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The Love of a Thousand Muskoxen: Grieving a Love Lost to Time and Sickness

Stephanie Land | Longreads | October 24, 2016 | 3,488 words

Years after spending a romantic month alone with a young photographer, Stephanie Land learns of his crippling chronic disease–and gets a glimpse of how much she meant to him.

Posted inEssays & Criticism, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

The Love of a Thousand Muskoxen: Grieving a Love Lost to Time and Sickness

Years after spending a romantic month alone with a young photographer, Stephanie Land learns of his crippling chronic disease–and gets a glimpse of how much she meant to him.

Stephanie Land | Longreads | October 2016 | 14 minutes (3,488 words)

At two in the morning in mid-July, I sat cross-legged, my hands full of lichen, waiting for the caribou to come.

It was my second to last summer in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the light outside was what most people associate with dawn. I wore shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. I sat as still as possible. When the small herd started towards me, I looked back at Whitney for reassurance. He stood about twenty feet behind me in the fenced enclosure, hips cocked to one side, his frame lanky and thin despite his baggy pants and sweatshirt. When he smirked at me, something shifted in my chest.

He was just a teenager—19 and about to begin his second year in a private college on the east coast. I was five years older. I felt so much wiser. We were two weeks into the four that we would spend together. The finiteness of those days gave us freedom to be inseparable without losing ourselves in each other. After all, it was impractical—I knew that in two weeks, I would drop him off at the airport, that I would wake up the next morning with an aching chest and an empty bed. But for the short time before he left, I could love him unabashedly and feel no shame.

Before Whitney and I met, my then-boyfriend Andrew spoke often of this photography intern—this innocent, odd “kid”— from California—who worked in his department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When the intern, Whitney, invited him to a barbecue, I went along in tow.

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