Free As a Bird, copyright 1996 Cathina N. Johnson
As I sit in the simmering summer twilight, I think back to another time when I felt this way. The only time I remember feeling such serenity was when I was a child in a place so like this one. The bowing trees call out to me, beckoning to me with their waving branched arms, their sorrowful knot-hole eyes. I feel sorry for them, and I feel the need to run to them, embrace them, and let my joy ebb into their rooty veins like I did as a child. Mama and Dad called it climbing trees. I called it becoming one with nature. I still do. One particular summer evening, much like this one, I was sitting cradled in the leafy arms of my favorite tree. The air stood still, shimmering with contained heat, the heat taht only July can create. There was no wind, no hint of coolness that would relieve us from the stifling discomfort. I sat about 12 feet off the ground; that was the summer I was afraid of heights. I had not yet discovered how intoxicating it is to see the world from a birds-eye view. Across the blue-green acreage that Mama and Dad and I called home, I saw our little gray, weather-beaten home. The upstairs lights were on; the windows in Mama and Dad's room were ablaze with brightness that threatened to intrude upon my self-induced hiding place. I sat in my spot, gazing at Mama and Dad's windows until well after my bedtime. Finally, when the moon was almost overhead and I almost felt the eerie calmness of early morning descent upon me, I slid down from my branch and mosied home, picking my way carefully through the corn that was my family's sustenance, both physically and financially. Even after I went upstairs and crawled, weary but wide-eyed, into my bed, I didn't suspect anything was wrong. But early the next morning, before the sun came up, I was awakened by a fitful sleep by an impending sense of wrongness. I slid out of bed and walked gently to Mama and Dad's room, where the lights were still on. I opened the door and peeked inside, quickly becoming horrified by the sight that met my sleepy ten-year-old yees. My parents were on the floor, nude, surrounded by pools of blood which were obviously theirs. I backed out of the room and called the operator, but I barely got out my name before I fainted gratefully into the darkness that sorrow cannot penetrate. That was the last time I saw my parents. My neighbors got rid of their bodies before I made it my duty to clean their belongings out of their room. It was a long time before I finally learned why my parents had died; their bodies carried a deadly virus that was unknown to anyone at the time, but later became known as AIDS. My parents carried out what I see now as a supreme act of both selfishness and selflessness. They didn't want me to see them die the horrible deaths that they knew accompanied the disease; they themselves, though, didn't want to have to go through the terrible remainder of their lives knowing that death waited for them like the doorman at a ritzy hotel. Indefinately, incessantly, invariably there. The night of their suicide was the last night I felt so calm. Now, I sit blanketed against the unwavering destiny that is headed towards me, even though the heat of the night permeates the thick woolen shield I have wrapped around myself. I am sweating, but I don't feel it. Instead, I feel the tiny virus nibbling away at my immune system, reminding me that Mama and Dad left me more of inheritance than the one the provided in their wills. They bequeathed to me the very thing that killed them, a virus of unknown origin. I don't know where Mama and Dad got it, but I know that I got it from Mama's womb. I am 19 years old, and I've never had a boyfriend, never had a lover, never experienced most of the social joys that my peers have. I was always afraid somehow I would pass my stigmata on to someone else. So now I sit dying the terrible death that my parents died to avoid. I've never felt so free, so untethered, so intoxicated. My new love for life has replaced my old fear of death, and I sit on my patio not afraid now of the death that I know will come soon. I feel the vial of pills obscured under my red and blue Indian blanket, and I know that death, so like the bottomless darkness I fell into the night of Mama and Dad's suicide, is waiting for me, is coming a lot sooner than anyone knows. I shrug off the heavy blanket and pour several pills into my palm, relishing their coolness after the stifling heat of the blanket. I pick up a glass of water and swallow them all at once. I set the glass down on the railing of my balcony, and look out over the green acreage that surrounds my residence, a place full of others like me, all of us waiting for death to come. I shout out, "I'm free! Free as a bird!" I feel again the intoxicating sense of freedom that comes with being high above the world, and breath deep, one of my last life-sustaining actions. Then I sit down before this feeling of timelessness, space and joy go away. I sit down and wait for death to come.
This story is entirely fiction. I do not have AIDS, I do not want to
commit suicide, I do not have parents who have AIDS or have commited
suicide. It is purely fiction. If you have a problem with that, let
me know. As far as that goes, no matter what you thought, let me know.
A writer only gets better with criticism.