“Catch me if you can!” I yelled, running into the forest.
“Bailey, wait up! I can’t run that fast!”
My little legs pumped and moved as quickly as they could, demolishing grass beds and dandelions underneath them. The sun beat down as I giggled my way into the density of it all, the sheer encasement meeting my body. Trees to the left, trees to the right. Sticks and dirt below, branches overhead.
“Henry! You’ll have to do better than that!” I continued from over my shoulder.
When I looked over, I found only the masses of nature I had left in my tracks. I wondered if I really was that fast, or if Henry really was that slow. Either way, we were too far apart to see each other, and I had no hopes of finding my way back without him. He knew this area. He knew this grass, this unfamiliar air. The more I thought about it, the more the air became thick and suffocating; where was I?
The only sense of familiarity I had was the sun in the sky. The same sun I always knew told me it was noon, or just about. Six hours until I couldn’t see well anymore. That’s about as much as a ten-year-old (who wasn’t a boy scout) should know, right? Never eat soggy waffles. North, east, south, west. Where was north? The North Star wasn’t even visible at this time.
What were Mom and Dad going to think? I knew they would miss me if I were gone. Love, although not suggested or seen as a positive thing, but rather a neutral thing, was seen more so in families than in other kinds of relationships. Since I was younger, my limbs even littler than they are now, I could not find that place in my heart for unconditional love. If it was even a real thing: I didn’t know. It was never really talked about, just in the sense of loving your work. 2006: built with bricks instead of sticks. That’s what they drilled in our brains today. With time we are smarter and more productive. No need for silly things like love.
Just yesterday I had gone to Take Your Child to Work Day and that’s when I really got the sense of what I was supposed to do with your life. Dad worked in a cubicle, punching numbers into the computer methodically. He’s an accountant. Most of my friends are envious of how much of a well-respected position he has earned through his hardworking years. Everyone wants to be an accountant—usually just because of all the money they get. Mom used to work as an elementary school teacher, but I guess she wanted more money because she started working at my dad’s company. I watched her file paper after paper after paper. She didn’t smile once. I guessed that’s what dedication meant.
I sat down in a particularly soft-looking patch of grass and tried to think about what I was going to do. I couldn’t even find the specific rock that we were assigned to locate. Our teacher gave us the clearest instructions to find a brownish-black rock with white specks. Nobody in our class had tried looking in a forest before, so Henry and I decided to be adventurous.
I turned around in hopes of finding Henry making foreign sounds at me. No sight of him.
I looked above me, and found a strange creature perched on a branch. It looked at me, its beady little eyes moving up and down, almost assessing my existence. I backed away slowly, wondering if it was the attacking kind of animal. The shell-looking mouth appeared sharp, and its feet looked wrinkly, attached with claws. Its only amiable aspect was its body; it was covered in some kind of skin that looked soft and airy.
It leaped off the branch and spread its arms and swooped to the ground landing safely.
It kept making that noise. “Po-tee-weet, po-tee-weet, po-tee-weet!”
I couldn’t tell what it was doing, but I also didn’t want it to stop. My heart began beating with it, in the same pattern of its noises—I didn’t know why it was doing that, but I didn’t exactly want to stop.
It’s been eight years since I first discovered music. I still think about that day being lost in a forest and hearing a bird for the first time create such a beautiful melody. Birds have lived and sung before but nobody has ever stopped to listen, to let the sounds enter their ears and hearts. Too busy moving. Too busy trying to complete or produce.
I was hesitant to tell my parents what I had found in the forest, fearing that they might get mad at me for enjoying something that wasn’t school-related. But, I had told them anyway, and they began asking around at their work if they should punish me. They decided to let me be happy until it would cause problems at school.
Which it did. I couldn’t help but sit in class and tap my foot to the pattern of the creature’s sounds. When I was shushed, I began moving my body from left to right in that exact pattern, over and over again. My teacher found it “utterly distracting” and sent me to the principal’s office. That’s when my school warned other schools of this new “jiving” epidemic. Once I had started, my friends started, too.
“I wished I had heard the thing that makes us move like this,” Henry told me one day.
“I wish I could hear it again,” I said.
We went to an old library in our town that day, and went in the farthest section about animals. Eventually, I matched my memory of the creature with a bird in an encyclopedia of extinct animals. I wondered if people had really been so blind that they didn’t notice these beautiful creatures before. Under their description, the word “music” appeared over and over again. It said that they had emitted “musical sounds”. That was it. That was what I heard that day, eight years ago.
The banning of “jiving” and moving and humming and tapping in schools across the world got people talking. It got people protesting.
Once the government found out about the music epidemic, they knew they had to stop it in its tracks before it got too far and people had lost motivation to work. Only the lazy and the uneducated listen to music. Or at least that’s what they would tell us. Now in 2014, everyone was supposed to be intelligent, hard-working, and “constantly conscientious”. Too many restrictions have been placed on things I never knew were music.
It was illegal to bird watch (well, whatever birds that hadn’t been caught and put in a distant, remote area). This may have been the most difficult for me. I knew that they gave us that pleasure and missing peace in our hearts and we were told to stay away from them. Wear earmuffs in the winter in nature. Wear noise-cancelling earpieces in the summer in nature. Without them, it would be too tempting to move with the melodic creatures.
Movies with music in them were illegal and deviant. iPods and boom boxes could be found along with them in secret rooms in stores, or sold on the streets for hundreds of dollars, but if the government found you with them, you’d have to pay 500,000 dollars and you’d lose your job privileges. Some people just went to jail because they felt that life was over after all of those things were taken away from them.
How does one go on with leaving something entirely, after you have already experienced it in all its glory? Those sounds brought me home. It kept me hopeful and motivated me to find my way back.
Today was the day that I was going to go back to that forest with the bird. Most forests have been closed off at this point, and I knew that the one I visited that day was certainly one of them. But, it’s been a particularly hard week. Being a senior in high school calls for drastic measures to feel at peace. I was supposed to decide what the rest of my life was going to hold for me—what college I “wanted” to go to, and what I was going to study there. If I didn’t decide by tomorrow, they were going to send me to hard labor camp (so that I could learn to “appreciate sitting at a desk”).
Most of my friends and kids my age found their calling in drugs, however, I, with music. I must find that bird. I haven’t seen one since that day, only in textbooks and old picture books.
I walked past my neighborhood and past the street and past the stream and into the greenery. Looking both ways, I climbed the barbed wire fence in hopes of finding the absence of police. When I knew I was alone, I jumped off and landed on the other side. Here it was. This was the place.
As I continued in, I began to take off my shoes so my toes and the rest of body could feel as it did before. Skin and nature touched, and I was surged.
“Hmm, hee, hmm!”
That familiar sound made the butterflies in the area appear in my stomach. I smiled. My old friend was back.
“Hmmm, hee, hmm!”
But this time, the bird was different. I looked around to find him (or her) and found nothing. Squinting my eyes all around, I was suddenly disproved. There was a girl with short honey-colored hair behind a tree emitting those sounds.
I walked closer to her, leaves crunching under me.
“Hello?” I asked.
She jumped up from under the tree and began to zip up her backpack and run.
“Wait!” I yelled after her. So much running. Not enough waiting.
She stopped and looked back over.
“You’re not going to report me, are you?” She asked, timidly.
“No, I wanted to hear more of what you were humming.”
“Do… do you know Finn?”
“The bird that sings like, ‘po-tee-weet’!”
Of course I knew Finn.
And then she began to hum in such a pattern of Finn’s notes that became a song. I never had heard such a beautiful combination of sounds before in my life. This was the birth of music, reincarnated as a wise man.
“Let me take you somewhere.”
Before I could answer, she grabbed my hand and led me deeper through the forest. Vessels and veins of which I had never discovered.
“Where are we going?” I asked, growing nervous with each step into a darker abyss.
“Here,” she said.
It looked like a wall of vines on the side of the mountain, but once she moved them over, a vast, dark hole appeared. A cave.
She pulled a flashlight out of her backpack and turned it on, illuminating a passage. Continuing to pull my hand farther, we walked down the passage and came to a stop when we heard a chorus of birds. They all chirped in ways that resembled “po-tee-weet.” Then she shined her light on something large, shiny, and black.
“What is that?” I asked.
I had never seen such a thing before. Before I could ask what its function was, she sat down on a bench in front of it. She pressed her fingers on the white rectangles that resembled teeth.
And then it came. If her humming had been a wise man, this new collection of sounds must have been an angel. Notes and melodies and tunes I never heard before entered my ears as if velvet became my new skin. It filled the room entirely, moving every being in some fashion. Her, with the swaying, me with the nodding, the birds with the chirping. Their chirps complemented the piano’s sounds so beautifully that I knew that this was music. The kind of music that the government didn’t want us to hear or feel in our hearts. They were right when they said it would be distracting for us. There was nothing else I thought about in that moment except for the music, the birds, and the girl I had just met. It was our own world, and not one work-related thought came to mind.
I had never really known what real love felt like. I loved my Mom and Dad because they provided me with life and helped me sustained it, and they almost always had my back, but it was not like this.
This room encased love. I didn’t know how quickly it happened, or why it happened that quickly, but it did. I had fell in love, whether that love was for the birds who helped me discover this beauty, the music itself, or the girl playing sounds of heaven, I didn’t know, but it was love, and I couldn’t think of anything more productive than that.
by Alexis Farabaugh