What We Make of It

It had been a long week; there had been up days and down days, and this was decidedly a down day.  I’d been untagging and deleting photos of he and I on social media, and contemplating with a sudden rush of anger how I’d done all this before. He and I together, he’d said, that was what how it was supposed to be... yet it was over, and this time I was unsure how to sort through what I wanted to remember and hold to, and what to make of all that had happened these past nine years...especially the good times, where he and I stood in beautiful places in the world, and I could almost imagine what life could be for us if we could just figure it out—

My Dad entered the room, interrupting my thoughts with a nervous cough. I looked up and met his worried eyes, trying to censor the grief behind my own eyes, "Hey. What's up?" 

He surveyed my expression, worry wrinkles deepening across his forehead, and began persuasively, "Sweetie...the sun will be setting over the ocean soon...maybe we could go to the top of Mount Tamalpais and see it. It might be good for you to take a break," he ended, clasping and unclasping his hands in front of him.

I sighed and looked back at my computer screen. There was too much of my past to sort through, still too much left exposed. I couldn't go. I rubbed a hand across my eyes and looked up at his hopeful face to say no, and heard myself ask if I should wear a coat.

The road wound up the mountain, lined with towering eucalyptus trees that gleamed white in the sun. I opened the sunroof and stuck the tips of my fingers out, feeling the rush of resistance against my hand, breathing in the crispness of autumn in Marin—a mix of cedar and spice, tempered by the sweetness of decomposing leaves.

After half an hour of climbing steep roads, we parked on the summit of the mountain, and strolled up the little bit of hill to the overlook, winding through a grove with thick trees that rested their heaviest limbs on the ground. I stopped when I reached the top and looked out across the vastness of the ocean. Something loosened and lightened within me. Dad was right; I needed this. He glanced at me and smiled in relief.

As he began experimenting with the light settings on his camera, two elderly women and a black lab caught my eye. They stood at the edge of the overlook below, and I started making my way out towards them. The dog spanned the distance between us eagerly and escorted me to his owner—a woman of seventy-plus years with soft green eyes and auburn hair streaked with a bronzy white. She and her friend took me in calmly as I neared.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" I said by way of greeting, shading my eyes against the rays that had already begun to shoot horizontally above the edge of the fog bank.

"Yes. So beautiful," the woman replied thoughtfully, with a soft smile. Her wrinkled face was washed in warm colors. She was the kind of lovely that you could feel, and I felt myself relax in her presence. She sighed peacefully and smiled at me. "This is where I was married, you know."

I hadn't known, of course, but I liked her comfortable familiarity, and smiled back, "This seems like the perfect spot to be married." Half Moon Bay was just visible across the expanse of ocean. San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge spread out to our left, and Sausalito was already beginning to twinkle in the coming dusk, on the hills that rolled away from us to the shoreline of the bay.

She nodded serenely with a faraway expression. "It was perfect. That was a long time ago now, I suppose." She looked at her friend and smiled, and her friend smiled back through dark glasses, and rocked to her toes, hands burrowed deep in her pockets away from the chilly breeze. Her green eyes pulled away from her friend and back to me. "He just passed away," she explained calmly, "We’re holding his funeral service here tomorrow." 

It caught me off-guard. She too was in the midst of life-altering loss. We stayed silent a moment together, holding the significance of what had passed. "I'm sorry," I offered, finally, meeting her serene eyes, asking her a question I’d received a lot of late. "How long were you married?"

She looked back out over the ocean and furrowed her brow, "Oh goodness? Was it thirty-four years?"

Her friend broke in for the first time. "Forty-four, I think."

She laughed softly and shrugged, "That's right. Forty-four. Hard to keep track these days," she admitted unselfconsciously. Her eyelids fluttered close a ray swept across her face. The corners of her mouth tipped up, and the smile lines about her eyes curved and deepened. 

He had made her happy. She didn't need to say it. But there was more to it than that. Life had made her happy. It was still making her happy—even now.

"Was he cremated then?" I asked, wondering as the words left if that was too personal a question to ask a stranger.

"Yes. I was going to scatter his ashes here,"—she gestured to the overlook—"but now the rains are supposed to come on Friday, and I don't want him to get all muddy." She grinned as if that had been a shared joke between him and her, and the friend chuckled good-naturedly.

I laughed with them and felt my burden lessening. "I'll keep a good thought for you on Friday," I promised. "The rains can hold off a little longer. " 

"Thank you, dear," she replied. We were silent again, and as her friend and I watched, she began to turn in a slow circle, taking in the world with delight. She stopped suddenly and gazed at my face, green eyes glowing earnestly. "Enjoy this."  

She didn't mean the sunset.

I paused, throat suddenly thick. "I will," I promised. She scrutinized my expression, and nodded, features slipping back into contentment. 

And with that, we turned slowly and went our separate ways. I went to the edge of the overlook and sat on a far rock, deep in thought. Dad joined me. The three friends climbed slowly to the top of the grove, where they turned and lingered to watch the sun fall behind the dense bank of fog before disappearing into the grove.

Someday, I would have what she had...that ability to hold life—even the pieces I loved most—in open hands, and accept it when it ends. Hard times and happiness. Goodbyes and good beginnings—who knows, perhaps in a lifespan short as ours, the space between the seasons is little more than an illusion. Perhaps what has been, what is, and what will be, already exists beyond us in a beautiful wash of overlapping colors...

The winter rains approached in the distant horizon, rolling in steadily above the ocean. Magenta rays spilled through the holes in the cloud of fog. It isn't over—all around me seemed to whisper—not for her. Not for you. We watched together, as the rain followed the light through the openings in the dark cloud, falling in pink sheets to rejoin the ocean from which it had come, and from which it would begin again.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Dad broke in through my reverie.

“Yes.” My heart was full. "So beautiful."