Posted on March 17th, 2014
The weight of the hatchet is heavy in my hands. I feel the heft of it, the worn-smooth grain of the wooden handle, the coolness of the metal head, and the sharpness of the blade. It’s the one used by my father, splintering the fallen branches that fed the backyard fires in the cold of winter. It’s in my hands and I’m standing in the shed, surrounded by the workshop bric-a-brac assembled by him over the years: baby food jar lids nailed onto a board, their matching jars screwed on and filled with nails of infinite varieties; dozens of hammers and saws in varying stages of rust and decay; lengths of rope, nylon and manila, new and frayed, dangling off hooks in the roof; buckets, large and small, plastic and metal, some with holes, because you never knew when you’d need an extra one. The detritus of the hard-won and short-lived escapes from the burdens he carried on his shoulders. And, I’m thinking, “What am I going to do with all of this?” By “this” I mean “everything.” These things in the shed. These things in the yard. Those things in the house. That thing in my heart. The heavy weight of sadness, loss, anger. How am I going to manage these things? Why do I have to take care of all of this? Why ME?
As I’m standing there, the November cold seeping into my feet, the hatchet is swinging slowly in my hands, matching the tempo of my thoughts. The phrase that repeats itself in my head is, “You’re the responsible one. You know what to do. I can count on you.” And, I’m remembering the story she told me, oft-repeated, where I’m sent to the store to get a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk and I come back with…a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. Because I’m the responsible one. When she tells the story, I smile because I like being the responsible one, who causes little worry, who needs next to nothing. I make no trouble (except for the giant Hershey bar hidden under the bed that provides solace in place of the piano lessons/braces/things I can’t have and whose crumbs make brown spots in the rug). The responsible one. The responsible one. My pulse quickens. The hatchet swings, faster now, to the rhythm of the words in my head.
Well, what if I don’t want to be the responsible one? What if I use this hatchet, throw it and break these things, cut them down, create mayhem and drama, draw blood, shout and stomp and say, “No! I don’t know what to do!” What if? What then? Who would take care of these things? And, then I’m remembering the dream from the night before, when I woke up half- crying, half-laughing, recognizing in the words she spoke to me there that thing which I’ve always carried in my heart. In the dream, we were swimming; maybe it was the pond miles from the house, on a hot summer day. I’m rising up out of the water, my body smooth and pale, my hair in tendrils on my neck, my eyes catching the expression on her face, one of pleasure and recognition, and she says, “Oh! I see you! I know you! You are beautiful.”
So, there it is. That thing in my heart. A need, my need, next to nothing, to be seen. To have needs, small or big, frivolous or necessary, different from hers but the same. Outside of my dream, for whatever reason then, even now, she doesn’t speak those words. And, I want to throw the hatchet at her, have the sharp edge of the blade, my words, cut into her awareness, and draw them forth. But, she won’t or she can’t, and I’m tired of trying. I decide, in that moment in the shed, to lay the hatchet down.