Maybe I Was Wrong

Nothing.

The distant interstate’s low rumble was always crawling through these wetlands.

Always.

But as I stood on the furthest finger of trail overlooking the sunset-drenched tidal flat, all I could hear was nothing.

A dark band of clouds rose from the ocean, cut by the rush-hour horizon of flashing taillights that eerily left no engine roar or blaring of horns. Every few moments a soft breath of air would gently rattle the reeds, and the absolute calm in between the pulses made me feel like I was someplace I’d never been before.

And kind of like I was the last man left on earth, because I hadn’t seen anyone on the way out here.

I looked over my shoulder anyway, though.

I had this feeling I wasn’t alone.

She couldn’t be here.

Too quiet.

But I said it anyway.

‘Hi Stella.’

A massive gust roared down the canyon and emptied into the lagoon, leveling the reeds in a rush to the ocean.

There she was.

And I knelt and cried. And laughed. Cried. Laughed.

As I wiped my eyes and watched the dark band of clouds begin to erupt, I stood up and yelled at the sky.

Loud.

‘Come on! Let’s go! Come on!’

And she did.

She ran through the clouds, bringing color closer and closer from the horizon.

I turned and sprinted down the trail, yelling ‘Come on!’ in between breaths.

She followed me.

But she was fast.

So I raced her, trying to outrun her oranges and reds and yellows now almost engulfing the clouds above. She caught me just as I turned up the driveway, and we walked home together.

I opened the front door to hear about a strong gust of wind that had come through while I was gone. The random burst of air had shaken the trees above the startled horses and blown old leaves from tired limbs.

We both knew that gust.

The next morning, a friend who’d been there as Stella passed away sent me this photo.

She said I’d understand.

She’d seen the same sky the night before. And felt the same thing, because the caption under her photo read ‘Thanks Stella Woodard.’

I don’t know, maybe I was wrong.

Maybe she never really left.

Dear Stella

Dear Stella,

Here’s a picture from when you left a couple of days ago.

There’s a huge space left here now. Everything about you was big: your body, your personality, your presence.

Your heart.

When we left Idaho last month, I knew you wouldn’t be coming back. But as we drove through the early morning frost, out of the valley you used to run across and over the river you used to swim in, I didn’t cry.

And I thought I’d be crying, since this would be the last time you’d be in one of our favorite places. I asked out loud why tears weren’t streaming down my face, and a voice answered right away from somewhere inside me.

Who of us ever knows which time will be the last time?

Every day, every moment must be celebrated and lived as if we may not see another.

And that’s how you lived, with so much joy and energy and heart.

Yesterday, someone who loved you said we should all live like Stella did.

The world would be a better place.

Even at the end, when your body started to fail, your spirit was so vibrant. Your head was up and your eyes were bright and alert, like they’d been every day for almost 13 years.

From the moment I held you for the first time, to the moment I held you for the last time.

You were happy.

And you went down swinging.

I knew I’d be so sad when you left, but I didn’t know I’d be this sad.

Your arrival signaled the beginning of a golden era for me, and so many of the people you knew. Their kids grew up with you. So did I, in many ways.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, like the song says.

And maybe I’m at the beginning of something new now.

But this ending is so hard for me.

I hope you’re running with Kona somewhere, across some endless, beautiful stretch of sand. Maybe we’ll all meet up again someday and you can show me around.

I miss you here, though.

I love you.

But you already know that.

I made sure of it.

Alex