The sun disappears within the canopy of leaves above me, the gentle sway of the branches a betrayal of what lies ahead. I drudge on with feet as heavy as lead, as countless people before me have done. I have heard that most people can make it through the darkest part of this wood and come out the other side.
Others are not so lucky, succumbing to the dark, foreboding loneliness, losing themselves along the way. If this were a journey of choice, then it would be chosen by no one. But I have no choice but to press forward. If I stop, then the darkness that haunts me will most certainly consume my entire being. The only hope I have is to keep going, and pray to see light again.
As I move through the forest, it becomes noticeably quiet, and the trees grow closer together. The path on which I had started disappears and gives way to an endless sea of trunks and branches, interweaving as they chase the unseen light above. I’ve been told that when there is no path, keep moving in the same direction. Keep a steady breath. Keep focused on happier times.
However, it’s impossible to focus as the light is choked and I can barely even see my hand in front of my face. It’s then that I notice it: the fog. These woods are daunting enough on their own, but many experience this low-lying cloud that blocks your vision as well as your thoughts. I feel my heart race as I enter this phase of the journey, terrified of what may escape my mind, of what parts of myself will be forgotten.
I struggle to remember what I am doing, how to move my own feet. Am I still moving in the same direction? Am I moving at all? The fog is so thick that I feel as though I cannot breathe, and gravity pulls me closer to the earth.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, and out of context, I hear a chipper voice, much like a happy little bird singing its morning song:
“Just drink an energy drink! That will clear the fog right up!”
I look up to see a very fit, muscular woman in her late 30s smiling widely down at me. Where did she come from? I did not ask for her help, and I don’t know how a drink will improve this situation.
“You should also try exercise. You know, go for a run. That always clears things up for me when I’m down!”
I stare at her in disbelief, both at her existence within these woods, and at her irrational suggestions. She is completely out of touch with my situation, as if she lived in another dimension. Repulsed by my silence and shock, she turns her nose up at me, scoffs, and jogs away, vanishing into the fog.
I gather my strength and continue forward, or as close to what I assume is still forward. I am directionless as I approach a new part of the woods. The fog lifts, and as it does, I am aware of slow, somber creatures meandering my way. These beings, faceless, and doughy-white, lazily move on all fours. They have no beginning and no end, no front, no back. They do not attack me but they are far from harmless.
I have heard of these creatures before, from others that have passed through here. They exude feelings of dread, sorrow, emptiness, hopelessness. I have never felt more alone, and the weight of their emitted emotions pulls me to my knees. I want to give up. I want to quit, and lay there in the overwhelming desolation of my soul.
Instead, I crawl.
I crawl, inch by inch, until I make my way past the creatures, falling to my face in exhaustion. I have no idea where I am within the forest, and I am unsure of which way to go in order to escape this waking nightmare.
As I lay in a puddle of fatigue, another voice catches me by surprise. This time when I look up, I see a well-dressed gentleman wearing a suit and white lab coat. He doesn’t even pretend to hide his disdain for me, frowning as he speaks.
“No one has ever struggled this much. Are you sure you aren’t fabricating your journey at all? I don’t think highly of someone who only uses me for pills…”
Flabbergasted, I shake my head no, made nervous by the authoritative tone in his voice. He sighs loudly, reaches into his pocket, and casually tosses a handful of pills in my face.
“Give these 6-8 weeks to take effect.”
Then without another word, and before I can manage to speak, he turns and walks away. I gather the pills, and hesitate with doubt before taking one. I wait, hoping for some kind of impact, but there is no change, no miracle. I am still lost, still alone.
That one word best describes my situation. I encounter several others as I make my way, each one offering unsolicited, canned advice they read in a magazine back in 1998. But no matter how many people I see, I am still utterly, completely, alone. I resign myself to this fact, with an increasingly deeper understanding that there is no one who can help me, except me.
The woods around me never appear to change, to lessen, and I haven’t seen the light in so long. I don’t even know how many days now that I have been stuck among the trees. I decide that giving up may be my only solution, so I stop and sit down, hugging my knees, and sob uncontrollably. I will never leave the forest, and I am now certain that I will die here.
It is then that I heard one, final voice. A voice filled with kindness, understanding. It’s familiar and warm. The face of my dear friend presents itself at my side. He is welcoming, says nothing, only offers his arms in embrace. I fall against him as the tears continue, and we stay like this for hours. I cry for the loss of myself, for the indifference of others, and for the hopelessness of my situation.
When I have no more tears to cry, I reach an internal numbness, which is at least better than the suffocating sorrow. When I am ready, my friend reaches for my hand, stands my back up, and says,
“I have a compass, I know the way. I will walk with you, and we will get through the woods together.”
I nod, and we walk at my pace, hand in hand, as he gently guides me to safety. Slowly and steadily light appears through the canopy once more. The gravity of the forest lifts and I am able to breathe again. My friend pauses and points to a place in the closing distance.
It is the edge of the forest.