The Great DivideCookie crumbs on the table: that’s what brought the tears that were hanging in the corners of my eyes. They weren’t even the “I’m so happy, there are stars in my eyes” kind of tears. They felt more like the “hold it back and try not to sniffle” kind. These stupid cookie crumbs on the stupid table almost made me cry: and stupid me just sat there staring at them.
But D's don’t cry. That’s what my uncle had taught me. He reminded me time and time again. “Scientists have done studies on it,” he would say. “They just can’t make us D's cry.” My mom is a D; she doesn’t cry. Yet here I am, all P, all emotion, all the time.
Uncle R, Robby Ray as I like to call him, can be a very humorous man. He’ll try to pull a smile out of anyone if he thinks he can. I’m sure he is just trying to put a smile on my face when he says that he can’t cry because of his genes. A whole family not being able to cry is a ridiculous concept, but the truth is I’ve never seen him cry despite all I’ve put him through.
I first realized I could confide in him about the time I started considering myself a mature young adult. I hadn’t seen him since I was barely a double-digit, but that one day my family got to spend with him over Spring Break reminded why he was my mom’s favorite brother. He felt so much of what the people around him were feeling.
From that point on, I dragged him along every bumpy road I traveled down. When I was fighting with my friend C he knew and offered advice. When my mom was getting frustrated with me over scholarship applications he knew and said that was just part of life. When I was nervous about a dance competition he knew and he encouraged me every step of the way. When I was feeling low, angry, upset, or distressed he knew and he prayed for me.
Uncle R left the cookies for me along with a can of ginger ale and a bag of almond M&Ms. He left three things for me and then he left. Sitting alone in the kitchen of my dorm I thought about the M&M bag sitting, a crumpled mass in my closet. I saw the ginger ale can sitting empty and purposeless, alone in the blue recycling bin beside the blue couch. Empty, purposeless, alone, and overshadowed by the blues. In that moment I thought I knew how the ginger ale can felt. Luckily I speedily realized that feeling akin to an inanimate object was just a touch over dramatic.
I say luckily because that’s about the time L walked in. I’d call her another inmate here in the prison that is our basement dorm, but we have not committed any criminal acts—yet. Anyway, she’s too maternal to do anything so extreme. She’s that one apartment mate who everyone has. She makes sure the dishwasher gets loaded, started, and unloaded. When I leave a mess in the bathroom sink, I will hear about it from her and I will clean it up because she says so. If we have dorm meetings, she initiated it. She knows I call her “Mom” because of her neat, precise, orderly tendencies. Luckily I was done looking with sympathy at that can. Her motherly radar would have tracked it and she would have asked me what was wrong. I did not want to admit there was anything wrong with me.
L proceeded to bang around the kitchen in a lunch time mad dash. I could understand that. I should probably be doing the same. Instead I just snarffed down a couple of those cookies, completely neglecting my own nutrition.
Those cookies in and of themselves were not worth the discretionary calories—one of the many things Mother L is concerned about—but the story behind them, that’s what made them taste sweeter than hot cocoa on a white winter evening.
I was going to Colorado for a dance competition near Rocky Mountain National Park. Uncle R’s family lives nearby in L-town and volunteered to be my cheer squad for the weekend. Then Sunday he brought me the full eight or so hours back to Heritage Halls. Monday he started his job search here in Utah.
The week before I took my flight to Colorado, Robby Ray asked me to bring him cinnamon bears from the candy counter in the bookstore. I had two sacks ready to pack in my suitcase when I started reminiscing about the weeks I had spent there this summer. That’s when I hatched the plot, a bargain.
I was holding his precious baby bears for ransom unless he could produce the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies we had spent many a midnight sharing. He’d pour two glasses of milk. I’d pour my issues on him. Eating cookies and sharing how I felt with someone was a win for me. I’m not sure how he felt about it.
Victory was sweet: the victory of confiding in someone and the victory of my bargain working. He packed a large bag of those cookies in our snack box and gave them to me once we reached BYU.
Unfortunately the celebration was short lived. Once again the tendrils of my emotion wrapped around me. Those cookies no longer meant I was a victor. They meant Uncle R had gone back to Colorado. They meant I was stuck here in my kitchen. They meant I had to face real life again without hearing his advice or seeing him stand side stage cheering me on.
“Hey K. What’s up?”
What? Me? Nothing’s wrong. Why do you want to know? “Nothing really. Just came back here for lunch. How ‘bout you?”
“Pretty much the same.”
Good, no awkward confrontations. I thought L had noticed I was barricade in the corner. Two walls, the table, and my knees pushed up against my chest kept me protected from something. I’m not sure what. Perching there like that seemed to make things a little better though.
“I thought I’d clean some dishes while I was here,” Mommy L said. “Do you have any for me?”
“I already took care of mine.” I certainly didn’t want her to know I hadn’t really eaten anything substantial.
“Oh, ok. I think I’m gonna heat up one of my freezer meals. What did you eat?”
Is she suspicious? “Just stuff I had around. You know, whatever.”
“Mhmm.” She probably mumbled something I should have listened to, but we were both too absorbed in our lunch time ponderings to hold a decent conversation. She was debating whether to wash dishes or microwave the carton of penne pasta first. I was losing my mind somewhere near the Great Divide.
That’s where I suspected Uncle R was at this point: the Great Divide. When we were driving over that landmark in Wyoming along Highway 80 I asked him what it was. He has taught me so many useless facts, but somehow I never grow tired of them. I now know that Long’s Peak is on the Colorado quarter, a butte is a hill where there shouldn’t be one, and the Great Divide is the line east of which all rivers flow to the Atlantic Ocean and west of which all rivers flow to the Pacific.
When I had seen a bicycle named “Great Divide” on my way back to the apartment it reminded me of three things: a Peter Breinholt song that Uncle R loves, staring at the cloud shadows as we drove over it, and the fact that I was no longer anywhere near the Great Divide or Uncle R. The Great Divide had a piece of me and I didn’t know when I would next see that piece.
Not knowing is probably the one thing that upset me most. Looking back at those cookie crumbs, I thought about how having an uncle from Colorado meant he was rarely a part of my life for the first fifteen years. I thought about how in the past three years I had grown to let him be my friend and mentor through the many emails in which I divulged all the things I was facing that I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone else. I thought about how I never knew when the next time I would see him would be and this case was no exception. Those cookie crumbs reminded me that the little communication we kept up was not the same as sitting across the table from each other sharing a plate of cookies. If we both sat at his kitchen table for an hour and said nothing I would consider it an hour well spent.
Well, I was sitting at a kitchen table, but it wasn’t Robby Ray’s table and the time I’ve spent staring at specks of cookie dust isn’t exactly what I would call time well spent.
I allowed myself to look up from the crumbs and across the table at L. I guess she had noticed the incline of my head and the fact that my eyes had not left that small area of the table because she was looking back at me. Her eyes caught mine and would not let them go until I said something.
“These are the cookies my uncle left.”
Her face twisted into a confused look as she turned her head to the side. “Oh?” she said politely. And… she politely kept in her mind.
“I miss him already. A lot.”
What? Does she really want to know? “I guess I just depend on him for a lot. I tell him basically everything.”
“Yeah, you talk about him a lot.”
You listened to that? I chuckled. “I guess I do. Well, you know how he takes me hiking and how I tell him everything and how he helps me through stuff.”
“Mhmm. And how this weekend was the first time he’s ever seen you dance?”
Wow, she really has been listening. “Exactly. When I spend time with him and then we have to leave, it’s just hard for me to adjust to for a while.”
I was in surprised. She had been listening to everything I said and she was willing and trying to help. I could confide in someone.
L spoke again. “Oh, I almost forgot. You probably didn’t hear about Enrichment.”
“Nope. What are we doing?”
“I think they said something about get to know you games. Are you coming?”
Ten minutes before it would have been easy just to say, “No,” and move on, but I was slowly realizing something. There were people here in my ward family that I could talk to who would listen. While they weren’t my real family, they did want to know me. Some of them, like L, really did care what I had to say and how I felt.
“Yeah. I’ll be there.” If I was going to overcome those cookie crumbs Enrichment was a great place to start. As that point I was able to stand up and sweep the crumbs and the self pity away. My mind was finally ready to return to Happy Valley after its trip to the Great Divide.