BURNING

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

— Henry David Thoreau

It’s a long way from home now, this broken path. But it was better this way, leaving the body back home. Death had been the final catalyst for running. Though, maybe, now that it was over, he was not running at all. At least not running away but running towards.

His father had clung to his clothes as he thrashed around, his eyes rolled back, blood inching down from his nose, spilling into his mouth. It was the only time he had clung to Henry like he was begging for life, for comfort, rather than for violence. Henry had winced as his father had beat against the scars on his son’s skin, courtesy of his father’s Malboros. And then it stopped. The broken beer bottle sagged in his lap, and the white powder fell from his collar. 

Henry panicked then, hot tears shamefully flowing from his eyes. He had no one to tell, no other family to confide in. He phoned the authorities, not knowing what to say except there was now a dead body in his home and it was his father’s. After he hung up he sobbed, staring at his father before him. Then, as if something had switched off, the crying stopped, replacing the release in his chest with something hot and heavy. And that is how he felt: heavy. He thought that, one day, when he was able to leave, that feeling would go. It was something he had known since he was young, and had only gotten worse with age, like eyesight or back pain. 

But as he walked now, the feeling was not gone. His backpack took the physical form of it, sitting heavy on his shoulders.

He did not want them to take him away. He wanted no new home. He did not want to see people with soft voices and harsh grasps. Touch scared him and he was tired of being afraid.

He wanted the familiarity of the trees, hearing them whisper as he passed. He wanted all the dirt on his shoes and under his fingernails, leaves in his hair. He wanted to know what it felt like to finally feel free and feel complete in loneliness. 

He had never known the comfort of another person. He had come close a few years ago, when he had quickly become friends with another boy in his class, a boy whose eyes were rimmed with red and whose hair was dark like pen ink. The boy had moved to another state only a few months ago, leaving Henry here. He had not wanted to go, told Henry that all the time. (You’ll be okay, hey, he held Henry’s face in his hands. Henry was, always shamefully, crying.) Which was some comfort to Henry because he knew how much he had hated this place, in its staleness and norm. But still, words were unsaid, as they often are, and all he was left with now were his hands. 

Sorry for the broken bones and the bruises. Sorry for all the red I left you with and the narrowness of my words when there was wideness to my intentions. Sorry that I didn’t stop the car from leaving. Sorry about the body in the house, I wish it were me.

And as his feet met gravel, then grass, then sand, then dirt, he discovered that he had not yet known himself. With every step his mind cleared while his vision blurred. The weight was there, again, to remind him of what he had done, what he had not done — and he was far more ashamed of the latter. It was a warm pain that spilled in his abdomen. When he went to touch it, doubling in grief, his hands came back red, as they often do with regrets. And he was bleeding from a life he had not lived to its fullest, dying on the road to better days.

He smiled, then laughed. But he began to cry. He thought of his father again, the last image of him — he was thrashing around, a broken beer bottle in his hand. He thought of his friend who left — embracing him as he cried. He knew he had tainted him, almost wanted to push him off of him, but the warmth was too soft. He had wanted to comfort for himself, and sacrificed the boy to get it. 

Someone always had to leave, there was no other way for this to go. He was here, in the woods, his hands leaving from his body, stained with red, and he knows now that he is his truest self in this form — bleeding out, and on his knees.

He had not felt it when it happened, the glass wedging itself into his stomach, his father’s wild, teary eyes. There was something in there that Henry had never seen before, and it was regret.

And he fell, no one around to hear the sound. He watched as the sun slowly began to rise, hearing the faint sound of sirens. They would find him, he knew, alone in the dirt.  He liked the image of his grave being here, the woods — an empty graveyard. More souls in the trees to ponder with than the ones under stone. 

He smiled, gasping for a life he had not yet tasted, his mind reaching out to a tomorrow that would never come, an image of his father’s rage, his friend’s farewell; he saw the sirens, broken green glass, rural churches, flickering street lights, a boy’s smile, bloody knuckles, bruised shins, someone waving in a car, a hand pulling him back by the shirt. 

The sun overwhelmed the images playing through his mind, like burning film, and then they were gone.