Hunting perfection in an imperfect world
At times like this Emily had to get away. There was only one escape hatch from the thoughts tumbling in her head. Hiking allowed her to flee the restless guilt and shame attached to each lashing phrase. “You are not good enough,” echoed, jumped, danced in the flame burning her cheeks, reflected in her eyes, was felt in every sobbing breath she took.
The words took on a kind of cadence as she marshaled her steps in place, forcing herself onward without regard to direction. Slowly, as if awakening from a dream she left that self-flatulating inner reality. She stopped to catch any breath she had left. The tears blurring her vision blinked away.
The sight before her sucked out the bitter poison she’d been feeding herself. It was replaced with the soaring pleasure of basking in the sunset. The moment became so quiet all she could hear was the hammering of her heart in her chest.
“Emily, you are so stupid.” All that beauty so easily missed. She wiped her nose on a sleeve, sniffed, and realized where she’d ended up. “So lost in thought I don’t even remember getting here.”
The silent pool of reflected light stunned her with its beauty. Emily knelt at the pond’s edge, waiting. She didn’t have to feel bad or good here. That wasn’t the point of her existence. First one white goose and then another trumpeted its greeting. Emily met it with her own laughter and broken pieces of bread from her half-eaten lunch sandwich. “Swimming in reds and golds, are we? How does that feel?” The birds were so tame they nibbled at the crumbs left in the palm of her hand.
A final sigh of lost hope escaped her lips. The goose tilted his long neck up so he could look her in the eyes and hissed.
“I know. I’m my own worst critic. Perfection is my game, not achieving it is my shame. Lucky you.” She reached down to pet the soft feathered head. The goose was not that tame. It tried to bite her.
“All right. Lesson learned. There is your way, I suppose. Yes. When things don’t go the way you want, fight back. It is just not my way.” She liked these lonely sojourns out into a pampered portion of mother nature. The university staff cared for this little piece of artificial paradise but let nature decide the final look.
At this time of year, fall had shed her glory. Rust colored leaves mixed with spots of ice and snow that sometimes glinted back a sparkling star or two as she walked by. The night sky was brooding. As the sunset waned into the edge of night, Emily watched the barren shape of tree limbs and branches turn into a black lacy filigree of lace etched against the last vestiges of sunlight glow.
She began walking back, accompanied by the first gentle breath of a cold winter breeze. It made ghosts float out between her steamy lips, tickled and bit playfully against her tongue. The perfection of the moment was an illusion. Only she could see it, feel its sweet mystery as she cuddled warmly within the confines of her wool jacket. “All right. You’ve done your business. Reminded me it is all right to be imperfect and still find the sight of perfection in unlikely places.”
“What are you talking about?” Henry was waiting for her at the end of the wandering path. “I saw your car. Knew it was you. What happened?” He mingled his ghost breath with hers. She found his hand searching for its own perfection, warmly grasping hers. There was too much silence spilling out between them.
“I lost the writing contest. I didn’t make the grade. It got cut. It won’t be part of the winter poetry book the English department puts out to the Alumni. You know what that means, don’t you? Those are the people who look for young talent and support it. I’m on my own.”
The quick tug of his hand clasping hers reminded Emily once again she had made a mistake. She wasn’t alone. Not even close to it. “I love you, Emily. I love what you write, what we talk about, how you care about feeding wild ducks and geese, but you know what I love about you best?”
He stopped her there, among the rustling leaves where fall met the edge of winter. “What?” She waited, looking into the eternity of his eyes.
“So many other people I know let the world change them. They don’t take responsibility for working on their imperfections. They hide from them, blame others for them, say fate made them that way.”
Her friend gathered Emily into his arms, rocking them slowly together. She smelled hot chocolate on his breath and wanted some. “You don’t. You test your limits, your strengths, your weaknesses, and prod at both. You set goals and are forever asking yourself what happened. How can you make it happen differently next time. It blows me away how clinical you get. But?”
The kiss was sweet as the taste of chocolate ever could be. She lost herself in it with him for a silent moment before she felt the brush of his next words against her skin. “You need to work on not lashing yourself with that guilt complex your working on. It will only slow you down.”
She nodded, feeling a wisp of her hair tickle both their cheeks as she nodded. “O.K.”
“Are you done walking?”
Their sides brushed together, turned. They faced the pond, the path, the arching majesty of the surrounding trees. “For now.”