I patiently wait beneath the tree where we met for the first time nearly a decade ago. It is a maple tree, tall and majestic. It is the season of autumn, so the foliage is a rich red, like a deep red sunset.
This tree is in a quiet clearing at my favorite park. There is a small pond on the other side of the trail. The trail goes around the lake and then leads further into the woods. Occasionally, I see dog walkers and determined joggers rush past me. But not many. Not enough to ruin the peacefulness of this picturesque park.
It’s the afternoon. It's sunny. The sky is clear. The air is brisk. Not too cold though, and definitely not warm. But the wind has a chill to it. I’m wearing my brown leather jacket. It keeps me warm enough. I’m wearing my ankle boots. Boots might be my only favorite thing about autumn.
This was where I met Benny for the first time. He too loved this tree, this clearing, and the solitude that it offered. I haven’t seen him in a while, and oh how I’ve missed him. When we first met, he was a bit of a recluse. When I entered his life, he tried to keep me at bay. He viewed me with an air of suspicion. “What do you have to gain from my company?” He seemed to ask. He seemed untrusting. He had perhaps been hurt in the past, I wondered.
It didn’t take long to crack that tough exterior, mostly with baked goods. I soon learned quite a bit about my new friend. He loves food. He’s a foodie. We have that in common. He hates most people, especially the 7-year old twins next door. They’re too loud and disruptive. Benny always found their presence to be a major annoyance. He is a bit of a grump, but in a lovable sort of way. I’ve grown to like that about him. I felt special that I was one of the few people that he accepted into his life.
He also loves nature. He is part of why I felt inspired to paint my natural surroundings. He loved watching me paint. He admired my paintings. I knew when he liked a painting, and when he didn’t. I could tell by the way he tilted his head when he examined them.
Those were the peaceful, good days. The days where I painted and tried out new recipes in the kitchen. Benny was my taste tester. But not all days were good and peaceful. Some days were bad. Some days, my anxiety and depression made me feel stuck. Like a voice inside my head, shouting at me to get up. But I couldn’t move. I knew I should get up. Get out of bed. Wash up. Get dressed. Get food. But there was chaos inside of me that kept me from getting up. And I lay in bed, fazed out and disassociated. A sort of paralysis. There were some days where the thought of Benny needing me is the only thing that got me out of bed. I wondered where I would be if I had never met him.
As I stand beneath this maple tree, waiting to reunite with my friend, I wonder if he missed me. I wonder if he might be upset with me. Maybe he felt abandoned by me, I feared. As I spent the past two years traveling around the world, I had asked my acquaintance, Mrs. Kelso, to keep an eye on Benny. Maybe that wasn’t enough. But I needed it. Those couple of years traveling. Getting out of my head. Meeting new people. Following my dream of attending culinary school abroad. I needed that.
Still I felt guilt at the pit of my stomach, as a gust of cool air swept across the maple tree. The leaves rustled in the wind. A few landed on the ground. I zipped up my jacket and continued to wait patiently. I missed Benny. And I missed home. And it felt good to be back. I felt refreshed. Like a brand new me.
Yet I also felt unsettled. It is that feeling of not knowing whether you are being you or if you are just playing a part. How long before my old habits return to torment me? How long before the nightmares return? I can already feel it. I can feel the monster inside my head. It is a prisoner right now, but I can feel it loosening the chains day by day. I can feel it watching and waiting until it’s time to strike again. I can feel it wanting back in my life. How long will I be able to hold it off? Once the monster takes over, my mind becomes a chaotic place, devoid of any peace. I become the prisoner in my own mind. Will I be able to fight back this time?
Maybe that’s why Benny is so important to me. He helps me battle the monster. He doesn’t know he’s doing it. He doesn’t know that his mere presence is sometimes enough to keep the monster at bay. He doesn’t know. He wouldn’t really understand it anyway, even if I explained it to him. And that’s perfectly alright with me.
I shift my gaze to the figure walking towards me. I see Benny. My heart leaps with joy. He is perched upon Mrs. Kelso's shoulders, as she continues to make her way towards me, serving as transportation. Benny locks eyes with me. There is a brief moment of recognition before he expands his wings and flies towards me, his white feathers glistening under the sun. I spot the light yellow color under his wings and tail as he approaches me. I feel the soft breeze of his wings flapping above me, and the familiar weight of his body as he lands on my extended arm. His striking, white head crest is extended, the way it is when he is happy.
“Hey Benny!” I exclaim, as I kiss the top of his head. It's soft and warm. And smells like bird.
He tilts his head sideways and I know he is happy to see me. Mrs. Kelso catches up by now and says with a smile, “Welcome home!”
Benny screeches and flaps his wings. “Welcome home!” He echoes.
And for now, I am filled with joy and contentment. I am home.
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I enjoyed this. You did a good job of keeping Benny’s species a secret, although there were some “tells” in retrospect. Nice twist at the end.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.