On June 3, 1995, my sophomore year of college was officially behind me and my apartment was mostly packed. I had said farewell to my roommate for what looked to be an excrutiatingly long summer. I was slated to move home, reclaim my bedroom from my sister once again and work the same summer job at which I had toiled away for the past two years. But promising to write (because although I had email at that point, not many others did) and hopefully visit my roommate over the summer was a different pain than the thought of separating myself from the other person with whom I now spent every waking hour.
It pains me to admit this, but I couldn't stand the idea of being away from Mitch an entire summer. I liked my carefree college world that lacked much responsibility or oversight and included vast amounts of free time I filled with last minute trips to Las Vegas, afternoon hikes up Cedar mountain, climbing trips to the Parawan Gap, blanket huts in the living room, long work-outs at the school gym, evening swims or raquetball games, trips to the health center for stitches (okay, this part was not so much fun as it was memorable - of course I was the one getting stitches, in my leg, after falling out of a tree) and the innumerable excursions to the surrounding national parks and Red Cliffs - where the sun was almost always shining and warm just 40 minutes away while Cedar's high altitude was still suffering from spring chill. I knew the magic spell would be broken as soon as I left the Spruce Apartments.
And so did Mitch.
That last Saturday, full of expectation, we took one last adventurous drive together down I-15 and took the exit to Toquerville. In my rusted top Pontiac 6000 I joked was "hoping to grow up to be a four-wheel drive" we turned off Main Street and onto the dirt road that wound up some cliffs and back to the oasis that felt as if it was all ours. I knew what was coming and I wanted it. I was not thinking about the long-term future, I was thinking about preserving the most recent past and present and this was the only way I thought it could be done.
I was also desperately afraid of ending up alone.
We went for a hike and stopped at a stream with black lava rock cliffs rising and falling on either side at uneven intervals, a red clay creekbed and a couple of patches of cottonwood trees here and there marking the winding course of the water over the dry desert. Dressed in my favorite cut-off denim shorts, nike hiking shoes and oversized tie-dye shirt, I picked my way over protruding rocks in the creek until I found one to settle on to observe the scene.
Over one of the distant bluffs dark clouds hung low, heavy with rain. I saw them without registering their intent and failed to predict how effortlessly they would soon block the bright sun I was basking in at that moment.
I too caught up in my own thoughts guessing at the words Mitch would choose.
As I sat on the rock, he waded out into the creek to examine various pebbles he retrieved from the stream. I knew it was now or never. How could he wait for a more opportune time or pictoresque locale?
He turned, took my hand and said words I will never remember that caused me to leap off my rock and shout yes as I flung myself into his arms. He didn't have the ring but handed me a rock with a faint white ring around it.
For the better part of the last year I had carried a small rock I had found on a favorite trail in my pocket. It was a salmon colored arrow-head shaped rock that I carried to remind me of a personal crisis and a promise I had made to myself. I carried that rock so I could escape to that lone trail to Crystal Spring when I needed to cleanse my mind and center myself.
Mitch knew I carried a rock but didn't know why. Apparently, I had forgotten myself. It was to remind myself of my own foundation. He was offering me a replacement and I snatched it up even as those ominous clouds moved overhead obscuring the sun and forcing us to make an early retreat to the car, racing to escape the thundershower as thick droplets fell heavy in the dust at our feet that was quickly turning to mud.