The Black Rock

Twenty years ago, I got lost while jogging near my campsite in the Sierra Nevadas. I wasn’t far from the main highway that cut through the range like a meandering stream, but the sun’s location was lost in the dense foliage and I couldn’t hear vehicles shooting past no matter how I strained; the forest floor, littered with pine cones and needles soaked up the sound like an aural sponge. I wandered for an hour before deciding I needed to make a logical plan to get out. I searched the forest floor for a sharp rock I could use to mark my path to make sure I was traveling in a straight line.

I found a rut, perhaps a wash that became a small stream during torrential rains. At the bottom, the nude, exposed faces of rocks shone in the filtered light like fresh eggs. I slid down the slope, smiling to myself about the find.

The bottom of the rut held a pocket of cold, heavy air. It was in a clearing of sorts, but I could feel claustrophobia prickle at the back of my neck.

A smooth black rock – far smoother than the jagged grey stone that littered the floor – caught my eye. It looked like obsidian but somehow deeper; the rock had to be a few inches in diameter, but I felt like I was looking across miles of emptiness as my eyes crossed its surface. The entire stone seemed to suck up the light near it save for one imperfection, a splotch of dark red mineral or paint. A single drip.

I crouched over the stone, transfixed, for what felt like hours. At one point I felt something angry behind me. I knew I should turn and protect myself against whatever forest creature I had disturbed, but I couldn’t look away. When I finally stood, I was alone. I found a sharp rock and made it back to the road. It was closer than I thought.

Some months later, I was in a car accident. My boyfriend’s new car lost traction on an icy road. I lost my left foot. My boyfriend lost his life. I was pinned and could look at only one thing: blood from Jeremy’s gaping chest dripping down his hanging body, filling his mouth, and spilling over onto the ground. A single drop fell on a patch of pavement that seemed far darker than the rest of the blacktop.

I remember pushing with the doctor’s order as I gave birth to my first son. I made eye contact with him as he spoke. The red exit sign reflected off the darkness of his pupil.

I was trapped in Fallujah as an embedded reporter during the second Iraq War. We were ambushed one night by dozens of insurgents. I covered my ears as bullets bit into masonry, RPGs exploded, wounded soldiers shouted. When it finally quieted down, I was one of three left alive. A dark acrid smoke filled the building, the morning sun a small splotch of red.

Three days ago, I got a call. My husband was flying home with our son and daughter from their college. The gyroscope failed and the pilot overcorrected into a mountain. Every passenger died. The news showed a black streak with a red piece of aluminum near the top.

It was easy to pull the trigger and end my pain.

And now I’m back in the forest, rising from my crouch over that dark rock. I turn to search for something behind me, something roiling with hatred. Nothing’s there. I feel like I’ve trespassed on sacred ground.

I pick up a sharp rock and begin to find my way back to the road. The terrible memories of someone else’s life flit through my mind like a reel of film that has been cut and taped together haphazardly. The road was closer than I thought.

When I have service on my cell phone again, I check my messages. Jeremy, my boyfriend, has called to tell me about his new car.

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