“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”
Alan Christoffersen’s diary
According to legend, once the sand of Key West is in your shoes, you cannot go back from whence you came. It is true for me. I’m alone on the beach watching the blood-red sun baptized in the Gulf of Mexico. And there is no returning to what I left behind.
The air is saturated with the smells of salt water and kelp and the sounds of breaking waves and screeching seagulls. Some part of me wonders if this might be a dream and hopes I’ll wake in bed and find that I’m still in Seattle, and McKale is gently running her fingernails up and down my back. She would whisper, “Are you awake, my love?” I would turn to her and say, “You’ll never believe what I just dreamed.”
But it’s no dream. I’ve walked the entire length of the country. And the woman I love is never coming back.
The water before me is as blue as windshield wiper fluid. I feel the twilight breeze against my unshaven, sunburned face, and I close my eyes. I’ve come a long way to get here—nearly 3,500 miles. But, in ways, I’ve come much further. Journeys cannot always be measured in physical distance.
I slide the backpack off my shoulders and sit down on the sand to untie my shoes and pull off my socks. My threadbare, once white, now-gray cotton socks stick to my feet as I peel them off. Then I step forward on the wet, shell-studded sand and wait for the receding water to return and cover my feet. I’ve had hundreds of hours to think about this moment, and I let it all roll over me: the wind, the water, the past and present, the world I left behind, the people and towns along the way. It’s hard to believe I’m finally here.
After a few minutes, I go back and sit cross-legged in the sand next to my pack and do what I always do at the pivotal moments of my life: I take out a pen, open my diary, and begin to write.
My writing habit began long ago—long before this diary, long before my walk. The Christmas I was eight years old, my mother gave me my first diary. It was a small, yellow vinyl book debossed with deep flourishes. My favorite feature was its brass key and lock. It made me feel important to have something in my life of such consequence that I needed to lock it up from the world. That Christmas night was the first time in my life that I wrote in a diary. I figured with the lock and all, only I would be reading it, so I wrote the entry to myself, a habit I would continue the rest of my life.
Today is Christmas. I got a Rock’em Sockem Robots, a set of walky-talkys and red sweetish fish that I already ate. Mom gave me this diary with a lock and key and told me I should write every day. I asked her to write on my first page.
My Dear Son,
Thank you for letting me write in your special book. And Merry Christmas! It is a very special Christmas.
You will someday understand this. Every so often read these words and remember how much I love you and always will.
Mom says it doesn’t matter what I write and if I wait to write just the importent things then I’ll probly never write anything, because importent things just look like everything else except when you look back on them. The thing is to write what yor thinking and feelling. Mom looked better today. I think she’ll be better soon.
I’ve touched that writing so often that it’s barely legible. My mother’s entry was one of those events she spoke of, the kind that look like nothing except through time’s rearview mirror. My mother died from breast cancer forty-nine days later—on Valentine’s Day.
It was early in the morning, before I usually got up for school, that my father led me into the room to see her. On the nightstand next to her bed there was a single yellow rose in a bud vase and my homemade Valentine’s card, with a drawing of a heart with an arrow through it. Her body was there, but she wasn’t. She would have smiled and called to me. She would have praised my drawing. I knew she wasn’t there.
In my father’s typical stoic manner, we never spoke about her death. We never talked about feelings nor the things that gave rise to them. That morning he made me breakfast, then we sat at the table, listening to the silence. The people from the mortuary came and went, and my father managed everything with the steadiness of a business transaction. I’m not saying he didn’t care. He just didn’t know how to show his feelings. That was my father. I never once kissed him. That’s just the way he was.
The reason we start things is rarely the reason we continue them.
Alan Christoffersen’s Road Diary
I started writing in my diary because my mother told me to. After her death, I continued because to stop would be to break a chain that connected me to her. Then, gradually, even that changed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason I wrote was always changing. As I grew older, I wrote as proof of my existence. I write, there-
fore I am.
I am. In each of us, there is something that, for better or worse, wants the world to know we existed. This is my story—my witness of myself and the greatest journey of my life. It began when I least expected it. At a time when I thought nothing could possibly go wrong.
© 2010 RICHAR RD PAUL EVANS