A Forest That Truly Lived
BY: Carson Yenchar, Ionia High School
If you look closely at the forest, you’ll see a thriving environment filled with light and joy. You’ll hear the snapping of branches as a lone deer perks its head up at the strange sound. Squirrels chatter and chirp, as if engaged in a conversation between good friends. Birds whiz by trees at the speed of light, with only a blur of green that is soon left behind. The forest itself seems to communicate, each burst of wind a word we humans can never understand. But with life, there is also death. The smell of rot and ruin always saddens me. The merciless killing of an innocent creature makes the forest go crazy with rage. A bloodcurdling scream erupts from the sky, turning everything red. Not black, but red. Red is the color of the blood that seeps through unhealed wounds. Red is the color of a face that will never show happiness again. Red….is the color of my death. I will no longer be able to see the once thriving forest again. The only light I will see is fluorescent and fake. The only sound I will hear will be the beeping on my heart monitor. I will hear how it beats desperately, how my heart will thump desperately against my ribs. There will be one long beep, and I….will be no more.
I open my eyes to see Jonathan, my best friend. The one I care the most for. The one I love. I smile weakly, loathing myself for being weak. He smiles only for a second, but his eyes are watering. I only then notice the wildflower in his hand, the stem clenched tightly in his fist.
“Is that for me?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. I know how much you love the forest, so I picked it for you.”
“That’s sweet, Jon.”
“Cathy, please stop.”
“Smiling. You don’t have to be happy for my sake. It’s too painful to see you smiling.”
“Would you rather see me writhing and screaming out in agony, breaking from the massive weight in my heart?”
“No….no, of course not, but-”
“Then I will continue to smile, not only for your sake, but also for mine. I am the one dying, after all.”
“Don’t say that.”
“What should I say then, Jonathan? That I’m not dying? I don’t want to lie to myself, and you shouldn’t either.”
“I’m not lying, I just don’t want to talk about it. Or think about it, okay?”
It’s silent. Jonathan won’t look at me, and it’s killing me. Ha ha, killing me. Funny. I can’t leave us like this. Fighting. What I’m about to tell him probably won’t help much, but it needs to be said. “Jon. Don’t avoid me.”
“I’m not avoiding you.”
“You won’t look at me.”
“Why can’t you?”
“I just….I-I can’t.”
He’s crying. Jonathan is crying. I’ve never seen him cry before. Not even when his dog, Sparky, died two months ago. I feel my own eyes beginning to twitch, water threatening to spill over. But I have to stay strong.
“Jon. Please come here.”
“You don’t have to look at me. Just come sit down, please.” Jonathan looks at me for a moment. His eyes are a myriad of emotions. Finally, he walks over to the blue plastic chair next to my bed, and sits down. I look at him. He looks at the ground. “Jon. I have a confession to make.”
“I probably should have told you sooner, but I didn’t want to ruin anything.”
“Cathy, what are you talking about?”
“Just please don’t let this come between you and Lily, okay?”
“Cathy. Please just….tell me.”
“Jonathan, I….I’m in love with you. I’ve always been in love with you. You’re so good at reading people, and knowing just when they need your help. You always know how to make people smile...to make me smile. You’re an amazing person, Jon, and big things are waiting for you out in this world. I know you only see me as a friend, I know that. I just thought I’d tell you before it’s too late. I know that sounds horrible, but perhaps, it’s better this way.”
Jonathan is staring at me in disbelief. My hearts sinks lower into my chest, and my breathing is starting to hitch in my throat. I don’t have much time left. “Jon, say something.”
“Cathy, I…..I don’t know what to say. I mean, this is coming out of nowhere. I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me this sooner.”
“I wanted to, Jon, I really did. But you love Lily and I didn’t want to-AH!”
“Cathy? Cathy, what’s wrong?!”
“Do you need me to get a nurse?”
“Okay, okay, don’t fall asleep. Cathy, stay awake, okay? I will be right back!”
Jonathan runs out of the room, a blast of air hitting my lungs, making me cough. Darkness floods the edges of my eyelids, but I battle against the darkness to stay awake. I can’t betray Jon, I can’t. I still have so much more to say to him. But my rebellious heart won’t obey my wishes. The room is tinting into a faint pink color, and a quiet voice screams my name. I think it’s Jonathan. I’m not sure, but it’s too late. From the deepest depths of my brain, I manage to utter one last sentence. “I’m sorry, Jon.”
And just like that, I am swallowed by a dark substance, falling forever into nothingness.
She was gone. I was too late to save her. When I entered that room, I saw a pale figure, eyes swollen and red-rimmed. A figure that was not Cathy. The Cathy I knew was full of laughter. She was the girl who loved nature and could only see the positive side to everything. She was the kind of girl who never gave up on you, and it was really annoying. All the same, she was my best friend. And she had been in love with me. She had been in love with me.
“Jon? Are you okay?”
I look up to see Lily, who is sitting across from me. We’re in the library, studying for an Econ test. Economics is my worst subject, by far. Cathy had been a pro at it…..Cathy. Lily sighs, putting her pencil down on the table.
“Jonathan, I’m breaking up with you.”
My eyes feel numb, but I stare at Lily with a shocked expression. Lily just stares at me, her expression one of pity. I open my mouth, trying to form some sort of sentence. My mouth rebels, telling me to remain silent. I listen to my mouth, and close it.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” I open my mouth again, but only a weak cough manages to escape. Lily blinks, starting to look slightly annoyed.
I swallow, biting down on my bottom lip. “I’m sorry, Lily. It’s just…..well, I-”
“Cathy. I know.”
“Wait, how did you know?”
“I went to her funeral, Jon. I saw how devastated you were. You still are devastated, aren’t you? Don’t even think about lying.”
“Well, yeah, I am. She was my best friend. And….she was…”
“You loved her. I know. Have you read her letter yet?”
“Yeah, I’ve read it. I’ve read it like a thousand times.”
“Yeah, that was a stupid question. Have you done it?”
“I-I can’t, Lily. It still hurts whenever I see it.”
“Jon, you have to respect her wishes. You loved her, right?”
“Yes...yes, I did.”
“Jon, Cathy was special. She loved the forest more than anything, it was her only safe haven. She wants it to be your safe haven too. Please, Jon, do it for her. She wouldn’t want you to grieve for this long. She would want you to move on. Please, Jon.”
I look at Lily, who gives me a sad smile. I look down at my Econ textbook, covered with useless words and more money signs than necessary. I look back up at Lily, who reaches across the table, and takes my hand.
“Go, Jon. Economics can wait.”
“Are you still breaking up with me?”
“You need time. I understand. Once you’re ready, I’ll be waiting. We can still be friends for now, if you want.”
“Of course, Lily. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Now go.”
I grab all my schoolwork, sprinting for the door. I glance back at Lily one last time, and she gives me a small wave. I wave back, sprinting out the door as fast as I can. Dusk is approaching, and time seems to vanish. I sprint towards home, hoping to grab one thing before I go. Cathy’s letter.
I stand in front of the forest, tall trees casting shadows down on me. I clutch Cathy’s letter in front of me, my breath catching in my throat. My hands shake, the paper crinkling with each crease I inflict. The sun is slowly sinking, the forest looking more orange than green. I inhale deeply, closing my eyes. Cathy always told me to imagine myself standing in the center of the forest. The smell of pine and dirt fill my nostrils, overcoming my fear. I open my eyes and take one step. A branch snaps, and I am in an unknown world. I take another step, and then another. I continue to walk on, snapping branches and crunching on leaves. All kinds of noises overwhelm my hearing, all combining into one harmony. Cathy always said it was some unheard song that is incomprehensible to the human ear. I think she was right. I can’t comprehend anything that’s going on in these woods. Cathy always had a philosophical side to her, a kind of wisdom of the world. I could never understand it, but now, I wish I could. I am not philosophical in any way, but Cathy always said I was in my own way. I had laughed. Now I wish I hadn’t.
“Cathy? Are you here?” No answer. Of course there was no answer. What’s wrong with me? I swallow, my throat dry. My feet suddenly feel like lead, and I don’t know how much farther I can go. Then I remember: this is for Cathy. This is for Cathy. This is...for Cathy. “Cathy, I’m sorry.”
The wind blows, a cold feeling shaking my bones. I gasp, shaking. It’s almost as if...Cathy heard me. I look around, the leaves and trunks of the trees all melding into one form. My eyes are watering, but not from the wind. I clutch the letter closer to my chest, the words on the page seeming louder than before. I look up at the darkening sky, stars starting to pop out of nowhere. I slowly fall down onto the leaves, the wind beginning to pick up. I feel my eyelids begin to droop, but I will myself to remain awake. I fail, of course, and the world is black.
“Jon. Jon, wake up. Jon.”
A very familiar voice made my eyes snap open. Blinding white light surrounds my eyeballs, and I close them. A soft laughter fills the air and I open my eyes again, blinking furiously. A blurry figure appears above me, and I force my eyes to focus. What I see next floors me to the core.
“Yes, Jonathan, it’s me.”
“You’re dreaming. You fell asleep in the forest. You read my letter.”
“Of course I did, Cathy. I...you’re my best friend.”
“And you are mine.” I stand up, looking into her eyes. She smiles, her ocean blue eyes shining brighter than ever. Her soft brown hair seems to float around her head, framing it like a photo. I feel tears flood my eyes, and I choke on a sob. Cathy frowns slightly, her own eyes filling.
“I didn’t stay awake. I left you behind. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you-”
“No, no, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not respecting your wishes sooner. I just….I really missed you, Cath, so much. I’m never going to stop missing you, and I know you want me to move on, but I don’t think I can. I love you, Cathy.”
“Oh, Jonathan. I don’t expect you to move on right away. I know you miss me, and I miss you too. I’ll never forget you, Jon, and you’ll always be my best friend. No one has ever done so much to make me smile, and I don’t think anyone ever could.”
“But you have to move on with your life, Jonathan. Stop wallowing and start doing, buddy!” I laugh, shaking my head. Cathy always knew how to make me laugh. She smiles now, stepping closer to me. Cathy takes her hands in mine and looks me dead in the eye.
“Move on, Jon. If you can’t, then that’s okay. I will always be here for you though. Don’t forget, the forest is now your safe haven, whether you like it or not. Promise not to forget me, but also promise to let me go. I love you, Jon, I always will.”
“Cathy. I...I promise that I will never forget you. It may be hard for me to move on, but for you, I will try. I love you too, Cathy. I’ll never stop loving you.”
“I know, you goof. Now, go on. It’s time to wake up. Tell Lily I said hi.”
“I will. I love-”
I am awake. I sit up, looking around. It’s pitch black, with only the moon and stars to light the night sky. I blink, still trying to comprehend the dream I had. Was it really Cathy? Or was it some mind trick, preying on my vulnerable heart that longs for my best friend. My ears suddenly perk up, and I listen. I thought I heard a whisper. A soft, sweet whisper that could only belong to one person. I smile to myself, and tears once again begin to drain from my eyes. “I’ll come visit you often, Cathy. Don’t you worry.”
I stand up, stretching out my stiff limbs. That’s when I notice that the letter is no longer in my hand. Frantically, I drop back down on my knees, searching for the letter. It must have blown away in the wind. I continue to search for a few minutes, ignoring the relentless buzzing of the mosquitoes. Then I stop, and I look up. The letter is resting against a tree, a luminous rectangle against a world of black. I stumble to my feet, running over to it. It lays at the base of the tree, flapping gracefully with the wind. I look at it, my hands itching to snatch it into my safe hands. I realize, then, that I don’t need the letter. This is Cathy’s letter. It was meant to be in this forest. Cathy wanted to be a part of the forest, and now she is. The letter is Cathy’s legacy, and it will spread throughout the forest. The forest will truly live now, knowing that Cathy’s spirit will forever remain within its walls. I smile, a genuine smile. “Welcome home, Cathy.”
I turn and walk away from the tree. The tree that I will continue to visit for the rest of my life. The tree that holds a girl’s legacy who few will remember. For Cathy is safe now. She is safe, and the forest knows it. The forest is her resting place, and it shall grow to be even more powerful. The forest is silent, and Cathy is safe.
The forest listens. It may seem silly, but it actually listens. I am dying, and the forest is dying along with me. Jonathan, listen to me. You are my best friend, and I am so grateful to have known someone like you. You will always be in my heart, and I will never leave yours. After I am gone, I want you to go visit the forest as often as you can. It is now your safe haven, as once was mine. I will be there, for my spirit has always resided in the greenery of the leaves and the noises of the animals. You will find me, for I will certainly find you. I love you, Jonathan. Never forget that. It is my last confession to you, if I ever have the guts to make it before I die. Farewell, my friend, and remember: the forest can truly live once someone finds the time to cherish it.
Sincerely, your best friend,
If you look closely at the forest, you will see a thriving environment filled with light and joy. Only, it is even brighter than before, and certainly more joyful. The animals still crunch and snap branches, the birds still whiz by trees. The only difference is the faint whispering of a girl, speaking to the forest with a loving voice. The girl is the soul of the forest, and she will remain forever. A boy kneels by the base of a tree, staring at a yellow piece of paper. It is a letter, worn by time and wear. The letter shares the words of wisdom we can never truly appreciate. Only a few generous people will take them seriously. But as long as the forest continues to grow, the words will expand into a voice. A voice long unheard by all who worshipped it. The voice will continue to spread throughout the forest like the wind. It has no direction, it has no destination. It just continues to spread, never ceasing volume. And so it should. All the cynical people will hear the words of someone who didn’t care about wealth or success or greed. It is the only thing worth listening to, and it is worth every second that passes. It is the sound of the forest that truly lived.
About the Author: Carson Yenchar is a senior at Ionia High School. She loves to write, read, put on theatre productions, and hang out with her quirky friends. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, and is not very good with talking. Thank goodness writing comes in handy because without creativity and wonder, the world would be a less interesting place. She also has published the poem "Hands, Not Useless" with MIteen Writers.