We were walking around Grass Lake, a walk we’d done many times before, but never quite like this. We hadn’t seen each other in over a month. It hadn’t really been that long since we’d seen each other every minute of every day for days on end. But then something happened and I was glad for the distance now. I thought she probably was too, but you can never be sure.
It was nearly dark and very warm. The air was thick with humidity and every now and then we walked through a cloud of bugs. Heat lightning flashed off on the horizon. She looked as beautiful as always, her blonde hair pulled back, a few wisps hanging down her neck. But her eyes rarely met mine and when they did I didn’t like what I saw; this had nothing to do with me. She was in trouble and as we went she told me of her problems. They were many and they were serious.
I recalled how once I sat in her kitchen scowling, wallowing in a black mood. When she asked for an explanation, I said, “You can pull away from the abyss, but some of the abyss will always come back with you.” After she was done laughing, she kissed me and took my hand. “C’mon, I’ll buy you dinner.” It was a great dinner. Hell, it turned into a great night. She always knew which buttons to push to make everything suddenly alright. But I’d never found those buttons in her and I wasn’t about to stumble across them now.
“Life’s a gift,” I told her. I wasn’t smiling. This was no joke.
“Yeah, well, my gift arrived broken.”
We looked at each other and in that instant I felt something so powerful and so sad it made me ache. I wanted her again, suddenly, and more than ever. I wanted it to be like it had been, even if only briefly. As we were now, I couldn’t help her. There was a time when I would’ve argued that it was perfectly natural for ex-lovers to remain friends. The years have proved me entirely wrong. There is a place that two people can get to together, often beautiful, sometimes terrible, and when it becomes impossible to go there any longer all that remains is empty, un-crossable distance. I didn’t want to lose this girl entirely, for this thing to happen again, but I could see its inevitability. I couldn't find a way to touch her without using my hands.
In the twilight we watched a large snapping turtle crawl along the bank of the lake. When I was young I used to see these big snappers all the time. They looked so dignified and serious. Prehistoric. But I don’t see them much anymore. I suppose most have been run over or poisoned out of their lakes. Perhaps many have simply died of old age. Their young are the size of quarters when they crawl out of their eggs, with hardly a chance of living as long as their parents. I felt afraid for that turtle, slow and alone, the last of its kind, like I felt afraid for the girl beside me. Then I began to feel afraid for myself, and that’s a pointless, pathetic place to be, the end of the line. Now I just wanted to go home. Alone.
It wasn’t long before we were back at the cars. The stars were out, the moon rising when we said our good-byes, a slight hesitation before a quick hug. As has happened so often, we went our separate ways into the darkness, no longer of any use to one another, barely of any use to ourselves. Forever apart.
The top photo is from Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. The 2nd and 4th shots are from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photograph #3 was taken at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. I'll try to do a post on Cambodia soon, I think.