June 15, 2005
What can I say about an eight-hour ordeal that consists of waiting in a nearly-empty area where a ham sandwich costs $10 (”It comes with chips,” the clerk said) and sitting strapped into a narrow chair that, from the magnitude of the roar, seems situated directly over the jet engine? The trip also included wrangling my carry-on bag (not wheeled) through the busiest airport in the world (“Mil-schxfls Bar-hetluscxj, please return to Continental baggage. You have the wrong bag.”) and sitting across the aisle on the Chicago to Denver portion from a young couple who were completely absorbed in themselves. I’d seen them in the waiting area stretched out on the floor gazing into each other’s eyes and stroking each other’s hair. They were even less inhibited once in the air.But things went smoothly. My flights were on time and my checked bag and I arrived in Denver together. I rode a shuttle bus out to the Enterprise car lot and took temporary possession of a white Toyota Corolla with less than 10,000 miles on it. By 6:00 Denver time I was checked in at the Super 8 in an area not far from the airport that resembles a farm for chain hotels and restaurants.
I really can’t say that today was part of my adventure. Airports and the budget hotels near them all look alike. Denver and Chicago are busier than Harrisburg, and they try to establish some local color, but they’re really just points of departure or arrival for people whose business lies beyond the gates.
I’ve been to Denver before. Thirty-five years ago I spent Christmas vacation there. I had a new boyfriend, the track coach at the school where I was the new English teacher. The parents of another teacher lived in Denver, and yet another teacher and his wife had moved there the year before. Wouldn’t it be fun for the old friends to spend Christmas week together?
It was the first time I’d gone away with a boyfriend. What I didn’t know until a long time afterward (and not from him) was that the great love of his life, his high school sweetheart who had dumped him halfway through their college years, was getting married that week. I think he wanted to be out of town during the festivities that were shaping up as something of a class reunion. And, truth be told, I was still nursing a broken heart, having spent a great deal of time decorating my new apartment and my new classroom while another wedding took place in New York City.
But we had a good time. At least I remember it that way. “The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains I thought they were clouds,” my friend had said. I did too, and at first they failed to impress me because they looked not unlike the range at home that divides Dauphin county north to south. My complacency vanished, however, when it took two hours rather than twenty minutes to drive into them, the peaks becoming clearer and more jagged as we approached.
Every place we visited that week – Castlewood Canyon, Lookout Mountain, the Royal Gorge – was more breathtaking than the last. In the Cave of the Winds I touched a special rock and made a wish for joy and success in this relationship. On New Year’s Eve in a cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park I believed that I had put my sorrows behind me and was happy in my new life.
I was twelve years away from the New Year’s Eve when the happiest part of my life would begin, but I never think of that week in Colorado without remembered joy and a blessing on that young man, who has remained a friend all this time.
I called home just as the sun was setting. “So what are you doing tonight?” I asked my daughter. “Marm, it’s 10:00,” she said. I suddenly realized that my body, too, thought it was ten o’clock, and I’d had a tiring day, with miles to go before I could sleep in Wyoming.
I walked over to the window of my room to draw the blackout curtain and prepare for bed. I looked out and saw not a hotel parking lot but a wide field of grass rippling in the wind, with horses running along the fence, their manes and tails streaming out behind them. And beyond, the Rocky Mountains.
They look like clouds the second time too.
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