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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Life-Transcending Love of the Toad and the Phoenix

I will never remember the first time I met Zoe Benjamin the way most people do when they meet their best friends. I have no idea where we were or what interaction took place between us, or even the first time we recognized the depth of our closeness. I cannot remember the first time we held hands, when her frail, worn digits first folded into the protection of my grip. The first time she scratched my head and smelled my hair because she loved the scent of natural oils will forever remain a mystery to me. To most people, it is important to celebrate the moments when they find the souls they truly connect with, beginning the process of intertwining lives, enriching them. These first encounters, however, never felt as momentous with Zoe. The celebration of our paths crossing seemed more a reunion than a fresh discovery, a serendipitous reminder that we had known each other before this life. When we met again, in a valley in Montana in a small boarding school named Chrysalis, it was as though we had never left each other’s side at all.

All I can remember is the strength of our bond from the very beginning of our knowing each other. The closeness we felt was palpable, certain. It was stronger than the feeling that we had known each other all of our lives, for we both understood that our bond was stronger than more mere lifetime. We awoke in each other faith so deep that to ignore it, to rationalize or analyze or criticize it would be the equivalent of renouncing our very spirits, our very existences.

Zoe’s skin is dark, a Russian Jewish olive just shades lighter than her short, wild hair. I think now of her tattoos acquired after Chrysalis. An artichoke on her wrist. A cockroach on her neck. An elaborate and luscious jellyfish down her slim shoulder and arm. Life’s way of never being kind to Zoe had one of the most interesting affects on a human being I have ever seen. A nagging heroine addiction has gripped much of her life, springing from the introduction from her first babysitter at the age of 12. As well, her body is riddled with burn marks and scars, self-inflicted. But the pain she hides is tucked beneath her bursting personality. She is full of love and joy and want for good and peace. A dirty hippie, most people hug lightly the frail body that carries piercings and clothing and hair that you never really knew from where they came or where they have been. And yet, she hugged with all her heart. “You are so beautiful,” she would say with total conviction.

“How many lives have we known each other do you think, Zoe?” I texted her from my bed one night a couple months ago, guessing 40 or 50 lifetimes myself. Realizing the time difference between us, I anticipated an answer to reach my phone the next morning. A few minutes later, my phone vibrated.

“37,” she replied simply, a number I agreed felt right.

“Good night, Sitting Toad,” I sent back with a smiley, using a name I gave her for her slow, wise ways.

“Sleep well, Phoenix of the Sun,” she responded, using an epithet I acquired from living a life of resilience, rising from the ashes of a turbulent past.

There is no evidence that the phenomenon of consciousness transcends the boundary of the physicality of existence. When we die, it is assumed by some that all of the wisdom and emotional capacities and memories die with us. But I know better than to believe in that. Western culture especially denies us of the chance to consider our experiences as cyclical, the idea that the energy we find in love is just as transferable as any other energy exerted in humans.

Springtime in Montana carries many traditions in wet wind that gives life to the dead browns and reds of leaves, pine needles, and other casualties of winter months. Burn piles are erected on plots of clear land around the various patches of Chrysalis property. Girls are assigned areas to rake and haul all of the fallen debris that coats the dense forest around us. The must of the damp, hibernating wood fills our lungs as we make dutiful trips to and from the piles, which grow into collections spanning at least a dozen yards in diameter. One is formed right outside of the house Zoe and I live in.

I match Zoe’s affinity towards nature, but her love oozes with the energy that seeps out of people who always seem close to bursting with gratitude.

We both fall in love with this rare display of perfect flame, and through us it becomes alive, celebrated as a sort of pet.

“What should we call it?” I ask her the first night we stand in front of it, our hands extended towards the warmth.

“Element,” she says, eyes and smile wide on her face.

We keep the fire going for almost a week, secretly making farther and farther trips every time we fetch wood to “feed” Element. One of the dogs finds a dead squirrel suffering badly from rigor mortis. We feed the animal to Element, deciding that cremation is both the most respectful form of burial and the coolest to watch.

Eventually, Kenny catches on to the abnormal life span of the creation, and disbands it with a rake to the horror of Zoe, who mourns our pet’s loss on my shoulder.

Faith is not blind, as some would have you believe. It does not exist in place of evidence, or work to disprove what feels true in practice. Faith, I believe, is risking the assumptions of the safe, the proven, and the ordinary in exchange for rooting for the miraculous, no matter how mundane the world may seem. When you hear hoofbeats behind you, the world tells us, expect horses, not zebras.

Zoe and I will always hear zebras.

Your weekend warrior,



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