Once I get to the truck and manage to get into a comfortable arrangement with the extra weight of the brace on my left foot, I take a moment to pull out my phone and plug it in to charge. On a whim, I try to call Daniel.
I know I am fully capable of caring for myself, but now that I am sitting alone, without the support of my employer, or the health care workers, or my responsibility to the small boy lost in the woods, I desperately want to hear his voice. I almost hung up when after four rings, he answers.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s just been a… I just wanted to check on you.” That’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want him to check on me. I remind myself that I decide not to weigh him with this incident until he is home. “I wanted to hear your voice. You know, make sure you didn’t need more pie.”
“I’m glad you called. There’s a lot going on here.”
“I can’t get into it, but we’re leaving here tomorrow.” That can’t be right. I know it’s got to be evening there, so it’s still just Tuesday and he’s not supposed to leave until Friday.
“Our connection must be funky. I thought you said you are leaving tomorrow. Wednesday.”
“No, that’s right. We are leaving in the morning.”
“When do you think you’ll be home?”
“I’m not positive. It depends what flights they can get us on.”
“Is it just you?”
“No, it’s Newbold and me. I think they are trying to get us to return through Cheyenne.”
“You mentioned that.”
“Yeah, well, it’s confirmed. I just don’t know what flights between here and there.”
I don’t think it really matters as long as he is coming back early. I cannot wait to see him, busted ankle and all.
“When will you know?”
“I don’t know. Just watch for an email and I’ll forward you any itineraries I receive.”
“Okay, I’ll watch for them.”
“If you can’t meet me in Cheyenne, I’ll just rent a car.”
“I’ll check with Aaron. I might be able to get some time off.” Given the situation with my foot, I am sure I’ll be in and out of appointments, and possibly not of much use in the forest.
“That would be great. Just don’t tell him why.”
“Look, Nat, just do what I ask, okay?”
“If you can’t get away…”
“No, I’m certain it won’t be a problem.” If he only knew what was happening here.
“Okay, look, I love you, but I’ve got a ton of things I have to do before I leave. It’s going to be a long night.”
“I know what that’s like.”
“I’m so glad you called.”
“Did you need something?”
“Just to hear your voice.” It wasn’t untrue. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. I’ll see you soon.”
“Be safe, Daniel.”
“You, too.” A chuckle escapes.
The call ends and I start crying. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of our situations, the lack of sleep, the list of tasks awaiting me, and the fact that I am going through all of this alone. It takes almost ten minutes before I can compose myself enough to undertake the drive into the mountains, not to mention the otherwise simple task of stopping to fuel up the truck. I’m hungry, but not enough to stop for anything. The granola bars will suffice.
After I pass through the town of Shell and before I begin my ascent into the forest, the sun disappears behind the top of the mountains. My proximity to their height means its rays will probably reappear and again hide behind the buttes all the way up to the turn off to the cabin. It was an exhaustingly long night, and it’s going to be a full day for so many people. Apparently, the rising sun brings its own difficulties.
It’s just shy of nine o’clock by the time I reach the cabin, and another almost three hours later before I get back underway. I make myself a simple breakfast when I first get to the cabin, which I devour. I take a shower, which takes way too long as I try to manage with a trash bag wrapped around my temporary boot. I secure the cabin, turn off the water, and take another dose of ibuprofen before the current dose has a chance to wear off.
I wonder often about Kenny, probably even more than I wonder about Daniel. I could put on music to distract myself, but with too many thoughts it would be a cacophony my brain cannot manage on such little sleep. I try to focus on each task at hand, making sure I don’t miss anything critical in preparing the cabin for the winter. With Daniel coming home early, we can possibly get back up here once more before the harshest of the winter weather arrives, but it’s Wyoming, and that could be next weekend. In fairness, I have not looked at the forecast since I came up here last week.
It’s nearly two o’clock before I am in Sheridan. When I arrive at the house, and get enough items unpacked, I make time for a handful of calls that need to be managed first. I contact the orthopedic, after getting a recommendation from my GP, and after a series of opportunities to become completely annoyed with the hold music, I finally have an appointment for tomorrow afternoon. Good enough.
I follow up with the Forest Service office, doubtful I will catch Aaron in the office as he may be covering for me. I am correct, and I ask that someone radio him and make sure he is notified that I do need him to call me when he’s back in town. Between my lack of mobility and my appointment tomorrow, I’m not sure where he’ll want me, plus I need to let him know about needing Thursday afternoon and Friday off to meet Daniel.
Getting the rest of my gear unloaded from the truck ought to happen next, and as I slowly climb and descend the stairs to and from the garage, I try to analyze Daniel’s possible travel. As best I can guess, if Daniel leaves on Wednesday morning, he’ll spend that day getting to the European theater. From there, he could catch an overnight flight, or he might have to wait until Thursday morning, so I cannot imagine he’ll get into Wyoming until Friday, but I want to be there whenever he arrives, so driving down on Thursday feels safe.
I wish I knew why he was coming home early. Of course I don’t mind, but something unexpected must be happening. I hope he doesn’t suddenly need to evacuate for a military reason. I think about checking national news sources for updates, but there’s no way news from Afghanistan makes its way stateside unless it’s a major explosion or catastrophe. I spend a few minutes doomscrolling through news headlines but I find nothing. As it turns out, my “few minutes” ticks more like forty-five minutes off the day’s clock.
Having searched through the national news, I wonder about any updates from the search and rescue operation. I call the office again, and Monica tells me she’s heard nothing. She offers to ask around, but I know I am just making more work for others, and I decline her offer. I could call the Bighorn Sheriff’s Office, but that still just creates extra work when resources need to be spent elsewhere. My curiosity isn’t important enough to take away from real work.
The sun is already retreating by the time I finish unloading the truck, although in fairness, I didn’t make a strong effort. Navigating the staircase takes the longest, so I take my time. The sun fully disappears behind the mountains before I can even think about preparing dinner.
NEXT: Heavy Duty – Part 38