Every love story has a beginning, and an ending. That is simply the way of things. As children, you are told tales of the greatest of loves; epic ballads fraught with peril, adventure and the very fiercest of passions. Poignant stories that speak of steadfast romances that overcome the odds. You are taught that love, true love, can conquer all things in this life.
This is a lie.
As they tell you these stories of happily-ever-after, they ignore the endings that bring about hurt. The ones that crash and burn, the slow fades. They don’t tell you of something that never truly started, so it never truly ended, leaving the bitter taste of almost in its path. There is a melancholy attachment to love, and the tale I am to tell is one such as that.
Where I sit in the park overlooks many things. On a good day, my shadow extends past the bench in front of me, beyond the walking path and to the very far edge of the playground. I have lived here from the start, when my kind was thick across this land, tall and proud. Few of us remain, decades later, but we never forget.
The bench I mentioned was oak. It was sturdy, handcrafted from the remnants of my family members. In hindsight, maybe that’s why I watched over it so closely. It felt like someone I once knew. On it’s wide expanse people would rest. They would read the daily news, take their lunch breaks and watch their children on the nearby play area. It was there a local boy proposed to his high-school sweetheart.
Oh, such happy times!
The bench in question is very important. You see, it is around this bench that my story revolves. It it the proof that love does not always end with a beautiful sunset, but rather, with splintered pieces. You must remember that love is not universal; it happens differently for each being, manifesting and flowing and twisting through us in mysterious ways that even the wisest of my ancient species could not explain. Sometimes we grow to love, and other times love lands in our lives with the merest whisper of the wind.
It started in October. It was a beautiful day, the sun beating down happily with the warm breeze, playing with my leaves. They were changing colors, and soon they’d cover the ground in a blanket of reds and browns, a satisfying audible for rambunctious children and their worn-out sneakers. It was late enough in the day that my shadow had shifted from the bench, instead cooling off a spot in the grass to the right of us. The warmth from the sun heated its wood, and the metal frame that held it up was uncomfortable for people to touch. As a consequence, no one sat upon the park bench, and it remained empty and waiting.
Clouds had begun to form in the sky, and it was no surprise to anyone as afternoon rain showers were common this time of the year. It had once rained for seventeen days in a row, and the benches and picnic tables had needed to be resealed because of the severity of the water.
Great, white puffy clouds circled the park that day, searching for their desired spots to cast their shade. Some liked to hang over the playground, providing the children with relief, and if their parents were a bit reckless, a moment of fun when they let loose with rain, creating muddy puddles and water slides. Others preferred to water the plants that live here, and those are my personal favorite. It wasn’t unusual to have clouds move in quickly, lest they be stuck with only wetting the sidewalk and ruining the shoes of those who didn’t care for such things. And no cloud, to my knowledge, liked to be on that particular duty.
It took me by some surprise when a single cloud broke away from the collective cumulus, and gracefully bestowed sweet shade upon the bench. The metal began to cool instantly, and a creaking sigh released from it as an older man took a seat upon it. He glanced up at the sky, and gave a single nod of appreciation for the lone cloud above him. It was a small cloud, with nothing so special about it. Uneven with it’s curves and coloring, I could not explain the reason behind the radiance emanating from the bench.
The bench sat quietly, blissfully cooling it’s wooden bits and taking refuge in it’s new found friend. When I asked later what it had been feeling in that moment, because the connection between our bark allowed a level of communication, it could only describe the sensation as the sweetest relief on all levels, and insist that never before had it felt so cared for, protected and provided for in it’s considerable life.
“Not,” It said solemnly. “Since the day I lost my leaves and was fashioned into what I am today.”
I can only assume, which I try not to do as my grandfather used to say it would make an Ash out of me, that the cloud felt a similar connection, for it remained for the next three days, lingering above, keeping the bench cool and happy. It’s friends began to leave, whisking away to parts unknown, or fading into a chilly fog that coated parts of the ground. Less people came to the park for that short period, having no desire to be wading through the damp air. Still, this cloud remained, and during certain parts of the day, when the sun was just charitable enough, I could feel it brush against my bark with stunning clarity, and understood it saved the most of it’s magic for the one it sought out first.
The bench did not complain about the constant chill, but reveled in it. The cloud sent gentle breezes to dance over the wood, brushing soft and soothing kisses to an age old ache. It cast amusing shapes on the sidewalk before the bench, making bunnies and puppies frolic in monochromatic play. The problem is that there was so much joy that it did not see the signs that loomed above. The cloud it held so dear was darkening, losing the purity of the white heavens and gaining a silver hue. That hue gave way to slate-gray tones, and eventually, it sagged under the weight of it’s charcoal color. It was not until this final transformation that it occurred to my companion that a literal storm was brewing.
It seems to me that too often love blinds those in its presence. It is not until things have gone too far that eyes are open to changes, and then, all that is left to do is watch the train wreck happen. I implore you do not allow the fairy tales you’ve been told to take away your sight. Feel with all of your heart, but do not lose the use of your senses. The most volatile of storms can be painted with the most vibrant of colors.
The air was heavy with the tension, and a few brave souls cast wary glances at the swirling sky above. The cloud clung to it’s position stubbornly, almost desperately, and little wisps of it thinned out bit by bit. Lightning flashed, and the stragglers collected their belongings in a hurry, rushing to the relative safety of their vehicles or nearby pavilions. My foliage shook, some loosening to getting caught into a whirlwind that eventually dropped them to the ground below. A single red leaf landed on the empty bench, and the heavens opened up to release a torrent of rain upon the earth.
I’ve learned in my life that rain is to be appreciated; it brings life and nourishment to my kind. It is the purpose of a storm cloud to spread that life. I had seen many storms over my existence, but I think back on them, and this is the one that stands out the most; more than the one that turned over an elm across the way, and more than the one that rendered the playground useless for several days due to flooding.
As water graced the earth, dirt and leaves kicked up, skipping over the ground. I noticed that the bench had begun to get splattered, and I bemoaned the fact that my branches were too bare to offer any protection from the elements. It’s seal looked tested from wear, and water damage would be a serious affliction for it. But, surprisingly, the area over part of the bench remained clear, the wood cry and untouched. The cloud hung above, refusing to release it’s essence. But I could see it wearing down with each moment.
There was a brief pause before it happened, and in it, I felt peace come from the bench, and a sense of anticipation. It told me later that feeling the cool mist tickle across it’s fading veneer was the closest to bliss a sitting instrument could ever feel. As the rain fell from above, it seemed to move in slow motion, and the cloud’s soft touch caressed the wooden seat and back, trailing down the metal legs to pool at their base. I heard it cry out, the call heartbreaking, a sense of intense fulfillment and loss washing over me. I mourned for my friend, for as the storm passed slowly, he remained, and the cloud, as is it’s nature, did not.
It has been months now, and the city has not come by to reseal the benches and tables that fell victim to the weather. Life has moved on, the park bustles with the daily goings on of people and wildlife, and I stand in my place, looking over it all. The bench has grown weak, sun dried as my branches are bare and unable to protect it from the harsh rays, and few deign to sit up on it. The rain rusted it’s bolts, and if you sit upon it just right, there’s an unsettling creaking noise from beneath you. It’s glossy look has given way to a brittle, miscolored appearance. Pieces have begun to chip away from it, splintering off and, on more than once occasion, finding themselves piercing the skin of an unsuspecting innocent.
There have been complaints of concern that the condition of the bench is no longer safe, and the wind carries rumors of it’s removal. We do not talk about it, because it makes it remember what it almost had, but could not. I have watched it waste away, and I have felt it’s sorrow to my innermost ring. It knows it’s days are coming to an end, and that it cannot be saved for another life, the wood weathered too far for even a toothpick. But still, it remembers fondly and with clarity the moment that first rain drop fell, and it felt the touch of love, before then unattainable, against it.
Love is said to be strong, fast and enduring. But sometimes that endurance is a curse more than a blessing. For the bench remained long after the cloud, alone. I have seen my fair share of love stories, but the tragedy of the park bench and the cloud lingers in my mind. When they take it away, I do not know if there will be a replacement for it. I do not know if I want there to be. The bench witnessed countless stories over the years, and I do not know if I want my branches to shield another to do the same. But if they do bring a replacement, I will stand tall, and I will tell the tale of how a cloud found true love once upon a park bench.