South for the Winter

I met you when you were a tree. I built my nest high up in your branches.

It started out simple: I’d been flying for hours, and I landed to take a rest. Way at the top, beneath a pillow of leaves, where I’d be hidden from larger birds.

The view was extraordinary. A field to the south, open for miles. To the west rolling hills, lined with houses.

There was a house near you. That worried me. Still, that field would have bugs, and worms when it rained. And every house still had trees in its yard, so I didn’t think you were going anywhere anytime soon.

“What a lovely home,” I thought. And that was that. You were my home.

I spent the summer up there. The field had plenty of food, and your leaves were thick, with tiny branches sprouting off of every larger one. I could spend a lifetime there and not be seen.

But I would be heard. I’d be heard for miles. You were so tall! I could sing my songs, and now and then another bird was loud enough to sing back, but they were always softer, no, always lower.

Winter came on fast and cold. It does that now; all of my senses are off. Maybe the seasons are off. But the air was cold, your leaves were disappearing, and it was time for me to go. I said goodbye and I went south. I hoped I’d find another tree like you there, but I knew I wouldn’t. I found shelter, but not a home. And I was so afraid you wouldn’t be there when I came back. But you were.

One summer I sang my song, and another voice came back, still lower, but stronger than the others. I sang out, and it came back again, playful, this time closer. I sang softer. The voice came back just below me.

Back and forth we sang, until the ladybird tweeted right below me, then right beside me, and back and forth we fluttered and sang so low no one else could hear us. It was like I led her up there, but it was more like you did.

I remember when our eggs hatched. Three littlebirds, squawking and screeching, hungry. We raised them, the ladybird and I and you, our nest and our shelter and our home.

I watched as they learned to fly. I watched them catch their own food. And I watched as, one by one, weeks apart, they would fly away and never return. My heart sang its sorrow song, but I hoped they found a tree half as good as you.

I remember the cat that chased me once, and how it couldn’t make it to even your lowest branches. I remember the young boy who tried to climb you, and I watched him grow alongside my own littlebirds, and his own ladybird he would sit beside, right in your shade, singing their own songs.

And I remember the night it stormed. Thunder crashed, and my heart beat faster, but I nestled closer to my ladybird and tried to sleep it away.

Then lightning struck, and we were falling. I tried to fly, but I didn’t know which way was up. Everything was just black, and wet, and cold, and the last thing I remember is my ladybird taking off into the night, moonlight fighting through the clouds and glinting off of her wings, beautiful.

When you die, part of you stays here, just for a little while, while your soul is fighting its way out of an egg. I stayed right here, where you used to be.

The storm lifted, like all storms do. My heart cried out a song I didn’t know it could, seeing you lying on the ground, your branches broken, your leaves scattered, part of your trunk still standing, jagged and aimed at the sky, a brutal memorial of what used to be.

I watched the humans come, and I knew I was seeing you for the last time. They would sweep it all away, cut down and dig up whatever was left, and you’d be gone like you never existed.

They did sweep you away, and cut down what was left, but they left your roots and stump. And that boy I watched grow beneath you, nearly a man now, placed a bird bath where you used to be, a new memorial, a tribute to what you were, and a promise that you could still be. And I watched my ladybird play in that fountain, I watched the other birds whose songs I’d always heard join together, and my heart sang.

Because you’re still here, in a way. And even as my spirit starts to spread its wings, I know what we shared was here, even though we’re not. And nothing can ever take that away from us.

I sang you one last song, and then my spirit flew south for the winter.

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Never to Have Loved at All

It feels like rain. All the time. Not the good kind that lulls you to sleep, drowns out the city and all its noise so you can get some rest; the kind that ruins parades, sends kids inside, the kind you try to read to, but the thunder scares you and you lose your place. The kind that overflows your gutters, leaves puddles in your path and a cascade right outside your door, so you can run to your car but you’ll still get soaked to the bone. The kind that isn’t warm, it’s cold. The kind that keeps you up all night, quoting Tennyson and thinking about the different kinds of rain.

Only Ever

There is a world underneath this one,

Behind it and beyond it and all tangled up and twisted into it, a series of knots that will never come undone.

Sometimes you go there. Sometimes you never do. Usually you come back, but sometimes you stay.

It’s a better place than this one. It’s nothing and everything,

and you’re conscious but you’re asleep and dreaming,

and you’re asleep and not dreaming.

Sometimes people in black line up and they cry for you, but you’re happy, but they can’t know that. Sometimes no one even notices you’re gone.

You’re surrounded by people there, or just one person you’ve never met and never seen, but you’ve known them your whole life, you’re best friends, you’re lovers, they’re a part of you and you’re a part of them.

You go about your daily life, blissfully unaware that things here are out of place or impossible, unaware of the things and the people you left behind. Every color is vivid, some of them are brighter and more beautiful than any color that can exist. Everyone smiles, everyone sees forever, and forever stares back and smiles.

All light is sunshine,

and all darkness is sunshine too. The only secrets are the good ones, the ones you keep because they keep you warm. You love and are loved so profoundly, love stretches between you and the end of everything and back again, wraps you in its arms and asks you if you want to stay forever.

You do. You want it more than you’ve ever wanted anything, in fact you’ve never wanted anything else.

Then,

sometimes,

you notice one of those things that is impossible or out of place. Or you remember one of those things you left behind. Or maybe it’s just that love and forever were pulled so taut that

something had to give,

and everything bleeds away.

Colors fade, faces blur. Hands disappear.

The old world comes back into view, like drawing sunglasses over your eyes, or someone put a King on top of your Ace, yet somehow you lose.

You hold on tight, you claw and scramble to stay. You don’t know where you’re going but you know it won’t be like this other place,

you won’t have that person or that warmth ever again. If you can just hold on

But you can’t.

You wake up. Or snap out of it. Or just open your eyes.

And now sunshine is still sunshine, but not as bright. And darkness is darkness.

Someone might love you, but not like that shy boy and his family did, or not like that skinny girl with messy brown hair who lived across the street from you. Or like that ever-reaching warmth you felt,

and here the warmth is only ever tepid.

Colors are only ever pastel. And you might have a good day, and you might even smile.

But not like you did there, in that other world.

The lucky ones don’t have to come back from it, and the unlucky ones don’t remember they were ever there at all,

Just that they had a good dream they can’t remember anything about,

only that it was the best dream they ever had.

Maybe we hear a whisper of a name, see a face out of the corner of our eyes, catch a hint of a smell or feel a hand brush against our own,

but turn to look and nothing is there.

Well, it is there, sort of. Underneath, behind and beyond and all tangled up,

somewhere,

just out of reach.

At the Intersection

I remember this intersection. Last time I was here, we were crossing it on foot. The lights danced overhead, leading everyone along their roads, telling them where to go, and more importantly when.

Our light turned green and we started crossing. Almost halfway into the intersection we heard the screeching tires, and before we could turn our heads toward the source, we heard the impact. Metal bent in so fast it sent a percussive crunch into the city, glass shattered and spread across the pavement.

Someone took too long to clear the intersection. Someone else didn’t notice that it wasn’t his turn. That’s all it takes to make two lives collide. Maybe more; after all, the two cars hit, what, eight feet to our left? Ten?

It wasn’t a bad wreck. I’ve been hurt worse than that by words, I’ve seen harder crashes in my friends’ hearts. But it was frightening. One of the drivers, the one who wasn’t paying attention, got out to yell at the other. Then he got bored and sat back down in his car and waited for the authorities.

I walked on, because otherwise I was going to be late for work. You waited on the sidewalk in case they needed witnesses for the police report.

That sound has long since stopped echoing off of these buildings, the glass and all it dust have been washed away by a thousand rainstorms. Yet here I still am, sitting at this intersection, like so many others, waiting endlessly for our turn to go.

It’s still frightening. How many of us are in for the next collision? Not the one eight feet to the left, but the one head-on, heart-on, out of nowhere, so fast you don’t see it coming until it’s too late, but you feel the impact, and you’re left wondering if anyone in this world is ever going to be okay, let alone you.

Stray Cat

I met a stray cat tonight, on the way out of my friends’ apartment. It came rushing up to us, to rub against our legs like it was greeting old friends. Before we drove away I opened and slammed the car door to scare it off, in case it had decided to wander under the car.

I got home and I greeted my own cat. She was happy to see me. I know this because I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and she followed me to eat from her bowl. She felt safe.

I wandered my empty house for a while. I’ve always been happy to call Kansas City my home, but tonight I miss the warm air of California nights. Tonight I miss the sunrise reflecting off the mountains in Utah. There are no mountains here, and it snows on the first night of Spring.

I guess I don’t feel safe. I think I’ll go to a bookstore later today. I need something familiar.

It feels like I’m a stray cat, and someone opened and slammed that door, but not to make me scamper off to safety. They just wanted to see me jump out of my skin.

These Shoes

These Shoes

See these shoes?

When I got these shoes, I had just graduated high school. I was starting to hang out with some new friends, I was going to college, I was working my first real job.

I was wearing these shoes when I had my first panic attack. I wore them through countless others. I walked to and from school and work and the bus stop in these shoes. I sat through my classes and worked through my shifts and rode the bus along the highway.

When I missed the bus, I walked that highway. I walked the streets of several cities, I walked the woods with my friends. Up and down steps formed by roots in mud, sitting on gigantic stones amid maple trees in a woods surrounded on all sides by a city that, to us, in that circle, might as well have not been there.

I wore these shoes when I lost old friends. I wore them when I made new ones. I wore them when I graduated college, got a different job, worked through that one and realized writing was my job all along.

These shoes accompanied me through millions of words, through the moments that inspired them, the people that became characters, the characters I wished were real people.

Shoes in a Car

These shoes have walked the earth of several states. They’ve been on camping trips, to concerts, in parks and on gravel roads, touched the pedals of several cars, carried me over broken glass and cracked cement. They’ve walked the neighborhood beside a dog once so small I had to carry her the rest of the way home. The laces have been frayed by kittens playing with them, and those kittens are as big as lions, now.

I wore these shoes that year I lost forty pounds. Along the treadmill, trying to stay in shape, just trying to sort out plot lines or real life problems in my head. They’ve seen rainstorms, tornadoes, car wrecks, changes. Slides, park swings, that merry-go-round that made us sick, the track around that park where some people we barely knew abandoned us, that thunderstorm outside the house where they abandoned us again. They were here when I published my first book, they were here when I published my latest. And they were here when I wrote them both.

All the movie theaters, the stores, the midnight releases, the parties, the quiet nights on the back porch swing; I wore them when I helped my best friend move into his first place. Up and down three flights of stairs, carrying furniture, wearing these shoes. Around town in the snow that time the gate fell over and the dogs got out, looking for them everywhere, wearing these shoes. Rushing pets to the vet, and later burying them, wearing these shoes. Planting flowers in these shoes, re-arranging my room just to feel something new, decorating for birthday parties or cleaning the house for Thanksgiving.

When I got these shoes, I couldn’t imagine the feeling of finishing a novel. I couldn’t imagine the feeling of arm pain so bad I thought I’d never finish another. Didn’t think I’d shuffle favorite bands so many times; back then I had never even heard of La Dispute. Thought my furniture would always stay the same, thought I’d always walk around the woods with the same people, I wasn’t aware how fragile everything around me was. You never see the cracks, only the broken glass you can’t help stepping on later. And after the collapse, you can’t see yourself fitting the pieces back together. And usually you don’t. But sometimes you do, and sometimes I did, in these shoes.

Shoes Camping

Sure, they were a little worn, but that didn’t matter. I thought I’d be wearing them when I did my first book signing, when I released that game I’ve been making, when I moved into a new place of my own. I thought I’d be wearing them when I move out in a year, when I renew my license in a month, when I start my next novel in a few weeks, when I switch cable companies in a couple days, when I go downstairs to make coffee in a minute.

But the seam tore on my way up the steps. Just like that, they’re done in.

What do I do with these shoes that have seen so much, been so many places, defined vague concepts like “here” and “there” and somewhere and anywhere, those critical moments I needed them to get me nowhere, those panicked flights I had to move without them, the people that came and went and the things I wrote and the people who read them; the rubber and cloth and laces, and even the scuffs and the holes and the frays.

I should just throw them away. What matters isn’t the shoes you wear, but the steps you take. And those will be with me no matter what, and I can’t even imagine the miles I have left, the places my next pair will get me.

But I think I’ll put them on a shelf somewhere, beside those things I look at from time to time to remind myself where I’ve been, and where I can go.

Besides, you never know when you’ll need an emergency pair of shoes.

Shoes in the Sun

“Hole” Update

My first venture into self-publishing was through a free short story called “Hole“. For a long time the story appeared almost exactly as I’d written it. Sure, I’d edited it after first writing it, but beyond that, I didn’t do much to it.

I happened to catch a glimpse of the story recently, and realized that was something that needed to change. So, over the last few days, I prepared a new cover image for it (thanks in part to the contributors at Pixabay) and set to work editing the text itself. I’m a lot happier with the newer versions of both.

Cover by David Lovato

As I mention in the story’s new afterword, I’m considering making a side-by-side comparison of the 2010 version of the story and the 2014 version of it, to show a little bit of my editing process, and the thoughts that go into each change. Maybe it’ll help someone out there with their own editing. This probably won’t come until later; I’m pretty busy working on new, never-before-seen projects.

“Hole” is available for free from just about every ebook retailer, except for Amazon. (They tend to not allow permanently free ebooks.) You’ll find links to “Hole” at various ebook retailers here: https://davidjlovato.wordpress.com/works-2/#hole