Welcome to "Colorful Colorado"
Fireflies, millions of fireflies lighting up the sky. That was my first impression of the starry nights I witnessed in Colorado. I had arrived in the mountainous state five days previous, I had been in the Aspen area for two days and this was my first trip out after sundown to see the magic.
I was staying at Anderson Ranch for the week. The Ranch is an arts center in Snowmass Village, CO where Gustavo had been completing his internship. He had one last week of work before we would begin heading further west to Washington State. As planned I arrived on a sunny Saturday morning to play in a volleyball tournament, meet his friends, and finally see what life in Colorado had been all about.
I have to be honest, my first impression was one of disappointment. Of course, the views and scenery were extraordinary, the people were kind, welcoming and interesting, but I found myself feeling nostalgic. I missed the time before Gustavo left for his internship when everything was familiar and I felt in control. Out here, thousands of miles from Clinton, Massachusetts I felt like I was spiraling, flying at top speed down a funnel away from everything that I had identified as making me, well…me.
I think part of it was petty jealousy. Gustavo and I had been together for a long time, and then this summer we had been apart for 14 weeks, 98 days to be exact. Of course in the grand scheme of things that amount of time is irrelevant. For us, however, it dragged and a long-distance relationship was hard, nearly impossible it seemed. We had our ups and downs during that time and I’d like to say I handled the separation gracefully, but I did not.
In my 21 years of life at the time I had never been a huge fan of change and suddenly my whole world was shifting, I felt like I was swaying sideways constantly trying to right myself. My best friend was gone, my two grandmother’s had recently passed, I was a college graduate with no plans for a job, and a whole life spread before me that felt too vast. I should have been excited, instead, I was utterly terrified. I felt like I didn’t recognize myself at all. There were days where I would wake up, take a shower and cry silently as the hot water washed the evidence of my tears down the drain. I felt embarrassed to feel so alone, so discombobulated, this was not me I kept telling myself, but it was, I was untethered.
Fast forward a few months and I was definitely in a better place. I felt more confident and ready to face whatever was coming during the next two months. But then here I was at the Ranch surrounded by young artists, learning from one another and deepening their crafts and I was right back at square one, doubtful and insecure. I watched Gustavo thrive in that environment and I felt left behind. Here was a part of his life that I wasn’t in. It made me so sad that I would never be apart of it, and then angry for feeling that way in the first place because it was a selfish thought to think. So what did I do? I put on a brave face and smiled in all of the right places, then once alone with Gustavo I become distant. I didn’t feel ready to discuss with him how I felt. I wasn’t even sure I could properly explain it. So I kept my mouth firmly shut, and simply shrugged when he inquired what was wrong.
One night we were in the apartment he shared with his three other roommates. They were all still up at the Ranch. Gustavo had just finished showering and I was out on the porch reading. He came outside towel drying his hair, red flannel on, boots laced up.
“Come on Tav, there’s somewhere I want to take you.”
I didn’t really feel like going out. I wanted to sulk and lose myself in my book. So I said,
“I don’t really feel like it, maybe tomorrow.”
“Nope, we’re going. I’ve had this planned for a while. Be in the car in five minutes or I’ll leave without you.” He grabbed the keys off the counter as he wandered back to his room. Naturally, I could have let him go without me, but this story would have a whole different ending. Besides, I was more than a little curious as to where he was taking me and what he had planned.
Three and a half minutes later I was in the car ready to go.
“This better be worth it,” I muttered
“Oh, don’t worry I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
It had been dark for a little over an hour as we made our way towards the mountains. Gustavo didn’t need a GPS he knew the way, which both impressed and bothered me. I pushed my thoughts aside. He played Chris Stapleton the whole drive and we didn’t talk much both content to listen to the music and unwind the cluttered thoughts in our heads. In no time at all, he stopped the car and nodded at me to get out.
“Where are we?” I asked, it was pitch black around and there was absolutely no light.
“We are at the top of Independence Pass at about 12,000 ft in elevation. Come on, come outside and look up.
I got out of the car, shut the door, and turned my face towards the sky. It was magnificent. I had never before seen so many stars, only in pictures. I was mesmerized. Gustavo’s voice brought me back to reality.
“It’s pretty great huh?”
I gaped at him pretty was such an insufficient word to describe what we were seeing.
“How’d did you know I’d love it?”
“Because Tava Hoag. I know you. Even after being apart from you I still know you.”
I looked away before he could say anything else. My eyes traveled back up to the heavens. I could feel his eyes still on my face, thinking, searching. I don’t know how long we stood like that before he spoke.
“Go stand in the middle of the road.”
“What? Are you serious what if a car comes?” seeing as how we were on a dangerous curve this seemed very likely.
“Then you move.”
I smiled he was still the same. I walked to where he directed me and straddled the median line. I placed my cold hands in my pockets and looked up at the milky way right above me.
“Okay, remember, stand really still”
“Alright,” I whispered.
I kept looking up, breathing small breaths, noticing the thinness in the air, feeling the cold wind touch my skin. I didn’t know what the coming weeks would bring and how life with Gustavo would be on the road, or what I would do after, but in that moment I didn’t care. I was standing 12,000 ft high watching the stars work their magic above and wondering how I had gotten so lucky to be at this exact moment in time.