The water wasn't just one color of blue. It was every color of blue. It was the whole blue section of the original Crayola 64 – periwinkle and aquamarine, cornflower and blue green, green blue and turquoise blue.
And it was clear. So clear that I could see sandbars floating just beneath the surface as far as a hundred yards away. Tiny underwater islands that made me think of Atlantis.
The sensation of water on both sides of the road was unsettling and I turned my head from side to side trying to imagine how you measure the tides in such a place. The top was down and I could feel the midday sun radiating through the skin on my arms and legs. The wind snatched at my hair, tugging at random strands as though to lift me straight into the sky like a reverse image Rapunzel.
And then came the bridge. Seven miles long. Flat and straight and narrow, a seam down the middle of the channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Strait. The crayon-colored water was under our feet now, under the levitating asphalt held just out of its reach by concrete pillars. From any direction the view was the same – water stretching to the horizon and melting into sky. Layers and layers of blue.
I'd not really expected this sensual assault. The road trip to Key West was a means to an end: There, at the literal end of the continental United States, I would see my Kate for the first time in a year. I was eager and anxious and wound as tight as Dick's hatband.
Somewhere around Big Pine Key, I think, I gave in. Stopped trying to download like digital photos every image that fell on my retinas. Relaxed my shoulders and let the light and warmth swallow me up. By the time the tires hit the bridge, time didn't matter.
I spent four days in Key West. Kate was a generous and indulgent tour guide. She took me to the Hemingway House and the Robert Frost Cottage. She let me take her picture inside the Butterfly Conservatory and at the "southernmost point" monument. She took me to Mallory Square to see the sunset and ignored my obvious amazement at all the things I saw on Duval Street.
When the time for goodbyes came, I squeezed her tight, reminded her of my love and watched her drive off in the car she'd bought without any help to the job she'd gotten without any help. And I didn't cry.
I was so proud of myself.
Later, several weeks later, this morning as a matter of fact, I finally grasped what my heart had been trying to teach my head. And it wasn't, as I might have guessed, that the journey itself is at least as important as the destination.
The point of all that endless blue water and the indelible image it left on my memory was this: The magic of the journey is directly proportional to the pilgrim's passion for the destination.
I had packed my bags and loaded the car with only one end in mind: Kate, my Kate. A year's holidays had come and gone without her presence. Four times the seasons at Sandhill had changed without her seeing them. Hundreds of sunsets had followed sunrises without her opening the back door and heading to the refrigerator for a Capri Sun.
It was hunger I felt, hunger for the light of her smile, the lilt of her voice, the feel of her half-hug. It was hunger that drove me seven hundred miles. It was hunger that rubbed me sandpaper-raw and opened my eyes to the lessons and the loveliness of the road.