Joyce C. Gerrish, M.A.
Nallie reads a text message from her brother Daniel. It says, “Got fired. Feeling down. Come to cabin if you can.” Their uncle owns a large camp ground area outside of town. The most distant cabin is reserved for relatives. Before heading to the campgrounds, she grabs her raincoat and boots and umbrella because it looks like rain. She drives as fast as possible, and before long Nallie arrives at the camp grounds. As she walks the path toward the distant cabin, her thoughts are on Daniel. “Ever since he was a small boy he’s spent a lot of time out in the woods. He went there because he passionately loved being with the trees, small animals, being close to the earth, and walking along the stream. Sometimes he went out into the woods because he wanted to get away from all the family commotion. He has always said that the woods are his true home.
Nallie is concerned now because she knows how hard Daniel tried to hold on to his job. Some raindrops landing on her face draw Nallie’s attention back to the present. She pulls up the hood of her rain slicker, and thinks to herself, “It looks like it might really storm. I really don’t want to be out in this, but I don’t want Daniel to be alone right now. I can’t believe he was fired from his job. I know that he didn’t like it and wanted to quit, but he worked hard at it. He seemed to feel driven to prove he could do it.” She treads on toward the cabin more determined than ever.
It’s raining steadily now, and winds start to blow. Tree branches begin to wave and creak. Nallie reflects that the skies are crying tears in empathy with Daniel. The dirt path to the cabin is getting muddy. Her boots sink in somewhat as she moves on down this path she knows so well. She loves her brother fiercely, and wants to be here for him. She reflects, “When he feels he’s got to get away, he comes here to the cabin. He calls it his sanctuary of peace. We’ve had lots of good time here, too, camping together along with sister Deana and other friends. We’re lucky that the campgrounds are right next to the state forest with so many hiking trails.”
Nallie sees the huge tree that she calls Grandfather Oak and knows she’s getting close. It is the biggest tree in the forest. Nallie feels like it is watching over and protecting her and everything in the woods like a loving grandfather. Nallie can see the cabin ahead. She almost slips on the mud, but catches herself by grabbing the trunk of a small tree. She arrives panting at the cabin door and calls out, “Daniel, it’s me!” The door opens, and Daniel says “You’re here! I didn’t know it was going to rain so hard. I didn’t mean to bring you out in this. He coughs nervously and blurts out, “That beast my boss had the nerve to fire me! “ Nallie agrees, “I know, it doesn’t make any sense. I know how hard you worked. ” She starts to give him a big hug, but laughs and says, “Let me get off my soaking wet rain coat and boots so I don’t get you all wet!” Daniel puts the wet things to the side to dry, invites her to sit down in an old wooden chair, and puts a warm blanket around her shoulders.
With a pensive look he faces his sister and says with a strained voice, “You know, I couldn’t stand that job! Every month it’s gotten harder and harder for me to even pretend that I care about all those numbers and financial policies. I guess that it showed on my face. I was starting to make a few mistakes. I felt that something would have to give before long! But I didn’t want to happen this way! I feel humiliated! What’s Dad gonna say? He never really talks about it, but I know that he really hopes I will carry on in his footsteps in finance. He loves it, that’s fine! Deana’s an excellent accountant and is really happy. I’ve tried hard to love it, but I don’t. It’s uphill all the way for me, no matter how hard I try. Is that what life’s supposed to be about? – – Trying to force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do and aren’t very good at?”
Nallie looks in his eyes with love and says, “You’re not a failure, you’re good at a lot of things. You’ve always been able to explain the world to me! You know more about the creatures and plants in the woods than anybody I know. You’re one of the kindest most sensitive caring people around. You’ve always been there for me. You try very hard to do a good job of whatever you do! That’s a lot.” Daniel responds, “Why have I been such an idiot to pursue a career in something I couldn’t care less about and I’m not very good at? The woods have been my sanctuary whenever I have been able to get out here. They don’t glare at me and tell me my calculations are five cents off – – or that I’m moving too slow. The trees help me be peaceful, and I feel connected to what seems real to me.” Nallie hugs Daniel, and says, “Oh, I understand, believe me.”
Then she pauses and looks reflective, “You know, Mon and Dad never really said it, but we all knew that they really hoped that you would follow in Dad’s footsteps and be a vice present in a corporation. The idea was always seemed to be that you would get your degree in business finance. You were so gentle and you seemed to be trying to please everyone – – you didn’t seem to really put up much resistance. Maybe since I’m a girl they never said too much to me about what I would do. Anyway, I always wanted to be a counselor ever since we did family therapy when things got a little rocky for a while. I was so impressed with the counselor, she seemed so wise. Now Deana, on the other hand, she thrilled Dad and Mom when she decided to be an accountant. Numbers are her passion! She says numbers have a life of their own for her. We’re all different, right?”
Daniel’s lower lip trembles and he looks down. Nallie feels he looks really shaken. He doesn’t speak right away. He starts to cough. The coughing continues. Daniel looks embarrassed. Nallie has never seen her brother look quite so startled and vulnerable at the same time. The color drains from his face. He looks like he’s fighting back tears. His body starts to shake and he sobs silently. Nallie lovingly puts her arms around his shaking body and holds him tight. She gently rocks him and softly says, “I love you Daniel, you’re O.K. I’m here. It’s O.K. to cry.” Nallie holds him for what feels like a very long time. Gradually the shaking subsides and he seems to breathe in a steadier rhythm.
Without looking up, Daniel murmurs, “I’m so embarrassed. I can’t believe I broke down this way. I never cry. I feel so ashamed.” He raises his head gradually and slowly looks into his sister’s eyes. At first it is hard for him to focus his tear soaked eyes. Then he sees her kind steady gaze. He relaxes and they look into each other’s eyes quietly for a few moment. Nallie keeps gently stroking his arm. She softly says, “I’m glad I can be here for you, you’ve helped me through some rough times.” He laughs in a self conscious way.
Daniel looks down at the floor again. He starts coughing again. He stutters, “Nallie, I’m feeling some emotions coming up and I don’t know what to do with them! I feel like a kid struggling. The kid in me feels like screaming, “No, No! I don’t want to do that! Not again! ” Daniel clutches his hands and then clutches his knees. “I always tried so hard to please! I tried not to disappoint any one! Mon and Dad always told me I was the big brother and I had show you and Deana how to be good and do things just right. When I got frustrated, I used to talk to the dog a lot. Thank heavens for Spikes, he seemed to understand.” Daniel laughs nervously again – – then he suddenly looks very serious and blurts out, “I’ve had it! I’m going to please me now!” He starts to speak but stutters – – – then he coughs again. “What would that look like – – to please myself? Will the real Daniel please stand up?” Daniel starts to laugh then stops. “Who am I, Nallie? Who is the real Daniel? Did he get lost somewhere along the way?”
Nallie looks at her brother with deep compassion, and doesn’t say anything for a while – – which seems like an eternity to Daniel. Then she says quietly, “who you are is for only you to decide, my precious brother. That really is for only you to decide.” They sit together quietly for a little longer. “Listen,” says Daniel, “the rain is slowing down and I don’t hear the winds blowing so hard through the trees. It’s getting more quiet and peaceful outside.” He pauses and keeps listening. Nallie notices that his body seems to relax somewhat and he leans back into his chair. Daniel says with a hushed almost surprised voice, “my emotions, my heaving chest, and my whole body is feeling quieter, too – – just like the winds and the rain. I’m glad you’re here, Nallie. I really appreciate your support because I feel really sort of different than usual- – or something – – – I don’t have a word for it. I don’t know when I felt so aware of my feelings and my breathing. It feels good and weird at the same time. Yieks! Now something is shifting and I feel like I have a sort of heavy weight on my chest. Ugh!”
Nallie listens carefully and is pensive. She senses that this is a delicate moment for Daniel. It comes to her mind what her yoga teacher says so often. Nallie imagines she is her yoga teacher and says, “Daniel, as you breathe in, imagine you’re breathing in light and peace into your chest. As you breathe out, feel yourself breathing out that heavy feeling from your chest. Try it!” Daniel mutters, “Yeah – – O.K. I guess – – I’ll try – – Oh, whew! – – Breathe in light – – breathe out this awful weight.” He focuses on his breathing for awhile, then says, “Thanks, that seems to help a little. – – but now I kind of feel like yelling or growling. This is absurd, but I feel like a little kid having a tantrum. It’s like I even want to kick my feet. You know, I don’t think I ever did that as a child. I tried to be so obedient. I don’t think that it really occurred to be to rebel at all.” Daniel gets a stunned look on his face, looks at Nallie with wide eyes, and says, “You know, I think I sold out. I betrayed myself, and didn’t very often let myself feel what was going on inside of me. I just stuffed it down and tried to ignore it. Sometimes I got terrible headaches. Wow, I’m seeing some connections now.”
“I can’t go on like this. I’ve been thinking I was pleasing others, but I’ve truly just been depriving myself and everyone of who I really am. Occasionally I’ve seen friends look at me with an expression of wondering if I’m for real. Believe it or not, I’ve occasionally wondered that myself. Do I really think I impress anyone by building this image of who I think I should be? I afraid that it’s just been confusing the people I care about – – and most of all distancing me from truly living life the way I want to.” Daniel hunches over somewhat and mutters, “I kind of feel like I want to throw up. – – But, you know, I ‘m pretty sure that what I want to throw up isn’t vomit. What I want to throw up is all this pretend and frustration.” He stares blankly into space for a moment, then says, “I’m exhausted from all this. I’m gonna take a nap.” Nallie quietly says, “You sleep, I brought a good book with me. We’ll put together some lunch when you wake up.” “Yeah,” say Daniel only half awake as he moves to the little cot and crawls into his sleeping bag, “I’ve got some cans of tuna, half a loaf of bread and – – some – – and — ,” in a moment he is deep asleep.
Eventually Daniel wakes up and stretches. “Wow, you’re here Nallie. Thank you. How long did I sleep?” Nallie says, “A couple hours. You tossed some and spoke a little now and then, but I couldn’t tell what you were saying.” He responds, “I had some vivid dreams. I haven’t remembered my dreams in years. I was dreaming about me in the woods happy – – – and I saw kids with me – – I was taking them all over the trails and off the trails too. The dreams seemed so real. The kids seemed really happy to be with me. I was showing them lizards and crawfish and all kinds of insects.” He laughs happily. Whew! Hey, I don’t feel too bad now!” Daniel climbs out of his sleeping bag and looks out the window. “It stopped raining. The sun is starting to shine through the clouds a little. How about that?! The sun is starting to shine through! O.K.!!!! Alright, I’m ready to tackle a couple tuna sandwiches. I’ve got some apples here, too.”
They put together their sandwiches and sit on the cabin steps to eat them. The woods feel fresh and vibrantly alive. “You know,” says Daniel, “I don’t know what’s ahead. It’s going to take me time to unravel all this. But I feel an opening. I feel an opening. That weight on my chest is lighter, for sure. I feel some hope – – maybe I’m not a complete failure. Maybe I’m not a failure at all – – maybe I just haven’t found my full stride yet.“ Nallie puts her arm around his shoulders with a hug and replies, “That’s right, and I sense you’re on your way.” They sit quietly together on the cabin steps quite a while just enjoying munching their sandwiches and apples – – and looking around at the glistening wet trees and plants of all sizes and shapes. The sunlight shinning through here and there creates beautiful patterns of light and shadows.
Daniel says reflectively, “Uncle Ed’s caretaker for the campgrounds here is getting older. I like Tom the caretaker; we’ve had some long conversations about all kinds of things. At a glance one might not realize how wise he is. He’s told me some wonderful tales about his life and what he’s explored. He’s got arthritis pretty badly now. I think that he really would appreciate help. In fact my guess is that he’d really like me to take over a lot of it. I think his wife has a really good pension and he doesn’t really need to work all that much. I’d like to take care of the campgrounds here and the visitors. I like campers. I’m quite sure Uncle Ed would be pleased with this plan. You know what I might really like to do is maybe start a Wilderness Experiences School here. All right!!! Why not? I’d like that. There’s nothing like that in this town or any of the nearby towns or even in the city of Turner. It could work. It might take a little time to get started.” Daniel and Nallie smiled at each other.
© Joyce C. Gerrish, 2015