I met Carlos for breakfast before the funeral. We sat in an uncomfortable silence while we stared at the shared breakfast we had ordered, an attempt at normalcy. We had only been dating a month, yet we shared eggs as if we’d been together for fifty years. But today was different. The breakfast went ignored. I watched in silence as our server placed my drink on the table. The water took on the hue of the red straw that stood suspended in the glass.
Its reflection filled the glass with colors of the bloody toilet water I had cried into the night before. I had stood like a statue, unable to move while I watched the colors swirl and wane in the watery coffin below. I held my stomach, now empty, as I flushed your life down.
The fresh memories rushed over my body and left me quietly sobbing at our table. We left the restaurant, and the food. Afterwards, we purchased a bouquet of roses mingled with daisies, their day-old price camouflaged by the purple tissue paper that cradled them. The only ones our late adolescence could afford.
The light, hazy and yellow, illuminated the fall aspens. Their golden leaves gracefully fell to the rain soaked dirt. White bark, chipped away by the antlers of mountain deer, surrounded the base of the trees, collecting the burden of the cold air. Colors of crimson and honey reflected the flashes of autumn light. They recoiled, like a prism, from the sun to the water and back. The triangle of light almost seemed tangible, unlike the untouchable. You.
I knelt onto the wet soil, sinking into the earthworms and knotted roots that occupied my small space of forest. The roots reminded me that all things have history and grow from places I don’t always understand. My knees found solitude and steadiness in the ground, something I had yet to feel since you left into the spirit of my memory.
The Pecos River splashed on the surface of the smoothed rock and kissed the offering we brought for you. Their silky red and white petals bobbed in the cold November river. The smell of soaked earth and river trout permeated the air. I deeply inhaled the scent, savoring its rawness as I watched your memory float down the icy river. The clouds seemed to validate my feelings with their fine black silhouettes. The ominous pillows hung perfectly in the smooth sky. The late autumn breeze slapped my cheek, chapped and red. My eyes felt smaller than yesterday, burning with the absence of you.
“I can’t feel my fingers, babe. Are you ready to start?” The tears welled in Carlos’ eyes, mourning the memory of you, his child that he would never know?
“Yeah, sure,” I choked. My fingers had gone numb hours ago. Hell, the only thing I felt was the warmth of the snot and tears that painted my cold face. I wrapped my hands around the stems of the flowers, pricking myself with the obtrusive thorns. I heard the crisp leaves crackle under the hoofs of animals as I watch the blood bubble up from my icy fingertips.
“I believe you are in my spirit,” I began, “watching and lighting my way through darkness. I believe that I have known you before, and that I will again. I believe that I am forgiven, and that you are never forgotten.” My tears fell fast, matching the speed of the rushing river below.
Carlos’ hand squeezed my shoulder, his chin resting on top. His presence was warm and compassionate. We had met in a whirlwind of infatuation and here he stood by my side, his empathy never wavering. Before we even had a chance to meet each other’s family, we found an intimacy that only comes with time and trauma.
I had no idea at the time that your death would be what would prepare us for the child that would stay. I had no idea this would not be the last time that I would say goodbye to a child that I would never get to hold. I mourned their miscarriages, like you, wrapped in my heartache and exhaustion, Carlos always close by.
Zell dances along Monastery Lake, wrapping herself within the vines, amongst the aspen fortress, their leaves green with spring. She leans toward her reflection that floats in the cool May water. Her eyes are wide with amazement. She turns four this month. Quicken water snakes and baby fish swim through Zell’s echo, intertangled her the image. The crisp yellow light shines through her big brown curls, reflecting the gift from her daddy. Her smile meets the fishermen and women. They are happy to see such delight and curiosity in a young child.
“Mommy, a dog!” She points off into the distance, toward the forest of trees and the Pecos River.
Her voice makes my heart beat to the tune of motherhood, something only a few years ago, I had begun to see as an unlikely possibility. I look at her daddy, his dimples like the caves within the wilderness; dark, mysterious, and beautiful. We are no longer young lovers, filled with dizzy dreams and foolish innocence.
When we were here before, Carlos and I mourned you; this time, we celebrate a living miracle. The water is warmer now and my fingers aren’t numbed. They are full of enthusiasm, dancing along the leaves that rustle with the sounds of new beginnings. My right hand holds his, comforting, warm, familiar; my left holds the treasures that she has collected with her curious hands. She trips over the roots that gnarl in and out of the ground. She lands on the soft dirt, looking back for a reassuring smile; the air is filled with the sound of laughter.
Published 2017 Santa Fe Literary Review