You Just Follow

watchI watched him walk by.

Why is he going that way? Doesn’t he know what is over there?

I reminded myself that there were many choices down that path. Just because he walked in that direction, didn’t mean he would fall.

He walked with such purpose, though. Terrible and decisive purpose. 

That’s not a bad thing. Having a purpose is a good thing. Sometimes, it’s the only thing.

Besides, why would he work so hard to climb out of that hole, only to run back to it? Why? That doesn’t make sense and he’s not stupid. Relax. You get to relax. It’s been 3 years now. You can let go. 

I knew better. I knew where he was going. I followed him, because that is what we do. We just follow.

He didn’t break his stride, he just dove right down the rabbit hole. Then I noticed something terrible. I missed it at first because I was distracted by the scream that circled through my brain. The scream had been quiet for years, but not gone. It picked back up as soon as I noticed him walk by.

What I noticed, was the other boy. He was standing at the edge and he was crying. He backed away, but his sadness blinded him and he tripped. He didn’t mean to follow, it was just an accident. But down he went.

So I followed. Because that is what we do. We just follow.

In the movies, the scene where Alice falls down the rabbit hole, the journey takes a long time. Alice falls and yawns and drinks tea and watches the rabbit.

That’s not how real falls work, though. The rabbit hole is dark and brutal and there are rocks that jut out. My head aches from smashing against the rocks again and again. Roots from trees rip out my hair and whip across my face. I can see the boys I am following and want to get closer. If I could get a little closer, I could shield their heads from the rocks. If I could just put myself between them and danger, then the pain of my injuries wouldn’t matter. The pain would be worth it.

I never get close enough, though. Do I? Close enough for a front row seat, but not close enough to fix their pain. 

Then the fall ends. We hit the ground and our knees buckle. The ground is cold and wet. There is no little door. There is no key. There is no bottle that says ‘drink me’ or a cake that says ‘eat me’.

The older boy looks tired. The younger boy looks scared.

I want to put them on my back and claw my way out of the hole. But I can’t.

You knew that when you jumped and you jumped anyway. 

I can ask them to follow me. But I can’t save them. I can’t save anyone. The only person I’ve ever been able to save is myself.

It’s going to take a long time to climb out of this hole. I can’t even see the light anymore. 

I find a foot hold and I start to climb out. I don’t want to look back because I’m too afraid that I will find no one is behind me.

You hear that, though don’t you? You hear them. They’re coming. Is that laughter? Are they laughing? Maybe they are helping each other. Don’t look down. Just keep climbing. 

I reach the top, lay on my stomach and look down the hole, only it’s not a rabbit hole. I know it’s not a rabbit hole. It’s a hole to hell. I reach into the darkness and wait for a hand to take mine.

When I feel skin contact my skin, the relief is so strong that it feels like pain.

We made it out. We’re weary and scared and a little more wise.

Please let that be my last trip.