Waterfalls and Valleys
The next day, Nate was supposed to go with his mom and dad to Beth’s art opening in town. They were going to help her set up the final touches, then they were going to leave Nate there with Beth while she waited for everyone else to show up.
Nate liked being able to move Beth’s pieces around. They were large enough that you were not expected to talk while you were doing it. She painted huge landscapes, something reminiscent of Monet’s paintings. But she used what she had around the house. They were interesting landscapes, Nate had to admit. There was something to them that was more than just mountains and skies. Beth was really great with a paintbrush. Things just came alive when she was painting. Nate could not even draw stick figures.
Once their mom and dad left, Beth came over and sat down next to Nate. “Thanks for all your help. I could not have done it with out you.”
“You are welcome,” Nate said as he took a drink of his Coke.
“I’d like to give you something for your trip, to show you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for me.”
Beth pulled out a little package from her bag and handed it to Nate. He set down his drink and took it from her. He untied the twine from around it and pulled back the heavy brown paper that surrounded her gift. Inside was a leather book and some pencils. He opened the book to find that all the pages were blank.
“It is a sketch book,” she said. “For you to draw or whatever while you are up there on the mountain. You’ll see things you might not ever see again.”
Looking at the book, he had to bite his tongue. Her gift just proved to him that she had no clue as to who he was. She thought everyone was as talented as she was in art, but not him. Her gift just made him feel more alone and separate from her. He had to force himself to say thank you. Beth gave him a hug then excused herself so that she could take care of some last-minute things before her exhibit opened.
Nate sat there and looked at the book. He wanted to fill it full of the anger he felt inside at that moment, to turn every pristine page black with pencils she had so carelessly given him. He wanted to just disappear. He looked up and came face to face with one of Beth’s paintings. He wished that he could just jump inside at that very moment to be in that place she created. The one with no one around for miles, just him and the trees. A place where he could scream and shout and not have to worry about what people thought of him.
When his parents showed up with the rest of the family, Nate said he was not feeling too well and asked if he could go home. His dad drove him back to the house and left him there.
Nate watched the car go down the drive. He wanted to run after it. So much of him wanted to be able to go back and fit in, to be a part of his family, but he just could not. He could not pretend any more for today.
Alone in the house, Nate put Beth’s gift in his backpack. He figured he could at least use it to keep notes about where they were going or how long he had been gone. Or why he would never come back.
Nate decided he needed to take a walk in order to clear his head. He took one of the paths that led into the woods right behind his house. He had taken it before. There was a little spot that opened up into a clearing and you could see for a little ways out into the valley.
It felt good to walk. He knew that he needed to be strong in order to make it to his goal this summer of going to the city and disappearing. Nate started thinking about his trip and got so lost in thought that he was surprised to get to the clearing so quickly. Nate sat down on the grass and looked out into the valley. Suddenly he was hit with the image in front of him. It was the painting that he had got lost in at Beth’s show. She had painted from this spot. It did not make any sense to Nate. He stared out over the valley and remembered the painting. She had captured every detail. She must have spent hours here doing her painting.
Nate looked at the valley with Beth’s eyes for just a moment. He saw things that he hadn’t seen before because of her painting. He saw what she saw in her painting. After he looked around the valley, he started to look around the clearing. Nate was looking for anything that showed that Beth had been there. He was looking for where exactly it was that she stood to paint, paint that had fallen to the ground as she cleaned her brush, a tri-pod, anything that proved that she had been there in that place.
After searching for almost half an hour, Nate could not find any sign that his sister had been there. He looked again at the valley and decided that it must be ordinary, that all valleys must look like this one. Beth must have created that valley in her painting off of random pictures that she had seen. He felt foolish for thinking that Beth had painted this specific valley, that something he had seen had been captured in her art. It all made him feel even more hollow. He turned his back on the valley and started back to the house. It was getting late and he needed to get some dinner in him in order to sleep well that night.
When Nate got home, he was pleased to find out that he was still alone. His stomach growled as he walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and pulled out some jelly and peanut butter to make a sandwich. The peanut butter in the fridge was something that he had not got used to since his mom started making their own. He spread the homemade wheat bread with the grape jelly and peanut butter. When he took a bite of the sandwhich, he knew that something wasn’t quite right. He smelled the jelly and it seemed okay. When he took a whiff of the peanut butter he found the culprit to his ruined sandwich. It was not peanut butter at all. The label on it said cashew. “Ugh,” Nate thought, “is there nothing normal about this family.” He choked down the rest of the sandwich and took a shower. All the hard work and the short hike to the valley had tired him out physically as well as mentally. He collapsed on to his bed and did not move until morning.
When Nate woke up the next morning he remembered that he was scheduled to spend the day with his younger brother. John was two years younger than Nate but only a year behind him in school. John was very smart. He probably could have graduated from high school already, but he choose not to advance too quickly so he could say around kids close to his age. The two of them were supposed to go to the Transylvania Heritage Museum. Nate had no idea why John liked going there so much, but he had agreed to go with him so he must. Nate was probably most thankful that it was free. He would hate to have to go and pay and be tormented by his brother’s knowledge of all things useless.
Thinking back, Nate saw that John always liked museums, he would spend the majority of his time in them, no matter where they had lived. If you could not find John, it was because he was either in a local museum or the library. Every year when Mom and Dad asked where the family wanted to go for a vacation, John would vote for Washington, DC, so that they could go to all the museums and government buildings. Nate laughed at the idea of John in the Library of Congress. It would be like pure heaven to him.
Nate decided to walk around with John just to see what he liked so much about this particular museum. John took him through the main exhibit and told him some stories that he had heard from locals about the waterfalls in the area. John knew things about the regular exhibit that were not on the placards. Nate figured he must have talked with lots of people when he would visit.
Nate learned a lot about the town and the surrounding area. The history was kind of interesting to him, especially the way that John told it. As they were heading out to the car, John looked at Nate in a way that he had never seen before.
“You want to see something really cool?” John asked.
“I guess so. What is it?” Nate answered.
“It is a little bit of a drive from here, but I think you’ll like it.”
Nate got into the driver’s seat and waited for John to tell him where to go. They headed out of town on 64 towards Lake Toxaway. Nate was hoping that John was not going to have him drive all the way out there to see Toxaway Falls. Their folks had made them do that the first month or so that they had moved there. It was during one of the first signs of spring. It was a waterfall, but not that big of a deal. Nate was getting more and more agitated the farther out of town they got and the closer to the lake they got.
When they finally got to Toxaway Falls, Nate started to slow down and look for a spot to park. He felt like if they had come all the way out there, he might as well let John show him what he was going to show him. Instead, John told Nate to keep going. They traveled a little farther on 64. Eventually, John had him turn onto 218 by an old gas station. They winded down the road for a ways, around one bend. Once they had entered Pisgah National Forest, John told him to slow down and to turn into a drive on the left.
The drive was into a little clearing. It was somewhat littered with cans and the likes. John got out and started walking down the rough lane. Nate locked the car and caught up with him. They went left and through an over grown trail. But what they saw nearly took Nate’s breath away. It was a small waterfall, not more than five-feet high that poured over onto solid rock and into a pool. The pool emptied into a little river that winded its way off down the mountain. The trees were all lush; and the sun sneaked its way into the picture, casting playful patches of brightness throughout the scene.
It was peaceful. So peaceful that Nate did not realize that John had moved away from him to a small clearing near the edge of the pool to his right. Nate sat right where he was and just stared out at the small waterfall. The sound of it was so soothing. He looked around and thought about how that place probably had not been touched in hundreds of years. It was so close to the highway, but so remote. Hundreds of people drove by every month, and no one probably ever stopped to find this little piece of paradise. Nate found himself praying.
He had not prayed in quite some time. He did with the family at mealtime and during Sunday school, but not just randomly. And even now, he knew that he was talking to God; but it was not so much words as his feelings. He was pouring out his loneliness to God and all his fear about this upcoming trip and his plans to leave home. Nate realized that he was crying; he dragged his arm across his face. He hated the fact that he was crying. He in that moment hated God for causing this. He felt like God was to blame for the fact that he did not fit in and that he was such freak. He once again found himself wanting to scream and shout. Nate looked over and saw that John was lying in the small clearing with his eyes closed. He looked so peaceful. Nate wished that he could be as smart as John. If he were as smart as John was he could just skip out high school and go straight into college. He could go away and not have to sneak around like he was. John had so much freedom because he was smart. Even the fact that he had found this place proved to Nate that he had freedom that he did not.
Nate called to John that it was time to go. John fell asleep in the car on the way home. Nate was thankful because it meant that he did not have to hear any more from him and be reminded that he was just a dummy that would never amount to anything.