A Thin Veil
A lot's happened lately. Some I'll eventually talk about. Other things I can't. Still others, I simply won't. I've come up against so many old ghosts, old memories, old wounds... and that feeling of being haunted is still raging strong.
Today's Halloween, or Samhain, the day when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinnest. I woke up this morning thinking of another time like this. Not Halloween, no... this was high summer and I had just turned nine years old.
I was still living on a farm in Maryland, this enormous, sprawling hillside framed with wide fields and woods. It was one of those perfect summer days where the sun is nothing but a white hot sphere in the sky. My grandfather lived with my parents and I, and the entire day had been spent bailing hay.
Don't get the wrong impression though - it's not like we were Amish and had to use a mule team or cut it down with scythes. Bailing hay pretty much consisted of my grandfather driving a tractor around the field with a bailing machine in tow, scooping up the hay he'd cut and raked into lines a few days before. The bailing machine would scoop up the hay, compact it all into dense rectangles, and eject them out the back.
This whole thing was pretty boring to a nine year old. Nothing much to do until it was time to gather the bales and put them on a hay wagon. So the better part of my day was spent nestled in the limbs of a mulberry tree and reading a tattered paperback of Michael Resnick's Redbeard; some violent post apocalyptic nuclear tale that I'd somehow talked my mother into letting me read.
Soon, the bailing was done, and the hay wagon was hitched, and then my part began. The wagon itself was big, roughly twelve feet wide by twenty feet long with regular car axles and tires at its base. Stacking bales isn't exactly hard work, but it's messy, especially in the heat of summer. By the end of it, you're covered in dust and that graininess of plant grit that just seems to permeate everything. But the thing is, the sweet smell of new hay bales seems to obliterate it all. Even today, sometimes I'll drive a different route just to catch the scent of newly cut hay.
By the time the wagon was done being stacked, and my grandfather was driving the tractor down into the valley again, back to the barn. The sun was low on the horizon; now an angry red light that flowed over the hillside and filtered through the tree lines like some strange psychedelic circus.
Even now, I can see it in my mind... looking at the back of my grandfather as he drove... his teal work shirt, sleeves rolled up; brown workman's gloves on with the fingertips blown out like some Darwin-esque street urchin's costume.
Then we passed below the horizon line, the sunlight dropped, leaving that odd, shadowy red haze on everything around us. I could hear the barn swallows as they began deciding to pack it in for the evening. My father's little Ford Courier truck was parked in the driveway.
The dirt road we were on was all downhill, and during a thunderstorm, it would transformed into a small river, turning up large loose rocks in the path. I remember after storms it was always like some archaeological dig to see what new things turned up. Over the years, the road had turned into more of a ravine, narrow and like a trench at its sides.
And then it happened... simple thing really... nothing out of the ordinary, but one of those moments where your mortality hangs in the balance. The wagon ran over a rock and tilted insanely enough that it caught me unawares and I fell off.
I landed square on my back, the wind knocked completely out of me and upside down in relation to the wagon. My legs were tilted up along the bank of the trench, and I turned to my left, watching the rear wheel of the hay wagon rolling toward my face.
I'd like to say it was one of those moments where everything slows down... and you have time to consider choices, but it wasn't. Not with the weight of a over a ton of hay rolling toward me. It would've been quite enough to squash my head like a cantaloupe and my grandfather would've never known until he arrived at the barn.
What I do remember is that things happened so fast I never had time to think of what to do; my body simply reacted on its own accord. I did this bizarre yoga sun-dog meets cat's-ass sit up thing and raised my body up just enough that I could feel the tire rub against the back of my head. Everything around me had this hyper-detail though. Hell, I can even remember looking at pebbles stuck in the grooves of the tire tread.
We pulled into the barn and walked back to our house for supper. And that was that. For a few days after though, I felt like I was coming out of a fog or sorts; dreamy; looking at things a little differently.
My grandfather never saw what happened and even though I honestly can't say why, I really didn't feel the need to tell him or anyone else about what had taken place. Yeah... I got a glimpse of what lay beyond the veil.
Thing is... that moment - it's here every day.
I feel like I'm waking from a fog now. Work lately has been heavy. There's a lot of good things going on, but it's also like rains washing out an old dirt road, making its own path and uncovering new things in the process.
I looked around this morning and saw that the leaves have changed into this brilliant palette of colors and I have no idea how they hell they got that way. Seems like it was only a few weeks ago it was summer and I was standing in my backyard with a friend of mine, emotional and drinking and contemplating the future.
I feel a little unbalanced, but good. Hopeful. Optimistic. Full of my own brand of faith.
And once again, here I stand where I always do - on the path in the middle of one big, fat Mobius strip, surrounded by old ghosts. But I've accepted it. I know them. And they know me. Oh yeah, they know me.