Walking on Water, p.1Richard Paul Evans
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A s I wind up this journey, my own as well as Alan’s, I wish to thank all those who helped me cross this country, especially my very talented daughter Jenna for her companionship, navigation (both literal and literary), research, and overall brilliance in helping me craft Alan’s journey.
Thank you to my agent, Laurie, for her immediate enthusiasm for this series.
I wish to thank those at Simon & Schuster who have done so much to push Alan along: Jonathan Karp, Carolyn Reidy, Trish Todd (and Molly), Gypsy da Silva, Richard Rhorer for suggesting the title of this book, and the Simon & Schuster promotional and sales teams. Thank you to David Rosenthal, who was there at the beginning of the journey and believed that this series was precisely what America needed at this time.
I wish to thank Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe for helping to spread the word about this series, as well as Hoda and Kathie Lee.
Blessings to my staff: Lisa Johnson (the angel midwife), Diane Glad (thank you especially for all your help in Florida), Heather McVey, Barry Evans, Doug Osmond, and Cammy Shosted. Thank you to my dear friend Karen Roylance for helping me brainstorm and believe in the mission of this series.
A special thanks to my neighbor, Joel Richards, for sharing his stories from Vietnam. (You’ve become an action figure to me.) Thank you to Karrie Richards, Madison Storrs, Natalie Hanley, Ally , Kelly Glad (again!), and Alexis Snyder for their assistance with medical research, as well as Ronda Jones for advising us on Danish names, Earl Stine for sharing with us his experiences of biking the Keys, and Ted and Alease at the Inn at Folkston for their warm welcome.
To Karen Christoffersen, the widow of the real Alan Christoffersen, I hope this series has helped heal your heart and kept your love close to you.
Thank you to my family, Keri, David, Jenna and Sam, Allyson, Abigail and Chase, McKenna, and Michael. And Philly. You are my hope, comfort, and reason.
Most of all, thank you to my beautiful readers around the world, who have made this walk possible—especially all those who have gone outside themselves to tell their friends, families, and colleagues about the series. (Please don’t stop!) Without your sharing, we never would have reached so many people.
In memory of my parents, who taught me to walk
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. Eliot
When I was eight years old, three days after my mother’s funeral, my father found me curled up on the floor of my bedroom closet.
“What are you doing in there?” he asked.
I sat up, wiping the tears from my face. “Nothing.”
“Are you okay?”
My father, who was never comfortable with outward displays of emotion, had no idea what to do with a crying boy. “All right, then,” he finally said, rubbing his chin. “Let me know if you need something.”
“Why did she have to die?”
My father looked at me pensively, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know. We all die sometime. It’s just the way it is.”
“Is she in heaven?”
I could see him struggling between telling me what I wanted to hear and telling me what he believed. Even at my age I knew that he didn’t believe in God. Finally he said, “If there’s a heaven, you can be sure she’s there.”
“What if there’s not a heaven?”
He was quiet for a moment, then he tapped his index finger against his right temple. “Then she’s here. In our minds.”
“I don’t want her there,” I said. “I want to forget her. Then it won’t hurt so much.”
He shook his head. “That would be worse than hurting.” He crouched down next to me. “It’s our memories that make us who we are. Without them, we’re nothing. If that means we have to hurt sometimes, it’s worth it.”
“I don’t think it’s worth it.”
“Would you wish that she had never been your mother?”
“No,” I said angrily.
“To forget her would be exactly that, wouldn’t it?”
I thought about it a moment, then said, “Will I ever see her again?”
“We can hope.”
As hard as I tried not to, I broke down crying again. “I miss her so much.”
My father put his hand on my shoulder. Then, in one of the few times in my life that I can recall, he pulled me into him and held me. “Me too, Son. Me too.”
Imagine that you are sitting on an airplane, holding a pen a few inches above a blank journal page. Now imagine that whatever you write will be read by hundreds or thousands of people. Just imagine. What will you write? Will you share some hidden piece of yourself with those unseen souls? Will you impart some wisdom to help them on their journeys? Are you arrogant enough to believe that anything you write could possibly matter? I suppose that’s where I am right now.
My name is Alan Christoffersen, and this is the last journal of my walk across America. For those who have been following my journey from the beginning, you know where I am, what I’ve seen, and who I’ve met. You know about my broken heart, the love I’ve lost, and the one I hope to find. For those who have been walking with me, we’ve been through a lot together. And we’re not through. Not by a long stretch.
For those new to my journey, I began my walk in Seattle seven days after my wife, McKale, died from complications after a horse riding accident. While she was still alive and I was caring for her, my advertising agency was stolen by my partner and my home was foreclosed on. With no place to live and nothing to live for, I considered taking my life. Instead I decided to walk as far away as I could—Key West, Florida. I have already walked nearly three thousand miles to the Florida state line.
Though I’m close to my destination, in some ways, I’ve never been further from completing my journey. Once again, I’m unexpectedly headed back west. My father had a heart attack and is in critical condition at the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. Right now I’m sitting on this airplane not knowing if he’s alive or dead. It’s almost too much to process. He didn’t want me to go back out on my walk, but I did. I feel guilty about that. Did he know something was going to happen to him? If I had stayed would it have made a difference? There are too many questions with answers I don’t want to know.
By the time you read this, I will have already passed through many of the doors I’m facing right now. Only these words will be stuck in time. And you, like I am now, are alone with these words. Use them as you will. Every life can be learned from, as either a flame of hope or a cautionary flare. I don’t know yet which one mine is. By the time you read this, I probably will.
Sometimes our arms are so full with the burdens we carry that it hinders our view of the load those around us are staggering beneath.
Alan Christoffersen’s diary
My flight from Jacksonville, Florida, landed in Atlanta, where I had a brief layover before changing planes. My second flight was more crowded than my first. The woman in the seat next to mine, the middle seat in a row of three, held a child on her lap. The woman was crying. I noticed her swollen eyes and tear-streaked cheeks as I got up to let her and her young child to their seat. I didn’t know what was wrong with the woman, but she
She was a few years younger than I was, pretty even though her eyes were puffy and her mascara smeared. I guessed the child on her lap was around two. She was especially active, which added to the woman’s stress. After we had taken off, I took out my phone, set it to a game, and offered it to the woman for her child.
“Maybe this will help keep her occupied.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. My husband died yesterday.” She paused with emotion. “I don’t know how to explain it to my daughter. She keeps asking for her daddy.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
The little girl dropped my phone on the floor. The woman was embarrassed but unable to retrieve it with her daughter on her lap.
“No worries, I’ll get it,” I said. I unfastened my seat belt, got out of my seat, and picked up my phone.
“Would you mind handing me that bag?” the woman asked.
I lifted a red leather bag from the space on the floor between our feet and handed it to her. She brought out a fabric book and gave it to her daughter.
“Are you from LA?” I asked.
“LA County. I was born in Pasadena.”
“I lived next door in Arcadia,” I said.
She nodded. “I live in Atlanta now, but my parents are still in Pasadena. I’m going to stay with them for a while.”
“It’s good to be with family at times like this,” I said. “Was your husband’s death expected?”
“No. He was in a car crash.” Saying this brought tears to her eyes again. She was quiet for a moment, fighting back emotion. Then she said, “The thing is, it was just another day.” She shook her head. “Then the police showed up on my doorstep . . .” She breathed in, then exhaled slowly. “It was just another day.”
“That’s how I felt after my wife died.”
“You lost your wife?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Was it sudden?”
“The accident was. She was thrown by a horse and broke her back. She was paralyzed from the waist down. A month later she got an infection. That’s what took her.”
“Then you know how I feel.”
“Maybe something of what you feel.”
The woman closed her eyes as if suddenly lost in thought. A moment later she turned back to me. “Did you love her?”
The question surprised me. “With all my heart.”
She looked down a moment, then said, “My husband and I were fighting when he left. The last thing I said to him was ‘Don’t come back.’ ”
I frowned. “That’s rough.”
“They say be careful what you ask for.”
She took a deep breath. “Me too. We were probably going to get divorced anyway. I just don’t like being to blame for his death.”
“I am to blame,” she said. “At least partially. If I hadn’t shouted at him, he wouldn’t have left. If he hadn’t left, he wouldn’t have been in the accident. I can’t tell you how guilty I feel. I don’t know what’s worse, the guilt or the loss.”
“Did you fight a lot?”
“Constantly.” She hesitated for a moment, as if trying to decide whether or not to tell me more. Then she said, “He was a lawyer. I caught him with his secretary parked in a Kroger’s parking lot about a mile from his office. I was going to get a coffee when I saw his car and I pulled up behind them. I asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘Nothing, we were just talking.’ I said, ‘In a Kroger’s parking lot?’ He just stared at me, and I could tell he was making up an excuse. Then he said, ‘It’s nothing. I forgot one of my briefs and I had her meet me here with it.’ I said, ‘Do I have stupid tattooed on my forehead?’
“His little girlfriend looked so guilty I thought she was going to faint. That night I gave him an ultimatum, fire her or divorce me. He fired her. But I’m pretty sure he never stopped seeing her.
“Two days ago we were sitting together at the breakfast table and it suddenly hit me how alone I was. We were just six feet from each other and we might as well have been on different planets. He was reading the news on his iPad. I told him that I was thinking of going to LA to see my sister; he didn’t say anything. Then I said, ‘I think I’ll probably stay a year or two.’ Still nothing. Finally I said, ‘I’ll probably shack up with my old boyfriend in Irvine.’ He looked up and said, ‘Who’s Irwin?’
“I just looked at him, then said, ‘I’m making pasta tonight; try not to be late.’ Then I got up and walked out. That night he came home six hours late. I had tried to call him to see where he was, but his phone was off. By the time he got home I had already gone to bed. The next morning he kept apologizing; he said he’d had to work late. But I knew he hadn’t been at work because he reeked of alcohol and perfume. Chanel No. 5. How unoriginal is that? I said, ‘So how was she?’ He looked panicked. Then he said, ‘Who?’ That’s when I told him to get out and not come back.”
“And he left?”
She nodded. “Three hours later the police showed up on my doorstep.”
“I think most women would have done what you did.”
“I suppose.” She looked into my eyes. “What happens? There was a time I used to cry when he’d leave me at night. Where does it go?”
“It changes,” I said.
“Did it change for you?”
“In ways. Relationships are always changing. My wife and I had our storms, but instead of pulling us apart, they drove us closer together.”
“How does that happen?”
“I don’t know. I just loved her.”
She breathed out heavily. “I wish I could hurt that way.” The child had fallen asleep on the woman’s lap, and she adjusted her head against her mother’s breast.
“Will you stay in Atlanta?” I asked.
“No. The only reason I was in Atlanta was for his job. His funeral is going to be held here. Then I’ll have to go back and sell the house and get rid of everything.” She looked at her child. “I suppose I’m lucky to have her to keep me focused. Do you have any children?”
“No. We kept putting it off. It’s my biggest regret.”
She looked down at her daughter and kissed the top of her head. She turned back to me. “So what do you do to forget?”
“You don’t forget,” I said.
“Then what do you do to survive?”
“I think everyone has to find their own way. I walk.”
“You take long walks?”
I hid my amusement at the question. “Yes.”
“And it helps?”
“I’ll have to try that,” she said. She leaned back and closed her eyes, pulling her daughter into her. It was maybe five minutes later that she was asleep. I wished that I could have slept too. There was just too much on my mind. She didn’t wake until the pilot announced our descent into LAX. After we landed she said, “I never got your name.”
“It’s nice meeting you,” I said.
“Thank you for being so sweet,” she replied. “I’m glad I sat next to you. Maybe it was a God thing.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Keep walking,” she said.
I turned my cell phone back on as I walked up the Jetway. I was feeling incredibly anxious, simultaneously eager and afraid to ask how my father was. I went into the men’s room and washed my face, then walked back out to the terminal corridor and called Nicole. She answered on the first ring.
“Are you in LA?” she asked.
“I just landed. How is he?”
“He’s still in the ICU, but he’s stable. He’s sleeping now.”
I breathed out in relief. “Thank goodness.”
“How are you getting to the hospital?”
“I’ll take a cab.”
“I can pick you up.”
“Do you know how to get here?”
“I’m on Delta. I’ll meet you at the curb.”
“I’ll call when I get there.”
It was good to hear Nicole’s voice, even though the last time I’d seen her I’d broken her heart. I wondered how long we’d be able to pretend that hadn’t happened. Down in baggage claim, a sizable group was crowded around the baggage carousel even though there were just a few pieces of luggage on it, unclaimed stragglers from an earlier flight.
I walked to the carousel and waited, leaning against a long, stainless-steel coupling of luggage carts as I looked over the eclectic gathering of humanity. McKale once told me that airports were “stages of mini-dramas.” She was right. All around me stories played out. There was a joyful reunion of an elderly woman and her children and grandchildren. There were lovers, entwined and impatient to be elsewhere. There was a returned soldier dressed in camouflage, his wife’s cheeks wet with tears and his two children holding balloons and a hand-drawn welcome home sign. There were the lonely businessmen with loosened ties and tired, drawn faces flush from cocktails, impatiently checking their watches and smartphones.
Camille, my acquaintance from the plane, was halfway across the room from me. She was being held by a tall, silver-haired man as tan as George Hamilton. I guessed he was her father. She said something to him and they both turned and looked at me. She waved and I waved back before they both turned away.
I saw a beautiful young Hispanic woman who reminded me of Falene. I took my phone back out and replayed the voice mail I’d received just before hearing about my father from Nicole.
“Alan, this is Carroll. Sorry it took so long, but I found your friend. Her phone number is area code 212, 555-5374. Good luck.”
My friend, he called her. Was that what Falene was? She’d been my executive assistant when my life was good. She’d been my comforter after McKale’s funeral. She’d been my support throughout my walk. Then, after expressing her love for me and disappearing, she’d become an enigma. Friend was too inadequate a word.
Walking on Water by Richard Paul Evans / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes