The Overhang

Her goal was to reach the two-mile mark. There, she would get the best view on the entire trail: a steep cliff standing high and firm over the Missouri river. You could see the empty fields on the other side, already harvested for the season, but beautiful in their vastness. From river to horizon, all you could see from that spot two miles into the five mile hiking trail was a gently flowing river, a thick line of colorful fall trees in deep shades of violet, red, orange, and yellow, and acres and acres of golden, Midwestern farmland.

She was still at the beginning. The trail began flat with few inclines, but the surface was bumpy and uneven–not ideal for running, but walking took too much time. She had only an hour before she was due back to the office. Back to a desk and phone calls, a computer screen and a chair that always wanted to swivel to the left. Back to thinking about money and stress and how there would be no one waiting for her when she got home. So she ran as fast as her New Balance sneakers could handle the terrain.

After half a mile, she was into a densely wooded area, surrounded by trees that were dropping leaves and leaving their mess all over the trail. It was a colorful path to follow, and she couldn’t help but think of Dorothy skipping along the Yellow Brick Road. Another typical Midwest young woman looking for an escape. Where chores and bills were replaced with sparkling red heels and dreams come true. She picked up the pace.

At the first mile marker, she stopped to stretch. She hadn’t passed a single person in the nine minutes she had been on the trail, which was unusual, but she was glad. Her solitude and the leaf-covered trail made it seem as if she had taken off running into a forest. Uncharted. Unknown. Uninhibited.

She started running again. She loved the noises along the trail. The cush-cush, cush-cush of the damp leaves beneath her feet, the birds flying and calling to each other in migrating flocks above her, and the occasional scurrying of small animals in the underbrush beside her. Tree trunks went by in a blur. She pushed herself up the now steady incline of the trail, sometimes using her hands against the cool, wet ground when the trail was especially steep. Her calves and thighs were burning, but her lungs felt good. There was a strong wind blowing, but it was mostly blocked by the trees, reaching her only now and then and causing her to pump her arms harder against the force.

Finally, just on the other side of the sharp bend ahead, she could see the thick grey rock that meant she had reached the two-mile mark. She stopped. She climbed onto the rocky cliff and walked slowly toward the small opening in the trees. As she neared the edge, she could first see the fields that stretched out in the distance, followed by the trees, and finally, the dark, murky water of the river below her. When she looked far to the left, she could see the highway: the one connection back to the world as she knew it. But to the right, the river flowed freely, undisturbed.

The wind was strongest here. So strong and harsh that it wanted to keep her back, and she had to fight to stay close to the edge. She looked down and saw rocks and trees going all the way down to the ground far below. Carefully, she stepped closer to the overhang, the place where rock turned abruptly into air. She lined her sneakers up to the edge. She opened her arms straight and wide at her sides and closed her eyes. She felt the wind against her chest. Strong. She leaned forward an inch, two inches, three, four, five. At six inches forward, her head was well past the overhang, and she stayed there, leaning against the wind, trusting this force of nature more than she had ever trusted herself.

She pushed all of her weight down into her toes, and she stumbled backward onto the rock. She took quick, deep breaths, trying to steady her heart rate. Coming down. She laughed out loud. For those ten seconds out there on the overhang, she had no need to run. She flew.

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Photo Credit: Trimble Outdoors


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Making Progress

He looked up the driveway at the path he had cleared. Black asphalt peeked through the smearing of white snow that he had spread thinly across approximately a third of the length of the drive, the portion nearest their two-car garage. He twisted at the hips and looked toward the street at the five-to-six inches of freshly fallen snow that still blanketed the rest of the driveway. From where he stood, one couldn’t tell the where the asphalt ended and the grass in the yard began. The snow had created an even playing field of everything it touched. But he was making progress. He slipped the broad edge of the snow shovel down through the snow until he felt the heavy clunk of metal meeting a hard surface. The force of his weight bearing against the shovel let him slide the snow across the drive into a neat pile at one edge of the driveway, and then he turned and repeated the process again, pushing the snow that remained to the opposite side.

The snow had fallen late in the night. In the dark, quiet hours of a new day–that silent passing of one day to the next, near midnight–he hadn’t even noticed the snow falling. His wife hadn’t noticed it either. She was locked behind their bedroom door, refusing to let him in.

“Honey, I’m sorry. What can I do to fix it?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” She was still sobbing, and her words came out in awkward, fragmented pieces.

Ten years ago, at the beginning of their marriage, he would have taken her word for it and left her alone. He knew better now. “I’m not walking away from this door until I figure out what I can do to fix this, Annie.” He heard the bedsprings creak. Footsteps. A small click of the doorknob unlocking, turning. The door opened, and he was face to face with his wife again, her mascara smudged beneath puffy blue eyes, her hair matted on one side.

“I’m just tired, Evan.” He fought his instinct to suggest she wash her face and go to sleep. He knew she would feel better in the morning. But sooner or later, he would be in this place again: locked out of his own bedroom, understanding neither what he had done wrong nor a solution to the problem. Lately, this seemed to happen sooner rather than later. He snapped.

“I’m tired too! I’m tired of trying to make you feel better, only to have it blow up in my face again a day or two later. I’m tired of sleeping on the couch and not in my own damn bed.”

He stared at her blankly. She stared back, angry.

“I’m sorry my feelings are such a burden to you. My happiness. I do everything you ask me to, Evan. Everything. Take care of the girls morning, noon, and night. Homework, laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping, paying bills, scrubbing the damn toilets,” she paused. “Have you ever in the time we’ve lived together scrubbed a single toilet?”

He looked up at the ceiling, racking through the memory section of his brain. He couldn’t recall a time at that moment, although he was sure that he had cleaned their toilets before. He figured it best not to answer.

“See, that’s what I mean. You’re gone at work all day, and even when you’re home, you’re not here. You’re preoccupied with your phone or the TV or the goddamn dogs before the girls or I get anything from you. You might as well just leave us and send a paycheck every other week, if that’s all you feel you need to contribute to this family, Evan.”

“So you just want me for my money? Is that what you’re saying? That’s all you want from me?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed icily into his. He looked away. He knew what she had meant. He couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. He was angry with himself for letting all of the stress of everyday life pile up around him, one tiny snowflake at a time, until it buried him. It had piled so high his wife could no longer see where he stood in his own home. He had to dig his way out.

“I get it,” he said. “I see the problem. I can fix it. Just let me fix it.”

“I don’t know if you can,” she said and shut the bedroom door.

He had slept, tossing from one side to the other on their leather sofa. When he woke early in the morning, the sun was just peeking above the tree line, and it glistened brightly off of the crisp white snow. He stood and walked cautiously to their bedroom. The door was unlocked. He peered into the dark room with the curtains drawn, and saw the silhouette of his wife sprawled across the middle of their bed. He moved quietly to the closet, pulled on his Carhartt coveralls and boots, and went to the garage to find the snow shovel. He pulled on a pair of work gloves and began clearing the driveway.

When the driveway was nearly cleared, his wife appeared at the open garage door. She was in her pajamas and house slippers, and she walked out into the cold morning air toward her husband. He walked toward her and met her halfway down the drive. He kissed her. She kissed him back.

“I’m sorry for what I said. You know I love you, right?” she asked.

“Always,” he said. “I’m almost done here, and then I’ll come inside and make you some breakfast.”

“I’ve already got a breakfast casserole in the oven. There’s fresh coffee ready too.”

“Thank you, babe,” he said.

She looked around the driveway. At the piles of snow on either side and the clear place in the middle. “You’ve made some progress.”

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Who Needs a Puppy When You Have a Young Lover?

“Too much,” I said, stated as simply as if he had put a dash more sugar than I prefer in my coffee. He cocked his head back and slightly to the right. Like a damn cocker spaniel.

“I thought you liked that?” he asked, now looking genuinely hurt.

“I do. I do,” I lied. “I just burnt my tongue earlier today, and having your tongue sliding up and down my numbed taste-buds isn’t doing it for me.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. Hurt. Timid. Like a puppy who’d been scolded. I might as well have been holding a rolled newspaper threateningly above his head.

Cautiously, Jeremy leaned in again with his lips pressed together, eyes closed. I kissed him, but I tried to imagine he was someone else. Jeremy was gorgeous–physically fit with dark hair, beautifully dark brown eyes, and the creamy light brown skin of a young Latino man–but he was painful when it came to intimacy. I thought dating a younger guy would be exciting and fulfilling. The only rush I had gotten so far was the blood pounding in my head from the migraine that comes on every time I have to explain my sexual desires in a way that won’t hurt his sensitive side. I’m starting to sense that “sensitive” may be the only side that he has. Any kind of feedback seems to blow this guy’s ego to pieces. And then I feel the need to put it back together.

For a second, I forgot we were still kissing. Dry, tight-lipped kissing. God, this was bad. Wasn’t I supposed to get some sort of thrill from teaching a twenty-one year old how to fulfill my sexual needs? Don’t older men and women alike fantasize about the opportunity to give their experience to a younger, eager-to-please lover? So far, I felt more annoyed than empowered.

His hands moved from his side to my waist. He rested one hand lightly on each hip. Then he moved one hand up my side, and it tickled. I giggled. I felt his lips pull up into a smile. Okay, that’s sexy. He has a really good smile: full lips, straight white teeth, and a dimple on the left side. It was the first thing I noticed when I bumped into him–literally–at Antonio’s Bar & Grill last week. I had apologized. He had smiled and said, “It’s cool,” and I flirted my way into getting his phone number. Two dates and eight days later, we stood kissing in my living room.

His hand moved from my ribs to my breast, hovering above it like a space ship. When he finally landed it, he grabbed and pulled at my breast like it was a water balloon that he wanted to burst.

“Okay, seriously. I can’t do this,” I said. “I’m just not feeling it, Jeremy. I’m sorry.”

He stepped back a couple of feet. Confused. Embarrassed. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, it’s not you.”

“Then what is it?” Big, sad brown eyes glistened back at me. Oh shit, was he going to cry?

“Well, actually…” I had every intention of breaking up with him. He put his head down and stared at my feet like a puppy expecting a smack on the head. “Actually, I just wanted to go get some ice cream or something. Cool things off, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to rush this.”

He perked up. If he had a tail, I swear, it would have wagged. “Oh, sure. That’s cool with me,” he said. “I respect that.”

Respect. Jeremy earned a third date.