Don’t let people tell you who you are, she told me… walking across the frozen pond with the moon lighting the snow. The world so bright you could see all the way to the mountains. The jagged peaks highlighted like chalk outlines of dead bodies. The woods lit up and glowing. You could see every branch on every tree. Everything was so peaceful and serene. I thought: this must be what heaven is like.
She had a nose ring and a toughness that came from having one of those dads with a pickup truck with decals on the bumper and sleeveless shirts. The kind of dad that forgets your name when they’re drinking. Yells things like, ‘Hey you! Get over here! I have something to tell you.’ And then they forget what they were going to tell you…
Don’t look to others for your happiness, she added.
I wanted to kiss her right then, but I wondered where this came from. Was she talking about herself, or about me? Do I look to others for my happiness? Is that what she’s getting at? I thought about my own parents. In front of the TV watching Jeopardy right now probably, probably not talking… maybe my dad was guessing the answers, but my mom was probably knitting or drinking coffee, the living room smelling of mothballs and Hot Pockets. Christmas lights still hung on the tree outside, although it’s almost February, almost my birthday. I wondered what they were planning to get me for my birthday.
She scooped up snow and threw it into the air. Its crystalline parabola splayed white and pure, arching majestically against a bruised, purple sky. Where do you think we go when we die? she asked. I thought about the question while also worrying about falling through the ice and drowning. I knew she wasn’t the type to believe in heaven so I told her, I don’t know. I don’t think we go anywhere. We just become random pockets of hot air, I said. Just floating around. Making steam.
She changed the subject. Have you ever been snowshoeing?
No, but I want to sometime.
She told me, I think it’s kinda dumb. Just people walking around on snow. It seems so pointless.
We walked deeper onto the ice, not talking. Then we saw a white hare racing across the pond. Its body flying through the air. Its eyes contained the look of total fear.
An owl swooped down, following the hare and creating that fear, and its shadow created a quickly moving black spot on the ice. It was flying low and its wings were the width of a small car. She ran after it, shouting at the owl. Don’t fall in, I shouted at her, panicking.
Don’t be such a bitch, she yelled back.
The owl grabbed the hare in its talons and lifted it up. She stopped running and I breathed a sigh of relief. She was at the far of the end of the pond and the beanie on her head made her silhouette look like an arrowhead.
Ha. That was crazy, I said. She didn’t answer.
You have a pointy head, I shouted. I thought she would shoot an insult back but she stood there silently, watching the owl and the hare fly toward the moon. Then she cursed and stomped her foot and there was a giant crashing sound and I saw her figure instantly cut in half and disappear below the ice. I saw her arms flailing in the air. I saw her sinking.
I ran as fast I could. I’m coming, I yelled.
When I reached her she was pulling herself out of the cracked ice… rising and shaking herself off. She turned around slowly, a broken rose blooming on her cheek.
Are you okay? I asked.
I survived, right?! I didn’t know what to say. My heart was beating like a woodpecker. Fuck this, she howled, then started to cry. More and more tears rushed out of her green eyes as I stood there helpless. At her chin a tear was frozen; it hung there like an icicle.
What can I do? I asked.
She drew in a fierce breath. The tears stopped and were replaced by a fire in her eyes that almost scorched my face. You don’t know me! You don’t know anything at all! She shouted. Steam came off her reddened face. It rose into the air and slowly dissipated into particles too small to see. I could see her teeth grinding on top of each other, though, like mechanical gears.
Clouds covered the moon and the woods receded to an unreachable depth. The world was cold and dark. All around the silence of winter surrounded us. I felt small and invisible. More than normal.
Are you cold? I asked. She didn’t answer me. She just stood with her arms flat to her side, looking down into the jagged hole she created in the ice.
I didn’t know what to say. I loved her. But I didn’t know what that meant. I was only 15 and scared of everything. Love was something characters on TV argued about. I just knew I didn’t want her to hurt. And I knew I wasn’t capable of the words to stop the hurt.
Can you say something? I plead, scared of her response.
Her eyes met mine and she brushed off the frozen tears. I heard them shatter on the frozen ice. I waited for her to speak. Frozen myself.
Don’t you know?
No, I answered.
She turned her face so I couldn’t see. Somewhere in the column of black trees the owl hooted. I assumed it was the same owl, still holding the hare in its death grip. But maybe there’s a thousand owls, all of them with yellow eyes peering into the dark, taking their turns to hoot and catch hares. The moon emerged again and cast its spell on us. The moon lit her face and I saw everything. Everything was illuminated. Everything was real. I felt my blood becoming stopped.
She told me, When we die we go to a giant Wal-Mart and stand in line for snowshoes… forever.
I didn’t say anything, but right then I knew, love was complicated.