By Aviva Kana
The old bench is abandoned now, its rotting wood gives no indication of the child that once played upon it or the tears that once ran down it to the earth. The rusty metal flakes off at the touch. Yet it is to this bench that I always return, and even though each year I pull farther away from my childhood, I hold desperately onto the bench and all that it entails like a baby who will not give up her toy although she has forgotten why she wants it.
I spent the years until I was eighteen on a tract on the outskirts of national forestland in Oregon. I would idle my days away climbing honeysuckle vines and searching through the forest looking for treasures that I would horde away; hidden in burrows or high in the leafy trees. At least I called them treasures; now I see them as they were: broken bird eggs, pieces of scrap metal and dusty rocks.
As I walk to the bench I pick my feet up high, having picked up a fear of bugs from one of my friends. Although there is no one anywhere near me, I compulsively touch my hair to make sure that it is immaculate when I feel the wind touch my shoulders. I sit down on the bench and feel as the wood slides around in its frame.
The bench brings back a flood of memories of when I used to run and leap as high as I could and go so fast that the world was a blur around me. Along with the memories of dancing and laughing through the forest I also remember the crying and the pain; my head begins to pound. It is in this exact place that I experienced an event that I would allow to control my life. An event that even now I have trouble thinking about because my block against it has been firmly entrenched since I turned eight years old.
It happened on my birthday; my parents had invited some of my schoolmates to share cake and ice cream at our house. About halfway through my party, things had run out of steam as they invariably do at birthday parties, and those who had not left yet all wanted to. I did not care; other people tired me out, and all that I wanted to do was play by myself, drinking in the beauty of the forest.
The weather had also turned nasty and the wind hammered against the house and crept through the imperfect siding causing cold drafts. After all the parents had been dragged away, I ran to the forest twirling my new scarves behind me. As I ran the wind picked up and I felt myself being pushed along by the huge gusts. The sensation caused me to get light headed and feel like a dainty wood fairy. I collapsed about three feet from the bench smelling the moist, moldy scent of the ground.
I must have fallen asleep because suddenly I was jarred awake by a loud crackling sound that almost felt as if it was coming from inside me. I looked up and saw a mass of falling brown and green as the huge gnarled oak plummeted towards me. I panicked and tried to get up and run, I lurched, and time slowed down. I tried to stumble away but my dizziness was increasing and as I lunged away from the tree I really moved toward its branches. They struck me full in the face and I felt sticky liquid running down my cheek. I seemed to separate from my body and watch as the weight of the oak pushed my head into the moss.
I woke in a bed, my eyes bandaged so that I could not open them. I remember listening to the sounds that were all around me until I realized that I was at a hospital. My parents were there and their reassurances drifted in and out of my ears. Later that day the doctor came and visited me; his voice had that overly sympathetic tone that immediately informed me that my condition was serious. I remember saying “I’m going to die” over and over again.
“No, of course you are not going to die, you will live a long and healthy life.” And then he told me the news: I was almost fully blind in both eyes. My life crashed around me like huge waves and I felt as if I was hurtling through space trying to slow myself down by grabbing onto the air. I did not comprehend as he tried to explain what happened. The tips of the straggly oak branches had gone into my eyes causing me to lose too much fluid.
I understand what happened now and I even think that maybe I can remember pain and blood in my eyes but past that it is hazy. The doctors did not even have a chance to operate because my eyes had lost too much fluid to operate.
I moved through school like a ghost. I attended the same school but I was behind because I had to learn how to do everything differently. My parents and counselors called it the adjusting period but the truth was I never did even try to “adjust” and have as close as I could to a regular childhood.
If I was invited somewhere I always declined; instead I would go home and try to remember what it was like to be able to see. I would go to the bench in the forest and pray that another tree would finish the job. When I graduated I was awarded a scholarship to South Carolina School For The Blind. I am in my first semester there now and come up here less and less.
As I walk through the forest I run my fingers along the trunk of the tree that changed my life forever. It no longer seems threatening and I realize that I have won, that the tree no longer controls me. It is not even a tree any more; it is just a stump that has been chain sawed almost to the ground. This is the first time that I have ventured as far as the trunk; I always only go to the bench, but even so I know where it is as if I have gone there everyday. I leave the forest and I know that I will not come back again.
© Copyright 2001 Aviva Kana