‘It’s reasonable to think you’ll live to the average lifespan. Don’t we all expect we’ll do better than that?’
‘We do.’ She shook her head slowly. ‘Because we’re selfish. Human beings are self-absorbed. We think we’re in complete control of the beginning, the end and everything in between. But we’re not.’ She looked at me intensely. ‘Of course, you know that.’
I thought of Boo and what Lacy and I had done with her the day before the accident. It was July, a month I would now detest for eternity. We’d been standing in the park, feeding the ducks one day, and the next, they were gone. One day you’re at the apex of your life, standing in all your glory before the sunrise, full of hope and possibility. The next you’re at the sunset, darkness encroaching. Night falls fast.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It does.’
I looked at her, knowing with complete certainty that I had not said a word. I’d not said anything, yet she had heard me.
‘There’s a helicopter coming to pick me up in an hour,’ she said finally. ‘My son rented one to allow me to fulfil this dream. He’ll be taking me on home if you’d like to hitch a ride.’
‘Might as well travel in style if it’s one of your last trips!’
‘I guess you’re right. Where are we headed?’
‘New York. I live upstate, so we’ll land in a small airport in the Adirondack Mountains and you can continue your journey from there, or you’re welcome to come stay with us.’
I thought about her offer. I had never been to the Adirondacks before, and had always wanted to see the region. But I had been gone less than a week, and I wasn’t ready to spend time around people I hardly knew. ‘I’ll go,’ I said. ‘But I want to go hike up into the mountains.’
Marilyn smiled. ‘Whatever suits you!’
An hour later the chopper landed about 500 feet away. It was shiny and black, with stripes across the side and a compact cabin that appeared to seat no more than four. The blades cut through the desert sky, kicking up dust until they sputtered to a stop. She tossed her backpack on her shoulder and headed towards it and I followed.
Marilyn ducked into the chopper and sat in the back as if she’d done it before. The pilot motioned me into the seat beside him, and handed me a headset to protect my ears. Marilyn buckled up and placed a wrinkled hand on her son’s shoulder and squeezed hard. He placed a gloved hand on hers and squeezed back.
‘I’m Conrad,’ he said, smiling. ‘Ready to go?’
The blades roared, much louder than I’d expected. As we lifted I felt a moment of adrenaline rush through me, my body suspended. I felt alive, like I was being prodded out of a coma into life. We soared over canyons and majestic white mountains. We dived deep through the centre of long stretches of brown desert and watched a herd of animals below. We were headed east, though I didn’t care where we were headed because I had no expectations for the journey. An hour in, Conrad explained that we’d be landing at a remote airport to switch to a small Cessna he owned for the remainder of the journey. Once we arrived, I would leave them and go my own way.
Floating over the clouds I realized that at times I could still feel her, and I wondered if there was any difference in the scope of eternity between what was and what is, or what will be. Boo had only been on this earth for four short years but her soul was ancient, as if I’d known her for not one lifetime, but many. Lacy and I had been connected from the start, not like the other women I’d met and conquered but different, as if our souls were intertwined. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
As the helicopter floated across the horizon I remembered what the shrink back in Orange County had said. Some people come into your life out of circumstance, while others arrive because they had to. They are there for your soul. They were sent to you. They were sent to deliver a message. To bring, or take away.
I glanced over at Conrad effortlessly navigating the chopper through the clouds. He was the kind of man I’d wanted to be, the kind every man wanted to be, a James Bond type that both men and women were drawn to. He instantly reminded me of an old friend of mine from university. His name was Jason and he had the same square jaw and rugged exterior. He had entered one relationship and then the next, with whatever woman he’d met at the time. The last time I saw him he’d been through his second divorce, onto another. Because of his good looks, women entered and exited based on geography or convenience, versus selection. I had spoken with him about my theory that convenience was the enemy of happiness. That it led to settling, instead of sustaining. Jason had said that women were like sweets in a vending machine. You find one and then another behind the glass. You put in your money, own one, and then after a while you get tired and it’s inevitable you’ll move on to another.
You have to listen to your heart, I told him, instead of selecting someone geographically desirable, someone easy, in your sphere. You have to choose someone you’d still want to be with if you had to travel to Dubai to see them. Only then will your heart be authentic. It’s like the difference between choosing the milk in the front of the display case with the expiry date on it just because you need milk, or driving to a different shop for the organic milk you really want.
Lacy was never easy. But she’d been worth it. We were light drawn to darkness, dark to light, like opposite sides of the same coin. Her moods varied because of her past. It had been a tragic childhood, and as an adult the memories remained. Sometimes she was day, sometimes night. Day and night is still the same day.
The chopper hovered over a tiny airport in a desolate brown field. Music drifted in through the headset. It was an old song by Rush.
Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision,
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision.
Some are born to move the world—
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be.
C S Lewis once wrote that grief is a long valley, and that sometimes you wonder if the valley is a circular trench.
Conrad landed the helicopter gently, and we unloaded and waited inside a hangar while the Cessna was fuelled for the remainder of our journey. When we boarded the small plane Marilyn was so alive, with eyes wide open, that it was impossible to think she was dying. Her son naviagted the small craft down the runway and it lifted into the sky, gliding in a completely different sensation than the ride before, my blood moving horizontally this time. He flew across different terrain and we coasted in silence, until I spied an airport in the centre of a mountain range that was overflowing with green and thousands of trees. We lowered deeper, and touched down on a small runway.
Conrad removed his helmet and turned to me. His eyes were blue.
‘Welcome to New York!’
‘Here briefly, in this forest shall you dwell…’
I woke from a dream at 3 a.m. and sat for a while staring out the window. A storm was coming, and as I watched the bending of the trees I wondered if one would break.
The taxi ride from the airport had been 10 miles to the nearest cabin. We’d landed in the heart of the Adirondacks, and when I asked an airport employee to recommend a hotel he said he knew just the one. It was remote and at the edge of the lake. It was a bit of trouble to get there, but without