To Find is to Forget

(excerpt from a longer project)


HER skin taut and wet with cool dew, Julie Innis lies on the duff beneath a clearing in the evergreen woods not too far from her parents’ Oregon home, looking up. It is 1975. Branches and their waxy needles overhang the duff and move languidly at the edge of sight around a circle of gray clouds drifting in and out of themselves as though stirred gently by a great invisible hand, aglow with gelid light. The sun’s light eases through the clouds, soft and diffuse and essentially perfect. Margot lies right beside Julie, arms above her head, with a smile so slight it might as well be mere gravity tugging down on her lips. There is a drizzle through the skylight, trills of woodpeckers carrying from the distance and the smell of musty pine mingling with a floating mist, all things borne and held aloft by air alone. Dewdrops shed and fall with some frequency as the cones of treetops sway overhead, lending the silver ring of clouds a slow muscularity. Everything feels somewhat viscous, both in form and spirit. Sap is ubiquitous.

Margot Mackenzie is fifteen as well, in 1975, and has been a something in Julie’s life for the whole of the ten years since they found themselves together in a room at the only age when hearts allow themselves to join seamlessly, perfectly, Platonically, little creatures still more heart than mind. They both remember Kindergarten: cubbies, building blocks, finger paints, Nap Time, coloring inside the lines, paste and the one odd kid who ate paste, new pipe cleaners delightfully pristine without bend or kink, the coveted Big Box crayons that included exotic shades so rare and intriguing they commanded a kind of atavistic wonder — cornflower, periwinkle, burnt sienna, taupe, chartreuse, persimmon, vermilion, bleu celeste. The higher, numbered grades carried with them a sense of inaccessible maturity at the time, with their pencils and ruled paper and proper desks and older teachers who wore heels and no longer felt the need to affect a mother’s voice to the children of a class, who were now as like as not to be called ‘students’, or more rarely ‘pupils’. These years are more stark in memory and smell vaguely of parchment and cleaning supplies. They were: cursive, chapter books, water fountains, long division, reading levels, P.E., substitutes, tepid lunches in Styrofoam trays and milk in three varieties from stubborn cardboard boxes, ears perked and necks regardant in Pavlovian acknowledgement of ‘Recess!’ — its every utterance.

Other things, outside things. Vietnam, the Bomb, LBJ; verbal signs that rang from every direction and whispered of an unknown significance amid the nonsense-noise of childhood; civil rights and MLK, and the shooting of MLK, and the lurid upset that occurred thereafter behind the fuzzy screen of the Admiral in the living room; the Beatles, the USSR, hippies; Neil Armstrong on the Moon, inside the living room’s fuzzy box; the Rolling Stones and Gilligan’s Island and the election of Richard Nixon, to the vocal disappointment of their parents both — this in particular seemed a kind of turning point, when things began to thicken finally into a kind of bitter syrup, oozing amoebically through life’s seams.

They began to make a number of discoveries. The clearing itself was the first of these, during yet another of their countless walks in the nearby woods that had, with age, changed in purpose and spirit from those of adventure and excursion to those of escape — a desire both to leave and not to return. Lostness was not the terrifying prospect it had been before, and when the trees grew thick behind them and the whole forest dimmed beneath ever more layers of spiny branches overlapping and weaving together into an unbroken canopy, they kept walking, swift and self-possessed as though they were going someplace. Wilder sounds and smells overtook the air. There had earlier been signs of humanity like the colorful shredded wrappers of foodstuffs and battered beer cans and smooth stumps cut clean by power saw and an unlikely number of waist-high saplings clearly the results of reforestation efforts that were all nowhere to be seen as far into the woods as they went. The low light made it hard and almost painful to make out distant things. The girls kept their eyes on their feet or on the ground right before their feet and listened to the ambient stridulation of invisible bugs, the dry sounds of needles snapping underfoot, the soft stifled gasps of clothes in motion. Margot had on one of those Western jackets of sueded leather that were just then becoming fashionable, with a ridiculous fringe that flapped and pattered as they walked.

Approaching the clearing, the effect was of a sunrise that crusty, morning eyes make one slow to notice. The brush around their feet grew colorful and crisp and manifested the same nuances of tint and texture as hair in good light. Their necks lifted as though relieved of an immense load, and they both stopped dead in the sight of what appeared to them as something like the theatrical column of heavenly light featured in the archetypal divine ascension. The whole moment seemed suspended a few feet off the ground, the way naïve hypnotic encounters with natural beauty are often described, the word ‘spiritual’ almost always playing an operative role. They stood still for maybe a few seconds before Margot said ‘Hey, a clearing’, which reenabled gravity and reminded them both of all sorts of ambient realities like their names and who was president and what day it was and the incredible fact that home was only half an hour’s walk away. Commensurate, almost, with the vicious ear-pops after a rapid pressure change.

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