A Woman and Her Man
The Grand Canyon didn’t hold me. It chewed me up and spit me out. I felt different after—not just physically. Something had shifted within me. I woke early the next morning and stood again at the precipice. The sun rose over the canyon in stages, illuminating each layer of rock in turn. Purple and burgundy faded into orange and umber.
“It’s really quite beautiful here.” My voice cracked as I spoke into the phone.
“I’d like to see it sometime,” Ben answered. After months without hearing his voice, I found comfort in his usual stoicism. Through everything, Ben had always remained unflappable—at times it drove me absolutely mad. My emotions broke like waves, rolling in with force and back out again. Unstoppable. Reliably tumultuous. His emotions were the ripple of a pebble dropped in a pond. Momentary. Dissipating.
I heard the unasked questions in his silence. Mostly, When are you coming home? But also, Where have you been? Why haven’t you called? And, Will you let me love you again?
“Thanks for answering,” I whispered. “I needed to hear your voice.”
His heavy sigh came through the phone and settled on my shoulders.
“I’d rather you were here. I need to see your face. To hold you.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m not ready.”
Later, I wrote in my journal, I think I might like to go home soon. To try on the idea. Although home didn’t feel like the right word. How could it be? I think I’m ready to go back. But time only moves in one direction from the Big Bang. Try as I might, there would be no returning to a place and a life that is no more.
Without knowing where I was headed, I left the canyon pointed east. The radio on its loudest volume struggled to compete with the wind whipping through the open windows and the noise of Juniper’s engine. The deafening combination whelmed my senses as I sailed through the desert. For a moment, I remembered what it was like to be 23. Experiencing the world as it was and not through a lens of so many years of love and hurt.
At every highway junction in Arizona and New Mexico, I promised myself to turn back toward Colorado if the light was red. But they never were, every small desert town intersection was open—green lights guided me toward Ben. I pressed my right foot into the steel pedal, and like the fabric beneath the needle of my sewing machine, the road slipped beneath Juniper’s wheels, becoming the past. Once I’d reached Texas, I knew I wasn’t running away. I never really had been.
That night I parked Juniper at a rest stop in west Texas. I drew her curtains tight and hoped nobody would wonder who could be in such a cute van in the middle of nowhere. Before I drifted off to sleep, I wrote in my journal. I want to climb back out of the canyon. To keep moving. To keep living.
On our doorstep, I rang the bell like a stranger. I had told Ben that I was on my way, but not when I would arrive. I reached out to touch the deep green paint of the front door. When we’d bought the house, it was the first thing we’d wanted to change. The first thing our friends and family would see when they came to visit. The entryway into our life together. We’d settled on the color after weeks of deliberating over paint swatches. Now, the green was smoothed and dulled from years of welcoming in the world and keeping it out. My fingers followed the grain of the wood beneath the paint—feeling the passage of time since last I looked so closely at it.
Then the door opened.
I hadn’t seen Ben’s face in so long. I’d stopped looking at him long before my departure, just a few months ago. His eyes were relieved and tired and familiar and strange and joyful and somber. His gaze discerned those things of me too.
A long moment passed between us. “Samantha,” he said thickly. His face was uncertain, not his usual piercing look—he’d grown softer in my absence.
I folded myself into his arms in the entryway, wordlessly pleading for him to surround me. He laid his head on my shoulder and I breathed him in. A thousand memories flashed through my head as the smell of his soap enveloped my senses.
“Come inside,” Ben finally broke the spell.
Crossing the threshold was like stepping into another world. The house felt so painfully uninterrupted, but slightly off in every way. The kitchen was spotless, like it hadn’t been since we were newlyweds, before we’d become comfortable in our messiness together. The photos were old. In the year that had passed, we should have taken new family photos. We all remained ageless up on the mantel. Perhaps we would remain that way forever.
RETURN TO PART 5
This is the last of a 6 part story.
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About the Creator
Author of the award-winning debut memoir, Alone in Wonderland. Christine writes about outdoor adventure, familial relationships, friendship, grief and trauma. She's passionate about hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, & storytelling.
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