Reunion – Reminders

Today is Sunday. I’ve been traveling since Thursday, and a lot has happened. I attended the TKE reunion on Thursday night into Friday, but I feel like I’m still there, in a continuing thread of being shown lessons of what it means to be a lifelong friend, a lover, and how to tell a good story. As I was preparing my bike for this morning’s ride to Dave’s Coffee, I had a wave of thinking none of this matters, this whole trip of mine changes nothing. Jon is gone, he can’t be brought back from the dead. I can ride all I want to, but I won’t find him anywhere, just my life through a pale lens because the color of everything seems less so. 

The guys at the reunion were wonderful to me. They have all known each other now for over 35 years. Some are regulars at their annual gathering, And I met others joining this weekend for the first time. Watching them greet each other, laugh, and hang out, it’s like no time has passed by. They embrace each other and just pick up stories and conversation as if they’re all 19 years old again. My husband’s absence is palpable. I look around and can see an empty space at the breakfast table where he should be. I know what special commentary or laughter he would add to a funny story being retold for the “unknownth” time. His closest friends here share my shadow of grief, I see we are all trying to be here without him, but our eyes meet and we know who we are missing at the bar and at poolside.

I gave his ashes to Toots, for safe keeping until they do what they’re going to do this weekend. I feel like I should have given more of him to them. I still have ashes left over in my pottery jar. The same jar that usually holds a flower he wore the day we were married which will be 20 years this September 6. It’s in perfect condition, albeit instead of a peach color, the rose is now a honey light brown. I am just like a caretaker at a lighthouse. I don’t own him, but I’m just wanting everyone to have the light they need from him to guide them now in their paths forward. 

Pam and Jackie 

I drove from Pennsylvania to West Haven, Connecticut on Friday evening. On my morning ride along the beach of Long Island Sound, there are several piers that jut out into the water. I randomly chose one, and I saw that there were two people at its end fishing. We start our conversation by their telling me they just finished cleaning up garbage that was strewn all over, almost apologetically to me. I’m fascinated by these two women. Jackie and Pam from Waterbury have been besties for over 24 years. They are wearing near identical-colored shirts and have similar haircuts. I’m watching them like a ballet performance as Pam reeled in a Red Robin and Jackie meets her catch with pliers to undo the hook to toss it back. Pam tells me the secret formula to their bait: beef bits marinated in mackerel juice. I feel like I’ve just received Jesus in fishing-lore form. 

As we continue our chatting about fishing, before you know it, the pole is offered to my hands to reel in what’s at the end of the line. This is Pam’s wanting me to see what it feels like. It was another Red Robin, it makes a funny clucking sound and it is quite heavy. I am so honored to be a part of their fishing day, this is such a treat, especially when I came out here just thinking I would be biking: cyclist-fisherman no problem! I was so happy to be with them, mostly because I miss what they share and they welcomed me to be a part of their world. This brief encounter meant so much to me. I felt their bond of love in unspoken words just in the form of synchronized movements, something I now long for, and I found it randomly at the end of a pier.

For my afternoon ride, I drove north a bit to New Haven. There was a large state park area that surely had some kind of trails. I parked at Pizza Heaven II, liking that name and thinking when I’m done pizza sounds good to eat. My adventure in to West Rock Ridge State Park began with a steady, large gravel road climb that didn’t stop. I literally hear the voice of Tyrion Lannister saying “You’re in the great game now,” as my ascent seems never-ending. Not really knowing where I’m going to end up, I’m looking around as I pass parking lookouts, mountain bike trails marked with stacked stones at the entry points, and then I see it: to my left as I round a bend, smooth rocks are at the crest of what could be a private look-out. I see the trail that leads up to it. I walked my bike to its peak, and I am brought to tears. In part, because of the view, but also because of what’s missing. This place is meant to be shared. My bike is a poor substitute (sorry Auriel) for what should be two people standing here. First, holding hands to steady each other from the climb up, then slipping into a knotted embrace, looking out at the scene, but then turning to each other to see the happiness on each other’s faces. Feeling the moment of these thoughts wash over me, I put them aside to figure out how to use my self-timer on my phone for a picture of just me. I think I’m turned a bit in the photo because I’m feeling a ghost of who should be here. I stay back from the rock’s edge. There is no one to catch me if I slip. 

My phone battery was dying quickly, mostly because of poor picture taking. I wanted to complete this recording on Strava and not have another Pleasant Lake experience. My phone died on that excursion in Michigan, and I never made it to Pleasant Lake despite estimating almost 50 miles of a trip. Heading back in a cautious decent, I found my trail just ended at one point, and I’m asking myself where did I lose it? I was able to correct myself, thankful for being first and foremost a mountain biker. I made it back to Pizza Heaven II and enjoyed a slice and a good chocolate milkshake. Onward to Charlestown, Rhode Island.  

There is no solution for loss and grief. I know that. Doing this road trip alone, the first of many to come, is helping me find something I need: visual order in the form of my seeing life as it is now. There is no visual order to grief, I’ve been responding to things as they come in to my view. It’s chaos, there is no certainty to every day, there are nightmares when I’m awake. I’m not a person who chooses to “let go” of myself, I’m choosing instead to “go to” myself. This trip has given me a chance to do things in “an order” that raw grief won’t allow. Grief can have me going all over the place in my mind, missing steps in thought or jumping around in attempting at getting tasks done at home without really finishing anything. 

Every day so far I feel like I’m accomplishing something important: Loading an unloading my bike, discovering a route, eating at a simple restaurant, finding at a motel without having a reservation. Insignificant things maybe to some, but to me these things require steps and an order and ways to do. I have to look at my surroundings, I focus on details that grief would otherwise like me to miss or ignore. As I meet people, I have told some that my husband died, about my biking, or some version of my story. The motel clerk lost his wife to cancer 12 years ago and still wears his wedding ring and a watch his wife gave him that has stopped working. We agree that grief cannot be fixed, and how ironic that his watch can but he chooses not to. It’s all a part of his grief, an extension of his personal story of loss.

It’s an overcast day today. I’ll be leaving my car at this motel for the afternoon as I ride. I want to be by the water: Block Island Sound. There are other things to do here involving nature, and as I rode to Dave’s Coffee this morning, I saw all the signs to turn left or right, but I reminded myself why I’m here. It’s about the biking, seeing what I see from the point of view of being on my bike. So I am starting off heading west and then south on E Beach Road. The hours of this day are moving just a little more slowly than the one before. Just enough time to see what I see, find good food, and after a full day locate my next place on the map and go onward. I’m thinking about New Hampshire or Maine to visit next.~Paula

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