The small three-bedroom ranch house sits on just half an acre of land, but that’s okay because my backyard is the White Mountain National Forest. Almost all of the down payment came from wedding gifts. If the wind is blowing from the east you can smell the paper mill way over in Rumford, Maine, but most of the time it’s pine, dirt, and leaves, and whatever else is blended in there that makes the woods smell like they do. I love that smell. I inhale it deeply as I watch my hiking boots make tracks through the fallen leaves.
I always look down; it’s a ritual. It adds an air of anticipation to my late night sojourn, one I started when I heard from Ben for the first time since his unit left. He was in Italy for eighteen hours, and had managed to get some phone time.
Lisa baby did you see the moon?
I can’t see the moon from here Ben, it’s too early.
It’s full- the view of it from the plane was amazing. Go see it Li, write a poem about it and send it to me.
He probably didn’t mean it that way but to me, it was suddenly an imperative. A sight of that moon would be a shared experience- a way for us to be connected despite being thousands of miles apart. I went outside and scanned the sky but couldn’t see the moon, only a glow of light through the treetops. I ran through the woods to a clearing, which was illuminated by an ethereal glow and looked up to see what Benny saw. The word “ethereal” was in the poem I sent the next day along with a six-page letter.
The moment had been magical to me, so each night from then on I went to the clearing to see the moon, not looking skyward until I reached it. I told Ben about it when he called me a few days later from Kuwait.
I like to imagine we are looking at it at the same time Benny. Then it’s almost like we’re together.
My sentimental girl. I'd rather imagine I'm looking at you.
I can't believe this is happening.
We can do this, it'll be ok. I promise.
I've memorized each root and stone along this path through the woods, and I've come to think of them as little road signs. When I see the big-pointy-jutting-up elm root I know I'm about halfway there. I don't think Ben ever came out here; we only had the house two months before they called up his Guard unit. When we weren't both working we spent most of the time inside, doing much needed renovations on the house. We made one bedroom an office.
You’re gonna be a famous writer someday Lisa, a real… what do they call it? A poet lariat?
Give me a break Benny, a lariat? That's a rope you geek!
A rope huh? How about I hog-tie you to the bed with it then?
He wanted to turn the third bedroom into a nursery, even though despite making like bunnies most of the time we had no baby on the way.
A tingling spreads through my insides at the thought of sex, and my legs decide to stop on their own volition. The woods are silent, except for my breathing that condenses into small clouds before my face. It’s a Frost poem without the snow, I think to myself. Hot tears sting my cold cheeks, and I get my legs to move forward again. The clearing isn't much farther ahead.
Hey, if I don't call for a while don't get worried ok?
I might not have access to a phone, that's all.
Did you get in trouble or something?
Nah, you know me, top of my class, straight as an arrow. I'm so good I get extra work.
That was five weeks ago. Thirty-six days, eight hours, and twenty minutes of waiting; looking at the silly note he wrote on the wipe board that I have yet to erase, feeding the goldfish he's had since before he even knew me, laying next to an empty space on the bed, brushing the cool sheets and wonder if they'll ever be warmed by his body again. Thirty-six days until my door bell rang, and I thanked the nice young men for letting me know my wait was over.
The comforting arms of awaiting friends and relatives felt empty. They meant well, but I needed to be alone. All I wanted was Ben, and there was only one place now where I could feel close to him. They'll understand.
My destination lies just ahead of me. I can tell, even with no light. I didn’t lift my head at the clearing the way I’d done every night for the previous year because it didn’t matter any longer if the moon was full or half or had fallen forever from the sky.