They’ll be okay. They’ll find them, I’m sure of it, you repeated during each of the many conversations we had that impossibly long night so many years ago. You asked me their names, my husband and son long overdue, and told me that you and your son, too, rode motorcycles in the desert. Your voice, melodious and calm, broke the deafening silence, your words entangled with encouragement and comfort. When hope seemed hopeless, you asked about my boy and told me the coincidence — our sons the same age — and exchanged with me stories stuffed with pride and parental reward. And hours after your shift ended, when I dialed the private number you’d given me and woke you up to tell you the search and rescue team had found them, I heard the relief in your voice and realized you’d been as uncertain as I that my husband and son could survive all night in the frigid elements. I hope you’ll forgive me for waiting so long to thank you (and please don’t say it’s all in a day’s work); your empathy and compassion extended far beyond the call of duty and I know I’m likely not the only one to have benefited from your gracious humanity.
It’s ironic that I’m writing you on such a glorious cerulean-skied spring day, so opposite the brutal winter when the Southern California desert shivered as the skies unleashed freezing rain and bone-chilling winds when last we spoke. Snow flew along the mountain passes that night, on the route they would have taken had they made it out of the desert before dark, but this day, today, will lead to one of those balmy, star-gazing nights warmed by Santana winds. This morning’s paper said the desert flowers are the best in decades, and I suspect that the fiery red ocotillos group in tall clusters and the desert verbena spread in violet arcs in the same spot my guys settled on after realizing the futility of going further that night. The wildflowers must be so much more vibrant than the dusty relics adorning the reception desk in my oncologist’s office. You’d think the nurse standing beside them every time she calls a patient would notice.
Ah, I hadn’t meant to mention the oncologist, but to ask if you ever make the drive to the desert in the spring to see the colorful blooms and whether you agree that they’re particularly spectacular this year. I think I’ll suggest that Mike and I pack a picnic and go there ourselves tomorrow. Funny, though, I can’t think of the desert and not of that night, and I still hear your words of reassurance resonate over the phone line — everything will be fine, you’ll hear soon, just hang in there. I was desperate to believe there was truth in what you said and your words inspired hope. Perhaps it was the first time I’d clung to the words of a stranger.
During my last appointment my oncologist spread my chart across her desk and ignoring the etiquette of eye contact, suggested additional tests. I was so taken with the sapphire ring I’d never before seen her wearing that she couldn’t help but notice my staring and handed it to me. It had been her grandmother’s she’d said, and despite a considerable difference in their stature, fit her perfectly. The stone was a majestic blue, the deepest, darkest I’d ever seen, yet light shone through and infused it with veins and intrigue. I hadn’t realized how thin my fingers had become until I slipped it on and it spun around my forefinger like a hoola-hoop. I’m not giving up yet. We’ve got to keep fighting, she’d said.
After I’d gotten word of the rescue, I spent the endless hours it took my husband and son to make their way home by cooking spaghetti, my son’s favorite meal.
While the sauce infused the house with its garlicky perfume, I drove the freeway sleep-deprived and emotionally spent (is it true what they say about sleep-deprived driving being as dangerous as driving drunk?) to get Mike’s favorite spumoni from the gelato place near Old Town. Later, after Jack had gone to bed, my husband told me that when they’d resigned themselves to curling up together and waiting for morning, the night that you draped a blanket of comfort over my shoulders through the phone, Jack told him that he figured they’d be okay, but that I wouldn’t. What about mom, he’d said, she must be worried sick.