A Hack Job in the Gator Nation


I swung the axe into a piece of dry wood. While it didn't yet split, that was probably the least harmful outcome. It was dark, I was drunk, and angry tears streamed down my face.   

Forty-eight hours in Gainesville had proved far more intense than I'd anticipated. Each hour felt tolerable--even fun--in isolation, but compounding them together left me emotionally exhausted. I'd piled into a car with Patrick's old friend Janna and her crew on a silly mission to acquire white cheddar cheese-its. I'd wandered through the halls of Patrick's old dorm, Rawlings. I'd taken pictures by Patrick's favorite statue, endearingly called The French Fries. I'd eaten Patrick's most beloved meal served by the Hare Krishnas. I'd reminisced with one of Patrick's best friends Raksha over pancakes. I'd biked through campus, ran my hands along the Bull Gator statue, walked by the restaurant he chose for his graduation meal, stared blankly at a field we used to throw Frisbee. It would have been the perfect few days, but they weren't. Patrick was so painfully and profoundly missing from all of them.


"Okay, make sure to spread your legs when you swing so you don't chop off an ankle"   Patrick's friend Walter reminded me again gently. It was his suggestion that I swing this axe. We were sitting together in his backyard when one of his comments resurfaced all this emotion, and in effort to calm me, suggested I release some anger on this log.


Why the fuck did she kill him?


How the fuck did I think I'd accomplish anything by biking away from my life? 


Where is he now? Why do I feel so goddamn alone? Why does everyone keep expecting me to fill the space for both of us? How can I continue like this?

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

My chest was heaving and my tears felt hot. Despite my intense hacks toward this log, it remained intact. Walter suggested that it might be a good time to hand back the axe. I gave it back to him, swapped places with him by the log, and in a single swing, he effortlessly split the log in two.

I almost laughed. 

We stared at each other for a little while. 

All of these questions, all of this pent-up frustration, none of it could be conquered alone. Often, I feel trapped with these negative feelings because I fear expressing them will shatter this heroine image I've constructed, and I feel shattering that image will make those who loved Patrick feel helpless or sad or guilty. I feel my unfair place as the living Wanninkhof sets an insurmountably high standard for success that I'm incapable of reaching. I feel insufficient. 

But, casting my amazed gaze at Walter and then at the two split pieces of wood, I felt profound relief.

I'm swinging an axe at a piece of wood that I can't alone split. I used to have Patrick as my partner-in-crime for all tasks like these, but now I don't. But that doesn't mean I have to try alone. There still are other people-- there are Walters and Rakshas and Jannas, there are my friends and my parents, there are my teammates. And they certainly can help. 

We set the logs ablaze. We talked about Patrick until they became embers.