I scramble to my feet and spin in a circle,
My pulse throbbing in my ears.
Am I crazy?
Did I dream that I met a beautiful girl in the middle of the woods
And that she faded into nothingness when I touched her hand?
Plunging my head into a snowdrift,
I come up spluttering,
The cold stinging my skin with needle-sharp pinpricks.
Well at least I’m awake now
If I wasn’t before.
I turn again on the spot;
There are no footprints here but my own,
And the tree shadows are no longer than they were when I first arrived.
Ten minutes later
I stumble through the back door of our rental cabin,
Out of breath from running
And maybe from crying too
I don’t know.
Mom looks up when she hears me come in and stands as I brush past her
“Wes? Are you okay?”
I don’t answer.
Instead, I sprint upstairs to the bathroom.
I can’t explain why, but I need to see myself---
Maybe to check that my eyes are their normal hazel
And not the color of sunlit ice;
Maybe to see whether my hair is still brown and straight
Free of silvery curls;
Maybe just to make sure that I’m still there,
That I haven’t vanished into thin air.
I lock the door and stare at my face in the mirror.
The frozen tear tracks on my face are melting in the warm house,
And although I’m still wearing my jacket
I can’t stop shivering.
I cup my bright red cheeks in my palms.
They feel solid enough
But am I really here?
Is any of this real?
What if my entire life has been nothing but an elaborate dream,
And what happens when the dreamer wakes up?
I can't catch my breath properly;
It's like my chest is being squeezed by cold, iron bands
And I find myself sliding down until I’m crouched against the wall
Gasping for air
Trying to regain control.
After a while, I find myself staring out the bathroom window.
Beyond it stretches the snow-covered forest,
Dotted with the occasional lights from a rental cabin
Or a streetlamp.
And above the forest and the trees and the lights
Stretches the sky
And it occurs to me that that’s where I last saw her---
In the sky.
That’s where my eyes were fixed
When her face disappeared
And her smile dissolved into starlight.
I stare at the stars for a long, long time.
I don’t know how long I sit there.
I get to my feet
And face myself in the mirror once again.
The tear tracks have dried.
The frenzied, hunted look is gone from my eyes
And my breathing seems normal
(Apart from the ache in my lungs that always follows tears).
I stare at my pale cheeks,
And hold up a hand,
Examining my palm in the glass.
Then slowly, almost without conscious thought
I point my finger at my reflection.
“Wes,” I whisper.
My reflection mirrors the gesture,
Copies my every move
Its lips in perfect concert with mine
And suddenly, the corners of my mouth are tugging upwards.
I raise my eyebrows and point my finger at my chest
Instead of my reflection’s:
“My name is Wes,” I murmur softly to the boy in the mirror.
“I don’t know who you are,
But I'm Wes.”
And it feels good to say it,
Because unlike/because of/in spite of
Meeting the girl in the woods,
I know it’s true.