It’s almost midnight by the time you get in the car.
This is crazy, you think. I’m not a night person. I should be going to bed, not going out.
And maybe you’re right. You’re not a night person. Normally you’d be ready for sleep. Maybe that would be the better, wiser choice.
But how many times do you get this kind of night, this kind of clear blue crystal-spun night, and you’re not asleep. You’re awake, you’re so awake.
You climb in the car with a small group of people—some you just met, some you know well. Or think you do, at least. There are always things to discover.
You’re glad to not be driving. You’re winding on mountain roads that feel like the world might be flat and you’re right on the edge. It’s not a fall or ravine, just an emptiness. Somehow the emptiness does not feel threatening.
Still, you do not want to tumble into emptiness. Not yet.
The drive goes on for 20 minutes or more and then the tires are slowing, turning, soft spinning in gravel and dirt. The engine goes off. The doors open. Blindness for a moment as interior lights flash, confusion, hands finding things they need, get a water bottle, who has a flashlight, voices, doors closing, darkness.
The sound of a river below. There, over the edge, down there, in the emptiness.
Someone who knows what to do starts down the path.
It’s not you. You don’t know what to do and you’re so glad, for this moment, this night, to not be the one who has to know what to do. To not be the one finding the path, pushing tender feet first onto unknown surfaces. You are content to follow. You take your time and enjoy a moment alone with the shadows on the rocks. You’re the last one to reach the bottom of the trail.
And there are still voices and there is movement but the only movement that matters is the water. You lay down your things and take off your shoes and step careful over slippery places and ease into the heat, the sulphur-thick air.
Lay your head back. It’s not exactly comfortable. The gravel squirms in, the rock is bumpy in the wrong places, the water is scorching. It’s not comfortable at all. It is glorious. It is life. You look at the cool blue moon and know something that can’t be said, and it’s simple, and it sounds like the words thank you and tastes like salt and honey.
After a year or a few minutes you ease out of the mountain womb and step careful again, careful to the edge where the river is laughing at you. And you dance into it, into the river, into the shock and cold of it, and it’s electric, and you shallow dive under the water and you’re the electricity now, you’re the reason this river is here.
No, that’s not it.
The river is the reason you’re here, the reason you’re alive.
You ease back into the hot springs, sinking into that uncomfortable warmth, letting it in, choosing not to resist. You trade with the others—laughter and jokes, small words, drawn-out thoughts. Acknowledgements of shared wonder. You look over at the one you know best and realize that you do not know him. Different things show up in the water. The metallic threads of his attention, no longer magnetized to you, waving, spinning, swirling, seeking, being drawn to everything and everyone else. He is not with you, not anymore. His leaving has been so steady under the chaos of each day, and you have been so distracted, but here it is. Undeniable, this distance. How clearly it shows in this blue light. How far away he has gone. In a moment, in a breath, all along.
It is so far.
It is a static and hard-edged truth and it pierces you and you stumble back to the river and dip your head, shoulders, shaking belly under the water, and the cold of it zips the wound shut and keeps you from bleeding out.
You will give yourself a moment or a few months to adjust.
You will sit under a clear sky one night and look up and know it is time.
You will ease out of the stultifying warmth and thick air of confusion.
You will tiptoe careful to the place of shocking clarity and you will dive into it and it will hurt and you will be alive. You will surface. You will breathe. You will shift your feet on the stones and hold steady. The current will rush and the cold will shock and you will hold steady under a cool blue moon.