Awoken by the now familiar sound of waves breaking against the jarred rocks on the beach, I reach for Judy’s journal on my bedside table. Letter 68. The ink of her pen draws thin letters on the pages, her words welcoming me into a new day. I slowly start reading them aloud.
Thursday, June 25th 2015. 6:26 am.
I open a corner of the tent to let some light in. The sun is coming up, leaving shadows on the pages of this dry paper. The Virgin River runs behind the tent, water rushing between the golden rocks, dreading the heat of the day. I carry the weight of my fragile limbs out from under the roof of our new home, stepping into the cold red dirt of the campground. The air is so peaceful. Like you, still sleeping, auburn locks covering the soft features of your tired face. You always wake up late. If it wasn’t for your sleeping schedule, we would’ve reached the Grand Canyon by now.
“I’m sorry I wasted hours of our remaining time together oversleeping,” I whisper, wishing she could hear me.
“Wake up, sleepy head.” I want to whisper in your ear. “There is a new day ahead of us.” If only I could shake you awake and bring the light back to those deep brown eyes of yours. But oh, Celia, your eyes aren’t brown, no, they’re copper against honey and sage.When they water, they glow, like two perfect orbs the same shade as nature after it rains.
Standing between West and East Temple, by Bridge Mountain’s side, something in my stomach feels pressured by the height of these mountains. I am meaningless here, compared to the ground I walk on and the landscape I look up to. Meaningless, but nonetheless important. So important that like the elements that formed the Grand Staircase, I have upset the world I live in.
Like spinning wheels in my mind, I try to remember the landscape she is talking about; the landscape I forgot to pay attention to as I was counting down the days to the end of our final trip.
240 million years ago, Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level. But as time passed and the elements stormed through this land again and again and again; the land rose and fell, the climate changed, the environment shifted from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. Time passes, things change. Things have changed. We’ve been on the road for 4 months and 12 days exactly. That’s 131 days.
“And we had less than 30 days ahead of us,” I murmur to the remnants of her presence beside me.
Our journey started on Valentine’s Day, when we left a storm of our own on the way out of our hometown, linked by the strength of gold spiraling around our fingers, gold everyone resented. Nonetheless, gold I invested the rest of my short life believing in, like I believed in you. So much has already changed in my life; our lives. Because you followed my storm, driving through my blizzards and tornadoes. You never left my side, even when I completely shifted your reality. Even when you were threatened by my death.
A single drop falling from the corner of my eye blurs her last word. “Of course I followed you. You were the love of my life, and I would’ve followed you to the ends of the earth if that’s what it took to keep you forever.”
You know, from Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth pushed the surface up. It was a slow uplift, not a chaotic catastrophe. Like my cancer, it was a slow growing occurrence. But as the surface rose up, the streams gained greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. They began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons by running the layers out to the sea, the same way my tumor ran everyone out of my life; except you. You’re the canyon that still stands. My tumor is the stream that destroyed the landscape of my life. My only hope is that I haven’t destroyed you. God, Celia, you’ve lost too much already. But promise me something. Live. Live for me, because I have accepted my imminent death.
I cry. I cry tears that have been haunting every one of Judy’s letters since I started reading them. Since she died. I cry because I had already been grieving for her death then, when she had been very much alive. I cry because I never knew she’d come to terms with passing. I cry because I am alive and she is not.
But time continues. Time never stops. The Virgin River is still excavating, water eroding the shale, widening the canyon even more. After eating at what surrounded me, my disease is now destroying me. I know it, you know it, and the tumor knows it. I have a few weeks left, give or take. But I am haunted by the thought that I have wasted so many of these weeks justifying our love to those who didn’t care anymore. I’m sorry my selfishness drove me to love you, and drove you to leave your home for us. If we keep to our plan, we could reach the sea before I die. Because like the stream, my path leads me to the sea. My ultimate objective. My one last dream, after getting the chance to love you against all odds, before my body returns to the ground it came from and my spirit returns to the one who gave it.
With the eternal love I promised you,
Holding on to the journal, I step out of bed and get dressed. For the first time since I bought this house with the money she left me, I use the back door and walk out of the house onto the sand that she cherished. My feet drive me to the water, where I spread my arms wide.
“I promise.” I confide to the sea.
Chloe Chauveau is a 20-year-old Franco-American student attending the University of Maryland. She notes: “After living in the suburbs of Paris my whole life, I moved to Maryland to attend college. I am a Women’s Studies and Sociology double major, and I have been a writer since the age of 16.” At UMD, Chloe is part of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, a creative writing living and learning program.
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Image Credit: Patricia