“Are these the deep dark woods?” she asks. It’s Ophelia’s question, the one she asks all the time.
With only four years of human experience, Ophelia doesn’t know yet the value of longing for relationships that are all wrong, the proverbial bad boy, the feeling that comes from sitting across the table from a lover with whom you share nothing in common, and the comfort that comes from nowhere and nothing.
Daphne’s a baby and doesn’t yet know that the best way to deal with being a target of someone’s intense feelings of passion and love is to turn into something–anything–else. She doesn’t know and may not ever know the isolation and peace borne from shying away from sincerity and kindness: things an imbalanced mind equates with misery.
On Day 1, the Alpine Loop is deep and dark, but I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t talk about the comfort of a million trees that are actually all connected. In response to Ophelia’s question, I give a science lesson on the aspen–its root system that can’t help but be more trees. It grows connections on accident, whether it wants to or not. I grasp for connections, reach out to other trees, and long for someone to reach out. But for what? To have something to hide from. To turn into a laurel. Whatever it takes.
On Day 2, my therapist asks me a question. He wants to know when I felt happy. I think of two years between marriages, spend days writing about relationships with people who were nothing. We were nothing for each other. My long list of Hamlets. Other relationships with men who in hot pursuit were left frustrated, staring at a laurel tree. A list of Apollos.
On Day 3, I walk through halls lined with art, and I see my connections. An exhibit by an artist, a fellow tree maybe but I doubt it. The artist has pulled trash from the landfill and from construction sites and arranged it on clean white walls and glossy gray floors. Opposites: obsidian and mattress foam, one on top of the other, weighing it down, illustrating perhaps the connection between hard and soft, a relationship that defies physics and yet exists, perfect and awkward, on the floor of a gallery.
Yet this is where I am home, among these relationships that make no sense but that are there. I walk back and forth with my Ophelia, her crazed eyes taking it all in. We look at the angles and shadows created by a row of water-filled jars. I show her the shifting shadows as we walk back and forth from one end to the other. Home. The jars of water collected from locations across the U.S., other jars full of nothing but air from significant places in the life of the artist. My brothers and sisters. Finally a connection: person and art.
I know what that is. Filling jars with air and water and displaying them as if they mean something. They mean something. These elements that feel like my siblings. I’d lost that part of me, and I saw not empty jars but connections. I had long ago forgotten that connections with air from places you’ve never been could be made, could be stronger in a moment than the connection between husband and wife.
On Day 4, it’s Sunday and we drive to Grandma’s for dinner. We drive through a canyon with autumn leaves draped on either side, and Ophelia’s question rises up from behind me. “Is this the deep dark woods?” I reply, “It is. What do you think? Is it pretty?” She says it is and I agree.
I leave a house full of siblings to walk through the woods, walking past people who have made connections with other people, relationships that are smiled upon by an extrovert God who smiles on His extrovert children. This God discourages my comfort, encourages connections with people, demands that I reach outside. I’m not sure who that God is and not sure I’m the type. I’m the type to wander through hallways connecting to transparent jars of other people’s memories, the type that creates ties with aspens and pines on a walk through the canyon.
In the deep dark woods, surrounded by my blood, feeling cool and comfortable at last in skin that finally feels rough and cracked, the way it should, I embrace the disconnect and think my happy thoughts: rows of jars of someone else’s memories, of water collected from unfamiliar cities I know nothing about. And I step even deeper into the Deep Dark Woods to be with family.