Some days just seem like days. But they’re not. They are birthdays and wedding days and anniversaries and death days. And anniversaries of those. These days happen all over the world, in all time zones, all the time.
Today, in my little world, Walt turned three. His father brought him up to cow camp to join us for lunch, then they would go fishing in Groundhog reservoir. We sat in camp chairs beside a large rock that serves sometimes as a table, watching cattle circle a pasture new to them, checking the parameters of their new world. Walt’s father made him a sandwich. After a few minutes we noticed that Walt was happily munching on bread alone. “What’s this?” his father said, picking cheese and ham up off the grass. “For the cows,” Walt said. He’s three. Today.
Today in my small world, inside one of the minutes when Ken, Tyler, and I were hauling cows up to cow camp, which took several hours, Robin died. A text came through later as I sat in my truck in the midst of thunder and distant lightning and rain sprinkles, watching the new cows continue to mill as I contemplated saddling up and checking cattle in a pasture a couple of miles away.
Robin had cancer. She’d been fighting it and living with it and in remission and it returned while her partner, my cousin Nancy, got cancer and fought it and lived with it and did not remiss but died. For the last four years of their many years together, they both had cancer and chemo and radiation and pain and sickness and love.
In my little world, I was writing a book while they had cancer. Nancy was one of my invaluable readers. She read several drafts. She didn’t line edit; she gave me feedback in a big way—what worked and what didn’t and why—and I would change things in a big way. She helped give the book a course I could not find alone.
In December, Nancy was very sick in California when the galley copies arrived in Colorado. Of the four copies I received, I wanted to send her one, because suddenly it appeared that she might not make it until the May publication date. At the post office I debated over the $48 to overnight it or going priority for $7.95. In her copy I hand-wrote the dedication that would be in the published book. It was to her.
Her son told my mother that she wanted Desert Chrome close, on her nightstand, and that he was reading it to her in her last hours, he and Robin and her sister Mary in the last circle of her world.
That $48 was the best money I’ve ever spent.
In May I sent Robin, Jason, and Mary copies of the published book, the dedication to Nancy there in print.
In June Robin sent me a card. My sister was visiting. I showed her the card. In it Robin mentioned that she found the “calming truth” of page 265 especially poignant. Peg turned to the page. Read it aloud. A description of mustangs, of Raven and Kootenai, “Raven’s lifetime friend.
“The next year, Kootenai disappears. She is just . . . gone. A memory floating above the trees.”
In July, Nancy would have turned eighty. I was doing an in-person event on her birthday night and had the intention of dedicating the evening to her, but in the excitement and last-minute mayhem of in-the-flesh people and a stage and chairs and a microphone with loud feedback, I forgot. Because I hadn’t written it down. It was in my mind only. In my heart. Not in words. Except in the book. For Nancy.
Two days later, Walt turned three, and Robin died. I sat in my truck with the news as tears fell from the sky and the cows milled and finally they bedded down in green grass surrounded by quaking aspens and snowberry bushes and I drove slowly on slick roads down to the ranch where the roads were dry and the sun shown and together Robin and Nancy floated above the trees.