The walk from the beginning of the small, cobblestone path across the grassy hill to my destination is one of the hardest walks of my life. It doesn’t help that my joints hurt today, and that there’s a light chill in the air and I didn’t bring any sort of coat. It’s more that each step I take feels heavy. Like there are weights attached to each of my hooves. But I know this is a walk that I need to make. I owe myself this much.
As I reach my destination, my steps slow, and my breathing speeds up. I feel dizzy, lightheaded, and somehow… silly. Like what I’m doing is childish, foolish, and I glance around to see if anyone is watching me too closely. I’m self conscious like I have not been since grade-school, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. But, I swallow my pride as I reach a standstill, already blinking hard against the moisture filling my eyes.
I don’t want to cry, and I don’t want to break down here. There are things I need to say, and I want to get it all out before I go. And I need to do it alone.
The stone is a simple one. I didn’t have much money for anything too fancy at the time, but it’s probably better that way. And in a way it makes sense. There’s just a single stone with a name, and a brief message of love. We were always alone together, just the two of us getting through things, and right now I feel like that again with just the stone. It’s just us. As I think that, the world fades away.
I feel my knees gently give out under me, and I sink to the grass in front of the stone, then curl into a seated position. Then, with a surprisingly steady hoof, I reach up and move it across the smooth, cold surface in a sweeping arch. Like brushing hair off of someone’s forehead. I find that, in spite of it all, I’m managing to smile, even just doing it instinctively. When I speak, there’s almost laughter in my voice, though my eyes still feel wet.
“You know,” I say haltingly. “I somehow always thought I’d go first.”
It’s a simple fact, I really had always thought that. I’d never said it out loud, and it would have probably just been upsetting, so maybe it was better that I’d kept that a secret.
“I’m sorry it took me so long to get out here. At first I had so much to deal with, so many arrangements to make, and then I felt weird about it. And then I kept forgetting and… there’s really no excuse. I should have come before. Well, here I am,” I say, pulling my hoof back to rest in my lap. “I figured it would be a good idea for me to visit to… let you know how I was doing. What’s happening in my life now. I probably didn’t tell you enough about my life in the past, and it’s kind of too late now… but I’m going to do it anyway. Here. For me, I guess. I hope that’s okay.”
It’s not like I’m expecting an answer, but the silence that follows still feels so cold and empty. I clear my throat to go on, and I could swear it echoes in there.
“First I want you to know that I’m okay. I’m going to be okay. Times were hard after you… after you left me here. But I figured out how to live, how to thrive, like you always knew I could. And I didn’t totally isolate myself, I swear. I’m not the little loner, pushing any serious connection away anymore. It might seem surprising, but I’ve actually reached out to others when I’ve needed help. I suppose… in that way, your passing changed me.”
It seems callous to put it like that. Like I’m glad all this happened. Like I’m not still furious at the cancer that rode in suddenly, without warning, without so much as an apology for taking such a large part of my life. How you went so quick because of it. I’m still mad. I think I will always be mad. But at the same time, I suppose I know that I wouldn’t be who I am now without everything that happened, and I kind of… actually like myself now. And that part, I’m not sorry for.
“I’m not drinking,” I say suddenly, hating the way the silence closes in like a thick fog each time I shut my mouth. “Shocking, right? But I’m not. I promised I’d stop, and I have, and I’ve really stuck with it. It’s not enough to save my life, not by any means, but it’s given me a little more time. More time than I thought I’d have at least. And… I guess that’s a large part of the reason why I came today.”
The lump in my throat begins to solidify into something resembling a large stone. I can’t swallow it, can’t force it to break apart into little pieces. My voice sounds gummy as I try to speak around it.
“I’m leaving. Today. I’m going to go out and see the world a little more with the time I have left. I’ve… I’ve got to move on from this place, not keep myself trapped here any more. I always talked with you about it and I know we didn’t… we couldn’t go out and do that together. I didn’t know we’d run out of time like we did, and I wish… I wish I had found a way to make it happen. I wish I hadn’t gotten so caught up in our pasts, money, time, jobs, just… all of it. I wish I’d told you more, talked to you, let you know what I was thinking. I don’t know why I didn’t. I think… I think we were just bad at talking to each other sometimes. Not the worst or anything, but… we should have worked on that more. I wouldn’t have traded you for the world, though, please believe that. I was lucky to have you in my life, even when I didn’t have… anyone. And now?”
My mouth goes dry, and I close my eyes to hold back the rush of emotion. Even through all that, I find a smile to put on, a simple little half-lie to fight the inertia of the tears I feel behind my lids. I open my eyes slowly, and even though I feel cold streams streak down my cheeks, my voice cracks but does not tremble.
“I also just wanted you to know that… I’ve found someone,” I say, my words breaking part way though. “I didn’t expect it, I didn’t even really want it at the time. But it just happened. I know you always said it would, but I didn’t really believe you, or even want to believe you. I think I might have just wanted to wallow in self pity and hatred, keep myself super-social but internally alone so I wouldn’t face that sort of hurt again. But I have someone with me now, so I’m not going to be alone. I’m not going to just whither away and die all on my own. I want you to know that… we’re happy. That I’m happy, for what that’s worth.”
I mean it too. As sad as I am, as much as this hurts, I’m happy. As happy as I can be given the circumstances, and that’s going to be enough for me going forward. It’s what I can get, and I’m grateful for it.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be gone,” I continue. “I’m going to see where the road takes me. Takes us. But I’ll be safe, I promise, and I’ll take care of myself just like you always told me to, and did for me. I want you to know… he’ll take care of me too. He always takes care of me. He treats me so well, so sweetly, you’d be so proud of him, I really do think so. I wish you could have met him, made friends. He’s funny, like you were, and thoughtful, and weird, and even handsome. You’d love him. You’d love him like I love him.”
And I do, I think, even if I don't say it. Not like I loved you, but I love him.
Then, as if on cue, I feel a gentle pressure against my shoulder. The warmth from it radiates through my fur and along my whole body, sending a shiver across my neck and shoulders. I sniff hard, trying to save face, but I know that when I look up I’m still a crying mess. But I also it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. He’s used to this by now.
“You about ready to go?” Anon asks gently. “Our flight is in an hour, and I know you wanted to get there with time to spare. I’m not trying to rush you though, take your time, okay? I know that this sort of thing can be… hard.”
I put a hoof to my shoulder and squeeze his hand down against me, keeping him there for just a moment. In response, he leans down and plants a soft kiss against the top of my head, right between my ears, and pulls me back against his legs in a light hug. For an instant, he draws me back into the real world, where I’m familiar with his touch, his kiss, his voice, that kind understanding smile that speaks to me more than words from anyone else. Where I can feel love radiating out from him like heat.
“I just… need a minute,” I choke out. “I just need to say goodbye.”
He nods, then looks up at the stone, and offers it a wistful smile.
“Well, tell her I said hello, okay?” he says. “And that I hope she approves.”
I can’t help a little chuckle as he releases my shoulder and heads back to the road where our carriage is waiting. I watch him go, a crooked smile poised on my lips, before I again turn back to the grave, shaking my head.
“Like I said,” I mumble wiping my eyes on the back of my hoof, “He’s funny, right?”
My tone drops to a near whisper as I lean forward and rest my head against the surface, against you, just like I used to long, long ago.
“I think you’d like him, Mom. He’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I wish you’d gotten to know him and… I still miss you. I miss you so much. And I’ll be back to visit again, okay? I mean it this time, no excused, I will be back. But I’m going to go out and live, now. For both of us. And I’ll tell you all about the things I see and do, all about the places I’ve visited when I return. I hope… wherever you are… you’re proud of me for that.”
A sweet smelling breeze flutters past me as I press my lips to the stone, then rise to my feet once more. I sweep my hoof across my mother’s name, then the dates below it, cut short three years back.
“Goodbye,” I murmur. “For now. I love you.”
Then, with all my strength that I have left, I turn and walk away from the hill, down to the road where Anon is waiting for me with open arms. I don't pause. I don't look back. When I get to him, I fall into those beckoning arms for a moment, and he just holds me in silence, letting me reconnect with the real time and place around me. Then, once the breath coming into my lungs no longer feels painful, he opens the carriage door for me, and I step inside with trembling movements.
I don’t know what will happen to us on this new adventure we’re going on together. I don’t know if we’ll face danger, sadness, heartbreak, or worse. I don’t know if I’ll lose him first, or if he’ll lose me. But I know that, right now, I have a little more life to live, and I’m going to spend it with him, wherever that life takes us. I’m not alone anymore, and I never will be again, no matter where the road ends.
With that in mind I shut my eyes as the carriage begins to sway, and my hoof finds its way into Anon’s palm. Together, we pull away from the cemetery, towards whatever mysteries the world has left to show us.