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Sad, Sad, Sad photo

Not more than two steps in and Ali had the Sadness Museum exhibit sized up.

Her words, This exhibit is sad, sad, sad.

I tried to look on the bright side. My words, At least it's free.

We were standing in front of a McCormick pepper shaker display and I couldn't tell if I had a different take because it brought up memories of our favorite diner — the one near our apartment — The Miss Portland, or if it was because the Sadness Museum represented the half way point of our cross-country trip, and felt like keeping things light.

For Ali, the vacation was about turning the page.

Her words, It's not working anymore. The two of us.

For me, the vacation was about not turning the page.

My words, Hold that thought.

So there were are in Missoula, Montana at my insistence. When Ali first showed signs I should prepare myself for the big shove-off (new clothes, new haircut, new cell plan) I put a down payment on a used Airstream to take us cross county. On our first date she said it was always her dream to travel to Big Sur. I promised her then I would make that happen come hell or high water.

This takes the cake, Ali cracked. She was pointing at a toy octopus. I mean, really?

I tried to continue with my breezy approach.

An octopus has three hearts, I offered. That's a lot of hearts to break.

She went silent.

From Montana to California she remained like this. And to be honest, it was the sweetest thing Ali had ever done. For the next three days she left me enough room to think... about a harmonica.

At the Sadness Museum exhibit I read where this guy who, after working 40 years, retired and took his dream out west. It was in Missoula that he picked up this harmonica — the same harmonica that was actually part of the museum exhibit, and as soon as he blew the first note, he knew he was in the saddest place he had ever been.

I thought about that note the entire time.

In a way I still am.

image: Ryan Molloy