Back at his house, I began to gather my things; brushes from the bathroom, clothing strewn about, "I can't forget anything" I thought to myself. He stood silent in the bedroom doorway, the dull light from the moon illuminating his figure. As I hastily stuffed my belongings into the suitcase now laying open on his bed, he silently moved from the doorway and sat down next to it, placing his entire arm over the top and raising his eyes to look at me.
"Erin, I..." he stammered, searching for the words. Suddenly, I saw the brims of his eyelids fill with tears. He blinked and the droplets streamed down his face, zigzagging along the scar on his cheek. Again, I felt an intense maternal impulse to comfort him as I did days ago when he was ill. I moved the half-full luggage away from his side and wrapped my arms around his neck, rubbing his back in small, comforting circles. He began to cry, first in tiny quivers I could feel as the muscles in his back twitched and then in large heaping sobs as his lungs gulped for air. I sat bewildered by the scene unfolding in front of me like the culmination of a melodramatic made-for-tv movie. It was all wildly romantic but lacked any real answers.
"What now?" I thought to myself.
He slowly regained his composure and sat with his head down and hands across his lap in a position of emotional defeat. Suddenly, he stood up and wiped the wetness from his face, breathing purposefully and said "I have to take a shower and think. I can't even remember the last time that I cried and I just...I have to...I'll be in the shower" and with that he turned around and walked from the room, softly shutting the bathroom door behind him. I remained seated on the bed, cross-legged and fingered the clothing tossed haphazardly into my suitcase. I was unsure what to do next. Should I continue to pack? Stay seated on the bed and stare aimlessly towards the walls in the darkened room? I could hear the water from the shower falling onto the floor around his feet, the sporadic splashing as he moved around - no doubt attempting to scrub away the emotional regret displayed in front of me just moments ago.
I suddenly felt completely exhausted. My eyelids sank and I breathed in deeply as my body collapsed onto the bed. I curled my body into the fetal position and brought the pillow over my head, blocking out the light that formed a glowing bar from beneath the bathroom door. Just then, I heard the shower curtain being pulled back with a single swift movement and it jerked me back into awareness. A few seconds later, he slowly opened the bathroom door and stood in the doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist, water still dripping from his hair. I raised myself to a seated position and stared at him intently without saying a word. He gave me a faint half-smile and made his way to the bed were he sat down next to me and cupped my hands into his. "I'm so sorry," He said. "I understand why you would want to leave. I haven't been treating you the greatest and it wasn't right for me to ask you to come here".
My heart sank and a burning anger began to stir from within my stomach. I pursed my lips and gritted my teeth, fighting away the tears that were pooling in the corners of my eyes.
"And I realized something today," He continued "I can't stand to see you go. I want you to stay. I want you to be with me and I want to be with you. I think we can make this work".
I felt relived. Suddenly the pressure that was forming from behind my eyes released itself in a stream of happy tears. I laughed and nervously fidgeted with the blanket underneath of me. "Honestly?" I asked. "Are we really going to do this? No more 'ex girlfriend' talk?"
"I can't stand the thought of losing you."
He went on to explain that he brought me out to Northern California to see if he made the right choice of breaking up with me before he left. He realized once I made the decision to leave that he couldn't stand to not be with me. Everything began to make sense to me now.
"Why do men have to be so difficult?" I thought to myself. Even more exhausted than before, I tugged the luggage off the bed and let it spill onto the floor. I crawled under the covers with my back against the wall and we sat facing one another. My stomach let out a tiny growl
"I guess maybe I should have finished eating before I walked out of the restaurant" I joked. That night, I may have went to bed with an empty stomach but my heart was was very full. I was complete.
The rest of the week played out as romantic and intimate as I wished this trip to be. The day following our recommitment, we met up with his roommate Ryan and his girlfriend, coincidently also named Erin, at the reservation she lived in as a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. We pulled into the reservation and were greeted by a tall wooden statue of a Sasquatch. "They say this is where he lives," she said, reading our quizzative expressions. From the lush greenery and deep valleys now surrounding us, I wasn't the least bit skeptical. After purchasing some snacks at the store, we piled into her black Jeep and headed down a dirt path. Through a clearing in the towering trees we stopped at the edge of the Trinity River. I crawled from the backseat of the Jeep and smiled at the scene around me. The bronzed bodies of a dozen Native American teens glided effortlessly through the water towards a towering rock on the other side of the river. I watched as one black-haired boy jumped from the very top of the cliff and disappeared beneath the water's surface, leaving an echoing ring from the spot he landed. I shook out my beach blanket and laid belly-down on top of it, now embarrassingly aware of my paleness. As the California sun poured down on to every inch of my body, I reveled in the heat and watched amused as the boys joined the teens in diving from the cliff-top.
After several hours in the sun, we packed up our things and headed back to Humboldt. Ryan's girlfriend was playing in a soccer game that afternoon so after a quick lunch of deli sandwiches we made our way to the soccer field. The closer we drove towards the ocean's shore, the warm inland sun began to sink behind the clouds. When we arrived on the field, we sat together on the metal bleachers with a coarse wool blanket covering our legs. We sipped hot coffee together and he rubbed my hands in between his to keep them from freezing. When the game finally finished around sundown, I tossed the blanket across my shoulders and we walked onto the field. Humboldt, known for it's trademark fog, was lush with greenery. The crisp night air rushed in and rustled the leaves on the surrounding forest trees, creating a spooky scene as we realized we were the last people left in the stadium. We crossed the field as wisps of white clouds began descending onto the grass, swirling around our feet as we walked. He pulled me close and grabbed both of my hands, twirling me around and humming a lullaby.
On my last full day in Northern California we again walked to downtown Ferndale to the Victorian Village Inn, an idyllic hotel on Ocean Avenue. The Inn houses it's own fine dining restaurant, Curley's, opened by restauranteur Curley Tait in 1999. However new the restaurant may be, there is no lack of old world charm and decadence. The bartenders even wear arm garters, reminiscent of the Wild West Saloons I'm certain peppered the area during the Gold Rush. After finishing our delicious meal and treating ourselves to a very large piece of chocolate cake with vanilla sorbet, we wandered down the dimly lit streets of Ferndale, hands clasped together. Not far from the Victorian Village Inn we passed an inconspicuous glass door etched with a word I was immediately drawn to - Jewelry. "Let's stop in here," He said, reading my mind. He pushed down the brass knob and opened the door. A little bell tinkled above me as I walked inside. The dimly lit store was nothing like the cheap, flashy jewelry stores I was used to. The carpeting was tattered but evoked a period of wealth. The woolen loops of intricate patterns snaked across the length of the room to form a hallway flanked on either side by waist-high glass cases filled with glimmering trinkets. Walnut frames hung from walls covered in Victorian paper and several crystal chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling, surrounded by ornate plaster molding.
A quiet voice suddenly rang out from behind a pillar to my left. "Hello, welcome." I could barely see the tiny woman whose gentle utterance was almost lost in the dusty air. She walked towards us, her hands gesturing in hospitality. "Come in, come in," she said "What can I help you with?" She was tragically small, no more than 4 and half feet tall. Her body was frail and her face was creased, the skin comically elongated in the way only old-age can bring.
"We're just browsing" I replied warmly. I walked along the glass cases, eyeing each shiny gem as they sparkled. I stopped halfway down the aisle and inhaled slowly in admiration at the object now facing me. Inside the safety of the glass case perched a large blue sapphire ring, encased in a platinum facet, surrounded by at least a dozen small diamonds. The gem itself was deep cobalt with a clarity I had never before seen in a sapphire.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"Oh yes of course. It's beautiful!"
"Would you like to try it on?"
"Oh no no, it's alright. Honestly I-"
"I wouldn't hear of it. You must try this on"
With that she reached around her neck and pulled a cord over her head. The attached small brass skeleton key opened the glass case. She pulled out the ring and sat it in front of us. I nervously bit my lip and forced my hand in front of me, fingers spread apart as he slipped the ring onto my finger. I smiled, delighted and sheepishly looked at the price tag.
"$15,000..." I mouthed to him. He smiled back.
"Why don't you try this one on dear?" She suddenly began pulling out diamond rings, ruby bracelets, shimmering earrings and large necklaces that covered my decollate in brilliance. Within twenty minutes I was covered in thousands of dollars worth of dazzling vintage jewelry. We laughed as I gawked at myself in the mirror. After several minutes, I reluctantly began slowly removing the beautiful pieces of antique bijoux and placed them gently back into the delicate hands of the shopkeeper.
"Maybe one day we can come back to this place and I can buy you that ring," He said.
"I'll keep it safe here for you until then," the little lady joked.
We exited the jewelry store into the crisp night air and walked gleefully back to the house. I didn't want to admit that this was our last night together before I took the 2,500 mile flight back home - but I couldn't escape the unavoidable anticipation of loss. We settled ourselves into bed and pulled the covers up close to our chins, facing each other for what I knew would be the last time for quite a while. We talked for hours that night, about us, about how much we were going to miss one another, about the many simple privileges of togetherness most couples take for granted. I fought to keep my eyes open, to spend as much time awake with him as I could before the sun rose up from the East. As the night reached the peak of darkness, I closed my eyes and did not open them again until the sun began to peek it's way through the windows.
My final morning in Northern California was rushed. I was running late for my flight as if my heart was trying to sabotage my return home in favor of just a few more moments with him. I hesitantly stepped out of his car in the airport parking lot and waited for him to retrieve my luggage from the trunk. We walked together through the glass doors and stood in the ticketing line. I leaned against him as we waited and felt the electricity jump from my body to his and back. We held hands and walked towards the security line. I could feel my soul deadening my feet as I walked. He kissed me gently on the forehead and wished me a good flight as I made my way through security. I handed my ticket over to the agent and looked behind me. He stood there with a smile of encouragement on his face. "Be strong honey," he said "I will see you soon". I summoned the courage to continue walking, blew him a kiss and turned the corner, waving to him until he disappeared...
The small propellor plane whirred as I sat facing the window, searching for any sign of him. Once we began the take-off I felt a renewed sense of relief. I gazed out the window again to view the tiny landscape below and smiled to myself. The bright blue Pacific ocean glistened as the painted landscape passed underneath me - where he would be living, where my spirit would never leave.
Our tiny trees, tiny rivers, tiny roads.