January 31, 2013
Sit Patrick down beside his senior picture in the yearbook, you’d swear he graduated only a couple weeks ago. If I told you the truth, you’d scrunch your brow in one of those looks that says Huh-uh, no way. Then I’d tell you I wasn’t lying, because I’m not—Patrick graduated fifteen years ago.
Still looks like a kid, though. Still has that longish hair boys seem to want to keep now, still engaged in a war of attrition with patches of acne on his cheeks. It’s almost like Patrick slipped into some kind of crack in time way back and has just now found his way out.
But that’s not the case. He’s been around. I’ve seen him.
He still lives at home, though not with his parents. They’ve passed on. It was rough on Patrick just as it would be rough on any of us. His parents left him the house in their will, he’s the owner now, but he still sleeps in his old room and refuses to claim the master bedroom. Patrick’s momma used to tease him whenever he sat on their bed, saying that was the very spot where he was conceived. That thought has never left Patrick’s mind. He says there’s not enough Tide in the world to clean those sheets enough for him to lie there at night.
I guess you could say he has a good life. Steady job, place to live, food on the table. Patrick says he’s free. I suppose he is in some ways. He comes and goes as he wishes and is beholden to none but the Lord, whom he dutifully greets most mornings and every Sunday. He has friends, and though he’ll blush and shrug when you ask him, I have on good notice that women have called on him. That seems to be the one flaw in Patrick’s life, more or less. He’s say that’s true.
He’s seen thirty years come and go. Some people pay little mind to such things and Patrick would count himself among them, but I’m not sure. Whether we pay attention or not to the ticking of that great clock in us all doesn’t really matter I guess, because it ticks on anyway. This moment is both the oldest we’ve ever been and the youngest we’ll ever be from here on out. I think Patrick understands that, even if he’ll never say it.
He likes to talk about how he’s the only one of his friends who’s never been married and divorced. A smile will always come along behind those words, as though he’s happy to say them. Patrick will say he’s not made for matrimony, just like Paul the missionary. Paul was too busy living to settle down. Patrick reckons he’s the same. Besides, he says, why go through all the trouble of loving if it’s just going to fall apart in the end? Why give that best piece of yourself to someone who’s just going to up and move on without you one day? Doesn’t matter if that person ends up on the other side of town (as his friend’s wives have done) or on the other side of the ground (like his parents).
No, doesn’t make much sense going that far. Safer to keep your heart in your own chest, where it belongs. Patrick says that’s why he still looks so young, because he’s still whole and hasn’t given half of himself away. He says it’s easier to go your own way like that. To be free.
Maybe. And on the surface, I suppose he has some good points. But then again, life is never promised to be a safe thing, is it? We may come into this world unscratched, but we leave it with all manner of scars. Risk is worth the pain, I think. That’s how you grow. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all, whether it’s love or a dream. It can hurt (oh, how it can hurt), but I’d still rather look old and haggard than young and untouched by life’s thistles.
In the Heart of the Dark Wood
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