Last night I dreamed that I was walking through the woods alone. I was the kind of alone that I have only come to understand recently; the kind of alone that is so far removed from the awareness of “other” that all sense of time and even self is lost. A snapping branch returned me to self-consciousness and I suddenly could sense my body in space, aware of every move, every breath. I hid like a child behind a tree. I hid from something I couldn’t even see and I waited, heart pounding, until the snap became snaps and the snaps became crunching leaves and the leaves became loud rustling just over the hill where I hid.

After several minutes of silence, I peeked out from behind the tree, moving painfully slowly, until I saw her. A woman was squatting on the ground beside a massive tree, her head so low her cheek nearly touched the ground. She was looking for something. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears as she gently brushed away a cluster of mushrooms, releasing into the air a song so faint it felt like a whisper. It drifted with the wind up the hill, growing louder as it slipped past me. The woman blurred with my tears, and I turned toward the song, unable to keep my body from following


This time the sound came from me, and I froze. Dead silence. I turned to see her standing, staring in my direction. I could feel her own returning awareness quickly swell with the sense that she may not be alone. I stared back at her, the last of my tears falling down my face and bringing hers into focus. The woman was undeniably me. After a few seconds, she cautiously lowered back down to the mushrooms and reached deep into the tree’s tangled roots, so far in I thought she might disappear. In the seconds before she stood back up, my mind was reeling.

I can’t let her see me, she will freak out if she sees herself in the woods.

The irony of the thought was lost on my dreaming self, so I stayed carefully hidden. As I waited in the silence I felt a spark of excitement glowing in my deep belly, like a child feels discovering a new secret place in the woods. It was warm and beautiful, and not touched in the least by grief or fear. I closed my eyes to focus on the feeling, unconcerned with being seen. The feeling grew brighter and brighter until I was buzzing with joy, and I felt myself smiling.

When I opened my eyes, she was standing again. With tears in her eyes, she stared down at her hand, her face beaming from the glow of her find. An orb of pure color and light unlike any shade I have ever seen hovered just above her outstretched hand, glowing as brilliantly as the sun. She pulled a cloth from her pocket and covered the orb, tucking it carefully into a leather pouch that hung from her hip. She then unfastened a canteen from her side, and as she drank from it I felt my insides become cooled and quenched. Without thinking, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, watching as she did the same. She took a few steps before pulling a knife from her pocket and squatting again, this time with her back to me. After just a minute she stood, placed her hand on her heart, bowed her head toward a large rock on the ground, and walked away.

As soon as she was out of sight, I ran toward the rock. It seemed to get farther away as I ran, my steps becoming heavy and labored. The ground beneath my feet pulled me like a magnet until I stopped, completely unable to move. I reached toward the rock and tried to cry out, but even in my dreams I can no longer speak.

. . .

I woke beside Kala’s rock, and I was freezing. Dim little lights, barely alive enough to glow, were flickering and fading around me, melting tiny holes into freshly fallen snow. I had to count the lines on his rock three times to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming, each time allowing my shame to wash over me more fully. Shame became anger and anger became rage and rage became a fit that made me glad to be alone. I kicked and smashed everything I could reach. Wolf tried to lick my hands at first, but quickly ran behind a tree, watching me and whimpering. I punched every light I could see beneath the snow until my hands were frozen numb and purple.

It is January thirteenth. My son has been dead for one hundred and sixty-one days, and I don’t know who I have become since he left.