There is an old abandoned road behind the house. Mom says it runs right to the lake, so I followed it. It’s about a half mile walk. In some places it is haphazardly paved, like it might have been used for cars at some point. In other places it’s gravel, like a lot of country roads I remember on my dad’s farms, before he lost them all. Some sections are nothing but a muddy cowpath. The progression doesn’t make any sense. It’s pavement gravel cowpath gravel cowpath pavement etc etc all the way there. Who the heck was in charge of this thing?
The going is a little intimidating. The forest is wild and untamed. Often the trees overhead are thick enough to plunge you into deep shade. I often ran into webs with eyeball-sized spiders in them. One of the cowpath sections of the road is flooded from all the rain we’ve had in the last few days. There were so many frogs jumping around that I was afraid I’d step on one.
I got to the lake and the road just keeps right on going, running underwater. Creepy. It confirms my suspicion that Percy Priest is one of those man-made lakes created by damming some river, probably the Cumberland. I was reminded of In Dreams, a pretty dull movie overall, but it has a really great scene of a scuba diver swimming through an underwater but nonetheless fully intact church, the result of yet another man-made lake.
You can’t walk to beaches or anything hospitable. There’s just the road running underwater, and a bunch of big trees that have survived despite finding themselves stuck in up to three feet of water. A low-grade swamp. I wonder what the cut-off point is? Say you’ve got a 40-foot tree that’s used to being on dry ground, how much of it can be underwater before the poor thing rots?
Unfortunately there’s not much to see, so I turned around and started back. Not being in as much of a hurry on the return trip, I noticed that there is a whole network of cowpaths running through the woods. At least four or five turn-offs I could have taken if I’d wanted. I walked down a few of them, and they occasionally fork into new paths. They look even less like roads than the main one I was on, and the forest closes in on you that much more.
I wonder what they were for. What did people do back there? I wanted to follow one of the paths to its end, hoping to find an abandoned cabin or a campsite or something. Alas, they seemed to go on forever, and the ground was soggy. I didn’t want to get any muddier than I already was.
At the point where the road re-enters civilization, there’s a big mound of dirt with an old telephone pole laying on top of it. I suspect that was the original barrier that was built to mean “sorry folks, this road is now useless, don’t come back here anymore.” I hadn’t been there in about a year. I have made an unlikely association between that telephone pole and a girl I was once very good friends with.
It occurred to me shortly after I got to Tennessee that this was my time to reflect. One of the ways that manifests itself for me is getting back in touch with people from my past. One of the first was a Canadian girl I met on the internet way back in 1995. I went to the Great White North to visit her a few times, and she came to Florida twice to visit me. I was getting my long distance calls for free at the time, due to my various telecom jobs, so we talked on the phone every single day. I think we only missed five or six days in two and a half years. She was my best friend. We briefly tried dating right at the beginning, but it didn’t work. The fact that we not only stayed friends, but became best friends, is an achievement I am very proud of.
Unfortunately it ended suddenly and violently. There were a lot of unresolved tensions that we had been sweeping under the rug for ages, and they all came bursting out at once. Neither of us dealt with it very well. That was the end of that.
We hadn’t spoken in four years. It was a real struggle finding her again. I had to contact friends of hers until I found her current e-mail address. Once I finally had it, she wrote back in a matter of hours. I guess she was as curious as I was.
She was happy to hear from me again, but also somewhat guarded. It was fun catching up, but after that she was cautious and defensive. She reiterated over and over again that she wasn’t who she used to be and that we couldn’t be the kind of friends we had been years ago. She was holding me at arm’s length and I wasn’t very happy about it.
I thought I had done pretty well in that situation. I knew I had been way too angry and vicious in that big final argument, but I would have given myself pretty high marks for the rest of it. So I started trudging through all our old e-mail, trying to trace our progress. Yes, I save all my e-mail forever. For this particular correspondence I had saved over 300 e-mails, spanning four years, from 1995 to 1998.
They started out pretty well. I sounded downright insightful in a lot of them, more than I remembered myself capable of being in 1995. Then the first big shock, about a month into our correspondence. I found an e-mail I wrote that had a paragraph or two that was so breathtakingly insensitive and mean that I couldn’t believe I could have written those words to someone I considered a “friend.” I sat there with my mouth hanging open, feeling watery and unstable. I found the Canadian girl’s response, hoping that she would give me the rebuke I so richly deserved for saying something so awful. But no, she did not. She responded to the grain of truth, because I have to admit there was one, but totally ignored the incredibly vicious way in which I had delivered it.
It just got worse from there. After I’d read the first six months or so I had to stop. I had no idea I was ever capable of such casual cruelty. I was making myself sick. I still haven’t read any farther than that, and I doubt I ever will.
I felt worse than I have in the last ten years, at least. It’s one thing to deal with your parents and relatives being mean to you as a kid. At least it wasn’t you doing the bad stuff. It’s quite another to see direct evidence of how you were once channeling the evil from your past and making it somebody else’s problem. Doing my part to spread the misery to others, so they can spread it again, so the cycle will never be broken.
I simply could not sit still. I took off out of the house and plunged into the forest that borders our back yard, scraping up my legs in the underbrush. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew it had to be somewhere else, preferably someplace that doesn’t have me in it. After a lot of tangled plodding I found myself sitting on the telephone-on-dirt-pile monument that marks the end of the abandoned road.
Man, I just wanted to die. If I did that to my former Canadian friend, it’s a sure thing that I did it to others. Lots of others. The monologue in my head was “If this is the best you can do, if you can’t put a stop to the evil in your life right here and now and keep it from infecting others, then you do not deserve to live.”
After moping around out there for an hour or two, I came back into the house. I edited together an overview of the first six months of my e-mail correspondence with the Canadian girl back in 1995. I did not spare the ugly parts. I sent it to her current e-mail address, along with a thousand apologies, and prayed that she would forgive me. She said she did, and that made me feel better, but even now I wonder if she knows how insidious that was. It wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if it had been nothing but unsubstantiated attacks. Then it would have clearly been about me being angry and not about her at all. But no, I was always careful to include enough bits of truth about her and her situation so that what I wrote would really sting. Always with a veneer of impartiality, under the guise of “helping” her. Just like my parents did to me.
I was so upset I made myself physically sick. It was only a few hours after my conversation with the telephone pole when I felt my throat getting scratchy. When I got the e-mail from the Canadian girl the next day forgiving me, that helped a lot, but the damage was already done. I had my first serious cold in about two years. That was the last time I’d been sick before I caught my next cold at my sister’s wedding. I am now mostly over that one, apart from the occasional hacking cough.
I wasn’t able to stay friends with the Canadian girl. She always sounded so defensive and hostile, and I can’t blame her for that. I couldn’t find any way to make her feel better about the situation. I was the one who stopped writing back, so I guess I get the blame for ending the reconciliation attempt. Sometimes things just can’t be fixed, despite my best efforts.
Why does every story of mine have to turn out this way? I swear to god, when I sat down to write this I thought it was only going to be about my hike through the woods to the lake. Nothing more.