His eyes filled with tears, his face red and blotchy as my best friend tells me that his dad has passed away. All I can think of is to hug him. I want to hug away the pain and anguish. I also want to cry as well. Troy’s parents have always accepted me as one of their kids. Vicky, Troy’s mum, always said I was her sixth kid, the one with manners. Though this was normally only said when the boys were acting up. Mel and Emma had moved out many moons ago but Troy, Scott and Daniel remained.
He dropped down onto the couch, his shoulders slumped and his face in his hands. Troy had always been emotionally strong; he had been there for me through my rough patches and to see him now, sunk so very low into one of the deepest ruts either of us had experienced, it was hard to watch my strong friend seem so vulnerable. I did the one thing I knew might have any chance of cheering him up, “Do you want me to make you a special hot chocolate?” The one thing that could make him smile when he felt like crap was my hot chocolate, made with melted Toblerone, it was amazing.
Troy shook his head, “I need to take off to my thinking place. It’s all just too much, Mel is at home helping mum sort out the funeral, and I need to be out in the fresh air. Do you want to come with?” It wasn’t the first time Troy had used the line, “I need to take off to my thinking place.” It reminded me of the first time he had taken me with him more than five years earlier.
Troy had arrived at my house on my Saturday off work without much warning. The day was fine, mostly sunny with just enough cloud that the heat wasn’t over whelming. His dad, Kevin had been taken into hospital again. Vicky had called me two hours earlier to let me know what was happening, Troy had taken off and she wasn’t going to be home to cook dinner for Scott and Daniel, so I had promised I would head up and make them dinner. When Troy had arrived it was obvious he was stressed out, as the oldest one at home he took on more than he should have and hearing that his dad was in hospital again he had taken off from home knowing that he would have to play mummy for the two younger boys till his dad came back out. Not something that an 18 year old wants to deal with on a regular basis.
Troy shook his first aid box at me, a tell-tale sign that he was stressed out. His first aid box was his idea of mind numb. “Your thinking place? Where is your thinking place?” Troy is well known for disappearing for days on end when things get too much. I didn’t really want to disappear with him for a few days. The idea was a good one but I had work obligations and now I had to think about Scott and Daniel as well. “It’s a place in the forest, just up the road. I promise to have you back before it gets dark.”
He looks so sad that I can’t say no. “Ok, you better because I have to feed your brothers tonight. Just let me get changed, pack up a picnic, grab some beers and something to sit on.” As I disappear to get changed Troy calls out, “Don’t worry about food, I stopped in at the supermarket. I have the makings for sandwiches, plus snacks like chips. I’ll pack up the beer.” As I emerge from the hallway he holds up the picnic blanket and the chilly bag with the beers. “All set.” I smile at him. He must have been desperate to get going. We close up the house in some kind of dance, both of us moving around the other without ever aiming for the same window or door.
Troy drives in silence up the road. I want to console him but I don’t know what to say. We turn onto the gravel road that leads through the forest to the beach. Even in this summer sunlight the pine trees that line the road look dark. They look like they are sucking the light out of the sky. They throw shadows across the gravel mimicking the shadows that pass across my friends face.
I’m nervous. This forest always makes me nervous. It’s the fact that it’s so pretty mixed with the idea of death. I have heard the stories of dumped bodies littering the floor along with the pine needles and gorse, or the story of the body that was hidden up in a tree. No one looked up, so the body took longer to find. It’s not just the bodies of humans in this forest, but the bodies of deer, hunted by poachers. It makes you wonder what else is hiding in there. This forest always brings up questions, rather than producing answers.
At a corner on the road in, I look out into forest and all I can see are the straight lines, the artificial set up of this huge unknown. Behind it a bare hill, the remains of one small portion of this dark expanse that has had its life ripped up from the roots.
“Troy? How far in are we going?”
“Almost all the way to the beach. You will be able to see the ocean from my spot.” He responds. I shudder. Muriwai beach is as deadly as beaches come. It looks amazing and beautiful, but still deadly. One beautiful death trap sharing a fence with a beautiful burial ground.
“I know this forest is creepy. It is life and yet it seems to drown the light out.” I’m surprised by his thought and glad I’m not the only one with a twisted understanding of this artificial arrangement of trees. “I like the ones closest to the sea. The ones that are all twisted and strange. They seem more realistic, less like an army of soldiers standing in formation, all the same.” I look at Troy and smile. “Me too. They have more character.”
The silence falls again. The shadows seemed to whisper ahead, alerting the trees to our presence. A car comes towards us at speed and throws up a cloud of dust behind it. Leaving us blind, hiding the forest from sight. The dust cloud passes and we continue onto the car park, another artificial clearing surrounded by trees. The gravel seems to shine in the day light, a light patch shrouded in darkness.
Troy parks his lime green Subaru off to the right hand side of the car park. I grab my camera and my handbag and hop out the car. I look around me and wonder if any old ghosts haunt this part of the forest. Troy snaps me out of it. “Here.” he says handing me the chilly bag with the beers and the picnic blanket, grabbing out the Woolworths bags with the food for himself to carry. Troy tucks the first aid kit under his arm and slams the boot.
“This way slutty.” He laughs as he walks off towards the right hand side of the car park. He is clearly feeling better the closer he gets to his thinking spot. Slutty, his nickname for me because apparently I used to get around, according to who I’m not entirely sure, but the name stuck. I follow Troy towards a large metal gate. He climbs through it.
This makes my nerves go crazy. “Why are we climbing through a gate? It’s closed for a reason.” Troy turns and looks back at me. “Shut up and climb through the damn gate. I know what I’m doing. I have been here a hundred times, just relax.” I don’t relax, but I do climb through the gate, juggling the beers as I go.
“Trust me.” He says as he grabs the chilly bag off me. “Come on. It’s not far. Just up here and around the corner.” He walks off ahead of me eager to reach his place of solace. He disappears up around the corner of a small rise. My nerves run at fever pitch. I can’t see him anymore, so I pick up my pace to follow him. I’m constantly looking around me making sure no one is going to pop out and scare me or kill me.
I round the corner looking for Troy; he’s quite a way in front of me at the top of the sand dune. He’s stopped and is putting down the chilly bag, so I climb the sand up to where he is, as I get closer I can see that it’s a large grey, concrete water tank, buried in the sand. One small step from the sand and I’m standing next to Troy. There are twisted trees all around the back of the tank and a huge wide expanse of sand stretches out in front of it. Further out from the sand are the trees and then the beach, beyond that the sea which looks like it merges with the sky.
Without any other words Troy lets me look out at the view while he sets up the picnic blanket, and pops us both a beer. Standing next to me he passes it over and we both drink.
“This place is amazing. This view . . . wow.” Troy simply nods in understanding of my awe and rolls himself a smoke. He pats his back pocket looking for his lighter, a casual movement that highlights just how relaxing this place is for him. Calm is rolling off him in waves and it makes me slow my breathing and relax as well.
He brings his lighter forward and lights his smoke. He takes a deep drag in, holds it and then releases it, sighing as the cloud of smoke flows out. Without words he offers his smoke to me. I don’t smoke but I figure no one but Troy is watching and he doesn’t judge. I take the smoke off him and take a small drag, coughing as I breathe out. Taking the smoke back off me, Troy laughs as I take a swig of my beer. “Jeez Amie, newbie much.” I shake my head and roll my eyes at him. “Give me a break, you know I don’t smoke.” I knock back the rest of my beer and toss the bottle into the rubbish bag.
We sit down on the tank and Troy, smoke hanging from his lips, sets up the small portable iPod dock and picks the music, Pendulum, ‘Through the Loop’ as the sound starts and the music plays off the trees around us, the lyrics from the creepy song on the boat from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory begin to surround us, “There’s no knowing where were going.” While Troy sorts out the music I pop the caps off the next set of beers, and begin to pull out the makings for lunch.
Three more beers for me and at least two sandwiches for both of us, Troy rolls himself another smoke and offers it to me once again. I’m determined not to cough. So I take a drag and hold it till I know I won’t cough as I breathe out. Troy smiles as I blow the smoke out. “Impressive, now do it again without thinking about it.” I try again, success, no coughing. I laugh, “I’m so glad your leading me astray Troy!”
I lay back on the picnic blanket with my hands behind my head and my feet crossed. There are few clouds in the sky; they keep changing shapes as I try to track them. The trees behind my head seem to frame the sky. They look like they are reaching over my head ready to brush my hair. The trees look lighter, more like they are the ones throwing out the light, rather than sucking the light out. The shapes they make look like shelves and benches. There are fantails sitting in the trees above my head, watching me as I watch them. Once both of us are laying still on the tank they come flying out of the trees, singing their happy songs to us, flitting in and out around our heads and bodies, like they are taking away the stress little by little. Four of them hover around us, talking to us like the birds of Disney movies, “They’re our friends.” Troy says quiet as a whisper so as not to scare them away. “We should name them. One should be called Angelica.” I reply. Troy giggles, “And George and Lucy and Pickle.” We both giggle.
The sun seems to sparkle against the sand and against the water out at sea. Those sparkles seem to be flowing through the woods now. Every branch seems to be sparkling behind my head. Troy even looks like he’s sparkling. I look out towards the sea, I’m not sure if I see a boat, it looks more like a paper boat, so small and insignificant. But my mind tells me it must be a tanker or maybe even a fishing boat, for me to be able to see it from here.
I grab another beer and pop the cap off the top. I knock back half and slip forward off the tank and slip my toes into the sand. Wiggling my toes in the warm sand feels amazing, gritty and smooth all at once. I reach down to stroke the sand and I am overwhelmed with an idea.
“Sand castle!! We should build a sand castle.” Troy sits up and looks at me. “Let’s do it!!” Troy slips off the tank and he starts building a sand castle. I watch as he starts, he’s extremely focused on the task. I skull back the remainder of my beer and sit down next to the start of his castle. As I start to dig, push and mould the sand, I can feel the wet sand at my finger tips, it’s cold and it makes me shiver. The sparkles on the surface of the sand look so warm and yet deeper down into the sand it’s cold and dark.
I wonder if I keep digging how long it might take me to get to China, or if this hole could be like the hole from Alice in Wonderland. If I fall in will I come out in some magical place where everything is a little bit crazy? Will I see a caterpillar sitting on a large mushroom smoking a hashish pipe, blowing rings of smoke into my face, asking me “Whooooooo are youuuuuuu?” It’s a good question and it makes me think. Everyone is like my hole, everyone has layers, depths.
It makes me think about Troy, I look up at my friend who is still focused on the sand castle. My sandy hole is like him, warm and sparkly on the surface, but the further down you go, the darker and sadder he really is.
Without thinking I jump across the gap between us, knocking over my empty beer bottle as I go. I grab Troy around his shoulders, he is taken by surprise and we go rolling backwards down the sandy slope, laughing as we go. As we reach the bottom of the slope and come to a stop we slowly stop laughing. Once Troy has managed to stop laughing he asks, “What was that about?”
I laugh, “Just thought you might need a hug.” He smiles at me, picking himself up off the sand and holds out a hand to help me up. I clasp his hand as he hauls me up off the sand and we brush ourselves off as we climb back up the sandy slope.
We climb back up onto the top of the tank and Troy begins to roll himself another smoke. He lights it, takes a drag and hands it over to me without asking, I take a drag and hand it back to him. The colours around us seem so brilliant. I feel like I’m part of the tank, like I’m a living part of the forest. Living, breathing and growing alongside the trees and animals that call this place home. I breathe in and out with the ocean. The breeze coming up off the sea towards us brings the smell of salt water and beach to our noses. The roaring of the waves sounds distant but clear.
We stay listening to the world around us, watching the sky shift and move for over an hour, just spacing out and absorbing the world around us. At one point Troy hops off the tank and walks down the slope, picking up a stick as he goes. As he reaches the flat he begins to write in the sand. Words flow out of him, down the stick and into the sand. As I watch him in the sun a poem forms:
I want to lose myself in something, really truly lose myself.
Just forget the world I live in.
I want to feel happy,
Surrounded by things that mean everything and nothing,
Like the sky, the moon and the stars.
I want to be the light defying the darkness.
These words swirled into the sand, like a piece of himself has fallen out and onto the earth, a picture of his pain painted in words, like graffiti that’s etched into his heart. I can see his shadow creeping out across his poem, trying to collect back up his thoughts, but failing to do so. Troy looks so very alone within his own mind, standing with his own sandy words. An image of a person that needs saving from themselves.
I walk down from the tank to stand next to him. I take the stick from his hand and as he watches me, I add another line.
So I shall become the sun and not only be the light but warmth as well.
Troy looks at me and smiles, “I shall become the sun.” I smile back, “For some people you already are, you just don’t know it. How else do you think I got through that break up with Mr Ben? You’re the one that kept me busy, taking me out bowling till my fingers hurt and making me help you fix the fence round the house.” Troy shrugs and we walk back up to the tank for another round of beers and sandwiches.
After yet another smoke and another round of food, I pull my lipstick out of my hand bag. “What the fuck are you doing?” I look over at Troy and giggle, “I’m going to put my name on this tank. I have not had so much fun in this forest ever.” Troy looks at me questioningly, “You know that it will most likely wash off.” I shrug, “I don’t care!” I giggle, “I will know that I put it there. That’s all that counts.” So I jump down off the tank and slide down the sand at the back of the tank towards the trees. I pull the cap off my bright red lipstick with my teeth and twist the lipstick up. “What the hell do I write?” Troy laughs at me, “You’re an idiot!” I pop my head up so I can look at him, “I believe the words I’m looking for are ‘Fuck’ and ‘You’, in that order.” and I drop back down behind the tank. It takes a while but I think of the best, most creative thing to write,
“We smoked, We drank, We ate. Amie and Troy, Feb, 2007.”
I pop back up from the back of the tank, grinning like an idiot. I twist my lipstick back down and pop the cap back on, then I clamber back up the sand next to the tank and hop back on top. “So, what did you write?” I turn to Troy, still grinning and say, “Look for yourself.” He shrugs and wiggles over to the back of the tank and hangs himself off over my lipstick tag. He laughs, “Couldn’t have written it better myself!” My stupid grin gets bigger and less intelligent looking, which just sends Troy into a fit of giggles, “You look like a psycho.” I don’t disagree.
We stay at the tank till 5.30pm; the main gate is locked at six o’clock. As we begin to pack up the picnic blanket and the food, Troy leans over and bumps me. “Thanks for coming with me. It was good not just being alone.” I smile at my best friend and bump him back, “It’s all good. It was fun. It defiantly gave me more of a reason to come back up here.” Troy nods and then flicks his head in the direction of the car park. I nod in return and we begin our trip back to the car.
Six days after Troy tells me about his dad passing away, I stand holding his hand in the car park of a Henderson funeral home as we watch the hearse pull away. I can see he’s doing his best not to cry. Vicky is standing next to us with Daniel and Scott, and Mel is hovering talking to someone nearby. The family appears to be holding it together. Vicky leans over and tells me if she sees me crying she’s going to whack me after everyone has left for setting her off. I laugh weakly, but I nod.
I turn to face Troy and lean into give him a hug. He hugs me so tightly that I think he’s going to break my ribs. I whisper into his ear while we are surrounded by people, “I need to take off to my thinking place, do you want come with?” Without replying to me or telling his mum where he was going, he releases me from our hug, grabs my hand and walks down to his car with me in tow, without looking back.
We were gone for three days, but I didn’t care.