I have been visiting the farm where I lived from 2004-2008. The old pecan farm commune is more than I could explain to those who haven’t been: complicated, layered, vexing, pivotal, beautiful, and loving. It has been a joy to hug old friends at every turn, tell the old stories and hear the new ones. The children are taller and the buildings a little more polished and tidy. The forest and the old trail through its deep green heart are gone, logged and plowed under. The gardens have filled with fruits and vegetables and the acres with pigs, turkeys, goats, rabbits, cows and bulls. Birth, death, change.
Feeling like a time traveler from the future, I walk land that I walked every day for four years, red clay and puddles and brambles and the fallen leaves of pin oaks. I’ve always felt compelled to walk it, to absorb and learn from it.
This was where I met my sweetheart and we muddied our way into a strong relationship. Where people pray for peace every day, where people strive for spiritual ideals, and where one constantly meets characters that a novelist of the absurd could scarcely imagine. And it’s where I burned out completely, wearing too many hats but with too little training or support to keep them on. I raged and cried often, though I was mostly happy. It turned out that I was a close but not a total fit. An almost-square peg facing a square hole. One day, not long before our commitment ceremony to each other, J. and I knew we would eventually have to leave.
Even after four years, the memories came back strong and fresh as I walked the paths again. Last night, I had a dream.
Two tame rats ran into my room. I held and cuddled them but was alarmed to recall that they were my pets who had died the summer before after long ailments and much suffering. Indeed, these rats were old and pained as mine had been near the end. They were soft and affectionate, but why were they back? And what would I do now? Where would I put them? They scuttled along the baseboards as my brain scuttled between anxiety and confusion.
I went out the back door and found the rusting cage lodged high in the fork of a tree. A questionable ladder leaned against the trunk. Halfway up, the legs rattled and swayed, and I stopped short of the cage. I sat in the dirt and continued my vexations. Had I buried my little ones before they were dead? Had I neglected them or mistreated them? No—surely not! I had buried them in the forest when the time was right. So who were these creatures in my apartment?
Just then, my in-laws walked past. And I said: “I buried them in the forest! But they are here. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”
My father-in-law shrugged and said, “Hmm. Sounds psychological.”
Yes, it did. These were ghost rats. I coughed up a vile, bilious yellow pellet and spat it on the ground.
And woke up, relieved. The meaning of the dream was clear. The little rats were little souls in my care. The only other little soul in my care is my own. And the part of it that lived on the farm, beloved, loving, and suffering, unearthed by being revisited: would I cage it above again? Or would I let it lie below, even if covered only by stumps, and fertilize new life in its soil? Plant what is meant to grow, what fits, long as it may take to find the seed?
I spit out the plug of resentment and made my choice.