I drug my boot across the fresh stones and made a clear, deep line. Looking to the east and west, there was no traffic for miles and that suited me just fine. I hadn't driven all this way to be bothered by the attentions of speeding teenagers cutting across what was once a fantastic back road. I silently wondered if it was still possible to appreciate an open space like this. If maybe the reason for the tight rows of houses was a twisted agoraphobia. It wasn't so long ago, was it, that I lived to race along these curves with the windows down, radio too loud, air smashing into my eyes at unsafe speeds.
I was much younger then. We were much younger. She had long, dark hair and bright green eyes that almost seemed to glow. Everything about her was young and strong. She knew no weakness and was ready to dive into the world. To drink deep of all it had to offer. I was more reserved, but she drug me along into her misadventures in spite of myself. Pretentious conversations about what life was meant to be. Grand schemes that seemed so possible because we didn't yet know what we couldn't do. Awkward lovemaking that made up in intensity what it lacked in grace.
We would drive this very road almost every day when I took her home. Her mom might ask me to stay for dinner and I would. And after the sun had set, I would again find myself listening to my tires hum and bounce and bump over the poorly kept county road.
The wind changed direction and I watched two birds land on a thick pine tree that was gearing up for winter. The last of the light was starting to dissolve over the distant horizon. Funny, I didn't remember it being so flat here. I jumped up onto the trunk of my car to get a better look. My new pants slid over the dusty wax and my cell phone vibrated mutely in my pocket, but I wasn't ready to be snapped back just yet.
When was the first time? That first sunset we watched out here? Almost twenty years ago. The number staggered me for a moment. The thought that I could remember anything from such a distance made me uneasy. Too much mortality for one day. Too many things we wouldn't have thought of then, when her hands were warm and cupped to my face in the wind. Even then I measured out my time with her. Knowing that it would end. So many moments that I wanted to collect, save for later. The clock was always ticking.
The night we left, we drove this road. We stopped at the far end of a long bend and sat on the warm late summer grass. It was quiet. It seems that it's always that way at the end. We stared at each other, held hands and tried to let the silence in to create a distance. Neither of us wanted it. But we needed it. Our time was up. Summer days don't go on forever and neither can young love, no matter how hard we try. We weren't wise but we were perceptive.
I remember her eyes slowly filling with tears. She told me that it would never be the same. That even if we saw one another again, we would be different. Foreign. It might have sounded like the end of a bad movie if she hadn't meant each word with such force. I steeled myself for the end. Our goodbye was long and painful. It lasted only a few hours, but driving this road with her in the car for the last time was so difficult. It was a first cut. Nothing would ever hurt quite like that.
Sitting on the road so many years later I had an urge for something self-destructive. I never smoked, but suddenly a cigarette seemed like something that would fill a growing void. Maybe a good, stiff drink. I
had nothing but a cold cup of coffee from that morning sitting in the cup holder simply leeching into the fiber of its styrofoam enclosure. I slid off the trunk of the car and walked along the gravel a few paces. The sun had finally slipped away and the stars were just starting to peek out of the deep blue night, though they'd never be as bright as they were then. Damn the new porch lights and every living room window that looked in my direction. I shuffled a few steps and watched the stones scatter before my freshly shined boots.
This road could go on forever. I could start walking, right here, and go until there was no breath left in me. The connections could take me places I'd never see any other way. It would be easy to drop into that world. Cater to the wanderlust. Let my mind drift back and forth with the movements of the sun across the sky until there was nothing left.
For a moment, I considered it. It's the sort of thing she would have done. The sort of thing she did. How many countries had she passed through? I remember hearing that she had finally seen every state. My eyes ran over the distance and I tried to imagine what was beyond the hill. And the one after it. Sad that my imagination came up short at the close of such a long day when I needed it most. Even revelling in the past didn't spark some involuntary reaction or drag me back to a place where I would have felt so free.
I looked back at the car. It was sitting at the head of the trail. I made my way back to it and opened the trunk.
We discovered this place, or so we thought. It's hard to say that one has discovered any place that has rusty beer cans strewn about like ancient relics. Then again we weren't like most people our age, or so I would like to believe. It wasn't a place to go throw down a blanket and do the things our parents did and now dreaded. It was quiet. A place to talk. It was where we shared dreams. A place outside of time and rules and age. And in that place we spun ourselves in circles. Giddy hours spent laughing, crying, teasing and exploring. I hadn't been back, save once, since the night we left.
That night I drove back along the road and stopped here. I carved our names in a dying tree. I didn't surround them with a heart, I wasn't that sentimental even then. But I wanted to make a mark. I thought that maybe someday she'd return and see that. She would remember. Perhaps smile and think back on me with some sense of love. I hoped that deep down that wouldn't change. That she would find a way to love me still.
The tree still stood these twenty-odd years later. More decay. Moss and peeled bark. Our names were where I left them. My eyes clouded and I kneeled quietly in the soft, drying pine needles. In all those in between years I had only spoken to her three times. And she was right, it was never the same. Maybe that's why we didn't speak more. And now I knew that I would never hear her voice again.
I placed the flowers against the tree trunk. It was warmer than the cold stone that I had run my fingers over that morning. More fitting. In the shadow, I traced my fingers over our names in the slowly rotting bark.
That road would carry me away for the last time. But like the lines that were slowly coming in around my eyes, I would carry it, and her, with me.
|< Sportscasters loves stats | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|