Sisyphus on Vacation

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The heat is stifling. Our footsteps are an endless string of dry crunches on the shoulder of California State Route 190. Whose idea was it to put a bed-and-breakfast in Death Valley? Something tugs at my consciousness. 

She looks at her phone again. 

She always looks at her phone at this point.

I can’t remember whose idea it was to spend one night of our vacation at this bed-and-breakfast in Death Valley. Seems like the sort of thing she might’ve suggested.

I’ve forgotten something, something big. 

I stop walking to catch my bearings. 

Her car broke down somewhere a few hours behind us. At least I think that is what I tell myself. 

She was always so loud. How could one person take up so much space, be so loud?

From the beginning, she was forever larger than life. Louder. Bolder. More outspoken about absolutely everything. And more dazzling. She could shine so brightly.

And she never apologized. Not even once. You apologized, but not her. Not ever.

I am filled with sorrow. Again.

The not apologizing thing, when she certainly had done things she might have regretted, was the last straw.

She notices I’m no longer adding to our rhythmic drumline of crunches. She stops, turns, and glares at me.

“What are you doing? We’re supposed to check in by…,” she looks down at her phone again, “1:30 PM.” 

This all seems familiar. I’m having the worst case of déjà vu.

What happened to her car?

I take a shallow dive into my recent memories. I hit a wall. All I can remember is walking and the endless crunching of the hard hot rocks on this hot, gooey pavement.

Was it a blowout?

I have a vague recollection of a rear tire exploding and her swearing, then scrambling to get the car to the shoulder before it rolled.


My mind is a roiling pool of doubts.

But that isn’t what happened, and you know it.

I touch my phone’s screen, see the time on the lock screen. 

3:45 PM.

Looks like we missed our check-in, darling.

I shove the phone into my rear pants pocket.

Her phone is three hours behind yours.

She’s looking at her phone again and mumbling.

I hurry to catch up to her. I’m careful not to ask her the time.

“What happened to the car?” 

She’ll say it was the radiator.

She looks at me incredulously; she thinks I’m pranking her.

“What do you think happened to the car? We’re in Death Valley, dumbass! It overheated. The radiator blew. Are you having another senior moment?”

If I go down that road, she’ll tell me I’m manifesting all this by focusing on my memory issues.

A memory returns. A gun in an empty shoebox beneath her bed. She was in the shower, singing some top-forty song. 

She’d had her charms.

For a while, I was smitten. Then one day, I wasn’t. That’s when the ground fell out of my world. When the person you build your world around turns out to be someone you don’t know as well as you’d thought, when reaching the point where you cannot ignore one more symptom of mental illness, and you can’t rationalize another emotional outburst, the ground is going to give way. 

Then comes the dropping; the soul-crushing sense of falling forever in the dark.

You’ve been fooled, duped, conned, deceived. You’re complicit in the deception. You had wanted to be in that intoxicating ‘in-love’ space again. So, you rationalized, explained away, made excuses, and ignored a lot of things you oughtn’t to have.

I remember returning it to the Nike box, lying on the unmade bed, and thinking.

This is damnation. I am damned.

My memories come back as we continue to walk on this endless road. 

She’s never shown any signs that she remembers. 

She doesn’t know where we are or remember the thing I did.

She never remembers. 

I could apologize, but the idea leaves me lethargic. The heat is more oppressive now.

She’s the victim here, not me. 

It takes all my energy, all the remaining love and compassion I can muster, but I do my best to rally for her.

“I think it’s just over this next rise,” I say, smiling broadly, then taking her by the hand and leading the way.

We talk about the online reviews of our destination. The amenities we plan to avail ourselves of.

I inject as much cheer into my voice as I can.

Only I know the truth. 

We will walk until the forgetting finds me again.  

This is my fate now. I am Sisyphus, and she is my stone. 

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