“Growth” by Julian Norwood

Used to be you and I daily would walk through the fields out back of the house and talk for hours, spilling words and emotions. These walks were our daily devotions to each other over the years. The fields, dotted with ponds, were our space. We tramped those trails strung like lace along shores and through tall grass, murmuring now like winds, chattering now like brass in some changeful duet. You'd tell me about the geese in the sky, would watch me stand still and not ask why the birds scared me to pieces, even as we dodged around their feces littering the trails. You'd put up with my fickle interests, running with me, or stopping to see what arrests my attention. You'd follow all of my changes and change along with me through all the ranges of our shared experience. You'd tell me of your meditation, I'd talk of my fears of stagnation. You'd always smile so kindly to me, and I'd always feel so free in our companionship. And over time, those walks got slower, shorter, less frequent, or over far too soon, though no less meaningful as we spent our time together in cheerful conversation or kind quiet. We each seemed to be going our separate ways, with me branching out, exploring different lays of different lands, and you turning inwards, exploring lines of thought you never put in words, at least not that you told me. And then one day, we once more went out walking and though it took a while, you got to talking. You told me of how you sat, quiet and alone, waiting for the time you might turn to stone and be completely still at last. You told me how as you sat, the room lengthened, curved around, turned on you --- strengthened, it seemed, by your very presence --- and amid all of that gathered pleasance, bit you in half. You told me how, as part of you died in that moment, the rest of you spied, it seemed, on this very ending. You told me you thought that this rending was the end of something big. I listened in silence. What could I say? The things you were telling me, walking that day were strangely shaped and didn't make sense. Or if they did, they did so around corners as pretense, perhaps, subtext, allusion, metaphor. You were right, though, I could hear it in your voice. There was finality, there, which spoke of a choice already made. Endings were writ on your face, your hands, and your steps --- your very pace spoke of completion. I replied to that sense rather than your words. "While you look up to the geese and see only birds, I see omens and my doom spelled in vees. You speak of rooms and cleaving, but please, tell me, are you leaving?" We'd long since stopped, there by the pond, and your smile was, yes, sad, but still fond as you settled down wordlessly to your knees, took a slow breath, looked out to the trees, and closed your eyes. Beginnings are such delicate times and I very nearly missed it, no chimes to announce the hour of your leaving. As it was, there was no time for believing or not in the next moments. Your fingers crawled beneath the soil and sprouted roots, flesh starting to roil. Coarse bark spiraled up your wrists and arms, Spelling subtle incantations and charms to the chaos of growth. You bowed your head and from your crown sprouted a tender shoot covered in fine down, soon followed by crenelated leaves and fine stems. The pace was fast, implacable, and leaves like gems soon arched skyward. You sprouted and grew, taking root in one smooth motion, fixed and mute. Your clothing fell away, rotting in fast-time. Naked now, you sat still, committing one last crime of indecency. Your face, your face! In your face was such peace as I'd never seen, even as you gave up this lease on life, echoed also in my heart of hearts. I did not cry out, nor even speak, witnessing such arts as your final display showed. Soon, you were consumed, transformed as a whole. Your head a crown of leaves, your heart a bole bored in rough bark and sturdy wood, your fingers, knees, and toes stood as thirsty roots. I stood a while by the tree that was you, then sat at your roots and thought of all I knew about time, transformation, death and change. I thought about you, your life, your emotional range, your gentle apotheosis. Then I walked home, quiet and numb. No, not numb, per se, but perhaps dumb. Dumb of words, dumb of emotions. Quiet. I expected turmoil, some internal riot, I got nullity. Who, after all, if I cried out, would hear my wordless shout among the still trees and rustling leaves? Who hears? Who cares? Who perceives this non-grief? You, my friend, are still there. I walk the fields every day, passing where you changed into something new. I marvel at you, at how you grew into something wholly different. Used to be you and I daily would walk through the fields out back of the house and talk. Now, it's just me, alone, quiet, thinking of you by the shore, forever drinking of sweet water.