He was asking her if she thought she would stay here forever.
"I think sometimes that I want to get out of New York," he was saying, the way people do when traveling, "but I don't know if I want to leave in a way where I don't have access to it anymore."
I was sitting in the booth behind this pair at a Nepalese restaurant in the small mountain town of Nederland, the sweet potato masala melting along my tongue like hot marshmellows.
"I'm not sure if I'll stay here forever," the woman replied. I couldn't see her face, but her voice sounded like it came from a deeper place, wooded with experience. "I just know that I wake up every morning and I feel so..." She paused. "Sane."
I watched her titter her head from side to side in laughter—her white hair not a rigid nest but filled with movement, a puffed dandelion globe allowing light to flow through it. Her neck moved with a lengthy suppleness, like she'd spent her life looking in many different directions.
He was younger, and I could see him perfectly. Maybe a son, a nephew of hers. He looked displaced. His face looked planned, like it was created from a blueprint, and in the background there were city lights and purpose-driven stares. He had the east coast etched into him, much like I did. Or maybe didn't anymore.
I like to carry around pendants, talismans from the east—shiny Bebe purses, determined facial expressions, a defensive, city strut. To people here, I am an east coaster; to friends from home, I am a mountain hippie. My friend who works on Capitol Hill in Washington tells me that Boulder has made me soft, that living here has clouded my rational mind. But maybe it needed some clouding, some wetness gently raining from it, watercoloring my edges.
I needed to know what it felt like to be in the mountains, to feel overtaken by a ridiculous variety of natural forces, all coexisting at once. I needed to be consumed by these rugged cliffs, clawed into by the edges of the sky. It has been beautiful; I have heard the crack of my soul opening here. It is worth becoming soft for this.
I stopped being able to hear the couple, except for the woman saying, "I can keep such a low profile here." I wondered if she was someone famous, an author, an artist, or someone who just wanted to be alone. I wondered when I would get to an age where I could live in a town like Nederland, just 15 miles west of Boulder but uncountable degrees more solitary, with almost no cell phone service and a village-size town center.
I will, someday, when I have collected enough experiences to bloat the walls of my small mountain house. They will funnel through me onto paper and I will not need to go anywhere else, because accessing cities will be as easy as turning a page. And my life will exist in an exhale.
Images: #1, "Keep me company," Flickr user Trcybrr; #2, CO landscape, Amy Segreti