He smiles at me and I wonder if he notices the erosion of my lips from all the thru-hikers leaving their footprints across the surface. Can he still see the path he first made, or have there been too many trails off the original? The first time he kissed me, he parted my lips like a river parts rock and my mouth was a canyon waiting for him to fill it with love. I didn’t know then that sometimes canyons get so big they become empty.
Outside the restaurant, he opens his arms and gives me a hug. And it’s not quite like how I remember it. I felt taller. Like elevation had nothing to do with my height, but the length of my spine. Could he feel the earthquake that still trembled inside of me after he left? Or the ridgeline of my shoulders, where he staked his flag for first ascent? And did it count if I’ve grown?
I cross my arms over my chest. The valley of my breasts is now a meadow. He used to linger there like morning mist. But sunlight evaporated what remained of him. Wildflowers grew in his place.
He says he can’t believe he hasn’t seen me in years. I say he made sure of it. He stayed away like I was volcanic activity spilling on his Pompeii. He bows his head and tries to explain. I tell him I understand. I am no longer rigid like granite. I break more readily. Weathered by heartbreak.
When they seat us, I sit across from him, my fingers laced together on the table—the way I learned to pull myself up on days I couldn’t get over him. He tells me he never forgot my number. A fossil from a time of flip phones and T9 texting. We catch up and rediscover shared commonalities. Sometimes he confuses my scenic views for those of other wilderness’ he has explored.
And it is okay because no one remembers the past as it is. It is a function of how we feel. And time changes everything. It buries the hurt like sediment in a lake bed.
I sigh in relief.
No longer does he feel like sunshine spreading across snowcaps in the Sierras. He is not sunshine. He is just a man with a broken compass. When men backtrack, I need to learn that I am not their final destination. I need to learn that I am not thunder and that I am not rain and that lightning never strikes the same place twice. So this time I let his words pass through me like wind and I bow but I do not break.
We split the check. Right down the middle. Clean.
I ask him if he wants to finish my birthday beer with me. He agrees to get in my car and we drive to the bay. We catch up like real friends as we sit on a bench in the dark and watch the fog roll in. The street lights ripple across the black water.
He says he needs to do this more often.
To do what, I ask.
He says, to be outside.