Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Hard Goodbye (Part One)

I promised I'd write regularly until the end of the month, but as you know I've been mostly unable to do that. Not because I haven't wanted to, but mostly due to the rigors of life out here on our own. Farming and building at breakneck speeds are the least of it. The heat and dangers and stress are just as bad.

I'll fully admit that when I remembered my mom's birthday last week, I sort of lost it. I don't know why it hit me so hard this year. Maybe because it was a memorable birthday, one of the big ones in people's lives, though I think she would have disagreed. Age is just a number and all that.

Basically that emotional breakdown, small as it was, combined with some troubles over the weekend kept me sidelined here. I worked and ate and slept and that was about the extent of my ability to function. Over the weekend we had a hailstorm powerful enough to damage our vehicles, so you can imagine the destruction it leveled on our crops. Lucky for us, we prepared for such an eventuality, but part of our scramble was us working out in the pelting ice to cover the crop beds we hadn't yet reached. All told we lost about a fifth of the food already sprouting. A heavy blow, but not a fatal one.

Then there was a...I'd call it a zombie attack, but it wasn't. We've had a team of people doing nothing but strengthening our fences and other defensive measures since they got here. Which means runs out to the nearby towns and farms to gather supplies. They even managed to find a couple horses somewhere, which pull our makeshift wagon. Saves on gas, that's for sure.

The zombies didn't try to overrun the fence. The damn thing is really high and strong. It's webbed with spikes and other deterrents to keep the undead from trying to scale it. Every one of the dead outside our wall was New Breed. Probably forty or fifty of them, all watching us with too-clever eyes, trying to figure out the best way to crack the shell to get at the tasty meat inside.

I'm sort of proud of that last sentence. Just sayin'.

We used some of our precious ammonia--of which we have a good amount, but not easily replaced out here--to scatter the undead from our perimeter. Three teams of three went out the sally gate to hunt the undead down and end them. That gate was Jessica's idea, by the way. How did no one think of building an inner and outer gate to prevent the undead from swarming through an open door? Maybe it came up at a meeting at some point and was considered too difficult to add on to the gates of Haven. Maybe no one brought it up because they were all too embarrassed no one thought of it. Who knows? What we had worked, that's the main thing.

At any rate, I did my thing with my bow for the first time in what feels like forever. I'm healed enough and we're worried about ammo enough that I was allowed to try to pick off zombies with arrows. It was hard and my arm and shoulder are hellishly out of practice. My muscles seem to have weakened a little, joints tightening. It took a lot of effort to loose that first arrow, which clanged off the top of the fence and darted into the distance never to be seen again. Which is saying something since I was on a cherry-picker well above the fenceline. It's one of the electric ones you can charge with a normal plug. Patrick made that particular find.

In the end I did manage to take down a few zombies with headshots, but I chalk that up to volume rather than ability. My body needs to relearn how to shoot, and I made a good start by firing at least forty arrows. I got better about halfway through the lot, then worse toward the end as the pain and fatigue in my muscles made even holding the bow an exercise in not swearing a lot.

But you know, it felt good. Really good. The pain was a reminder I'm still alive. It told me I was working to support my chosen community, full of people I love and respect. Every time I've been injured in the last few years, I've fallen into a funk during the recovery. I know that. It's just part of me. Jess made the point that each time I've gained a better handle on my recovery, both mentally and physically. She told me she's seeing me improve a little at a time. All it takes is getting shot, I suppose.

I think of the satisfaction running through me even as I agonized over pulling the string of my bow back to my cheek, and I couldn't help but remember my breakdown. Seems like a different man. Oh, I still feel dark echoes from that time. It's sort of the mental equivalent of a smell bringing back the full memory of home cooking or a favorite summer camp. I have these flashes of deja vu at times, putting me back in those, my worst of days. But I can't stay there. The man who fell into that shaded valley, cut off from all hope of seeing light, is not the man who walked out of it to finally face the sun.

Growth and change and time all conspire to fundamentally alter who we are. It's like the adult me watching kids play with toys and pretend. I see them, even feel a yearning to do the same just as I'd done as a child, but even when I'm there in spirit for a few seconds, I'm not really there. I'm past it, different on a bedrock level that doesn't allow me to go back.

Which is where all of us are now. We haven't named our new home yet, other than to call it the generic 'compound', but we will. The people living here have already moved past Haven. Fond memories and cherished friends can't bridge the divide from who we are to who we were. This is who we have become. Pioneers. Settlers. A part of the first wave of people moving beyond the confines of communities of survivors.

I think that's enough for one day, don't you? Four more of these, four more parts, and then we'll say our goodbyes. Not forever, obviously--I'm philosophical, but not so much I can't keep in touch--but for a while at least. Until I have something to say. Something that matters.

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