The final part of How it Feels to Travel for Love, right here!
We took our next trip out to Alberta’s Prairie West, past First Nations Reserves and fields of Canola, and spent a few days at the Dinosaur Provisional Park. You had spent previous summers working there as a guide on $3,000 a month. No wonder you managed to spend years travelling for months on end.
A huge plastic dinosaur on the side of the road marked our late afternoon arrival to the park. Stomachs sore from too many gummy bears and stale crackers, we unlocked our stiff legs, climbed out of the van and stretched, the tundras ahead curving endlessly onwards. The first night we went to a ranch party with your old friends from the park. We loaded our paper plates with more food than was polite: fresh mozzarella, quinoa and summer peas, a relief from the sugary gunk we’d eaten all day.
I have never seen so many stars as when we walked back to the van that night. They draped across the sky like an extravagant magician’s cape, though all you saw was that, hilarious, I scared of the dark. We spent the next day poking around the gold mudstone hills full of iron and dinosaur bones. You were so excited to find that ancient turtle shell. I’m sorry I laughed when you broke it by accident.
Slipping around, the beginnings of a storm blew the desert air cold. Purple light slipped across the canyons on the horizon. The coyotes howled from behind hoodoos as rain began to fall from the sky and thunder whipped the air in loud smacks. We skidded back over hoodoos to the van by the creek. The gale shook the tiny van all night. Careering in the dark wind, it was a shivery, broken sleep. I wrestled around as cold rain water trickled down from a leak in the roof, digging into you, lay on top of you, stealing the covers and wriggling around in the cold for endless hours as the mattress deflated from under us as usual.
Suddenly you shot up, running your hands through your hair,
“Please. This bed is big enough for both us,” I remember how sad you looked, “There’s all this space. Please, Ailsa.”
I nodded, surprised, apologised, rolled to the other side. We woke at one in the afternoon to a peaceful, sunny day by the creek. We woke up cuddling, like the night before never happened. I’m not sure whether it was romantic or whether we were just surviving.
Day three without a shower, we took a walk through the park. You told me seagulls are basically dinosaurs, and all people are interesting. I didn’t believe you then, but I do now. Cactus flowers had sprung to life after the desert rain. On top of a hill that I wish didn’t look like a giant penis, we looked out at the golden tundras and centuries-old cotton trees that continued to bloom by the river banks. A delicate tree, they grow from the tiniest thing, a slip of cotton drifting alone fragile, in search of a home.
We talked and laughed, and I remember wondering why I had ever worried whether there would be enough stories to tell, thoughts, feelings and opinions to share. Of course there were. We laid our most intimate stories out there, on top of a hill that looked like a penis. We walked back to the van late afternoon. You took out your mandolin for the first time in a while, and I listened to you play those pretty songs you wrote; the one about the girl with the golden crown of hair. It didn’t matter that that song was about another girl. Listening to you play in the afternoon sun was beautiful.
We were both dirty, covered in three days of desert dirt and stale sweat from the panicked storms, but I would rather be there in the prairie west with the cactus flowers in bloom, with you, than feeling sterile, sterilised, living clean and 9-5. That is my favourite memory of you.
We drove back to Calgary later that evening, hung out at your parent’s place for a few days, then took the road back East, past mountains that looked sketched in by an artist’s hand, across to Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean.
We parted in B.C. You went to school in Victoria, I flew to Rio a week later. I left everything in that van; leggings, too-small bras, old photos and ID cards that had fallen from my purse. You live back in Calgary now, in the van but with a real bed. Many pretty girls must have passed through those van doors since our summer together, because we move on, because we’ve travelled enough to appreciate that our time was a beautiful chapter in life that is now over. I can no longer see your face or remember your voice; can only feel the trace of your warm chest under those soft, white, cotton tees of yours as I lay my head on your chest to rest. That makes me sad, but this is not a love letter, just a thank you for the good times.
He would later write, “I let you into my real life, and that’s what makes it difficult. When you are in the wind, everything blows away. But at home, things get stuck like leaves in the eaves. Maybe being here with you reminded me of something, or awakened me to an idea of permanence.” Two years later, and we’re living together in the Rockies where we first fell in love. But if I hadn’t written him this letter that I’ve just shared with you guys, I don’t think I’d be shivering among the pine trees right now. I don’t know where I’d be, but I know I wouldn’t be as happy.
What I’m trying to say is, write letters to the people you care about. It might just do you good.