In The Age of the Second Queen every memory of every winter from the past was erased. They ceased to be relevant. There were only the New Hampshire winters of that age. I lived through two and a half of them. The last one I barely survived.

In recent times I have come to contemplate the struggles of another individual, one I know from this place, who has been going through a personal hell of his own. This is for him.

She asked me, "If you could go back in time to any point in your life, what would you change?"

I was known to reply, "I would not change anything. Well, there was this one point where I was too late, it is kind of a thing that haunts me, but I think I need it to haunt me. So, really, nothing. And my history is completely locked prior to 1994, so all of that, well, it is another life now technically. So, really, nothing."

"You aren't easy to flirt with."

"Actually, I'm terribly easy to flirt with. It just doesn't get you anywhere. There isn't a woman alive I can impose my battle scars on. I'm retired."

"How can you want to be alone?"

"I have been with the most beautiful, most complicated, and most dangerous women you can imagine. I didn't deserve any of them, because I'm a complete hack, but damn if I didn't stay until I solved every one of them."

Years ago I used to go on in terribly poetic terms about a woman I called The Muse. I considered her to be the unsolved riddle, the unfinished book, and the great unrequited love of my life. There is a strange thing about memory and about death. My death involved completely scrambling my memories. As many people told me, this scrambling was necessary for me to move forward. It also set up very important dramas that needed to be played out in my life's journey.

The Reckoning with The Muse, as it is known in my personal mythology, was a key drama. It ran against everything I had been directed to do following my death. Many warnings had come regarding efforts to reclaim elements of my past prior to my suicide. The Muse was part of my past, and the reckoning involved giving up my holy city of Orlando and returning to the frozen north.

I gave up everything for her, but this was necessary after claiming for years that she was my true calling and my soul mate. In the end I was quite right about that. Go back and change it? Travel back in time and not give up everything to go to the frozen north for a complete and total disaster? Not a chance. If I went back I would insist on doing it again.

Because it was important. It was very important.

People talk about wanting security, stability and forward momentum. I want to live life's greatest adventures. I don't find them in the world of travel and foreign places. My wife has an affinity for that, and she has my blessing. I find it in people, and in giving up the things other people claim to want to reach those people. I could probably be making more money and have more security doing something else, but I work on the floor in direct care with teens in a psychiatric treatment facility. And I wouldn't be doing that if it wasn't for a charismatic sociopath I lived with for two years.

She was bent on destroying me from the inside out, but not because she hated me. She wanted to destroy me because she loved me and because she could not reconcile those feelings with who she was. At first I had a great deal of trouble understanding what it was that was going on between us. There was a deep connection, as if our fates were permanently entwined. Soon after the honeymoon ended she began verbally assaulting everything I believed in. It didn't phase me, but after a while it became irritating. I believe in some crazy-ass shit, like angels talking to me in dreams and having a second life in a place called Rancho Nuevo, so I never really expect most people to believe or even accept me. That is all part of who I am.

And it keeps me alive.

The Muse's first suicide attempt came with a caveat. I'd been called back to the house from work by the police in the middle of the night, as she had called a suicide hotline to report her intentions and they had sent emergency services to the house. It was an overdose, and the paramedics asked me how many of a certain pill she'd had so they'd know how much she'd taken. Somehow I knew, and if I told you my angel, Anastasia, told me where to look you could call me crazy. The bottle was behind the stereo speaker in the living room. It was still quite full. The suicide attempt was a gesture. Mostly, she was dead drunk.

Later, it came. She'd read most of my writings and my private notebooks, where she learned that my greatest fear in talking about my suicide near-death experience was that it would encourage others to attempt suicide to become like me. After I brought her back from the hospital, she told me she'd only done it to be more like me.

I'd been working at a facility for at risk teen girls, thanks in part to The Muse and a stolen ham. The Muse was the cook at the facility and the third shift supervisor had been stealing food for some time. The Muse and the program manager had set up a sting operation to catch her red handed, and they caught her loading a ham from the facility into her car. She was fired and I was called in as what they called emergency relief. Basically, under extreme conditions they could hire anyone to work the shift as long as they were supervised by a fully vested employee. Two months later I was regular part time. Two months after that I was regular full time. Three months after that I was the relief third shift supervisor.

So, basically, I've been working with teenage girls since 2005 because of The Muse and a stolen ham.

The winter of 2005-2006 wasn't a terribly bad one. After The Muse's recovery from a very lame suicide attempt that involved six pills and two bottles of wine, we became very close. We had always been close, but now there was a very off form of trust developing. She began to show me all of her demons, which were plentiful, and the script for the remainder of our time together. Living the way I do, I can see when someone is showing me the script for what it yet to happen. People always do when you are close to them, you just have to look for it and know what you are looking at.

Then she shattered our relationship with our landlord, who lived upstairs, and forced me into an alliance with her against him. It could only end one way, with our moving out, and that did not go as she anticipated.

The sub-plot went better than she could have imagined and played right into her hand.

She could not find a place for her three dogs, her pig, and herself that I could also fit into. So, I moved in with a co-worker who was also technically my subordinate. The Muse did not feel at all jealous, although this roommate was a woman, but she was constantly suspicious of my activities. I was no longer in her control and it disturbed her. Her second suicide attempt came just before my roommate, an alcoholic with almost twenty years sober, fell completely off the wagon and went into her own form of madness. After I was forced to fire the woman who let me live in her house, due to her coming to work completely drunk and belligerent and refusing to leave the premises, I needed a place to live.

"Found us a place."

This plays out completely or it never played at all. You have to go to the end game.

Her end game was pretty simple. Destroy everything I believe in, everything about me that was stronger than she was, and highlight only that which revolved around her. She wiped me out financially. She did her best to end my relationships with any people she couldn't control. She even left me trapped in a house in the New Hampshire woods without heat through the entire winter of 2006-2007. We did have a wood stove, so every morning after work I would spend hours out with the trees looking for wood and begging their pardon for my intrusion into their peaceful wake.

Then came her third suicide attempt, the only one that came close to ending her life. The bathtub, the bathroom floor, and the bathroom walls were covered with blood. I found it hard to believe that much blood could come out of one person, but it did. When I came upon the scene she held out her wrists and begged me to cut them. She'd sliced her entire body to ribbons, but, she said, "I can't bring myself to cut my wrists, please cut them for me."

It was the night that changed me. I became numb. I walked out of the room and went to my bedroom, closed the door and put music on.

"Are you going to do something?"

"Call 911. You should have them on speed dial by now."

Later that night I spend several hours walking through the woods while a slow snowfall cascaded around me. The trees in winter are a truly beautiful thing. Fuck winter.

Everything we survive brings us closer to something we will never truly understand.

Been burning

last year's hurricane

trees from friends and roadside,

and our own backyard,

but I was down to nothing.

A fire glowing in the woodstove

is psychologically comforting,

so I called a local number

listed in the paltry advertisements

of my small town newspaper.

Victoria promised

a cord of wood

delivered early in the morning,

so my husband wouldn't be awake,

alarmed by unknown men.

Two men arrived one hour late,

spoke little English,

but left a perfect trapezoid

of stacked, split firewood.

There are more details to the event

but for now, burning the trees of winter is more

and less emotionally taxing than words

or the money spent.

When Mariah saw the construction workers in front of the soon-to-be shopping center about to tear up the last sapling on the plot, she'd parked the truck and ran over, waving for them to stop. She was a gardener, she told them. She was landscaping, she had a shovel in the back of her truck, and she'd be glad to take the tree.

The workers thought themselves gentlemen, and Mariah was easy on the eyes. They let her dig up the tree and gave her burlap and a rope to bag the roots.

When she got home, she out the tree in one of the many planter pots she had, filled it with nutrient-rich soil and compost, and watered it. When that was done, she went inside, feeling accomplished.

That night, as she sat on the sofa with a mug of cocoa and her pajamas on, Mariah heard the soft sound of sobbing. She rose to her feet and crept quietly around the house, wondering where the noise could be coming from. It wasn't until she passed an open window she had forgotten to close that she realized the noise was coming from outside.

outside, sitting in on the planter where the sapling had been, was a little girl in a green dress. Her hair stuck out wildly in a thick, viney bush, and she was so small, her feet couldn't touch the ground. When Mariah shone a flashlight on the girl, she looked up, and Mariah saw that her eyes had no iris or pupil, they were just a solid, near-glowing green.

"It's too cold," said the girl, shivering and hugging herself. Her voice was weak and small. "It was cold before, but here it's worse without the ground."

"What happened to the tree?" said Mariah.

The girl looked at her, confused. "I'm right here," she said. She brushed leafy strands of vine-hair from her face. "You brought me here."

"Do you want to come inside?" Mariah said. "It's warm."

The little girl sniffed and nodded. She stepped down from the pot carefully, leaning against it like she wasn't sure how to walk properly. She held onto the pot of dirt and tugged at it, trying to pull it to the door.

"Here," said Mariah, coming down the steps. "Let me help."

She passed the girl and hefted up the pot. The girl hovered anxiously around Mariah's legs as she made her way into the house. After a quick look around the house, mariah put the pot near the glass slider door in the kitchen where the sunlight would find it in the morning. The girl climbed into the pot and sighed.

"Thank you," she said.

And with that, she stood up, raised her arms, and transformed from a spindly little girl into an even more spindly little tree.

Mariah stared at the tree in silence for a long while. Then, she said, "Good night."

She flicked off the lights, then went to bed.

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