By Brett Gitzel
Once there was a boy named Justin, who grew up without the kind of love and affection that most 12 year olds took for granted. His mother and father sustained him, but from a distance, in the least sense of the word. They lived in excess, unaware of this disinterest; perhaps in the same way desert sand is not aware of a lost, hopeless traveler. Busy with enhancing their own lives, they seemed to think that their son was self-sustainable, like a pet or a house plant, needing water and food only every once in a while.
Justin lived at home in silence. Faint glimpses of his parents happened so rarely that they seemed to be dreams. As his contact with people diminished and his connections with love and companionship continued to crumble, Justin slipped into an internal world. A world at first filled with all of the creativity and determination of a small boy, only later to fade into empty silliness bordering on insanity.
Justin’s mother made sure that the boy was always well dressed and proper. From his desolate frame hung a pre-determined wardrobe, swaying, like it would from a coat hanger. His food consisted of air sealed meats, cheeses and just about every other prepackaged snack a boy could want. His body wasted away from a lack of nutrients and substance, yet his blue eyes flowed like water. This was beauty unseen, value unknown.
His mother and father made no small secret of his accidental conception. His mother’s upbringing prohibited the possibility of an abortion, which disappointed his father.
“My mother would murder me! I just can’t.”
“Well, that is simply unacceptable. I will not allow our lives to be ruined.” he coldly stated.
“You think that is makes me happy?!” she swelled, fighting back in anger.
Justin had been their inconvenience from the beginning. The biggest relief to this stress was the money that they had been born into. Throwing money at Justin’s lonely childhood had been one of their only parenting tactics.
Being abandoned by his parents in his own home left scars too deep for healing. Something of an empty life consumed the boy. Hope and desire faded, leaving him too lonely and confused for a boy his age to maintain any resemblance of value or happiness.
Justin lived internally. Inability to socialize with the other students at school resulted in him being home schooled at the age of nine, though “school” would be a generous word. His mother was nowhere to be found.
“Justin, you do whatever you want. There are some books in the study. Just don’t bother me, I’m very busy.”
A whirlwind of books lay strewn across the study, but the only books not collecting dust were the ones his limited reading level allowed; about nature, about it’s animals and plants, the things that lay only a few hundred yards away from his bedroom window. His only interest left to cling to was in the backwoods. In a time when every feeling seemed to have left him, his curiosity remained.
Giant spruce and oak trees engulfed the property, enclosing a vast expanse of 3 acres of Kentucky blue. Yet mystery pushed Justin out beyond the property. His life was out in the wilderness, far beyond the land deeded to his father.
No one seemed to notice Justin spending so much time out in the forest, a forest that stretched from one county to the next. Critters of all shapes and sizes slithered, cooed, and crawled through this vast expanse. Day after day, Justin would move through the forest as a fly on the wall, watching birds gather near a puddle, squirrels quarrelling over an acorn, or deer slipping in between trees with the greatest of grace and ease. He knew which berries he could eat, and which ones to stay away from. Most days, he wouldn’t even pack a lunch.
One day, still as a stone, Justin’s finger made a perch for a sparrow.
“Oh, what kind of bird are you? I really like birds”, he whispered. “Are you a friendly bird? I once knew a boy in school that was friendly. He gave me some raisins from his lunch. That was the nicest thing anyone has every done for me. He was a good friend. Do you want to be friends with me?”
At that moment, the sparrow turned to Justin, kinking its neck in what seemed to be puzzled interest. Justin mimicked the sparrow, also intrigued by this creature settled only inches from his face. It seemed as though they were sharing a joke. Suddenly, Justin squawked,
“I like you Mr. Bird! You’re my best friend!”
With that, the sparrow was off, flailing its wings for its life, fleeing the noises coming from this strange boy. Justin’s finger dropped like a rock, his smile cracked like a broken window.
Nevertheless, Justin’s most satisfying discovery in the woods was, by far, the wolves. Every once in a while, in the evening as the sky faded dark, Justin would come across a family of wolves satisfying themselves with their latest catch. Justin knew to be as still as silence in these dangerous situations, yet there was one thing that kept drawing him back to these scenes; the young wolf pups were always well taken care of. While breaking through the flesh of a poor little mouse or squirrel, the older wolf was always sure to break off a nice fleshy piece for the youngster. At these times, for reasons unknown to him, Justin would salivate.
Back at home, Justin would sit and dream of the wolves. So wild and ignored by the world, the wolves lived lives full of love and companionship. He would spend time in the study drawing, the best that he could, pictures of the wolves. He gave them names and squealed at the thought of being able to meet these wolves. Those days, thinking about the wolves, seemed to breathe new life into his body.
On one particularly cloudy day, Justin set out into the woods. Leaving behind his home, his invisible parents, and his nature books, Justin set out to scratch his curiosity. With a desire for companionship and a lack of rationality, Justin went looking for the wolves.
After searching the woods for quite some time, Justin spotted the pack. He happened upon them cutting through some freshly killed rodents. The larger ones were sure to mouth some over to the pups. It seemed as though all of the adult wolves were responsibe for taking care of the pups. Fascinated by this interaction, Justin was intrigued by the ways of the wolves. He held great admiration for this community.
At this point, a new sensation rose inside of him; something so foreign to him that he almost forgot what it could mean. The feeling that rose within him was the feeling of desire, the desire to be a part of something. Seeing the wolves interact was a thing of beauty. He recalled his nature books with their mountains, forests, sunsets, lakes, rivers, and of course, their animals. None compared to the scene that played out before him. Justin came to an understanding that seemed to spark a flicker of hope inside his emptiness; the understanding that he was now home. He would leave his past behind. This dark place, this denseness of green, was a place of hope. The wolves had taught him that there is life beyond existence.
“When you go with the wolves,” he told himself, “you’ll have a new home.”
His experience in the woods had given him a place of refuge, and in the process, a place much more desirable than his past hope of a hug from his father, or a kiss from his mother. Those hopes had been dead and buried long ago.
In the thickness for the forest, Justin slowly exposed himself from the shadow of a tree and moved toward his new family, the wolves. In his mind, the wolves were his mother, father, sisters and brothers. With his face filling with dusty tears, salt poured down onto his shirt.
Looking down he thought,
“The wolves don’t wear clothes like me.”
At once, he stripped down, out of his mess of clothes. His body stood naked and free as knees knocked together and his dirty paws reached up to squeeze the salt silt from his eyes. Opening them, he felt reborn!
He thought of the wolves warm fur, the warmth he would feel in the night. He remembered a schoolmate, rolling and laughing with his pet retriever, and he thought of the wolf pups. The idea of rolling and playing out in the nature with his new brothers and sisters made the blood beneath his skin flow to places that had been dry for so, so long.
As he came out from the shadows, Justin stepped further away from his lonely past. The wolves turned to see his body tracing a silhouette in the moonlight. Moving away from their pile of bones, and still hungry, they slowly made their way towards the boy. Justin, with his hands raised in thankfulness and his mind as clear as the day he was born, naively entered into his fate.