I had seen her from time to time at one party or another. She was quiet and a little sad, and she was beautiful. She lived somewhere else and occasionally visited her good friend and my housemate Emily. At a Halloween party we flirted, though I don’t know if she knew it.
Then I hurt my knee and surgery lead to an infection, which almost killed me. I missed Ed and Jessica’s wedding while recovering, more an atrophying, on a single mattress in the living room, and she brought me back a flower. In the haze of Oxycontin and immobilizing illness, while a velvet Marcel Marceau painting mournfully watched me teeter at the precipice of the abyss, I felt a twinge of something, of that one thing.
Eventually, I planned an epic adventure; it would be my first out of the house in many months. I would show up at her work/living place, a farm, and family camp way out on the Eel River, with an impromptu picnic. I brought beer and wine and bread and leftovers from a Middle Eastern themed dinner we had at the house the night before, and chocolate and flowers. I limped to my truck and headed into unknown territory.
Three hours up the 101 and thirty minutes on a winding county road the last of which becomes gravel as it snakes along with the Eel. The drive was beautiful and the hills still held some green, though the fading of summer had begun. The warm air through the window buoyed me and somehow I had no doubts about what I was doing. All was right. The unknown was not scary, but enticing, and exhilarating.
There were some guys working near a gate and I asked them if Amber was up ahead and they said yes with a wave. I parked, and with a full picnic basket in one hand and flowers in the other I limped toward voices and kitchen noises.
“Do you want to try this chocolate pudding?” someone said.
“I like pudding,” I said through a screen door.
She was more bewildered than surprised. She wanted to know what I was doing here, I said I was in the neighborhood; I don’t think she got it. Then I asked her to picnic with me. She said yes.
She had to finish working, which would be soon, and I could wait in her room/cabin. So with full picnic basket and flowers I limped across the grounds toward her place. To my right a short ways off a large table full of people ate dinner, but as they saw me with flowers and picnic basket limping toward only one possible location, all the accompanying murmuring and clanging of a convivial meal abruptly stopped. In deafening quiet, with dozens of eyes burning into me, I entered her room to wait.
Eventually, she finished working, and then she forced marched me up to Inspiration Point, unaware of the still excruciating pain of post knee surgery or my total lack of physical conditioning. We ate and drank and talked for hours. In the wee of night, hand in hand, we walked the farm and toured the barns. She plugged in the party lights hanging from the barn rafters for a magical, fleeting second. I like to think that despite her fear of getting caught at the early morning hour she was compelled to capture a moment. We returned to her room and slept; she on her bed, me on the concrete floor. In the morning, we toured some more, mostly the animals this time, and my all time favorite baby pigs. We said good-bye, and I drove home full of something I had always lacked: Belief.
For months we lived far apart, mostly remaining in contact, or rather getting to know each other, by hand written letters sent via the US Mail. Occasionally we meet up in San Francisco or some other bay area locale, often with awkward and certainly drunken escapades. But, probably for good reason, she seemed timid and shy; reclusive, and me, volatile and erratic…a quitter by natural tendency found a way to start something beautiful.
It grew slowly, surely, deeply, with ease and fun. We lived the good life for years before we had to weather dark skies and stormy seas, whose waves threw us against jagged cliffs again and again. But eventually those waves bore us away to calmer bays. And so, with this approaching wedding date our story seems to begin again and go on and on and on, like those waves rolling and crashing. If not forever then surely their echoes will be eternal.