I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the blue edge of the continent in the reflection. It was a thick line of deep blue. Up the hill I went, further and further from the breaking waves and clans of surfers and screams of the dingy boardwalk. "The city on a hill,” what they called the university of Santa Cruz. I passed the west entrance and kept going. The road began to curve and twist through the incoming forest that seemed to emerge in an instant. Green and black and holding secret promises. In the thicket were animals that refused to show themselves and caves that I had only heard about. I drove on.
I was looking for the right place. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, but I kept driving, passing plenty of pull-outs on the road. Sometimes, as I approached one of these flat dirt spots, I would press on the break slowly and look to the right, surveying the land and trees, but then I wouldn’t move, I wouldn’t turn the wheel to the right and the car would keep on going.
The sky was a bright blue and through the open driver’s window I felt the crisp air of an approaching fall. The day held the promise of cool wind and yellow leaves, but for a moment, perhaps just for this one day, we could all pretend that summer still lingered and the sun would be ever-present. I saw a black car parked on the long pull-out ahead. The road had straightened momentarily. The “parking lot” was a three hundred foot long space, just wide enough for a single car. The earth was a bright tan dust. On the right was a metal fence that was held between thick dark wooden posts. I saw the aerodynamic car empty and waiting.
Usually the sight of another car or person would have made me keep driving, I wanted privacy. But something about the sight of it pulled me in. I found myself turning the wheel to the right and pressing on the brake pad. The car came to a stop under my command and I pulled the keys from the ignition.
I sat. It was very quiet. The left side of the road was lined by thick pine trees that grew out of an elevated conglomeration of rocks and earth. The right was a narrow field of dried grass and weeds. They were nearly four feet tall. Behind them was a wall of tall pine trees that stretched into the mountains. There were a couple of narrow paths that began at the edge of the road and disappeared into the trees. I picked the one closest to me and headed in carrying a large gray sweatshirt and a woven purse.
I walked, deviating from the trail once I was beneath a ceiling of green pine needles. I let my body lead the way until I saw a thick trunk that called to me. The earth was slightly elevated at its base, but yet flat enough for me to sit upon. I leaned against the bark, on a thick pad of leaves and very thin twigs. There was sap and decomposing yellow needles. It was the smell of earth. The smell of the cycle. I let it fill me. I nearly cried with the warmth of it, with the calmness of the elements. The earth and tree were like the loving arms of a mother I might never have had. Without thought or judgment, I felt them holding me.
“Will you help me?” I asked the tree. “Will you please take all the sadness and fear that I have? Can you take it out of me and transform it into oxygen?”
I leaned into the giant beauty. The old man. The calm wonder. I imaged a backwards flow, a multi-channeled river that escaped through my back and head, taking with it all the sadness and anxiety my muscles had held for a week. The bark was solid and strong, I heard thoughts inside, “how come you don’t do this more often? It feel so nice.” The bark was scratchy and soothing. I let a tear roll down my cheek.
“Please take what I don’t need.”
I imagined the flow of tension move into the tree, up the trunk, into the branches and needles and disperse into clean oxygen. There were birds somewhere in the thick canopy of pine needles above my head, but my eyes were closed and I could not see them. Their sounds were pretty and trebly and short, I imaged little birds with thick breasts.
I leaned against the tree for a while until I felt the moment was right. I opened my eyes. The day was bright, the sky was a bright blue. I could feel the cold wind coming, but we still had a little more time. Rays of light shone though the branches and warmed my thighs.
On my lap was a gray hooded sweatshirt with the word INDEPENDENT across the front in a thick red font. I picked it up and held it to my nose. It smelled of him. The faintness of his Tommy cologne I liked so much, vaguely smelling of grapefruit. I inhaled again, there was sweat and fabric softener. Its softness soothed my face. I imagined his eyes and lips. I let another tear run across my cheek.
I put it back in my lap and cleared the blanket of needles and twigs from a small space in front of my crossed legs. I found the deep brown earth, then I dug my fingers into it, making a small shallow hole. I pulled out the knife from my pocket. I held the silver blade to my finger. I tried a couple of times to force it through my skin, but it only left a faint indent on my flesh without the gash of red that I needed.
I unfastened the safety pin that I always wore on my pant’s pocket. It was small and not created for this purpose, but it did the job. I just needed a little bit of blood. I pushed the tip into the pad of my pink index finger. A small red bead formed. I watched it drop into the small hole within the earth. It disappeared into the soil.
I thought of his face. I tried to feel him in his cage. I remembered his smile. I pulled the sweater over my shoulders and wore it. I imagined his skin. I imagined the shape of his shoulders in the sweatshirt and the way he would wear the hood when he was cold. I took a deep breath again and smelled the remains of him.
My back fell into the tree once more and I asked it again to take what I didn’t need and transform it. I imagined his DNA within my blood. I imagined a small part of him fusing with the earth. I pulled out a small piece of paper and a pen from my purse. I wrote a few lines about him and us and what I wanted and hoped for. I wrote it quickly, letting my hand move nearly as fast as my thoughts. I folded it and held the flame of a lighter to it. The ashes fell into the hole with the fallen drop of blood.
I sat for a while longer, feeling the steadiness of the tree holding me close to the earth. I covered up the hole and placed some stones over it. Then I stood and began to walk back to my car.