When I pulled off the interstate and navigated the truck and trailer through the roads leading to my neighborhood, I nervously worried about hitting the other vehicles parked in the street, yet somehow reached my apartment safely. My worry intensified when I parked and began to contemplate how to wake the Lumberjack and say our goodbyes after one of the most emotionally tumultuous weekends I experienced since leaving Texas, or maybe since travelling to Kansas, or maybe just since arriving in Wyoming. Regardless, I stroked his curls a few more times, but when I cut the engine, he woke up and the weekend was over.
He sat up, glanced out the window, squinting his eyes against the low sunlight ending the afternoon.
“We’re at your house.”
I didn’t respond as I now adopted his no-reason-to-state-the-obvious philosophy of conversational Wyomingism. I exited the truck and wandered around the back of the trailer rather than pass his door. When I broke camp, I stowed all of my belongings in the far right rear of the bed so I could easily unload them on the sidewalk. Occasionally my mild type-A personality came in handy.
With the exception of the apples, my belongings returned exactly as they left, so I easily grabbed my tote, backpack, purse, pillow, and the bag of food after setting my tent and sleeping bag on the sidewalk. I’d come back for those, although it wouldn’t have surprised me if he offered to carry them. Given his revelation and his lengthy nap, I imagined his mind was pretty far away at that moment and may be too groggy to realize I left my camping gear curbside. If he helped carry the items inside or if I returned to the truck would determine the location of our farewell, and admittedly, I preferred outside.
I reached the door and began fumbling to get my keys from the outside pocket of my purse. I should have put them in my hand before I picked everything up, feeling typically awkward, but fully self-assured that my type-A personality was well in check. As I leaned over to set down the tote bag, I saw him standing behind me, sleeping bag and tent in hand.
“Thank you.” I considered adding that I could have gotten them myself, but sometimes I just needed to make time to be thankful, to let someone help me every now and then, and to show him the gratitude he deserved, even if he was left to stand idly waiting for me to find the right set of keys. Another lesson learned this weekend – just be thankful.
Once unlocked, his long arms pushed the door open so I could pick up everything and enter my plain, undecorated apartment. My sparse belongings needed accents of home, but I just didn’t know what that looked like for me. Aside from a few pictures of my grandparents in my bedroom, the walls and all the charm of a doctor’s office without the promotional medical posters. He probably thought I was crazy for even locking my door against thieves, who doubtfully would not covet the overt lack of goods my house offered. But once a city girl, it’s hard to break such habits.
I dropped all of my belongings on my kitchen table, and thankfully it wasn’t so cluttered with half-unpacked boxes that there was space enough. I turned to him to take the two items he carried, but he already placed them nearly where he found them on Friday.
“Thank you,” I repeated. I appreciated his carrying them and holding the door, but then realized this would be the time to say more, to thank him for the full experience of the weekend we shared together. I imagined preparing an Oscar acceptance speech would be easier.
“I cannot say enough about how truly unique this weekend was for me. This was my first chance to see the mountains, and I think it is safe to say I may have fallen in love with them. The trees, the layered rock formations, the animals and birds and even those fish all make it even more enjoyable and beautiful. I’m so glad I get to work here and that I got to enjoy them.
“And thank you for teaching me how to fish. And how to clean a fish.” Maybe I wasn’t really thankful for that, but it was at least I learned something new. “It was gross, but, hey, now I can do it myself. I just hope I don’t ever have to.”
He nodded. I knew I should say something else about his experience in Iraq, but I didn’t want to call attention to it if his mind just spent the last hour trying to erase it again. I didn’t think that was a particularly good idea, either, so I decided to say something, especially when it occurred to me that even though I finished my little speech of gratitude, he hadn’t made a move to leave.
“You know, if you want to talk again about your experiences overseas, I’ll absolutely make myself available to listen. Anytime. You can call me, even if it’s the middle of the night. Here, let me give you my phone number.”
“I have it.” How did he, I started to ask myself, then I remembered I gave it to him. I guess he did notice. Wow, who knew?
His tone sounded like a brush off, so I decided to approach closer to be sure he knew I meant it. I took his hand like I did the first day I met him, in both of my hands. The patented handshake wasn’t being tested, it was being utilized.
“Sincerely, no judgment, just trust whenever you need to talk.” I hope he felt like he could trust me, but now I couldn’t tell. He looked me straight in the eyes, and I did the same to him. Another learning from the weekend: how to not be intimidated by that stare. Adapting to his nuances made for a productive weekend, but knowing when I would again use my new skillset left me wondering.
NEXT: The Cabin – Part 75