Dear Alma, #1: One day left to live

Dear Alma,

Last night, I took a walk under the evening sky as it showed a color that seemed to drink me in, an aquamarine like crystal mined from some planet of the outer solar system, a true mystery of a color. I thought it was the color of life, not only green as I sometimes picture it, but also blue for the air that holds us all within itself.

A single contrail arced, its rocket nowhere in sight.

I thought about what I would do if I had a year left to live, then six months, then a month, resetting at each step: suddenly, I had just this much time left, what would I do with it? Progressively I let go of things I wanted to accomplish. First, working full-time fell away. At six months, I stopped working at all and dropped plans for any trips across oceans. With one month left, I wouldn’t leave Oregon.

When I reached a single day left, I finally felt the depth of it, and I wanted to cry. What would I do with those hours?

I had a vision of the three of us, your mother and you and me, walking down by the river near the amusement park you love so much. We would spend the day riding rides with the bright sun in our eyes, our skin turning red under it as we went around again and again on the teacup ride, the twirling boat, the hot air balloons, the black spider: so many rides I’d grown up with over the years, in different parks and different states, that you made new with your laughter and love of the ones just down the street from our house.

At some point we would picnic on the benches and watch the shining river move past us, destined for the northern point at which it converges with the Columbia, into whose waters I once fed the ashes of my father, a great man you never met, but rest assured I am another of his faces, just as you are, and we root and dip like that back through eons of rivers and ashes, to the source of all life.

When the sun is setting on my last day on earth, we might get in a final walk on the stony trail by the river that we hike occasionally, throwing rocks into the surf tossed by speedboats, around to the Springwater Corridor that has nurtured me with the sight and smell of so many trees, back to our bicycles. We would have ridden bicycles because they are your three-year-old-self’s favorite transportation and mine, with you riding in the seat on the back of my bike and your mother riding hers, up the corridor and back home.

There, we would eat a nice dinner, perhaps take-out. A fine Indian meal, let’s say, though it could be anything (I have learned that the pleasures of food pass quickly, in planetary time), and afterward we might play firefighters or have a dance party, followed by us getting into our bed in the bedroom we all share, where I would read you every book you ever wanted to hear, until we all fell asleep exhausted.

An alarm would wake me up sometime around ten p.m., and I would nudge your mother awake. We would sneak downstairs into the basement and stretch our legs out for a while, giving each other the biggest hugs anyone has ever given, with a few tears I’m sure, as we recalled the years we spent together by the grace of God. That’s the only way I can put it; see mom for the full story.

And then this body would change into something else, and all the little parts that were it would thread their way back through reality in different forms, as of course they were already doing, becoming heat that rises into sunsets and carbon sucked from my last breath into tree bark. And afterward, whenever you walked on my favorite path in the woods down by the river, you might feel my warmth coming down from the sun. You might see my face in an old oak, smiling at you always.

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