The tree is burned out now; a charred and hollow shell which somehow still stands against the wind and rain, but a reminder that once it had been ours. The scars we left upon it are mostly gone now either scratched or scorched away, but, if I look closely and for long enough, I can still make them out, the initials carved so long ago. I can still picture those days, dredge them from the furthest recesses of memory, remember them as if they had been only yesterday. Days when the Sun hung like a medal, golden and resplendent in the sky; days we felt would never end when the Sun would refuse to set. We ran then as if each day were an adventure, a gift waiting to be unwrapped, pulsing with promise and dreams.
Dark days came, days when gunmetal clouds did their best to shadow and usurp our futures, but somehow we always found the Sun within us, and the strength to see them off. We had each other and that gave us strength enough to hold things together. Together we took on everything that the world had to throw at us, and always emerged with a smile on our faces. Sometimes battered, sometimes bruised, we always knew that we would rise again, unbroken and with music in our hearts.
We had met in childhood and even in those early days we could sense the vines wrapping themselves around our ankles, tying us together with an invisible yet unbreakable bond. It was the kind of friendship only read about in books or seen in films or on television – a superhero and his sidekick, or partners in crime or detection – the kind of friendship that was both attracting to an outsider yet had the scent of the unbelievable always hanging over it; a kind of ‘too good to be true’ aura, but to us it meant the world.
It was something that we never really talked about, this sense of love that had grown between us. It had become an unwritten chapter in our story, but, at the same time, the one that contained the glue that held us together, the one that defined who we were. It was never a physical love – what existed between us transcended that – ours was more like an altruistic and nurturing bond, a co-dependent relationship made up of two individuals who, independently, were strong, but together a unified force on a different plane. At least for me, reflecting now on the burned out tree in front of me, that is exactly how it was, and there is nothing in our history that would make me question it.
Nothing, of course, stays the same. Despite our wishes and our best intentions, change is inevitable. At the precise moment when everything both in and around one’s life seems settled and to have found its place change emerges from its resting place like a slowly waking dragon. It stretches itself out, flexes its wings and inhales deeply preparing itself to burn away the carpet which has grown beneath our feet. I am not, of course, decrying change – without it none of us would ever move forward, and the challenges thrown down make us, and have made us, who we are, but there are times when, just for once, the dragon might be better served by taking a slightly longer nap.
Like everybody else we grew up and then grew older. Time moved inexorably onwards without care or regard for the past, never once looking back on itself. People, places and events came into our lives; some stayed some left to be quickly forgotten. A few left their mark. There were things that touched us both whilst others brushed against one rather than the other, yet, despite everything, one thing remained a constant: our friendship. It felt as if nothing would ever really change between us, even when we fell both in and out of relationships. Time and the weather wore away at everything around us – faces and places could not withstand the force of nature and progress, but, for me, what we were was always the one thing that I could always hold on to.
And then, on a night when I had struggled to find rest, the storm hit. It was as if I had not even fallen asleep when the dark rumbled echoed through the house and shook me awake. I felt as if I had been grasped by the shoulders and was being shaken roughly, as if being warned of some terrible fate which was heading my way. Outside I could hear the rain lashing against my roof and windows. A fretful wind was pounding the fences, trees and bushes that surrounded my house as if it were trying to destroy the barriers I had erected to keep the outside world at bay. I found myself standing by my bedroom window gazing out over the roofs and towards the fields beyond them. Without warning the sky was ripped apart as a fork of lightning exploded through the darkness, lighting the shadowed landscape below it as if it were day.
I knew then that everything had changed.
© All original writing copyright Chris Nelson 2000-2019