In the afternoon, I run the canyon. I hurdle over the back fence of my rented adobe under the vigilant eyes of the dogs, who seem suspicious of my freedom. I walk five steps and then start running, just like I do when I am with her.
I jog, pigeon-toed and on the balls of my feet. I focus my gaze on the copper sand of the road. Today, I see her prints. Women’s Montrail Bajada. Size 6. Toes pointed straight ahead.
Two years ago we ran together in the Rocky Mountains. We were training for a marathon on Father’s Day. In the half-lit winter forest, we chattered our way through miles of rocky trail.
In April, she went to North Carolina to run a relay race with friends. I stayed behind and trudged out a 16 mile run. It was a Saturday. We texted back and forth: It was her first relay race, and she really liked it. I ran into a big group of female elk. She was in a van with her team.
I finished my run around the same time they did. Later that day, her friend posted pictures of her on Facebook. Her hair was in pigtails.
That same afternoon, her husband died in an avalanche, and my mom called to tell me my dad had terminal cancer.
For reasons that are blurry and foggy and unexplainable, I was the first one that could get ahold of her.
I told her that he died.
Five weeks later, my dad died too.
After that, we ran together. She wore her Montrails. Sometimes we cried. Sometimes we pounded our ankles onto the ground. We used running to try to get ahead of our emotions, and we knew it. Some days it worked, and some days it didn’t. A part of me believed that if I could control running, I would also be able to control cancer and avalanches and Social Security Disability.
We’ve both moved to temporary places. She is in Santa Cruz. I am in Moab. Most of our possessions are in storage units near the Rocky Mountains. We text back and forth.
The footprints aren’t really hers, but they connect me to her. They reassure me in ways that she can’t say and I can’t ask that we are learning to incorporate the wounds.
She’d enjoy the way the sand on the rim feels like marshmallows. She’d be wearing shorts and tease me for wearing tights and long-sleeves. Like me, she would be enchanted with the way the afternoon light makes the colors of the sage and juniper pop against the sandstone walls and endless blue sky.