I miss you.
And by you, I don’t mean a specific person. I mean a collective you. The best friends, boyfriends, roommates, teammates, coworkers, acquaintances, and, hell, even the complete strangers that filled my life in the past years. I miss you.
I miss you all.
Your ghosts haunt me as I pass through these places silently. Alone.
It feels as if everyone has died in a mass epidemic and I am the sole survivor. I walk through the cold empty halls of the lodge; I run my fingers against the walls as I pass through. I hear sounds in my head –laughter, beautiful things. I recall running my fingers against the wall in the same way a hundred other times. I always had someone next to me sharing in the moment. A million secrets were shared here, a million memories, a million hopes, and a million dreams.
I glance out my office window at the snow-covered lawn to my left. I remember a sunny Sunday afternoon spent in that very lawn. A group of my closest friends, all laying in the green grass staring up at the warm summer sun and clear blue sky. The entire afternoon was spent with our heads on each other’s stomachs as we laughed until our abs hurt and wondered if life could possibly ever get better. It couldn't.
I walk out on a dock floating on a frozen lake. I remember a blue moon night one August, laying with my head in a boys chest and his fingers running through my long hair, the dock swaying with the motion of the water underneath us. As we stared up at the moon and twinkling stars, we told each other for the first time that we were in love. The night sky was never so beautiful. I remember less than a year later that same boy breaking my heart on that same dock. I remember going out to that same dock with my friends many times over that next summer as I cried my heartbreak out with bottles of wine during fiery sunsets. The sunsets are more muted now. I have no friends and no boys at my side. Somewhere there is a part of the lake that is not quite frozen over, a Canada Goose makes a landing. The splash of it breaking the surface of the water dispels the silence. I am no longer alone.
I walk through the lobby of the lodge with its magnificent sweeping views of the mountains. The majority of the luxurious couches and armchairs have been removed. The large room is barren, empty. The handful of pieces still left have been covered with white sheets. I remember many a rainy summer afternoon spent here sitting by a crackling fire, listening as someone played the piano, the low hum of conversations adding to the melody of the music, laughing over one card game or another with people I loved dearly. I remember one evening with my best friends when a bat had gotten caught in lodge. We ducked and ran away from it while laughing until we cried. Now the fireplace is cold and the only sound is my footsteps as they echo through the empty building.
Soft country music plays in my car as I drive past the grocery store I worked one summer. The people I worked with there are all long gone. In fact all the people I have worked with over multiple summers are long gone. Some went back to school, some left the country, some bought houses, some got married, some flew south for the winter and will return as soon as the ice releases its grip from this landscape. They have had babies, graduated college, won races, gotten engaged, lived, loved and moved on. Some have died. Whatever the case, whatever the reason, it is only me here now. Me and a million ghosts of those gone. I drive down the road with the store in my rear view mirror to the place where the lake should be. All I see is snow. But I am determined. I get out of my car and make a way through the snow. It is a struggle but after fifteen minutes I make it to the magical place where water meets ice. I am rewarded by a gorgeous reflection of the mountains in the mirror of the lake. I am captivated for a moment and then I glance behind me to the place the beach should be. The memories come back and a picture in my head forms. A picture of us all sitting on the beach, our last day together before people began to depart for home. We are awaiting to witness the baptism of a friend on her 21st birthday by her father in the lake. We are unable to be serious, even for a moment, always laughing and joking. We take a ridiculous photo that perfectly captures our relationships. We are still strangers to goodbyes, but that evening the goodbyes begin. It’s been years, but the goodbyes haven’t stopped. People are always leaving. You get used to saying goodbye and come to peace knowing you will probably never see those people who meant so much to you ever again.
I drive up to a popular viewpoint. I am the only car around for miles. Once again, the silence makes my ears ring. I set up my tripod and capture the sun rising over the frosty landscape. I remember arriving here one October morning ten minutes before the sun was due to rise. I was late. I had to park about a quarter mile away in the last available space. I lugged my tripod down the road and then down a hill to the one spot that wasn’t currently taken over by other photographers. The sound of a thousand conversations in a hundred different languages rung in my ears. We were all waiting for the same thing. As soon as the light hit the peaks of the mountains, there was a brief moment of silence, and then the sound of thousand shutters being released at the same time. A minute later a pack wolves added their howls the sounds of the shutters. We all listened in awe wondering if we would ever have the opportunity to actually see these magnificent creatures. Now, as I stood in the silence alone and wondered the same thing, something catches my eye. Can it be? No surely that can’t be. It is! A lone black figure makes its way across the ice. The wolf, like me, is without companions. We look at each other trying to decide whether or not the other poses a threat. He decides first that I am not a threat and continues about his business. He is probably the most majestic animal I have ever witnessed. I watch him in silence. The minutes turn to hours and still I watch him. Suddenly I am glad I am alone. I realize I have been glad all along. There is nothing quite like solitude. I came here in the winter specifically to be alone. I came for these moments. The moments where I am left alone with my thoughts. The moments where I can process the immense happiness and sadness of my life combined. The moments where I don’t have to worry about being funny, pretty, kind, happy, or sad. The moments where the only thing that matters in life is the beauty surrounding me.
The moments where I don’t have to worry about anything or anyone else but myself. The moments where I can just be.
Life is a complicated thing.
I know soon these halls will be filled once again with faces- both the familiar and the strange. Soon the sounds echoing off these walls will be the sounds of laughter. New naïve souls will come this park with their duffle bags, settle into their dorm rooms for the summer of a lifetime and leave –maybe never to come back again- forever changed. New eyes will stare in amazement as the sun sets behind these peaks, as the night skies bring out more stars then they have ever seen before, as an afternoon thuderstorm contributes lightning and rainbows to the already spectacular landscape. People will travel from around the world to take in the beautiful sights, hopeful that they might see a moose or maybe even a bear. Once again I will fight over parking spots before the sun rises. I will meet wonderful friends and share my deepest secrets and heartbreaks with them. We will make a hundred new memories. And then, once again, they will leave. I will take the long cold winter to process all the thoughts and feelings I didn’t have time to process, while I was living a million miles a minute all summer long. And then greet the summer with a newfound exuberance. The lake will thaw and fill with swimmers, water-skiers, kayakers, and boaters. And then it will freeze again. It will stay light out late into the night, groups of people will chatter the night away while sitting around a campfire and roasting marshmallows.
But for now it is just me. These mountains are mine. These trees are mine. These sunsets are mine. This lake is mine. This park is mine. I don’t have to share. I don’t have to explain. I don’t have to pretend. They are mine and I am theirs.
All the while the magnificent Tetons stare down on us. Never-changing and ever-changing all at the same time.
I miss you.