Pam had to get out of that building. She dashed to the elevator.
Santa Ana winds were back, whipping up dust. She couldn't cry. Everything was dull and inert. People looked vacuous. No one understood. No one would ever understand. Buses lunged and whined. She looked up at the brown, birdless sky. She wanted to cry but she just couldn't.
The word "never" kept running through her head.
She would never touch Robert's hands again. She would never hug him. She would never kiss him. She would never chat with him in the kitchen while dinner cooked.
The rest of their days would be divided by bullet-proof glass.
"My love," she wrote three days later. "I find it hard to put pen to paper right now. It's a bitter hand we're dealt, D -- and an uncertain journey we set out on. But this is the road we travel and we travel it, as always, hand in hand. A little time, my heart -- it's not easy to redefine one's raison d'etre in the blink of an eye, you know. There are many aspirations to be rewritten, many assumptions to be erased; parts of the brain must be rewired. Our dreams are our children, and the loss of anyone cuts to the bone, even when another can be found to replace it.
"Do you think it's possible to suffer the inevitable losses in life without succumbing, incrementally, to sorrow and bitterness? I know this is kind of what your [Buddhist] practice is about, but I have trouble understanding what it is I should let go of and what I need to keep.
"See, I know the truth even if it has ceased to exist anywhere outside us. Well, my dear, we'll find our way; even with no road map. I remember how, many years ago, I walked the sand up there along the Pacific, looking at a trail of shiny, polished pebbles, thinking how they had been worn down from these huge boulders by time and saltwater. And so we are too, by time and salt water. We may get very shiny, and very small, Robert -- but what's left will be the very essence of us, and there will be nothing false in it.
"I love you, Robert -- Pamela."
She flew back to Omaha. In December 2007, she retired from First Data Resources. She visited Robert every month at Terminal Island, before his transfer back to Pelican Bay, and started to work on his appeal.
In February, she flew to Honduras with a group that provides fuel-efficient stoves for the poor.
Pam bundles up in jeans and a sweat shirt at her splintered motel, and sets out along the cobblestones to the mouth of the Smith River. The coast is big and wild up here, just south of the Oregon border.
She climbs the rocky headland and watches the river run clear and fast below, pouring into the empty Pacific. She threads through the heath, scales down the other side of the point along a fissure in the rock, and sets across a long beach scoured smooth by the wind. The basaltic coast is fractured with inlets and jagged islands. Vast boneyards of driftwood lie below the bluffs. A few pale spirals of smoke rise from ranchers' slash piles in the hills.
A lone woman passes with her dogs. Pam picks up small bits of driftwood burls on the sand. She glances at some birds and wonders if they are sandpipers or something else. Where a cold stream crosses the beach, she looks down and spots a yellow pebble. She picks it up and gazes at it, and puts it in her pocket.
She has pebbles from this coast scattered throughout her home.
A couple of hours later, she steps up to the counter to sign in at visitors' reception at Pelican Bay.
"Oh, Miss Griffin, how are you?" the female officer asks cheerfully.