes raw truths in person) I say elaborately through words, details, pictures, creations that ebb in and out of my control. In these spaces I feel safe. In these spaces I am in the moment. There is one heartbeat, there is another—no need to coregulate.
My dog once got tree sap on the tuft of fur located on his back, towards the tail. That spot where dogs love to be scratched and will saunter underneath two blue jean tree trunks to feel the finger-branches of their owners. One paw up, another paw up, tongue dangling from mouth, breath heaving. A rhythmic ritual caught short on this day as the sticky, nostalgic smelling sap wraps around my fingers with black wires of fur and deformed pine needles. I examine the spot now a cow lick of small chunks of tree bark, shiny in the light of the kitchen. I thought about the hike where this had happened and how hikes sometimes start to look the same not because of being jaded or well-adventured but because the breath remains the same. The steps, just like the dogs, back and forth in rhythm and ritual. But the sap—this sap. It was stuck. It was hard. It was amassed in a dark forest, off a path, a break in the flow.
I got stuck about 3 years ago. There were moments when the sap would loosen, when I could start to work on the problem, but then in the dark forest I would find more resin. I would stop looking up and become so focused on one thing that my back too became sap covered. Tree-glue painful to pick off my own skin and oozing from trees in suspension, like a still shot of puss from a wound. I had career hopped then which always come with a new creation of meaning, a way to make sense of purpose out of current circumstances. With each move from mountain town to mountain town I would lose confidence, I would become painfully aware of my own personality—able to be friendly one moment, withdrawn the next. The sap would harden and crystallize. I felt frozen. I felt trapped. I felt suffocated. There was one winter when we cut down Christmas trees and I found one for my own home. I hosted a Christmas party. The sap was soft then, the heat of friendship had loosened the sap.
Our neighbors gave us a Christmas tree this year and it looks much like the one I had cut down a few years ago. I took it down yesterday and put it in my truck and a little fish thought swam through my head—I’ve already been here. I’ve done this. I’ve cut a small tree and let it dry up and scratch around in the jumper cables and bottles of oil in the dark belly of the truck topper. I wondered how long the tree would stay this time and remembered a few years ago riding in the back after dumping the tree, noticing yellow pine needles feeling them stick in my legs as I smiled and watched the boy I had a crush on. Softening of the sap. Like teenagers that day in our laughter and I wonder when I will tear down dirt roads again in my truck hardly noticing sap as I chase waterfalls and peaks. This Christmas brought its own patch of sap—a new problem that brought old problems, a folding of time in which I felt smashed in the middle.
Because of time, because of my tendency to never give up—the sap came out of the dogs fur. We got a hairdryer and the look on the dogs face said I was an evil torturer. I was ready to ban bacon from his world, outlaw walks, throw all the balls into the sea. I wonder if I get this same look too when someone is trying to help me through something really painful. The dog had worked for the clump of sap, I had worked for my pervasive depression and abusive interpersonal relationships. Don’t take it away so soon. I live like a preserved mosquito within this resin–I can’t annoy you here. The dog yelped when the sap finally became soft enough, olive oil was massaged through his fur and lots of pets and kisses followed. Then a bath. This time he looked a little more forgiving—he knew now I was helping him. I feel my heart starting to soften in the soapy warm water, things are melting, the crust of a loaf of bread has been cut into revealing the stretchy puffiness below. I am moving through, with, and into this depression. I am moving through, with, and into this light.
“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” — Madeleine L’Engle