So I live at the end of a dead end street. There are seven houses on it and three are vacant. Behind my house is an area I like to call “Fern Gully” because that’s what it is. It’s a big grassy valley with a stream and a walking trail that can only be accessed by going around the corner and finding the secret entrance. Of course, if you wanted to plummet down into the valley via my carport and reach the trail like that, then go ahead. But then you can’t come back into my house what with all the snakes and ticks you’d be harboring.
I thought the trees and trails went all the way back to forever but, as it turns out, when I undress myself every night in front of my wall of bedroom windows with no blinds, I’m actually doing it in front of a mental institution (!!!) that’s obscured by the rampant kudzu. No fucking joke.
So anyway, even though it’s not too deep, the wilderness behind my house is a sight. I know there’s every manner of mammal and reptile swarming undetected through the kudzu that spirals and chokes the trees but my favorite Fern Gully resident has got to be Billy Shakes.
Billy Shakes is a groundhog who’s formed an intricate network of tunnels and holes throughout Fern Gully. The only close-up I ever had of him was from like ten feet away, and he stared at me and shook violently the entire time. If you stand on the edge for what feels like forever you will see him pop his head out of one of the holes, look around, then he’ll disappear and resurface fifty feet away, from another hole. It’s like if I was a giant, it’d be the Whack-A-Mole game at Chuck-E-Cheese. And I would lose every time because I’m really bad at spotting Billy Shakes. The boys on my street are good at it but I’m starting to wonder if Billy Shakes just doesn’t like me. He only seems to come out for them.
So every time I get out of my car, I yell, “Hello Billy Shakes,” and I let it echo over the Gully and I wait for him but he never comes. I buy cat food for him and I made him his own plate and I put it next to the hole closest to my house. Every morning the food is gone, but still no visible Billy Shakes.
Just now I heard some rustling through the open window of our Fun Room (the room with the XBox, Rock Band set-up, Nintendo 64, wealth of movies, record player, sprayed-painted blinds, bamboo monkey mirror and mini-fridge, doesn’t that sound fun?) so I hurled myself over to the window and yelled, “BILLY SHAKES?!?!?!” but it was just two people walking on the trail and they looked up at me quizzically, shrugged their shoulders, and kept walking.
Why doesn’t Billy Shakes love me?
It’s driving me crazy.
I feed him, I coddle him verbally, I tell all my friends about him.
I’ve taken to using him as a metaphor for my life, like maybe Billy Shakes represents all the people in the world that come in contact with members of the service industry and they all wish I’d just feed them and then go away.
Or maybe Billy Shakes is every man I’ve never loved coming back to tell me they never really cared for me that much either, that I was just something they could use to show their friends what they could lure.
Or maybe Billy Shakes is the old “me” that hates the new “me,” even though I’m still the old me and I’m just constantly hiding from the new me, the me I’m supposed to be.
Or maybe Billy Shakes is my 30th birthday, which will happen this year, and he sees me as the Kid’s Table, which he’s still forced to sit during holiday dinners, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore, but he’ll still take the free meal.
Or maybe Billy Shakes is all the people in town that intimidate me, like Olivia and Phil Blank and Richard and Mr. Plummer and Jody Cedzidlo, people who seem to have it all TOGETHER, their style, their life plan, their public face and their secret routines, their senses of humor and their priorities and their decorations, and I’m just me, and I’ll never find those pigeonholes he’s peering at me from.
But then when I think about it I realize he’s no metaphor; Billy Shakes is just a groundhog, and groundhogs don’t generally hang out with people. Simple as that. There’s the communication issue, and the dissonance with hobbies, and you could never go out to eat because you don’t eat the same shit.
And then? Then I realize that those reasons are exactly why he was the perfect metaphor to begin with.