He sat quietly, legs dangling over the side of the rock, looking at the tumbling hills and valleys stretching out before him. He’d been there a while, arrived earlier than they had arranged, an unconscious desire to get started on the journey. The heat of the sun folded around him with an occasional breeze as a cooling companion. A perfect day for new beginnings.
He heard the stuttering steps of someone negotiating the rocks behind him and soon she stood there, hesitant for a while, before softly lowering herself to sit.
‘I’m glad you came’ he said
‘It was touch and go, but I needed to go out for coffee, sooo….’
He smiled briefly. He’d always appreciated her sarcasm. He glanced at her through the glare of the harsh morning light.
‘This can’t be easy for you so it means a lot to me’
‘I know it does’ she said ‘and truly, I’m finally happy to be here’.
She looked out at the familiar landscape, slowly cooking in the summer heat but still green, pungent, peaceful……beautiful.
‘I couldn’t let you leave on your own, especially on a day like this. It would have been selfish of you not to share it’
She was inwardly biting her lip, trying to suppress the bubble of rising panic and she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep the brevity up.
They sat quietly for a while, comfortable in each other’s silence but also trying to find the right words, the right way to steer themselves in the direction of least harm.
‘I suppose you haven’t had a change of heart?’
He didn’t reply
‘No, I guess not’.
‘It’s not that I haven’t thought about it’ he said, ‘I have, a lot, over and over, but this is so much more than just a set of circumstances or a tangle of feelings. It’s been a way of life for me for so long and I just can’t keep doing it. It has to change’.
‘It’s taken me a while to fully realize that’ she said.
‘I’ve never felt I belonged here I don’t think, even when I was younger. But you go along with it then, trusting it will change, that something will come along to make you say “oh yes! That’s what’s going to make everything fit”, but it never has. Being here has always felt like a weight on my chest and I don’t want to die gasping for breath’
It had been so difficult for her to see things from his perspective. They had experienced pretty much the same up bringing, the same schools, the same neighborhoods, the same messy teenage years, the same dysfunctional, joyous, maddening families. It had only given her strength, a solid base to jump from knowing she had an inbuilt safety net. But this place had always crushed him.
‘I found someone to take the cat’ she said.
‘Thanks. Did you tell them about his food? That he likes his paws massaged? He hates people trying to touch his belly’.
‘Yes, they have the full run down, don’t worry, they’ll take good care of him”.
‘Will you visit him every now and then, you know, just to make sure he’s OK?’
‘Yes, I’ll visit. Every week. Promise’.
She looked at his hand, sitting flat on the rock next to her and wanted to touch him. Maybe the smallest caress would shift the balance and make him realize she felt more than just friendship, make him re-consider, make him stay. But she knew the scales were too heavily tipped. All the doors were closed.
‘I suppose I thought I could be that thing, be that savior to transform your life here, to show you how good it could be. Silly. Silly and arrogant really’.
‘No, not either’ he said, ‘just human. Our need to help others. It’s the instinct that helps keep the tribes alive, but it doesn’t work for everyone’.
A warm gust of wind blew across them, a reminder that nothing stands still for too long.
‘I have to go’ he said.
She was staring at her feet, bright painted toenails peeking out of her sandals. A little ironic splash of happy looking back up at her.
She turned to look at him. Such a beautiful face. Those smiling eyes that she thought about so often, but with so little to smile about. She felt a slight tightening in her chest.
‘I do wish you didn’t have to’ she said
He was looking straight ahead now, out beyond the perceivable horizon, to where he felt the journey waited.
‘There’s no more room on this road, the pavement stops. I have to go’
‘I know’ she said, ‘I know’.
She lent over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
‘Safe travels, wherever they take you’.
They looked at each other for a moment with an understanding of the finality of it all. Then he lifted himself up very slightly and pitched forward. For the briefest moment her body braced, ready to reach out and stop him, but just as quickly, faltered.
She watched him fall. The gravest of realities seeming so unreal in that moment. And as he disappeared she could feel the tumult, the anguish and the pain that had wracked him for so long, fly away like a bluster of Autumn leaves, stripping him bare to his most perfect, beautiful self.
‘Goodbye my friend’ she whispered, with a smile and a tear in her heart