Colorado Springs—I’m standing on Pikes Peak, fourteen thousand feet above sea level. I’m looking at the world from a mountaintop.
Twenty-four years ago we scattered Daddy’s ashes here. He came packed in a cardboard box. I was a child.
The day we turned him loose, I prayed for something grand to happen. Maybe a gust of wind, a big cloud, or even snow. I’d heard it can snow on Pikes Peak during the summer.
That’s what I wanted. I wanted nature to deliver something. But there were no gusts. No clouds. No snow. Only hot sun.
Anyway, my father’s death happened suddenly. I was twelve. And this view takes me to that age again. The scenery up here is breathtaking. I can see clear to Kansas, and the sun is shining so hard it burns me.
The altitude is getting to me. There are tiny sparks in my vision. The EMT at the visitor’s center told me this means I am in oxygen debt.
Twenty-four years. It’s been so long since he’s been gone that I often forget his face. I have to open a photo album to remember.
I have a favorite photograph. A faded Polaroid. He’s wearing his denim, his boots, and his work jacket. He’s all iron worker.
I loved him.
He used to play make-believe with me when I was little. Daddy would wear a cowboy hat and play Old West Saloon. I was Wyatt Earp; he was Billy the Kid.
We’d have gunfights at high noon. Our living room became the showdown at O.K. Corral. I would take him down with a cap gun. I was the best shot in the West. He would grab his gut, then fall on the floor.
Then, I would jump on his chest. He would kiss me on the forehead. He’d say, “That’s my little cowboy.”
How could a man disappear like dust.
I remember where we emptied his ashes. I am standing on the exact spot. I’ve been waiting years to stand here.
I expect to cry, or feel like someone is jumping on my chest, but I don’t. Instead, I smile. I remove my hat and hold it to my chest.
And I thank my father. I’m not sure what I’m thanking him for, but I am thanking him.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m thanking him for twelve years of love—which is more than some kids get. Maybe, for all the make-believe games in the living room, for forehead kisses.
Maybe I’m thanking him for who I am today. I wouldn’t be who I am if not for his early departure.
And all of a sudden, I miss him. I wish he could swoop down from Heaven momentarily and talk to me. I wish I could be a boy, and we could play make-believe.
But he can’t. That’s not the way it works. People are here, then they aren’t. It’s that simple. I’m used to this by now.
I stand on a rock near the edge. “I miss you,” I tell him.
My voice disappears. But at least I’ve said it. And my time here is done. I’m getting tired. I’m ready to crawl down the mountain and get away from this altitude.
I turn to walk away. A cloud begins to form.
I stop to watch.
It spins into shape out of pure nothingness. A large, swelling fog.
Nearby, tourists start hollering things like, “Hey! Come look at this cloud!” Folks with cameras aim them at the phenomenon. Everyone gathers.
A pillar of white grows in front of us. In only seconds, mist swallows the whole world. Nobody can see anything but the cloud.
It starts falling hard. Then, gusts of wind. I watch until the show is over and the world turns sunny again.
Experts say sudden weather changes are common this time of year on top the mountain. And I’m sure they are. Maybe that’s all it was—warm and cold fronts colliding. But then, maybe it was something else. Maybe it was a wink. Or a smile. Or a wave.
Or a kiss on the forehead.