One would have thought the whole year of 2017 was pretty strange through the lenses of my damaged mind. I was dying of many rather unpleasant afflictions, be them acute or chronic. I also had the most intriguing experience of getting caught up in a number of fatal accidents. And when that onslaught of deaths had become increasingly difficult to maintain for my twisted imagination, I toyed with the idea of killing myself for real to be on the safe side. Yet all that macabre weirdness got beaten by a single minute that might easily be one of the heaviest things that’s ever landed on my troubled head.
It happened shortly before the New Year’s Eve of 2017. I was on family holidays in Petříkov, a small village buried at the end of a remote valley in the Jeseník mountains. One day we went to the woods, following a trail of frozen slush covered with fresh snow. The main point was to teach my son basics of skiing on the gentle slope of the path. That, however, didn’t exclude fierce snowball battles and general tomfoolery in the feathery powder drifts that billowed and sparkled in between the tall spruces around.
Now, on the surface, I was as reasonably happy and playfully mischievous person as anyone to the people I was with. I was showing my son how to handle those blasted slippery planks, faking bum-drops and sprawling trip-overs to show him falling is completely all right. Whenever I saw the poor boy needed a break, we pelted my nephew and brother-in-law in a flurry of haphazard white projectiles, filling the air with glittering traces of frozen dust.
After a while I needed a break myself, so I thrust my skis deep into a bulging drift by the path, brushed a lost snowflake off my wife’s rosy cheek and went for a merrily meaningless chat with my parents and sister who stood waiting nearby. A perfectly normal day on a family trip, one might say. The only problem was that all those things I did were just a well-rehearsed play at being normal.
By that time I’d had more than a year of practicing conscious control over all my actions whenever there were people around. Especially people who might get hurt if they noticed what kind of deathly desert threatens to smother the whole world so close to them, just behind the aching bones of my skull. Crafting such a cocoon I foolishly meant to protect me and mine wasn’t so terribly difficult. Like most members of the often absurdly social human species, I’d learned early on to make the appropriate faces on subtle cues of whatever situation I got steeped in. I only had to hone that art a little bit, and be cautious not to let anyone look too deep into my drowned man’s eyes. Sure, it was tiring to will those little muscles in my face into moving the safe way for hours on end. Some days I felt so weary that my fingers could barely close around a bloody spoon, let alone the hand of my wife or son. More often than not even speaking was a chore, with my mushy brain echoing each word over and over before it crossed my lips at last, tasting of contrivance and utter uselessness. But I could manage. I had to. I didn’t see any way out other than the one I’d refused to follow.
And then I was in that snowy forest with my family, and my gloomy reality cracked big time.
It was as if I somehow slipped out of time. The silver light of unseen sun filtered through the white-capped branches just the way it did before, but the sluggish rays suddenly looked like they didn’t belong into my old, weary world. It was as if each photon hitting my retina had been freshly forged in furnaces of a newborn universe.
The stream by the path whispered in my ear, telling me stories of spring that slumbers everywhere around under the blankets of ice and pillows of snow. The muddy green murmur mixed with my boy’s laughter and the hum of my parent’s voices, and I knew it’s the sweetest music I can ever hope to hear.
As I turned my head around in speechless awe, my breath dragged through my nostrils like a glacial trickle of frozen resin. And when the time started ticking again, everything was different.
I knew how to smile not because I should but because I wanted to, from the depth of my soul. I could frolic in the snow with the boys without consciously pushing myself into every little move. I could talk whatever nonsense popped up in my mind without fear of bursting the bubble I’d so laboriously built around my self. And I could kiss my wife, truly feeling how much I love her instead of just impassively registering the suave texture and the curious warmth of her lips.
The weird spell didn’t last too long. In about a minute, I was back to my gruesomely lonely game of fake normalcy. But the memory of that timeless moment in wintry woods stayed and became my lifeline, for one simple reason. It was the first time in over a year when I felt like I may not need to play that slow killer of a game forever after all.