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Only a Myth
The day is young. The sun trumps all with its glorious light, shining and majestic, high in the sky. It rained heavily the night before, as it did for the last week, and the trees and grass are alive and green again for the first time in a long time since my stay among them.
They whisper to me, these billowing trees that hide and shelter its secrets from the rest of the world. Trunks tall and thick with years of life, fluttering its hidden eyes and skittish leaves, they whisper, wake, wake. Wake up and continue your journey, journey. You are almost there, there. Wake now and find your dream, dream.
But as I focus on the weight of my body on the cold, slick ground of the forest, I realize with profound sadness that alas, I do not wish to wake. It hurts. To know that I have been searching for this dream of mine for years and years of my soon to be finished life, and to know that I am just as far from attaining it as I was ten years ago in this beautiful, wretched forest.
I will my clamped eyes to open, to open and look. The light from the sun sears my unready eyes, and again I feel the sting as my eyes start to tear. There is pain everywhere- my body is wasted and limp, my head throbs with each movement I make, my chest aches with each rattling breath I rake through my lungs. Did I mention the pain, the agony?
The ache builds and builds, wracks my body with tremors, sends shivers down my frail arms until I have to grip my sides and pull up my legs against my chest to hold myself together. It won’t be long now, I tell myself. This time I clamp my mouth shut, muffling my scream. I like the forest; the forest has become like a friend to me after all these years of seeking and searching. It need not bear the terror of hearing my wretched cries.
It relents after a few minutes, as it always does. Soon I’m up and shuffling my way through the thick underbrush. A hunched over, bad-backed old man, eyes squinting and thin hair crusted in mud, face barely recognizable from the dirt and grime layering it, bare feet worn and callused with abuse, limbs slack covered with inflamed blisters, legs shaking and bruised, chest heaving from exhaustion day after day after day.
But even knowing all this, all that the years here has done to my body, my health, my pride, and my spirit, I cannot suppress the excitement surging through my veins. The forest told me I would find it today. The forest never lies. It is pure and untouched and loving. It loved me, sheltered me, and protected me from my insanity. It has stayed with me from the moment it sensed my fading presence, as it does still now, and will always.
My eyes swivel and widen as I search, search for my one desire, my one release from this black hole that is my doomed and useless body. If I find it I will become… no, when I find it I will finally become as I once was- glorious, promising, and young- young and alive, tall and upright, with an erect back and proud shoulders, not sniveling from the pain in my joints and the ache in my lungs.
Fons Iuvenis. Only a myth, unbeknownst to most men… took me years to find even this forest, (even longer trying to find my way around inside it) hightailing anything that could help me learn of its whereabouts, about its existence. Well, it’s here. In this forest. I must be standing some distance away… I can feel the trill of the spring; it calls to me, giggles right at my ear. I can just picture the sparkle, the youth, the vigor! So achingly, blindingly beautiful. And vital- I must find it, I’m running out of time!
With renewed vigor I trudge on, despite the pain. It will pay off, I tell myself. As I amble through the forest I search eagerly for any sign of water. If trees are in the way, carefully maneuver around them. If branches are blocking my path, gently move them aside as I pass, as they do not mean to harm me. Move swiftly and deftly, be on the prowl, be on high alert. Watch where I’m stepping, watch what might be following behind me, watch the skies for winged predators waiting to trap me. All four senses at the ready, sight, touch, smell, and hearing, ready to move, ready to see, ready to find.
I find… More trees, more branches, more leaves, more roots, more birds, more critters, more bugs between my toes. More mud, more trees, more branches, more sun… And then over yonder, past the narrow clearing obscured by more trees! I sprint out of the forest and into the clearing, my heart pounding madly and the blood rushing to my face, flushing it red. From exhaustion or excitement, it’s hard to tell.
Behold, my dream, my fixation for all these years, finally within my reach, bidding me forward. My heart flutters; my legs shake, knees bent and ready to give, hands balled into fists so that my blunt nails dig painfully into my palms, my wrinkled skin stretched taut over my knuckles. Death is knocking at my door, I must take this chance, take it now! I’m aware of my raging heart, of the beads of sweat lining my brows and on my scalp and gathering on the top of my nose and upper lip. I can taste the salty, dry tang of my lips and feel the ache in my throat for water. If I keep standing here, gaping like an idiot, sweating like a pig and shaking like a leaf, I’m going to die, I scold myself. But at the same time I do not notice any of these things. I see it; I see what I have been searching for all this time. And I hear the tinkling of bells, and singing, achingly beautiful, hauntingly beautiful, the heart rendering music floating, rising in the air. Absolutely and positively enthralled by the sight before me. I take one slow step forward, hesitating. Then another, and another. Almost there now, almost there… Just a few more steps and I can become young again…