It is the summer of 1982 and you can barely feel the mosquitoes snatching bits of your flesh as you balance your sketchpad precariously on your knee, curled up in the apex of the solid oak you stumbled across a few hours ago. Way up high, ensconced in the leafy canopy, you peer out at the world below, and your chest is bursting with unbridled emotion.
The image blooming on the white page beneath your stub of a pencil is utter perfection, and everything else around you melts into the backdrop.
You can barely hear the clamour of raucous, effervescent youth half a mile away as they struggle and squabble to erect the tents. You slinked away when no one was looking, pencil in hand and sketchpad strapped under your t-shirt by the waistband of your jeans.
Pre-graduation camping trip. You did not want to come but now you’re happy you’re here.
You are the epitome of a contemporary paradox – seventeen years old and happy, your pores radiating exhilaration, your fingers sketching the serenity of the kingdom beneath your curled feet, poised Goddess-like in the middle of the forest, and still riding the high of the feel of your boyfriend’s surreptitious fingers between your legs on the bus ride over.
Today is the last day you will feel this happy or anything even remotely close to it, but you don’t know this yet… so you squander the emotion rashly as the sunlight smelts into the horizon of your present paradise.
When darkness begins to disrupt the possession of your fingers, you flip your sketchpad closed and hug it to your chest, sitting in the dark and letting the aroma of all things green assault your senses. You relish it, laying your head against the robust and coarse bark, your eyes willing themselves closed.
You awaken disoriented and inexpressibly alarmed. It is pitch black around you and you are suddenly aware that you are very high up.
You don’t know what awoke you, but unease seeps into your skin as you wait to find out.
The voices far below you are achingly familiar, the throaty raspy chuckle and the raw, almost-pained gasps you grew so familiar to over the last few months once you’d finally bid adieu to your virginity.
The figures below you move vigorously in the darkness, shadowy sinewy limbs aware of the necessity of secrecy and speed, snatching at each other as your heart splinters amongst the leaves.
An hour and seventeen minutes later, when you are finally able to assemble yourself, you will return to the graduating class of 1982.
The charismatic, disturbingly-attractive boy you’ve loved for years will sling his arm around your neck possessively and ask you where you’ve been all afternoon.
You will shrug noncommittally and walk away.
He will follow you and slide his hand up your leg to caress the curve of your backside, and you will shake your head and make a flimsy excuse about monthly cramps. He will nod understandingly and smack your cheek noisily.
Two hours and forty-two minutes later, after you sing cheesy songs and burn several marshmallows and play the orthodox campfire games of youth, you will suck his dick like your life depends on it while noiseless liquid salt pours down your face and sluices with saliva and emerging semen.
Four years, two months, nine days, and fifteen hours later, you will say the words “I do” and smile luminously while the blur of human life smothering you throws rice grains in your direction and sparks flashbulbs in your face.
After the breathless charade, you will lay like a log in your marital bed as he sleeps, a dark-haired angel depleted with the exertion of pretense.
You will spend the next few decades in eternal anticipation, your nerves bordering on the periphery of sanity.
Your blood will cringe every time you hear your mother’s voice on the other end of the line, and she will ask you for the nth time about grandchildren, and you will lie and say you’re trying, when in reality you’ve been avoiding sex for the past few months or so with protestations of fictitious ailments and the archetypal ceaseless headache.
Every now and again, you will lock eyes with a stranger on a bus and fantasize about walking out of your life and into his, wrapping your legs and your arms and your soul around the exoticness and virility of his body. You will smile half-heartedly and turn away from his gaze, your heart pounding and the mental infidelity flaring a crimson tinge to your humid cheek.
One day, while emptying the attic of your worldly possessions, you will unearth an unfinished drawing of a forest scene, the last thing you’ve ever sketched. You will sit in the dusty, stuffy room and contemplate finishing it, adding in the rest of the view from above, scrawling the pencil across the page until you’ve darkened the scene to almost pitch blackness, leaving only enough light to make out the shadowy figures you will etch into the yellowed page. You visualize placing the finished sketch in the centre of your marital bed, packing the little blue suitcase you’ve had since childhood, and walking out, never to return.
But you snap out of your reverie and crumple the page with your quivering fingers.
One Saturday night a few weeks later, you will inadvertently cut yourself with the carving knife. The man you once loved will find you several minutes later, immobile beside the kitchen table while blood drips off your finger and onto the white flesh of the chicken. He will wrap your hand in a towel and drive you to the emergency room. His reassuring intonation will flow into your cranial walls and lull you into slumber.
Behind your closed eyelids it is 1982, and the incomprehensible thing unfolding below you is not happening.
Behind your closed eyelids, it is 1982 and you are happy again.
You will return home from the hospital, serene in the midst of your insanity, content in the knowledge that you have found the natural narcotic flowing beneath your skin.
Days later, you will sit at dinner with girlfriends relentlessly bitching about their loser boyfriends and husbands while you smile placidly and absently play with the ring on your finger.
While they search frantically for the telltale long blond hair or the red smudge on the collar, you will inhale the scent of each and every bottle of cologne in his cabinet, internalizing each so you will be able to pick out the foreign one when its stench oozes from his skin. But he is older now, and much more careful.
You will spend the lonely nights while he “works” with a blunt knife and classical music swelling at full blast.
You will lie alone on your marital bed and ask yourself again, that lingering question… Why?
Behind your closed eyelids, it is 1982, and the incomprehensible thing unfolding beneath you is not yet fashionable, not yet permissible, not yet la chose du jour.
Behind your closed eyelids, in the dark hole where you collect your demons, it will always be 1982, and you will always be sitting way up high, surrounded by leaves, the omnipotent goddess, powerless to stop the intensifying throaty gasps and the lunacy of these two dark sinewy figures in the shadows.