So It Goes, Part 18: Separate Ways

September 23rd, 2009

Obsession is a beautiful thing. It focuses the mind wonderfully and stimulates the imagination. It’s better than drugs. It also keeps you from thinking about troublesome things like work, and health, and friends. Such things fade in the background when you are really obsessed with something that is mysterious and can never be resolved, when there is some wrong that cannot be undone or some treasure you can never recover.
I know far more than any human being ought to about the JFK assassination, for instance. I can tell you who the Umbrella Man is, and who was carrying walkie-talkies, and the name of the bystander hit by a stray bullet.
It’s the same with the fate of the Rootweavers. Once the entrance to their world was covered over by the evil bulldozers, monsters that erased history and destroyed life and rendered the world as bland as the wall of a dentist’s office, I became obsessed with finding them again.
First, there was the Affair of the Shovel. The night I discovered the entrance was gone, I went there with a shovel and another case of Juicy Fruit gum. I started just after the sun went down. Each time a car went by, I hid behind the construction sign. Sweat was pouring off of me; after an hour or so I no longer needed to hide because I was nearly submerged, forced to heave each heavy shovelful of wet earth high up to ground level. I dug in this direction and that, but could not find an opening. I began to realize that I had dug myself so deep, I might not be able to climb out. I jabbed an indentation into the earth where I thought the doorway had been and left the gum there. “I’m sorry about this,” I called into the darkness. I also left a note:

Dear Farkus,
I am angry your doorway was bulldozed over. I did not do this! Please visit me and tell me how to get back to you. And keep tying the roots together to keep the trees alive.

I had no idea whether or not the creatures could read, but since they were familiar with brand names from food packaging, I thought they might have learned some words. The next day my hole was covered up again, and covered with large blocks of concrete, making it impossible for me to do any more digging.
I had no use for anyone in my family or any of my friends. They all seemed unimportant now. This outrage tore at the fabric of the universe and no one could possibly comprehend the magnitude of it. A bit of magic, a bit of beauty and wonder, had been removed, and no amount of money could ever bring it back.
The next morning I got up before the sun, barely able to drag myself out of bed for the exertions of the night before. I staggered over to the hole I had left: the hole was there but the gum was gone. But there was no sign the Rootweavers had been around to spread their magic dust over the suburban streets. Dirt and debris began to accumulate in the gutters and on the parkways. People seemed angrier. Cars roared down the street, belching exhaust. I saw a man pick a stogie off the sidewalk and try to smoke it. This town was becoming like another part of Chicago. Perhaps this was not so bad. But I had no refuge, no place to turn for reassurance that the world would be OK.
I lost interest in my schoolwork, in the women I had been thinking about, in food, even. What kind of a world was this now that my little friends were gone? It could not be possible that I was condemned to live my life in it. I thought seriously about ending the torture early, as I frequently did in those days. Perhaps I could bury myself under the earth and they would find me and save me.
I drove out to Woodfield, and walked around the parking lot, looking at the trees. Underneath, I knew, they were down there, hard at work, humming wordlessly. I walked around, looking for sewer grates leading into the earth, but could find none; the place was surrounded by a lake of tar pavement. A security car asked me what I was doing. “I dropped a ring out here somewhere and I’m trying to find it,” I said.
An air of unrest surrounded me and infected the other inhabitants of the six-room house. I returned to find my father complaining about the cups and saucers littering the living room, the week-old newspapers piling up, the antique books on the floor and chairs. “This place is a pigsty,” he said. “I just don’t know how you can live like this.” You realized this was a big global issue and not just a little spat when he added, “I’ve never been able to figure it out, even when I first met you. I knew what I was getting into, but I still can’t get used to it.”
Later, I overheard my mother and father talking about the future in relation to some magazine article he had read about Arizona. I didn’t hear the most important part, but I heard several references to “separate ways.” It won’t be long before we all go our separate ways, I thought. We have no one to tie our roots together. I was sure that, when we all left the house, our parents would go their separate ways. There were only three fragile threads holding them together. On our own, we would wither and waste away in our tiny plots of earth.
This is the state of mind I was in sitting on the front steps at 5 in the morning, sipping a cup of instant coffee, the air absolutely still, except for a faint rustling in the hedges. I suddenly realized I was no longer alone.

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