Do you remember that night in West Virginia, when we were driving in your F150 with the broken windshield and you told me you wanted to hike to the top of Pawley’s Ridge?
I said it was getting dark and we’d never make it, the Appalachian tangled forests grow black before the sun sets, vines and hobblebush wrap around feet. Your grandma once told me there are skinwalkers here.
You laughed and flashed me that smile, the cunning one I knew not to trust, and I told you your mouth reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I had never seen so I didn’t know that it was orange, not gold like the tooth you had driven to Dayton to get. But there was always something about that smile, it made me feel like I was standing on land but if I could just get beyond it I would find an ocean; I would be cast into the rolling waves of the sea.
“It’s Pawley’s Ridge!” You said putting your hands on either side of my face and pushing your forehead into mine. “And you’ve never been! It’s named after my uncle, you can’t say no!”
So we parked in the gravel with the wheels hanging over the ditch and made our way up the mountain until it was so dark we could barely see. You insisted there was an old still that Pawley himself had left up there and we could get to it in just twenty minutes so we felt our way up through the scramble until we couldn’t make out our own hands. “Maybe there’s still some ‘shine in it,” you said, laughing. Golden Gate Bridge.
We never made it to the top. We gave up when our legs were so torn that I could feel blood trickling down my shins and we inched our way back down the ridge, our feet falling in pits under the moss and decay, coming out on a gravel road that wasn’t anywhere near where we had left the truck. Everything there is just hills and hollers, so you always know you can just head down, and we walked like that for an hour, hearing the creaks and crackles of the forest and if you were scared I never knew it.
Once we found the truck we discovered we had parked it under foxfire so we laid in the back and watched it twinkle, like the stars had fallen out of the sky and been caught in the deadwood, suspended just out of our reach, and that’s where we were when you told me you were dying.