This is Not a Test
My life is not much different now, except that I'm not working. I've always spent most of my free time in solitude. In Nature. The only true authority over me. The poison broadcasted over the airwaves has no power here. Messages are carried in the wind, in birdsong, in the river's defiant flow.
The wind. A presence in a perpetual state of wandering. The most faithful messenger, it delivers dispatches from the Otherworld. People are losing their minds. The veil of illusion is dissipating. Collectively and individually. The usual habits of avoidance have been ripped away. Tough love from the Universe. It is time to be still and examine the life one has chosen to create.
I had plans for a voyage to a river, the Mother of all rivers. A date with a shaman and a magic plant. I had prepared myself physically and mentally for months. I was not about to cancel. Half-empty planes! A Machu Picchu without the selfie stick hoards! Let everyone else stay home.
The past few months have been filled with betrayals, violations, disappointments. Utter discouragement consumed me. I'd done everything I was supposed to do. Kept my eyes open for opportunities, followed the signs, let go of attachment to outcomes. The beautiful connection I had to the Divine was brutally unplugged. The sparkle in my eyes vanished. This trip was to be my light in the darkness.
I stagger around my wilderness, overcome with grief. The cold Earth beckons. I fall to my knees. Be still now. Just stop. Let me hold you. The turmoil transforms into dawning light. Suddenly, I understand: no one escapes this. No more running away for me, either.
Even in silent solitude, my mind was always at work. Formulating, organizing, analyzing. Gotta figure it all out! Now, in this enforced inertia, I give myself permission to do nothing at all. I sleep. I stare out the window at the falling rain. Thoughts disintegrate when you pay no attention to them. The peace left behind is exquisite. Why didn't I do this before? In the stillness, ancient emotions arise like toxic bubbles in a stagnant pond. Sluggish and murky. So old, I can't even determine their origin. I embrace these lost children of my soul, allow them to speak, and witness their transmutation into love.
I cuddle up in bed under a pile of blankets. An alert on my phone pierces the ear-ringing silence. As of midnight, we are forbidden to leave our homes except for essential reasons. Childhood memories resurface: noon sirens blasting through the streets of my tiny hometown. Sudden static on the radio. The rainbow spectrum on the television. That aloof dystopian voice. This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. This is only a test. Back then, it was a mere annoyance. The sirens made the dogs howl. Entertainment was momentarily interrupted. I always felt a faint undercurrent of apprehension. Someday something was going to happen. I needed to be prepared.
This is not a test. This is it. Maybe not The, but an apocalypse, surely the first of many. It is not fear, but curiosity that fills me. I'm as ready as I'll ever be. And I'm exactly where I need to be.
I am staying in the cottage that Grandpa built, which is next door to my parents and three cottages down from my brother Billy. My own little cabin will be built this summer, just across the street. Maybe. Nothing is sure anymore. My youngest brother Grant owns a hundred acres just a few minutes' drive away. We all feel as though we were summoned here.
Every day, I go next door to see my parents. They give me the briefest of updates on the virus. Michigan is in bad shape, but it's centered way down south, in Detroit. My mother wonders if I get lonely. My smile is tinged with sadness. I've never been lonely or bored in my life, except when I'm around most other people. There's no one I'd rather spend time with than myself.
I can feel, in the distance, the invisible radiance that hovers over the cities. A corona of terror. Energetic pollution that spreads over the countryside. A tremor overtakes me. The first panic attack I've had in years. I take deep breaths and allow it safe passage. It does not belong to me. Anymore.
I stroll down the dirt road, singing to myself. A Duran Duran song from the eighties. Billy emerges from his place, trailing behind River, his Australian shepherd. I smile at the synchronicity. We meet up at his trail, which cuts through his property. He stops and backs away, his face pinched with irritation.
“Are you afraid that I'm going to infect you?” I snicker. “It's not like I ever see anyone.”
He shakes his head. “No, I'm afraid I'll infect you. I've had a sore throat for a couple of days. Nancy and I ate at a restaurant where one of the workers was ill with the virus.”
His trail ends at what used to be the railroad tracks. It's been converted to a bike and snowmobile trail. We walk on opposite sides. I don't tell him that my body aches to the core. No matter what I do, I am chilled to the bone. I am not sick, however. I am being rearranged.
Instead, I say, “I think I saw wolf poop, yesterday, on the trail just up ahead.”
He perks up and nods. “I saw tracks after the last snowfall. You can tell it's a wolf by the size of the tracks and the gait.”
We fall silent. I hop off the trail, into the meadow. “See you later.”
His shoulders finally relax. He lifts his skinny hand in farewell and heads for home.
This time of year is the most nostalgic for me. The smell of thawing soil and thickening moss and mushrooms. Earthy, mysterious aromas. My grandparents brought us here every spring break. Billy and I would explore the awakening forest for hours, in almost total silence. This has always been my true home. My own backyard in my hometown downstate became exotic lands in my imagination. But here was always here. Nowhere on the planet do I feel safer.
The ghosts of the Otherworld ask, “How are you going to spend your day?” As if time were currency. Which it is. I've always considered my free time as wealth.
The borderland between defeat and surrender is obscure. Twinges of guilt linger. I can at least write something. A leaden weariness fills me. I think I will let that go, too. Does it even matter if I write anything, anymore? I sink into the Earth and stare Heavenward. I am so tired. The clouds part and converge. The spring sun has stage fright. It is not yet ready to shine.
To the ghosts of the dying world, I whisper in reply, “Falling through the sky.”
At the edge of the woods, near the river, I come upon a deer skeleton. It has been savagely ripped apart. Fur carpets the ground below it. Not a shred of flesh remains. The wolf, again. A flicker in my heart. Instead of revulsion, I am overcome with awe. Nature is life, but also death, resurrection, and light. All of it is beauty.
A wave of despair washes over me. Death throes of a life that no longer exists. If only I could vanish, forever, into the embrace of this wilderness. Let my body be consumed by creatures and my bones bleached white by the sun.
I have done almost everything that I set out to do. I did not take the easy route. I did not harden my heart or let the darkness I've known poison my soul. Whatever happens in this new Earth, I've been as true to myself as a human can be. I have truly lived.
At the riverbank, I come to rest. Sunlight shimmers on the currents, forming ever-changing constellations. Infinity illuminated. A soft, golden glow infuses my atoms. I merge with the flow and let it carry me onward.