As a child, there was something I used to ponder. What would happen if you took a piece of paper, and cut it into smaller and smaller pieces? You could cut the paper in half, then cut one of those halves in half, and then one of those halves in half. So on and so on it would go. In my mind, I imagined an endless sequence of cutting halves of paper, always being able to make it just one bit smaller. Ad Infinitum.
How do you fit an eternity into a sheet of paper? It was such a brilliant mystery. Yet, with tiny fingers, I could never reach the conclusion to infinity. Eventually, all I was left with was a ball of pulp and sweat.
Then I learned of the molecule.
Atoms as well.
And then much more exotic concepts. Suddenly my little piece of white, crinkled paper had become the playing field for universal movements.
A gust of wind swept in from my right, knocking my thoughts out of my head. I turned to face my invisible foe, battering the face of the mountain. I couldn’t very well continue walking down this path without a break, so I decided to take a seat on the nearest park bench. It was a brisk autumn day. I zipped up my jacket, watching as my breath unfolded from my mouth into the crisp air.
I recollected my thoughts, snatching them out of the wind. I remembered what you had said to me a few years ago, “Might we someday regret pursing these answers? Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s all really worth it. Should this incomprehensible madness really be made clear? I used to gaze up at the stars with such wonder and amazement. Now I keep my blinds shut at night.”
There was a time when I disagreed with you, vehemently so.
Now however, I was living at the toes of ancient mountains, steeped not in the din of man, but in idyllic nature. Chaotic nature. I’d stopped climbing up manmade ladders, only to find myself breathlessly clambering upwards the hierarchy of minerals. What greeted me at the pinnacle wasn’t a paycheque and adoration, but a spectacular view of the Rockies. A view nature never meant to afford me.
“Good afternoon,” a fellow hiker greeted me with a smile as he passed by on the trail. “Snow’s just starting to fall. You probably have a good hour before it gets really bad.” He maintained a smile, searching my face for commonality. Apparently not finding what he was looking for, he turned away with a brief wave and nod.
I wasn’t the kind of person to engage a stranger in small talk. I also wasn’t the kind of person to go hiking around Lake Louise. Tucked away in my apartment, reading a book I’d studied multiple times before, I decided today was going to be a different kind of day.
“Have a good day, sir!” I called after the man, but he was already weaving down the final stretch of the path. Perhaps he heard me, perhaps he didn’t. Sound carries far in these lonely mountains. I glanced up the trail for a second chance, but saw that I was alone.
A different voice, not from the mountains, drifted through my mind, “Why are you leaving?” Not necessarily a query, more like a challenge despite its questioning form. A simple query, asked by many, but most importantly by you. You’d been the one to speak that question often, even when so much time and space separated us. Distance had never been difficult for you to overcome.
The drive from my little town, flooded seasonally by tourists, to this hiking trail had taken a matter of minutes.
The drive, the flight, and the escape from the bustling cities I used to live within, to the cold, fairly desolate Canadian wilderness had been a much longer affair. Spanning so many years. In those cities, I was ‘eminent in my field,’ someone who would be rewriting college textbooks for decades to come. The IV needle of knowledge, drip by drip feeding the rest of society. Out here in the wilderness, I was just another variable in the ecosystem, trying to find meaning in my niche.
Again I heard you asking the question, “Why are you leaving?” Although I’d never come up with a satisfactory answer for you, I’d come up with plenty of good reasons for myself.
Sometimes I wish I had never pondered that little piece of paper.
I’m forever grateful I met you. Sitting amidst piles of papers and textbooks, staring quizzically at your computer screen. How quickly did your brow unfurrow when you saw me. For just a little while, the questions didn’t nip at our toes. Formulas and equations were never more meaningless. It was in this momentary pause of our quest that something was found.
But this is too sappy to be spoken aloud. So I only thought it to myself during those days, which somehow managed to be months. Several millennia, if I’m honest. I never did tell you.
I stared up at the sky, and above it to the celestial bodies beyond. I saw white flakes fall all around me. I got up, shaking a few of the flakes from my head, and headed further up the trail. I was still breathing heavily, with every step I could feel the tension mounting in my legs and chest.
After twenty or so more minutes of hiking, I was lost in a world consisting of howling winds and sharp snowflakes.
“What happens when you cut a piece of paper into smaller and smaller pieces?” You stared up at me, half of your lips participating in a smile. “Reduction, of course.”
“Is that all?” I held out my hand to shield my face from the ice and snow. “Is that all?” I said it louder this time, desperately competing with the maelstrom. I shouted it the next time. I screamed it the last time. No matter of intensity or loudness could break through the malevolent storm falling down upon me. I collapsed onto the dirt and snow of the hiking trail.
I collapsed into a simpler, brutal world.
Author Notes: This was edited - previous draft had 'her' instead of 'you.' I mean, no one's going to read this, so it doesn't matter, but I feel the need to explain if anyone was confused before. Those pronouns will mix you up!