Yesterday morning I lingered in bed later than usual. I let my head rest enveloped in my comforting pillow, my cold body tangling itself in warm sheets, keeping my eyes shut so I could pretend that I wasn’t awake for as long as I could stand it. No one else was there to know if I was asleep or awake, but I needed to convince myself that sleep wasn’t truly over for another day. I wasn’t ready to face the light outside my window yet.
At 11:00, I dragged my lazy body still wrapped in blankets to the kitchen where I sat on the icy marble floor and ate M&M’s from the bag. I looked about as pathetic as I felt.
My mother glided into the room minutes later, a welcomed sight as far as I was concerned, finding me amidst my pitiful state. I expected her to laugh, not because she is mean-spirited but because I knew I must have looked absolutely ridiculous. Instead though, she sat beside me and asked what I wanted to do.
“I need to go on a hike,” I said without skipping a beat. I knew it months ago; I knew it then. On that day of all days, I desperately needed to go. She didn’t ask where, nor did she look at me like I was crazy. She simply patted my knee and told me to get ready. I was far from it.
A half-hour later, we were on the highway. I was driving as the music poured loudly out of the speakers, through each of us, and out the open windows. I started to sing. Mom laughed at how terrible I sounded while I reveled in the mellifluous sounds spilling from her. I was happy.
Contentment was what I lacked, though. I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere, no matter how sure I was every time I thought I was close. I wasn’t convinced I would find it in the middle of the woods, but I knew in my gut that it was my last chance to either find it or move on and accept that I would always be in a state of uneasiness. I hadn’t yet become so cynical as to give up altogether.
Time passed by us fleetingly, a feeling I hadn’t been acquainted with in a while, and soon I was driving along a winding gravel road I used to know well. Despite the current drought plaguing the city I’ve always called home, which made the leaves look yellow and all the grass had turned into flowery weeds surrounded by gray dirt, I could have sworn I was just there. Maybe I had dreamt of it so often that it was like I never left after all.
I didn’t linger in the car when I parked, not sparing a second to sit and wait mustering up the courage to get out and face either excitement or disappointment. I practically flung the door open and raced to the closest trail right off the parking lot. I had waited too long to hesitate any more.
Mom and I walked beside one another as the trees closed in around us. I wandered a bit ahead when I got distracted by trees eaten away to nearly nothing by termites or the decaying plant life becoming entangled with the rest of the weedy mess on the ground, but I was close enough for both of us to occasionally make comments about how beautiful everything was despite it all. The canopy of trees wrapped around me tightly and I felt safe again. The hot dry air turned into a cool gentle breeze as we passed by a cacophony of canals, streams, and lakes.
I started to point out all the places that held my favorite memories.
“That’s the picnic table we ate lunch at. The one from that time I brought a big meal I tried to cook the night before and everything tasted disgusting, but we pretended it was fine,” “There’s the bridge where we watched schools of tiny fish jump out of the water and baby turtles that sat perfectly still along the shore,” “We only ever rode our bikes through here because in the summer it was practically marshland and we were afraid we’d run into alligators and couldn’t escape fast enough on foot, but we wanted to see them anyway,” “Through that tunnel is a big metal fence we climbed over to discover a beautiful dense area that I’m pretty sure has been long forgotten about, and we got eaten alive by the biggest mosquitos we’d ever seen.”
She let me talk. I continued to reminisce.
An hour passed and we were already nearing the end of the trail. The trees thinned out, revealing an empty blue sky. The sun revealed itself too, beating down harshly on my bare face. I squinted, barely able to see, realizing that I should have brought sunglasses. I’d never liked them much. I did’t like the idea of watching my life through a lens. Too often did it feel like I was doing so anyway.
I’d come to no big revelation or conclusion and the expanse of the white gravel nearing us with every step seemed like nothing short of a let down. In fact, I felt more confused than I had been when I’d arrived. It was stupid of me to believe going to a place that held so many of my favorite memories would bring me anything except fondness for said memories. All I had gotten was a dull ache in the pit of my stomach as I desperately wished I could return to them, or better yet, recreate them.
I was calm, still somehow happy because there was no point in being anything else, but rather disappointed as the expanse of shady trees disappeared completely and I was exposed in the open again.
It was time to go home. I couldn’t wander anymore. I could explore other paths, but it seemed useless at that point. The sun would set before we knew it, and I wanted nothing more than to go back to the safety of my bedsheets and blankets. I didn’t know what I’d been expecting.
Mom spoke suddenly, jolting me from my quickly descending thoughts. “You miss him.”
It wasn’t a question, like it had been for the last year to the day. It wasn’t accusatory, either. Without saying any more, she understood everything going on in my head probably better than I did.
I stopped at the wooden fence marking the end of the trail, my little blue car reflecting the harsh yellow sun ten feet away. I hesitated, resting my hand on the wood and taking note of the gray-brown swirls that flowed into perfectly straight lines and back into swirls and lines again. Mom was patient.
Finally I said, “Thank you.”
“For what?” She asked, though I’m still not convinced she didn’t know. Maybe I had to say it for my own good; to say something concrete, something I could really believe in.
“I’d be lost without you. I never have to explain myself. You get it.”
She smiled, wrapping an arm around me and leading me back to the familiar dirt road I missed driving on but was suddenly beginning to feel like a daunting goodbye. “So do you.”
I reluctantly plopped myself back into the burning driver’s seat of my car, turning on the ignition but neglecting to turn on the A.C. I let the intense heat radiate around me, practically strangling me as my chest grew a little heavier with every intake of a breath. Mom didn’t turn it on either. We swam in the heat, wishing the warmth could wrap around us instead of weigh us down.
When it became too much to handle I gave in and said, “We should get going.” Picking up my phone from the cupholder beside me, I was more than ready to play my music even louder than before. Just like the stifling heat, I wanted to drown in it.
Then, I gasped audibly at the sight of a new notification on my screen. My heart leapt forward, but I was calm nonetheless like it was exactly what I’d been expecting all along. My hands didn’t shake, my mind didn’t race, but I felt a sudden fullness that wasn’t there moments before. Mom looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to confirm what she likely already knew; the only thing in that moment that could have made me feel much of anything at all.
I looked at her, relief washing over my face as I told her, “He called me.” She smiled a knowing smile, not at all surprised like she’d been waiting for him to show up too.
It was about time.