We stepped off the dirt path and worked our way next to the edge of a stream. Balancing on the stones, I took everything in. My eyes traced the edge of the mountains in the distance as they pushed against the sky. My lungs filled with fragrant Alaskan air. My heart beat to the pace of rushing waters bubbling over craggy rocks. A few feet downstream, he positioned himself sideways and with a graceful effort sliced flat stones through the air. Their smooth edges danced across the water before disappearing within the rush of the current.
“That one’s pretty,” I said as we joined together to work our way back to the path.
“This one?” he asked as he bent down and presented me with a rusty orange and faded gray rock about the size of a walnut.
I plucked it from his open palm, the pad of my thumb running across the surface before stowing the stone in my pocket. Every so often, as we continued on the trail, I slipped my hand into my shorts. I pushed the stone against my thigh, only a thin layer of fabric separating the rounded edges from my flesh. Other times I tucked it tight within a clenched fist. When we got back to the car, I dropped the rock in my bag. That was May. Next week will be August. The stone is still in my purse. I haven’t intentionally kept it close but I have intentionally refrained from putting it elsewhere.
This weekend I made a last minute trip to Atlanta to visit Leslie. And as I stood in her kitchen rifling through my purse, I saw the stone. I immediately paused my efforts, reached down to the dark depths of my bag and pulled it free. I quietly observed the details, the pebble reminding me of a time and a place and a feeling. When the slide-show of still shot memories stopped flipping through my head, I held up the rock for Leslie to see. I told her where it was from and then I gently placed it back in my bag.
“I think I need to put that stone on my bookshelf. Next to the other rocks I gathered over the years,” I said as I opened the refrigerator door to peruse my options.
“I have a bunch of rocks from Rocky Beach,” Leslie said with a reminiscent smile.
“Actually, I don’t think that stone is the only thing from Alaska I need to shelve,” I said, my words followed by a loud exhale.
The next morning, while the kids were spaced out to Wonder Pets and Leslie was upstairs getting ready, I slipped onto a tall ladder back chair in the kitchen and penned an email. Just after I clicked send, Leslie came down the stairs.
“Who’re you emailing?”
“GAP Adventures. To book a trip.”
“To?” Leslie asked as she pulled a mug from the cabinet and poured herself some coffee.
“The Galapagos. I’m going to see Blue Footed Boobies and turtles and seals and lots of other naturey things,” I excitedly announced.
“That’s great. When did you decide?”
“This morning,” I answered as I hopped off the chair.
“You were hoping he’d turn a corner - I know that’s why you’ve held off on making any plans.”
I just quietly nodded my head in agreement.
“I’m proud of you, Boogie,” Leslie said as she stepped forward and folded me into her arms.
“Thanks,” I blankly answered.
“And in case you don’t know this, you’ve been beyond patient and understanding and caring. But only he can undo it all. Ugh, I just want to pin him down and ask him what the fuck he’s doing walking away from you.”
“Get in line,” I said with a chuckle as I pulled free from her grasp and leaned my lower back against the cold granite counter. “This is so fucked up. All of it. But I’m tired. I can’t do this any more. I’m vulnerable while he shelters himself. I’m giving all of me and I get a mere fraction of him in return. All I know is that last night, I didn’t want to go away because it felt like moving on. This morning it felt like, well, moving forward. And moving forward feels more right than standing still,” I said, a warm comfort washing over me. “Olivia, come here, I want to tell you a secret,” I said in the direction of the television.
Pushing herself to an upright position via downward dog, Olivia tootled over to where I was standing. I squatted down as she got closer so that my face was even with hers.
“Whahht?” Olivia asked with a breathy and excited curiosity before leaning forward with her hands on her knees and pressing her little nose against my cheek. Close enough.
“I’m going to see Blue Footed Boobies!”