The small plane lurches forward as it skids to a halt on the tarmac. The airport is just as I remember – quaint and unassuming with one terminal, one gate, and no Jetway. It feels strange to be here without Anthony by my side. He would always joke that he couldn’t find his way around such a huge airport. It made me laugh every time.
I make my way out to the parking lot and find my rental car parked in the back row. It doesn’t feel right when I sit behind the steering wheel instead of in the passenger’s seat. He always drove. My breath catches and my hands fall into my lap. I can’t do this, but . . . I must. I promised him I would. Shaking my head, I fiddle with my wedding ring and spin it round and round my finger. The simple gold band hasn’t left my hand since he gave it to me ten years ago. Meanwhile, his ring clings loosely to my thumb. That’s where he put it right before he said, “Promise me you’ll say goodbye.” Moments after I made my vow, he closed his eyes and never opened them again. That was three years ago and I have yet to keep my word. I put the car in gear and start driving.
It takes more than an hour to get to the small town of Boulder Junction. Nothing has changed. A golden retriever still sits outside the bait shop and tourists crowd around the one and only ice cream shop. Anthony loved the dog, but hated the ice cream. I can’t help but smile. It’s been a long while since I’ve thought of the little things I loved about him. I wonder what he would remember about me if our places were reversed.
Before I know it, the town is behind me and an empty road lies ahead. The edge of Anthony’s ring digs into my skin and my knuckles are white. I’m holding the steering wheel too tight, but I can’t ease my grip. In this familiar place, the memories are coming back faster than I can handle them. I have to keep telling myself this is something I need to do.
I know I’m getting close when the blacktop ends and the dirt road begins. The cabin is the last one at the end of the road, right where the wild daisies start to grow. I reserved it for the weekend, but I will be leaving as soon as my deed is done. It looks exactly the same, complete with a red porch swing and screen door. This is where we met. I had just graduated high school when my father rented this cabin for a family vacation. As fate would have it, Anthony and his parents were our neighbors. One warm June day he paddled his canoe up to our pier, where I was soaking up the sun. The moment I saw him, I knew. And so did he. It seems fitting to say goodbye where it all began.
A twig snaps beneath my step – another fracture in it’s already broken life. It’s tempting to pick up the splintered remains, but I keep walking down the familiar twisted path that leads to the lake. He was with me last time I tread these grounds. It was years ago, but all is the same. The birch bark still peels on landmark trees, while a cloud obscured sun can’t break through a thick dome of leaves.
Even the lake sits as it always has — a bucket of water waiting to catch the sky should it fall. A light mist lays low in the reeds like a gossamer veil. If only that delicate blanket would wrap around my shoulders with its gentle embrace. A slightly chilled breeze brings news that rain is on the way. It won’t be long before scores of droplets begin their descent. A collage of gray, white, and green paints the top of the water; the wind a giant paintbrush stroking the canvas. Soft bristles tickle the water into gentle waves, weaving life and color together with mystical grace. Where the waves meet their fate waits a promise that an ending is not always meant to fear. The trees sway to a mysterious tune, while a woodpecker thumps the beat. The old pier creaks and rocks, the wooden planks weary, yet eager to bear my weight. It’s the same pier that held us for our first kiss and I’m reminded that I’ll never be able to kiss him again. The buzz of a fly sounds a little alarm that anger tarnishes beauty and steals from faith. I close my eyes and find my strength. If I am to survive, I must release the grief that chokes my will. Let it sink and dissolve, no longer part of me.
A distant thunder rolls, but does not threaten. The rain is coming, but shall not drench. Chiming leaves and whispering pines speak to me with a soothing voice, suddenly having more to say than a soul-quieting lullaby. There is a reason to keep breathing. I slide my wedding ring off my finger and his from my thumb. My hand feels naked and lighter, my finger instantly longs for what’s missing. I tie our rings together with a bit of string. I kiss them with farewell on my lips, for this is where we part ways. It doesn’t take long to find the maple tree that witnessed everything from the first hello to the first “I love you.” From a small branch, I hang our joined rings. They may stay there forever or fall tomorrow, but they will always be together. Knowing this, I can keep my promise.
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