Whenever possible, I meet with other writer friends Wednesday nights. We drink, converse, eat truffle fries and decide on a prompt for the evening. Then we write. Sometimes what we write may be part of a larger project, a future novel or memoir. Sometimes the pieces are just their own little shiny things, a way to play, a way to keep in practice, a way to hear our own voice, for better or worse (a way for me to note, again, my habit of listing). Last night the prompt was disorientation, my suggestion and based on the experience I’d had earlier that day of going for a walk on my beach, through my dunes, intending to clear my head and instead falling so deeply into my thoughts that I missed my trailhead on the way back and found myself abruptly wondering where the hell I was, experiencing that sensation – of the familiar suddenly being un.
She came to among needles.
Not the plastic, silver-pointed ones, not those, the ones people found in the alleys and on the beach, and joked about, smack-talking heroin addiction, rolling their eyes, as if they had any clue, they had no clue. Not those kind of needles, the same her son used, not because he was a heroin addict, but to inject insulin into his arm. She’d slid the sharpness into her son’s skin too many times to count, pressed the flesh together, pressed the end of the needle upward, slowly, held it for a count of 10 to ensure the absorption of every drop.
The used needles – sharps, to use the clinical term – filled buckets in the shed. Disposing of them required special equipment and hazardous waste fees. Maybe one day she’d use them for an art project, glue them into a tower, all the needles stuck into her son throughout her life. These were not the needles strewn along the alleys, she’d note. They were not the needles of people lost.
And they were not the needles she woke up among.
Those needles – she awoke on a bed of redwood leaves.
As she emerged from the unaware to the awake, it was like this: softness and the air thick with decay, thick with life. She recognized the cushioning beneath her. She recognized that scent. She recognized the silhouette of the trees towering above.
The trees huddled at the top, joined at the roots, a fairy circle people call it, like family holding each other up, but blacking out the sun. Did you know, she remembered, that the needles of the redwood glisten bright on top, shiny in whatever light manages to shimmy through? But underneath, the needles stretch long, anxious for the moist cool air below?
The facts thus presented, she breathed in. Looked around. This was her backyard. Her home abutted the local forest, which tucked against the state park, through which hikers traveled, travelers hiked and the occasional solo woman would run, eyes wide like prey, shoulders back and legs strong like prey pretending to be a predator.
No gazelles leapt through these woods. She was standing by now, capable of naming the ferns – sword, ladyfinger, lace – and the bend in the path called in a familiar way. But she could not place herself. She closed her eyes and pictured home, hoping it would call to her. Her exhales were like ghosts. She began to see her loved ones in the trees. She traced her hand over the redwood, the softness of the bark undoing her. Her husband reached back, a gust of wind making the leaves dance, bend, sing as she pressed her cheek against the bark.
She was not surprised at its warmth.