He opened his eyes. Where was he?
|He opened his eyes.
He was still on the sidewalk. People scurried by, paying him no heed. The cutting wind that had stung his face was suddenly gone, a soothing warmth taking its place. He turned his head, hoping someone would stop. His eyes landed on a solitary Oak. It was as if the tree swallowed the whole field – it was majestic, projecting its sprawling shadow on the cool, inviting grass. Where was he? He touched his forehead and closed his eyes. He waited for some minutes, counted slowly until ten (he always did that since he was a child) and opened his eyes again. The tree was still there. Where was here? His brow furrowed as he fought to remember. He had been on his way to work. It was a bitter Monday morning. And then ... then he was here. Wherever here was – and it was warm and sunny. He shook his head. None of it made sense.
He knew he wasn’t in West Texas because trees always bent against the winds there. He noticed the green leaves and the rich, green grass below its wide branches. Why was he in front of a tree? Was there a meaning? Trees meant life, he knew that. He had to think. Trees represented family trees. Security and… home. But he wasn’t home. He was scared. Where was he? He tried to think harder but when he did, his head throbbed. He had to remember. He couldn’t keep his eyes away from that tree, though.
He tried to move but noticed he couldn’t. He was stuck. He had to get closer to the tree. He needed to rest for a while. Think clearly. He was confused. The moment he thought that, the tree came… closer. He looked at it. It was strong and thick and taken by little leaves. The sun warmed his face and it was very bright and soothing - trying to find its way through the branches. The little green leaves shook and danced while the warm breeze blew around the white clouds, painting abstract images in the blue sky. So peaceful. So quiet. So troubling. He heard whispers in hushed tones… or was it the wind?
The answer came slowly. He hardened his lips. He remembered. In the darkness of his memories it all became clear. Both the reality and unreality of it. The assault --- in the corner street. That man with cutting, cold eyes. The knife. He could see it now. It was right there, sticking out from his stomach. He didn’t feel pain, only the discomfort of a long, sharp blade inside his flesh. Oh how the mighty had fallen on him. Was he dead? If only his brother could have seen him now, shivering and sad, staring at a tree in the middle of nowhere and with a knife stuck in his belly. What would he have done? Where was his bigger brother now that he needed him?
He looked at the tree again. If he stretched his hands but a little bit he might be able to… touch it but he didn’t. He didn’t want the recognition that he was… there. He was tired; tired of holding his breath so he wouldn’t feel the pain – but there was no pain and this was scary. The tree was getting nearer and nearer to him. Soon the tree enveloped him in its long, green branches and welcomed him without words. Peace. He needed familar things. He once lived in a house in Delaware. It was a quaint old house, two floors, and large windows, white and blue with a large yellow porch, surrounded by a thick patch of pachysandra, which almost touched a… tree. It was his tree because it had his tree house on it. His tree looked like that one but it couldn’t be the same one. Or was it? He was so confused. He was numb. He thought of that beach, the blue water gently rolling onto the white sand. Peggy was swimming. Other couples strolled hand in hand. A fishing boat along the horizon. Free at last.
He leaned his back against the trunk. It was hard. He closed his eyes and listened to the… tree. He felt the energy that came from the ground, the earth and the thick roots that broke the soil in search of sun and air. In search of… life. Once he had read that trees lived longer than human beings and that they knew all the secrets of the planet since the beginning of time. Would that tree remember that he had loved a tree; that he had planted a tree in school; that he had once saved a tree from being cut down? He tried to find more memories from his childhood but it was as if his thoughts from the... past were becoming less intense and becoming more from his... present. His life was rushing right in front of his eyes, like a black and white Charles Chaplin film. But his life was in color because he could see the redness of his blood in his hands. Was this… death? Was he healing after death? Or was he alive? He could now breathe without having to clench his teeth. What was the tree trying to tell him? The circumstances and ultimate result might lead him to believe in divine intervention. So, was that it? He had had quite a good life. Besides, he admired his coolness; he was 49, a looker, and he knew it – slim but nicely toned, six one, long blond hair tied up in a Yuppie style behind his wide back and a smile that could dazzle anybody he chose to use it on. He had used it on Peggy.
He thought about Peggy. What would she do without him or better, what would he do without her now that he was under that tree in this… place. He was in deep thought and he had to hurry before the dream was over, or before something happened – but what? He wanted a beer and he wanted a woman, his wife preferably. A guy was supposed to be good. Had he been good? Was this his last stop before Paradise? Why hadn’t he seen the tunnel of light? Why hadn’t he seen family members greeting him? Where was that peaceful feeling of freedom? Did he have a Guardian Angel? If so, where was he now that he needed one? Where was everybody? Was this his last life on earth? Did dead people come here to think the same things he did? Would he see angels? Were there the so called “gates” to Heaven? Were they really... narrow? What would he do there? Would he float? Would he eat? Would he play the harp and meet other souls he once met? Everything around him was a fuzzy blur that made the moment seem even more unreal.
A new life. A second chance. The idea was warming up his heart. Paradise. No more going to work on foot every day, facing his despicable boss that burned holes on his face as he talked to him; accounting for each and every little paperwork detail in that dull firm and living his boring life with Peggy’s constant, daily nagging. His marriage was crumbling. Was it a simple matter of growing apart, or was it much more complicated than that? Why was life so complicated? Who would come for him? How long would he have to wait under that tree for someone to save him? There were certainly more trees like that one inside those “gates”, for sure. He couldn’t wait. He wanted something else, something more. He would become an angel forever. He looked at his stomach. The knife was gone. No more blood. No more discomfort. No more… He heard a noise… and it became louder, irritating, distracting. He had to think about his future. Beep. Beep. Beep. It was so cold. He was so cold. He felt the pain for the first time. The air was sucked out of his lungs and then pushed back into his chest. His entire body froze in shock and he instantly recognized it as… life. He felt as if he was being furiously pulled backwards from a long, dark tunnel and violently thrown back into his body.
He opened his eyes.