Night lingers. I carry my feet up the trail covered in a thin layer of fog. Trees glow an ethereal green in the dull bright of twilight. I’m alone. Not even rabbits or squirrels are here for company. They sleep in their burrows, their dens, their homes.
An old wooden bridge sways halfway up the incline. Many officials have considered removing it. Although it serves as a hotspot for tourists and photographers. It has a deadly draw to the forlorn. It’s old lumber hangs high above a rapid current, crashing into fallen stones jagged and massive. A river that leads into several waterfalls, destroying everything in its wake. It’s rumored though that no sunrise is as beautiful as when standing on this bridge. When the sun rises, the park is spilled onto by gold, splashed with pinks and purples. The sun itself rising between two cliffs facing one another in perfect parallel like sphinxes. I’ve never seen the sunrise. Only the sunset.
Always the setting sun in my life. It’s as if I never get a chance to wake up or go to bed. I’m constantly faced with night and all of its baggage. The shame. The humiliation. My failures. I don’t know how I breathe anymore. How I can swing my legs over the side of my bed and pretend like today might be any different. I had dreams, I know I did, but now I can’t even remember what they were. They’ve been drowned out by all the dark. All these nights. As memories of my youth sink into the silence. Things from times better left forgotten, slipping their fingers across my skin in constant oppression.
I left a note in my car.
“Good morning!” A chipper voice alarms me.
I slap a hand over my chest, shuttering. A woman dressed in a blue tracksuit a few decades out of fashion, stops her jogging and keeps pace with me. Her face is all smiles, even in her hazel eyes. She has her hair in a high ponytail, pulled back tightly. One of those high-energy types that like long jogs before going to work at their six figure jobs. She’ll post a picture on her instagram afterwards with a coffee in one hand and motivational quote in the other.
“Good morning,” I mutter, picking up my pace.
“Here to see the sunrise?” She smiles, wiping sweat from her brow.
For a second, she looked entirely drenched. I can’t imagine how long she’s been out, jogging and wasting her time for the sake of body image.
“It’s one of my favorite spots in the world. I’ve been to a lot of state parks but there’s nothing quite like that sunrise when you’re on the bridge.”
She doesn’t take the hint. She hums a tune, walking beside me. Ruining everything. My chest tenses. Palms collecting sweat. What will I do if she follows me to the bridge?
“Ever see the sunrise on the bridge before?” she asks.
“You’re in for a treat,” she beams, stretching her arms over her head. “I love things for the first time, you know? Reminds me of all the other things I haven’t experienced yet. All the things I can experience.”
I glance at her. Shooting her a momentary glare. What does she want? Why is she being so kind to me? I’ve had plenty of strangers offer me kindness in the past and have learned quickly that nice comes with a price.
“Ever notice the gladiolus and peonies on the sides of the trail?” She points to the left.
I follow her finger. No … I’ve never noticed. The long stemmed flowers are so brightly colored in pastels, while others look a bit like fat roses. The morning dew captures the limited light of a dying night. It’s like their petals are spotted with diamonds.
“Wow … they’re beautiful,” I whisper.
“So many things in life are,” her voice fades.
I turn around, hearing her from behind me. She’s gone. Eaten by the fog. I assumed she made a turn on one of the side trails that lead to harder terrains for experienced hikers. I shrug my shoulders, marching on.
It’s strange. I’ve walked this trail hundreds of times. But since she’s pointed out those flowers I’ve noticed there’s so much I’ve neglected to see. Like the wobbly shelf mushrooms growing on the side of trees. Or how some trees bloom small white and pink flowers. Some of the rocks stuck in the path are quartz, I think maybe topaz, really beautiful stones. It’s as if I’ve never walked this trail before in my life.
Yet I recognize that bridge ahead. Sunrise waiting.
My heart sinks to my gut. I step onto the wood. It creaks and moans in my steps. I make it to the center, finding that the state has made no changes to the railing. It would’ve lost them all the tourists to ruin such a beautiful scene. I step onto the railing. My body vibrates. Blood shivering as my hands go numb. My breathing is shallow, heart like a hummingbird. I look down.
The river is washed with warm oranges and yellows. As if someone had dumped treasure into the waves. I take a deep breath, arms spread open. I stare between the two cliffs. Meeting the sun. It stares back at me. Hitting me. I plant my feet onto the bridge.
The sun finally rises for me.