I had returned to what was left of the family home. As I approached, a nearby squirrel froze and then scurried up a tree. Just at the back of the structure, I saw specks of shiny metal through wet leaves. I rubbed my boot against the area and discovered the cellar doors.
Peering down into the darkness, it smelled dank and alive. I turned on my flashlight and descended into the darkness and used my shirt to cover my mouth and nostrils to buffer the must. Looking around, there was only a child’s rocking horse. Looking closer I saw a photograph resting atop of the toy. I grabbed it, and made my way back to ground level. Looking at the image closely I could see it was a small child sitting on the very same horse. In the picture, the young child’s body shook with laughter, and for a moment I could hear the joy amongst the bristling of the leaves around me.
Many months ago, ragged, twisted, and torn, the old black and white picture fell against the faded wallpaper of the abandoned den. Dust spooled upwards and out within the darkness. There was no sun to capture its beauty. Gravity pulled the image at a vertical angle through a cracked floorboard and into the cellar. After spectacular disturbance, it silently rested where I had found it.
Two weeks later there was a strong storm that finally pulled down a widow-maker from a Southern Live Oak. It fell forward and sideward into the roof and split the wall holding up a battered staircase. The next morning the sun-light christened surfaces that had been preserved in darkness for many years. Insects and other untoward creatures receded deeper into the crevices of the old building. Some life found solace in the earth beneath the structure.
There was new plant life and moss, nestled quietly between pools of water. An old chipped porcelain bowl offered life-giving sustenance and libation. A torn and tattered twig from the old oak lived for weeks on its gifts. A family of squirrels found a new home just beneath the ripped staircase. Occasionally, coyotes found shelter in the new old dwelling, and there was a nest of barn owls in the upper portion of the oak’s left-over trunk.
As I looked closely at the old photograph and despite faded memory, I recognized my old self. It was the last month before my childhood ended. It was the time before the darkness had settled deep and dark upon our home, closing us off against the universe. Even through the limited perception of youth I saw tragedy beget tragedy. Illness bred need and fatigue bred wants. Bodies quickly succumbed to the virus, and I would never see family again. It was a month before the world turned upside down, and there was no sun. It seemed the universe had abandoned all life in and around this land. Finally, two craggy looking old ladies with pasted smiles would squeeze my hand telling me that I couldn’t stay here anymore. I was brought to Bethesda’s House of Mercy, where I spent my formative years.
My fragmented memory seized as I glanced back at the structure. I scanned the scene before me with new eyes. Beneath the canopy of nature, the buildings bones sat transmuted and at the behest of the life it touched. In various stages of form, the landscape was a kaleidoscope of colors I had not even imagined. Familiar scents mingled in novel ways. Perspiration beaded up on my nose and forehead, and my neck felt heavy with heat and humidity. I could hear the beautiful and familiar song of the cicadas. Somewhere there was a woodpecker working, and my eyes lingered on a hummingbird ardently sipping from a cypress vine. In this new old setting, form married function. Gnats swarmed, dragonflies darted, and time ceased. It is the reclamation of the universe and life resurrected; nature’s guttural utterance, and I amidst this chorus of perfection.