I'm sitting in the rocking chair on the porch outside the home of Karen and Paul, my new aunt and uncle, in Wales, New York, a quiet little township southeast of Buffalo. It is a cool evening, humid but not uncomfortably so. The shadows have grown long and faded under the darkening sky, the deep woods are growing slowly quiet and the frogs down at the pond are just beginning to croak, a sound that is a cross between a duck quack and an electric sneeze. The finned backs of the bass and koi break the surface, stirring the water into expanding ripples around them as they slide forward swallowing the mayflies and mosquitoes which hover in shimmering clouds above the water. A fawn with large white spots on its back was spotted in the long grass at the edge of the backyard and the cat birds, with their mewling kitten calls, are confusing my sister, who insists we are surrounded but countless stray cats. It will be another hour or two before the fireflies appear but I am prepared. It has been a long thirteen years without their magic in my life and I want to be ready for those first plaintive flickers as they emerge from the trees.
Duncan would love this place. He would spend the afternoons in the pond, startling the fish and scattering the frogs. He would chase the deer through the dense foliage and stare in awe at the fireflies. And I would sit back and marvel at each discovery he made. It would be wonderful to have him with me, to feel his weight against my feet when he tired himself out and needed a rest. Not this trip, though, but perhaps one day he will see it, and the smile I've worn since Wednesday would be made a thousand times bigger by his presence.
While I am enjoying my trip more than I ever thought possible, and feel a sense of freedom I have not experienced for the past seven years, I keep thinking of him that last evening in Denver, sticking close to me, aware that something was happening, that I was leaving and for only the second time in his life he was not being included. I sat him down and explained that his papa had spent a long time summoning his courage, inviting the support of the world's most amazing friends, and was embarking on an adventure that was sure to change his life. He seemed to understand, but after I said my farewell to him and stepped downstairs with Ken and my family, I glanced back up at the window and saw his face poking between the blinds, his eyebrows raised in question.
It was heart-breaking but I have to be honest: this trip has changed my life in ways I never anticipated, and although I wouldn't trade my good, red dog for anything in the world, I have been grateful for the opportunities presented to me in exchange for a few days without him.
And when it's over, when Ken and I climb those stairs together on Tuesday, carrying my luggage, my memories of an incredible week in New York, and so much more, I know he, and my entire life, will be waiting for me behind one locked door to which I hold the key.