As I headed down the stairs by the light of my flashlight, I fought back tears. “This is it,” I thought. “What is life going to be like now?” By the time I reached the street, I was determined to get home by dark. No more tears-there was no time. I chose a fast pace, but not too fast. I figured, on average, that I could walk three miles or so in an hour. That would mean that I needed to walk for about seven hours to make it home. That’s not so bad, I thought. I would have to follow the roads because you can’t cross people’s fields on ranch land. They may have a bull and that would not go so well.
Walking cleared my head a little and then, after about an hour, the thoughts began to crowd in. I wished I could write everything down that I was thinking but there wasn’t time. I knew that I had to get water for the toilets. If I could get home with enough time to hike to the creek with a couple of 5-gallon buckets, that would be the best scenario. I didn’t see many people. The town was still sleeping. The quiet pressed in, pregnant with concerns. Walking with all that noise in my head was a bad idea. I needed to stay alert to what was going on around me. I didn’t want to get too close to people, just in case they thought my bags were worth taking. I tried to make a practice of looking around, behind me and into the windows of the cars I passed. I listened for footfalls and for voices in the quiet that pressed down on the earth and amplified every little sound.
Once on the road that wound exclusively through ranch land, I heard a sound. Was it a footfall? My heart stopped and then raced. Fight or flight. A doe lifted her head and posed for a picture. She stood there, fuzzy and adorable, with luminous eyes, nonchalantly chewing some grass she had just pulled. Regarding me with aloof curiosity, she finally moved across the road, unafraid and unhurried. I moved on, and eventually, my heart returned to its normal rhythm. I had finished one water bottle late into the morning and still wasn’t hungry. I didn’t want to eat until I needed it. I knew that, at some point, that doe would look like dinner. I didn’t know how to field dress an animal. I hoped one of my neighbors would teach me.
My neck, shoulders, back, and feet were quite sore as I rounded the bend in the road which meant that I was closer to home than to work. More than halfway way-this gave me renewed energy. I picked up the pace. I could see that the sun was past noon, but still high in the sky. The Colorado sun was deceptive. The bright rays promised warmth, but the cold bit at me as I walked, like tiny invisible bugs with nasty sharp teeth. Okay, enough of that. I shivered, but I was thankful for no wind. I stopped for a brief moment to open a protein bar, which I ate while I walked. The road was mostly clear of people, but I happened on a young mother with her infant. The jolt of seeing her was almost too much. Her eyes, haunted and fearful, burned into my mind and stayed with me the rest of the way home. She had nothing but a diaper bag and her purse. I handed her a water bottle, without a word, and kept walking. She was too shell-shocked to even thank me. A way down the road, I looked back. She still stood by her car, holding the baby and the full water bottle. I turned back. In the back of her car there was a stroller. I pulled it out, set it up, took the baby from her, and buckled him into the stroller. “Which way is home?” I asked her. She pointed in the direction her car faced. I put the stroller in front of her, gently pulled her hands to the handle, and gave her a little push. “Walk,” I told her. “Get home.” She nodded, still dazed, and began to walk. I cried for at least the next mile.