looking down at a mountain stream among the trees

When I ran away from you, I ate hard-boiled eggs and cold sausages painted in generic yellow mustard every day for six months.

The week before I left, you gave me a blue bandana for luck and I tied it around my neck and poured my sweat into the paisley for the duration. I told myself it would keep me safe, it wasn’t a noose, I was 23.

I camped across 13,000 miles of the country, covered in dust and egg shells and the long black strands of your hair that infiltrated their way into my car. I bathed in the Connecticut River, while a fat man, red from summer sun, audaciously testing the will of his chartreuse Speedo, scratched his navel on a distant balcony and watched me scrape away three weeks of alcohol and mountain grist.

When I left I had $3200 and a tent and a cooler and a knife I attached to my belt like a Paladin, and told myself if I stabbed a grizzly in the eye it wouldn’t kill me; I told myself I could die if I let the wheel slide two inches, or if I did enough coke, I could explode on a redwood, and I would be ok with that. I told myself I couldn’t get enough hard-boiled eggs and cold sausages. I really couldn’t. I vanished out and into a secret fold and lived where luxury was enough firewood to keep me warm that night. Where the man whose nipples labored under the heft of the brass rings he impaled them with, traded some coffee for toilet paper in South Dakota. He was biking across the country. I forget his name.

Every eight days I would infect a local supermarket. My smell announced my presence. I would buy ice and eggs and sausages and coffee. I would buy plastic gallons of whiskey. I would talk out loud to myself, because no one talked to me. I wrote you letters with crushed flowers inside. I learned things about my family that made me want to kill them. I watched my great-uncle with a titanium knee break down and apologize to me for his failures. Every morning I would percolate the coffee and breathe in the mist. I learned to respect the cold. I saw bison and the happiest man in the world and a dog running and screaming down the middle of the interstate. I couldn’t stop for him. I saw The Devil’s Tower and I blended in with Nazi bikers who thought Wyoming had too many immigrants.

Sometimes I think I died on the side of that mountain road in Zion. That the Mormons spatula-ed my frozen skin off the asphalt and stored me with the rest of the Yankees who ran away. Most days I miss it, the wheezing uncertainty, the justified alcoholism, the noises after dark. But I’m back in the world now. The bandana is wrinkled in my closet and you called me in the middle of the night to see if I would pick up, and to tell me you’re moving to Florence for a couple of months, and I want to tell you to be safe and visit me and that you ruined my life and it’s mostly my fault and I should have died by now but somehow I haven’t and sometimes I wonder how much of you I just made up.