State Route 55 || Friday, 7.30pm
The biggest thing was that Jackson got a new job. A good one. A steady one. A grown-up one.
This was a boon to him and absolution for me. It’s something I’ve been worrying about since he announced his plan to chuck everything and live on the road with me. He can say all he wants about not wanting to stay in his old job for another eight years, about looking for the right reason to leave, but he did forego a salary with benefits. Like, the benefit of having money whenever you want it. (All I left behind when I embarked on the road was a subleased room in a house that was being short-sold.)
As I've watched him bust his ass (and bust the freelance learning curve) over the past year, I've felt culpable more often than I can tell him. It’s harder than you might think being someone’s right reason.
And then this job plopped right into his lap: no application, no interview, just a “We need you to write for us--would you kindly?”
I’d be envious of him if I weren’t so relieved.
We commenced to celebrate the way we’ve grown accustomed: with drinks around a brush bonfire. It's the only thing that consoles him for the lack of snow we've had this year. His friends joke that he’s a pyromaniac and they could be right, though it's not so much the fire Jackson loves as the scrupulous method that he has refined over years of making camp in the wild.
Fire building is his ritual, an exercise in nostalgia and heritage and personal potency, and the hearty blaze that invariably results is his handshake with nature for being at work staying himself.
I love watching him do it.
We watch the green twilight turn blue, mirroring the base of the flames at our feet.
We dance around to Kendrick Lamar, which makes me move in a way that makes him laugh, and to the Grateful Dead, which makes his head tilt back in participatory rapture.
We go back inside to re-up our beverages, and a thought crosses my mind:
“So many things that were wrong last week have gone right in just the last 12 hours. I feel like there’s going to be one more.”
Just a gimme, I think to myself, like when a team that is handily winning the game underscores their victory with a final three-point shot. Like the Golden State Warriors did repeatedly on their climb to the 2015 Finals as we watched them from bars and living rooms, from Fairfax to Seattle to Portland.
I think this and right away it occurs to me how many perfectly timed small things went into that analogy. Steph Curry's balletic game might have won me over on its own, but I'd never have paid attention to it without the Marin County crowds that swept us up with their furious pride, and I'd never have been in those crowds if Jackson hadn't insisted that I come with him because he doesn't like doing things without me anymore (any more than I like doing things without him), and he might not feel that way if it weren't for the heartbreaks he's known before we met, and we'd never have been in Marin County if it hadn't been for the heartbreaks I'd known before we met...
Things don't come full circle. They ripple, fractal, interlace.
My favorite photos are the ones that we've caught of each other, unguarded, unposed:
Him sleeping on our last night in the yurt, passed out from excitement and exhaustion.
Me on the porch of his cabin in Wyoming, prodded out of reverie.
They echo the hundreds of little surprises that come each day from out of the changes we've wrought on each other, that poke their heads out in unguarded moments.
I start singing along with a Phish song.
He decides to take up yoga.
I find myself looking forward to snow.
He switches his allegiance from Reed's to Buchi.
Which leads me to what happened next...
He's holding a Buchi when rejoins me by the fire. This is big--he's been saving this bottle since we left Asheville five months ago.
“Wow,” I say.
“It’s a night to celebrate,” he says, passing me the bottle.
I agree, and start to congratulate him.
“For what?” he asks, setting the bottle down on the ground.
“Your new job,” I say. “What were you talking about?”
He takes my hand and, holding it, takes a knee.
I start laughing and tugging at my hand. It’s my right hand. This is a joke. He’s grinning at me stupidly, saying nothing, just watching my face like he’s waiting for me to believe him. But I don’t believe him. This is a joke. He’s holding my right hand.
He starts to say, “You make me happy every day…”
This is what he always says to me, in the mornings when we wake up, in the afternoons when we're lazing around, at the top of mountains we've hiked and after gorgeous meals we've eaten.
I've never taken those words for granted, until right now, as I chide him to quit fooling around.
“This is serious,” he says. At least I think that’s what he says. The catch in his voice is all I really remember.
“No it’s not,” I protest. (Why, I don’t know.) “There’s no ring.”
But there is a ring. He’s pushing it onto my hand—my left hand; he’s realized his mistake and has changed over.
It hits me that he’s never done this before; hasn’t even thought about doing it before. I’m the first woman he’s ever asked to marry him. And he’s the first man who’s ever asked me. At last, we’re on the same playing field—helplessly inexperienced, both of us.
This is it.
It hits me in the solar plexus and I start to cough, gasp for air, look around me for witnesses in the spinning dark. The trees, the road, the fire and the stars, they all laugh back with me at the colossal joke that everything could happen just like this, in the dawning realization that nobody is here to see, that nobody could understand even if they were here.
In a moment, I’ll have to tell people, but I’ll never be able to tell them.
This is it.
I thought “yes” and must have said it because he’s standing up now and I’m clutching him with a drowning grip. It feels like I’m drowning but the sound coming out is laughter and fiery tears burn in the corners of my eyes and my heart is climbing into ether like the smoke and now I can see the ring and it burns too, gripping me the way his eyes did that night 18 months ago on Burnside Bridge when he said:
"This is it. For both of us."
I believed him when he said it then. So tell me why...after 18 months and more than 7000 miles with him at my side, after all the late night explorations and the swims in icy water and the backrubs after a hard day's work, after all the laughing and fighting and singing and kissing, after all the fires he has built for me from one coast to the other and back again...
Why should it have been so hard to believe him this night?
For all the time I've spent in my life dreaming of how it would be to be in love, my imagination came up awfully short.