The first day of every new season; that’s when I see her. The idea came to me easily because she was one of those rare gems of a human who took delight in the small things like that. Each weather change, wildflower, or falling leaf made her pause in admiration. She knew how to savor those moments and celebrate the beauty of the world around us at every chance. 

Last time, in December, I left my car and rushed to our spot in the blistering wind, scolding myself for leaving my hat and gloves behind. It was fine though, we made a fire and sipping our hot tea kept us warm enough. Peppermint. 

Now it’s March, and spring welcomed me with faces of blushing pink winecups surrounded by sprawling bluebonnets along my drive. I parked and trekked along the winding path to our spot. 

I don’t remember who found this place first, but for us, things like that never mattered. We were often of one mind and didn’t need to assign credit for any of the ideas that sparked each part of the journey of our friendship. This discreet little nook carved out of the limestone wall holding up the hills above us is nature-quiet. There might be an occasional car that flies down the road nearby, but otherwise there’s just a trickle of water tumbling over the creek bed rocks, maybe a faint hooting of an owl, or crickets chirping to each other in greeting. You can’t see our spot from the path or the glittering houses in the far distance. 

After it had been a year or so since the accident most people had moved on, accepted her death, and expected me to do the same. They didn’t understand, and honestly I feet bad for people who have never had a connection strong enough to destroy you when it’s broken. This is why I don’t tell anyone about my tea time with her. I don’t want them to feel sorry for me and I don’t want to waste any energy feeling sorry for them either. It might not seem logical, talking to her ghost in a cave hidden away from civilization, but for me it’s the only way I know how to process her absence and to keep on living. Were our memories supposed to die with her? What if they didn’t have to? 

I sat down on the rock next to the pile of ashes and burnt twigs that remained from December. It wasn’t quite cold enough for a fire (this was Texas, after all), but I decided that it was still worth it. It smelled like soggy leaves after the flash storm the day before. This place always felt like home, especially after I lost mine and especially since I shared this one with my chosen family. The air felt crisp as it bounced between the rock wall and trees around us, creating a soft echo of any sound I made. This place has always held steady, even when everything else crumbled, even after my best friend was gone. 

My lighter brings our little cave to life with a small but mighty blaze. She’d show up once the tea was poured, as usual. This time I brought hibiscus mint, one of her favorites and I expected a smile of approval with her first sip. While this weather can handle a fire, I decided iced tea would be better for tonight. I pulled out our cups, the colorful and slightly misshaped high school ceramics projects that she never thought would get this much use. I gently poured the tea over the ice in each cup, bracing myself for her arrival. I closed my eyes and when I opened them she was there, relishing the flavor. 

“Nice choice; I approve,” she told me with a wink. 

“I thought you’d like it. Did you see the flowers out today?” She nodded with a wide grin.  

“Remember when you made me take photos of your awkward poses out in the bluebonnets over there?” I gestured toward the road that leads into this place. Of course she remembered. I felt lighter inside, thinking about that carefree day. 

When she was alive this place helped us escape the rest of the world. Now I use it to escape the fact that she’s gone. Wrenched out of my life and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Some mornings I wake up and for a quick second I forget that she’s done. Then reality slams into me and I’m paralyzed with grief. 

She asked me to tell her everything, as usual. She lives through me now, and every few months as the next season approaches I go through a mental checklist of the interesting things I’ve done since we last spoke. I always worry that she’ll be unimpressed, that she’ll question whether the right one of us lived, but she never does. Her eyes glint with compassion and excitement with each story I share, no matter how banal. Most of the time. Sometimes these reunions are dark. 

A few years before the accident we shared tears and echoed cries of pain as she told me what happened to her that night. The one neither of us would ever forget. Sometimes I see him around town and I want to kill him. My eyes shoot daggers at him but they seem to bounce right off his protective shield. I’ll never understand why he got one of those and she didn’t. I held her hand as she walked me through the horrifying sequence of events. We had many sorrowful nights in our cave after that, trying to work through how it happened, and why nothing was being done about it. He had money and she didn’t. We had run out of options to seek justice, so we found our own path to healing for her. Our secret spot, where no one could hurt us, with each sip of tea doing its best to soothe the pain of the gaping wounds in both of us. Hers from the trauma she endured, mine from my inability to make it all go away. 

She was there for me too. When our family lost the house I grew up in to that October fire, with the passing of my beloved dog that had been my (other) best friend for so long, and every heartbreak from the men that seemed so promising at first. She knew how to just listen. She knew when I didn’t want advice, or to hear that everything was going to be okay, because sometimes it just wasn’t. We weren’t able to rebuild the house and stay in the neighborhood, I never got a new dog, and my heartbreaks couldn’t be unbroken. Of course none of those compared to the day I lost her. There was no recovering from that and these reunions in our spot every few months are the only thing I could come up with to help me keep on living when she didn’t get to. 

Suddenly my light spirit turned heavy again. I thought of another road and another day. Not bright and filled with flowers but dark, rainy, and dangerous. There’s nothing she could have done. That car flew through the stop sign without giving it another thought. Maybe they didn’t see it. Maybe they didn’t see her, and everything they would be taking from the world that day. 

“Hey,” she said, noticing the pools building in my eyes. “I know what you’re thinking, but maybe we could focus on something else? Tell me about that new job you mentioned last time! I want to hear everything.”

Her smile and optimistic energy were always infectious. I couldn’t help but feel my mood shifting as I filled her in on my job and everything else that had happened since December. I even ended up laughing somehow. She is magical like that. 

Two hours flew by, and it was eventually time for me to head home. I doused the small fire with the leftover tea and walked back to my car with a soul comforted by the memory of my friend. 

The next day, while driving to work I pulled over to smell the last remaining blossoms of a vibrant mountain laurel tree. I breathed in that sweet delicious scent and smiled, knowing she would have done the same thing.

March 14, 2020 00:53

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