The immense darkness was illuminated only by a pale moon, barely visible through the gargantuan trees, and three measly headlamps. After spending twenty-four continuous hours clinging to the granite cliffs of the canyon, the trek seemed endless. Every step was agonizingly painful and every shallow breath caused my torso to ache. My fingers traced the spot on my Midwestern neck where his Californian, whiskey laced lips, tainted with the remnants of cigarette smoke, left their mark. Each tree caught in the light had a gentle face and a story to tell. Nobody spoke, perhaps for fear of disturbing the harmonious ballad being sung by all of nature. Crickets chirped knowingly and my heart beat louder, so loud that those stuck in civilization must have heard it. The wild horses neighed in the distance and my breath hitched.The leaves beneath my throbbing feet crunched with every step and the playful wind whistled through the branches and caressed my wasted face. My eyes dreamed of rest, a foreign idea, and my mind berated them, for there was too much beauty to behold.
The unmarked path led us to our destination some three hours after midnight. A million trees encircled the boulder almost like a halo upon the head of an angel. The solitary rock stood before me in a state of absolute allure; if I were one to cry, in that moment a tear might’ve rolled down my cheek. Despite the eminent grace it possessed, the humble boulder measured, at most, thirty feet. Yet It seems that I made it up the boulder only by sheer force of will because if gravity and physiology would have had a say, I would have remained on the damp forest floor indefinitely. My aching corpse would have decayed and provided nutrients to fuel the beauty that I gazed upon in life. Perhaps, if that had been the case, a bed of wild flowers would have grown in the spot where I lay.
But those factors played no role here, and I found refuge on top of the jagged stone. My cheek pressed against the cool rock and my whole body turned numb. Each tree caught in the light above me told me a story and peered into my soul with a gentle face and sympathetic eyes.The leaves fluttered, and through them, a canopy of stars emerged and the entire universe became known to me. Never had I seen so many stars flickering with delight. The sky twisted and swirled into oblivion and left a medley of colors in its wake. A various array of violets, indigos, and emeralds leaped and swayed in seamless unison. I released all my worries into the Milky Way and she gladly accepted them.
A curious katydid landed on my arm, waking me from the hypnotizing beauty. The creature rubbed its leg against its torso and flitted clumsily away as soon as my gaze landed upon it. It was only then, distracted from the world around me, that I realized he was holding my broken hand, distressed and bleeding from every crevice that I had created and acquired. In that moment, fleeting and precious, those strangers were suddenly the closest friends I’d ever had. In that brief moment, any and all afflicted pain, both mental and physical, were absent.
Time passed without warning and the early morning light danced among the hills. The sky was no longer black, but a turquoise that seemed to turn into a sea of purple with speckles of orange as the new sun rose. My body continued to ache and my soul continued to long, but never before had I been so comfortable in my own human discomfort.