Over a year ago, as a red sunrise streaked the sky, a friend and I got into my Volvo sedan. We began the rather long drive to the most northwesterly point of the lower 48 states.
The conversation was much as these conversations usually are: imaginary friends, religious history, sports that I have no taste for, and his convincing reasons that they are worth learning (and offering to teach me). We laughed and joked, had some serious sharing of hardship and lessons learned.
Three hours later we arrived in Sequim. Coffee, couches, confessions of well hidden truth, some laughter – it all came so easily. After a while, he encouraged me to write while he relaxed. Every now and then I could feel his gaze on my scribbling hand or resting on my downturned face. He did not hurry me – no tapping toes or drumming fingers. His focus was in the coffee shop, where he was sitting, with me.
At the local health food store we sampled a truly awful soup and decided on some juice instead. “Let’s go to the grocery store,” I whispered. He chuckled softly.
I love cheese, nearly any cheese. People seldom follow me on a cheese adventure, so I settle for cheddar. (He told me to pick the cheese! I warned him that it wouldn’t be cheddar…and he smiled.)
We had a picnic of samosa, jambalaya, cheese, and some vegetable juice. The air was still. In the distance, waves crashed on rocks, wind whined through trees, and birds trilled and cried their way through the forest.
I’m a slow hiker, I dawdle, I pick up old man’s beard lichen, poke at bracket fungus, stare at squirrels and owls – I told him to go his pace and not worry about mine (I’m not offended when people walk ahead).
He walked ahead for a while, and then, with a smile in his eyes he slowed down and explored the world beside me.
We looked for creatures, sea creatures, avian creatures, creatures of the land, and creatures that are very still. We laughed until we tipped over, weak in the knees, “I’ve never cried from laughing before,” he said, “but I just squeezed out a tear!”
That was when we began to see. A golden eagle flew low overhead and disappeared into the forest. A sea lion bayed in the distance again and again. The animals came out to play. The waves crashed into the rocks. The sun sank toward the ocean – it was that time of day. We walked slowly to the car.
I pumped gas, staring at the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I could see the rain clouds rolling over the water, feel the chill of winter air pushing them closer. I walked into the service station door to find him and he turned. “I got you some tea. I hope that’s alright,” he said.
We settled back into the car, sleepy, relaxed, happy. He reached into the backseat, grabbing at something. A towel and a coat later, I laughed and suggested he focus on driving. “Grab the blanket,” he said.
“Are you cold?” I asked.
“It’s for you. I’ll fall asleep if I turn up the heater and you look really cold,” he said.
I tucked the blanket around my legs slowly.
He glanced at me with concern, “Are you warm enough?”
“I am now,” I answered.
Snow flakes smeared on the windshield as the wiper blades moved, and the heavy wet clouds came over the land. The dark cool air brings out deeper secrets than daylight might ever dare. We shared disappointments, family stories, and wondered over things that we had no desire to understand.
“I think that we might be the last people on Earth,” he chuckled as we drove through another hour of uninterrupted cold darkness.
“I suppose that means we’ll have to procreate like rabbits!” I joked.
“Obviously!” he grinned.
The lights of civilization break a great many spells. The spell we were under seemed impervious. Thirty minutes from his home he slowed the car to a slower pace, cars passed by quickly and impatiently. He turned from the main road early taking side roads and slower ways…prolonging the night.
We passed his home, he pointed it out as we rolled by. He showed me a few sights in the town – a place for us to swim, the school he attended as a child. We finally pulled up to the curb and stopped. I could feel his vibration change.
We hugged goodbye. It was the kind of hug that holds a world of tension and is shortened by restraint. As he walked toward the front door, away from the car, I could feel him forcing himself not to look back. His self-control was astounding.
I drove myself home, smiling at the night – hoping that, perhaps, I would see him again…