“Is it hard?” I asked my childhood friend. I couldn’t remember his name—the name of the baby she’d lost. I hadn’t been close to her in years. Her arrival at the wilderness guard station where I worked as a river ranger for the Forest Service had been a surprise, but the salmon were running. Her husband had wanted to fish, and fishermen had been my only companions for a week.
The last time I had seen her was the year before in the grocery store. She had hugged me then, her body thin and hard. My eyes connected with her husband’s. Startled. For the first time, she wasn’t beautiful.
Now, we sat at the picnic table outside of my A-frame. I held her newborn daughter.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” she said. “From the side, she looks just like him. The other day, I laid on the floor of her nursery and cried.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
Her eyes shined, “The nurses did compressions on him for so long that they left a divot in his chest. They were crying. They said, ‘Don’t die baby,’ but he was already dead.”
I looked down. I stroked her baby’s soft head, “Your daughter is beautiful.”
She spoke again. “I keep thinking that one day I’ll wake up and have forgiven myself.”
I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know all that had happened during those years when she had struggled with addiction, when she had been thin and hard, when her baby had died, when I, too, had been hard, when I had lived across the country with a violent man and a son who could hear my screams from the other room.
When my friend and I were girls, we slept in her bed surrounded by stuffed animals. She spooned me. Held my hand.
At that picnic table, I saw her as the girl she had been.
What did she see in me? I wondered.
After she left, I sat by myself. Night arrived slowly, the darkness unmarred by electricity. A single light flickered across the river, a golden glow from the only other cabin nearby. I pretended that the light was for us, my friend and me. I pretended that it spoke from the darkness.
I pretended that it said, “You are not alone.”
I pretended that it said, “You are forgiven.”