A Woman and Her Man... I mean Van.
I dreamed of Landon’s shadow standing forever in the night. I tried to go to him, but he was always just out of reach. The stars gleamed overhead, and the trees seemed to be moving—closing in around us and then expanding, dragging me with them to the farthest reaches of the clearing.
Soon the light of morning cast itself upon the events of yesterday. The memory of his kiss lingered on my lips, weighed me down, made it impossible to rise from my bed. Peering out the window I saw his van, unmoved by the cataclysm of the night before.
His door opened and I quickly released the curtain to hang back in its place. Jumping to my feet, I smoothed the fronts of my pajamas with nervous hands, then raked my fingers through my tangled hair. Playing at aloof, I sat on the edge of the bed with my legs crossed, as if he could see me from outside. As if sitting on the edge of the bed was how I would have been passing the morning had we not kissed the night before.
I rose, pausing to take a deep breath before sliding the door open.
He stood there, his well-fitted black V-neck t-shirt revealing his bronze chest. His brow furrowed seriously, and the teacups of yesterday were absent.
“I have to go,” Landon said. “I got called. There’s a fire out west.”
“I’m sorry about last night.”
The words hung between us. My heart struggled against the prison of my chest. It wanted out. I longed to speak, to offer some explanation, to kiss him again. But my body and mind could not come to any agreed course of action.
“Have fun at the Grand Canyon,” he said, before he got in his van and drove away.
The forest echoed with his departure. I slammed Juniper’s door and screamed into her interior.
Hours later, I lay on the floor of the van, crumpled and exhausted. The tears had flowed freely for a while, until they had stopped. The time I’d spent with Landon had been a reprieve, one day of sunshine in a year of rain.
I had only wanted to be alone out here. I never meant to meet this handsome, gentle stranger. I had not asked to feel a spark of connection or the softness of his touch. I had only wanted space to bemoan my very existence in the world. And now I had that once again. The space to be in pain.
I took my blanket and the pillow with the barn on it out into the clearing to lay beneath the pines, as I’d lain beneath the aspens just a couple days before. A gentle breeze blew needles down over me as I lay the rest of the afternoon in silence.
My mind was mercifully blank for hours, like the cloudless blue sky above me. It seemed to go on forever, but only if you stopped to think about it. Blue turned darker, and stars began to appear. Each one twinkled in its own time, revealing its brightness to me, until I lay out exposed to the vastness of the universe.
I wondered if Ben was thinking of me, lying in our bed alone at night. Could he possibly imagine where I was—curled up on the forest floor, so spent from crying that I could barely lift my arms? Memories of our marriage played in my head like an old film reel. The highlights all strung together in a cheerful montage. Those moments made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. We had promised to love each other forever. I had wholeheartedly believed that we would. When I replayed the past, it made sense to my brain. But when I tried to imagine a future, nothing came.
We were so small. The universe didn’t care if we stayed together or fell apart. The sun still rose, the stars still shined, fires still burned, and firefighters still returned to the front lines.
The next day, my bones felt heavy and weak. I dragged myself back into the van and boiled water for oats. My hunger strikes during Jade’s illness had given me some sense of control in the world, but now a day without eating only left me feeling broken, depleted.
As I sat at the table, robotically spooning oats into my mouth, the brown paper box stared me down from the counter. I’d been waiting for the right time to open it. A time when I felt ready. It was impossible to know that I was ready. I didn’t know what was in the box. Ben had sent it to Frankie’s after I’d left home. Maybe it was better to just get it over with.
Juniper’s key hacked messily through the clear packing tape. I lifted each flap of the box cautiously, as if there might be a spring-loaded practical joke snake inside. The dramatic sobs that followed could not be contained. They had been ready to spill over before the contents of the box had even been visible, but now I let them free.
With teary eyes, I held the pressed marigold flower between my fingers. It was dry and brittle and the petals fell as I touched them. I didn’t need to read Ben’s letter to know what it said—what he wanted me to know.
He loves you.
For an eternity, I sat with the flower. I willed it to stay together, to quit losing it petals. I’d held this flower before, a hundred times or more. He’d come to find me in the bridal suite on our wedding day when we were supposed to have been separated. He knew that I’d be nervous, it was just my nature. At the unexpected knock, I had opened the door to his smiling face, just what I’d needed to see as my stomach did flipflops and my mother fussed over my hair.
“You can’t be in here!” She’d scolded him in a stage whisper. Let it be known that she disapproved.
He’d pressed the flower into my hand then.
“He loves you,” he’d said. And our mischievous grins had banded together to defy disapproval.
A marigold is not the right type type of flower for the old he loves me, he loves me not plucking of petals. The petals are too small, too delicate, too closely attached, difficult to pluck. But we both remembered early in our courtship when he’d said he loved me the first time and I’d said, “Are you sure?”
There had been marigolds then. And he’d watched as I plucked every petal, reciting he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not. Until I’d come down to the final petals, and realizing my mistake, finished with he loves me, he loves me. We’d both collapsed with laughter. And when the giggles had finally subsided, he’d brushed the hair back from my flushed cheeks and taken me into his arms.
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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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