Dear Reader, If I sanitized the telling of my story and did not reference grief, I would be lying to you and myself. Read on, enjoy every bite. ~P.
July 25, 2017
I’ve been awake since 5:20 a.m., and my last morning in Maine is here. Today it is overcast, but at least no rain. I’m looking forward to being able to ride my bike. As I pack my bags, I have my second floor motel room door fully open again, to feel the ocean breeze and to hear waves and birds droning a tune that dances in my ears. I’m craving to hear every detail and put it in my memory to take with me, a part of the packing. I’m still undressed as I sit on the corner of my bed, the doorway view is a portrait image full of some of my favorite colors: hushed-blues, soft greens, and those stony-greys. If I could live my life from this room now, if I didn’t have to be responsible for other people or need to return to my current life, I’d happily call this simple space home. It’s nearly 10:00 a.m. by the time I reluctantly dress and get to walking down the open wooden steps with tacked on utility carpet one more time to check-out and to put my small suitcase, biking duffle bag, and light-blue backpack in my car.
I’m wearing my cycling gear for my last coastal bike ride on this reunion trip, and I feel confident I will return to this lovely state in particular for more adventures sooner than later. It’s one of my first location choices for moving to in my future, yet to unfold. I hope to be back before then though, there are more roads and beaches I want to explore. I walked down to the little West Grand Market, barely two blocks away, to pick up a pre-ride coffee. Upon my return, I meandered in between buildings, then over the dune through what seemed like an organized processional with grasses on each side of the sandy aisle. Old Orchard Beach, even in the cloudy-overcast light of today, has a glossy, pristine feel to it. Clean, calm lines along its shoreline, I don’t even bother to take off my slip-on shoes to wade in to the surf. I like how the seaweed gets tangled in my toes, feet, and straps of my shoes. It feels like soft feathers wrapping themselves around my ankles and even an occasional cat’s tongue licking in between my toes. I make sure to take my customary pictures of looking up and down the beach, several straight-out shots paying attention to the horizon line, and of course my feet next to my coffee cup.
Per my usual of this trip so far, I don’t have set plans or reservations for the next thing, just an idea of what I’d like to do and a bit of confidence that it will all work out. I wish I could apply that relaxed attitude to the rest of my life, dare I evoke the “practice makes progress” saying now as an attempt to reassure myself to start trying. The pessimistic-skeptic in me says it’s such a stupid thing to say now about “things working out” when it comes to my long-term health, finding a place to call a forever home, and *gasp* a partner to share some version of happiness: all of this wrapped up in a fat grief ball. If there is one thing I have discovered about grief, it’s that planned logic and expected outcomes now make absolutely no sense, and the opposite in the form of a “knee-jerk response” or a “decision on the fly” is much more satisfying. The way I can explain how that is, is this: for me there was such an abruptness to when death and loss had come, even though anticipated, the logic and order-side of thought now holds little meaning anymore because it does not agree with what I have now experienced. There is no answer for “why” this all has happened, only that it has, my whole world has changed, and I need to somehow deal. My confidence in good things coming is fleeting at best, it just feels wrong to expect a good outcome, I’ve now been trained to think the result will be most likely not good or definitely not in my favor.
This is my new language now, and I’m learning it’s not easily understood by others too far outside of the loss circle. I’ve found that even between other grievers sharing a loss, there can be misunderstandings or an unequal balance, kind of like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. More learning and more interpretation required for all of it. The calling of my own grief tells me what feels right to me, and I am compelled to do it. Label it “self preservation” or “personal needs,” when the mood or moment strikes me, I’m doing it, whatever “it” is to work through a wave of grief. Even if this doesn’t make sense to you, it does to me. It’s my way of balancing and holding on to a version of my own sanity. Remember, I will lean toward the things that give me a feeling of a “happy” and avoid other things that cause tears and more pain. Tears and pain come anyway, and “happy” is like looking for a lost dog: as I call for it, I can hear it’s chain jingling, but it remains out of sight, all the while teasing me with its distance. Sometimes sadness is the only thing that comes.
Today’s ride will begin at an entry point on the Eastern Trail, Maine’s segment of the East Coast Greenway. I drove to the trailhead on Old Blue Point Road with its much-needed adjacent parking lot, within a ten-minute drive from my motel. After my rain delay day-off, I am anxious to have a long, all-day-type ride, but will be happy to make it from Old Orchard Beach to Cape Elizabeth. I’m thinking anywhere from two to three hours round-trip total. After this ride, I will be driving from Maine to Boston, about two hours south, for a short stop to see my sister-in-law and her family before driving on another four hours west and ending up somewhere along the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border for the night. My next, and final bike ride of this trip will figured out once I get there.
After parking my car in the lot just off of Old Blue Point Road which happened to be adjacent to Scarborough Cemetery tucked in the background, I find myself doing those familiar, comforting steps preparing for my ride. I’m ready to start. My friend here in Maine told me about this route, the East Coast Greenway in its entirety stretches a total of 3,000 miles starting in Maine, connects 15 states, and goes all the way south to Florida. I was looking forward to experiencing it here, maybe future travels would involve cycling along more of it: a possible bucket list item. The path was mostly packed crushed gravel. It was funny to me that I felt like I was on my way to Watch Hill Lighthouse again, Lighthouse Road to be exact, where people walking were the obstacles and everyone forgot to share the road. I’m giving out my sing-song “on your left” as several different groups of people had stretched across the entire width of the path. To continue on towards Cape Elizabeth, it’s a right turn back out into paved road. No more extra people, I feel like I can breathe again, and I’m back to my private thoughts.
Pedaling along 207 Black Point Road, I am getting hungry and hopeful that a cafe or restaurant will come along somewhere. As I’m thinking about food, another cyclist suddenly comes up on my left, he’s going at a faster pace than me. He says “on your left, hi” to which in my shock, all I get out of my mouth is a “ehyeeeeee-eeeee” kind of like I’m Arthur Fonzarelli aka “The Fonz” from Happy Days. I think the most ridiculous part was as I was bearing down on an incline, both of my hands were busy squeezing my handle bars, so my head did the snap-up-head “hello” gesture to my left side at the same time that my Fonzie imitation erupted from my mouth. Idiot me, my social skills feel non-existent. Suddenly though, I see this cyclist as my ‘rabbit,’ convincing myself that I could catch up to him and match his pace. Maybe at the very moment I catch up, we would come upon a cafe and I could ask him to have lunch with me. I can’t help it that I’m a sucker for wanting companionship, my ever-hopeful fantasy-brain kicking in auto-pilot pushing out my idiot hello-move and subduing my grief thoughts. That’s okay, I need a break from what’s not here, and I would most certainly welcome an impromptu lunch date.
Focusing on my rabbit who is wearing a white shirt, I now round a curve to the right and head into a downhill. I start pedaling with renewed enthusiasm, plus I’m ready for lunch! I follow him as best I can, trying to match his pedaling rhythm. I’m thinking about my long-term goal to be a better cyclist: to ride farther, ride faster, and if I’m lucky “do epic shit” which I had read on a cool pair of biking socks. If he pauses his pace and I keep up with mine, I could meet up with him in under two minutes. One more blind curve of this road, and suddenly he is nowhere in sight. He must have made a turn, but there are a couple directions he could have taken. I’m willing to follow a rabbit, but not willing to go down a rabbit hole, so *sigh* I’ve lost him, boo. The first priority is still food, so onward I go, keeping to my route, and wondering about what may come up ahead. I arrive at an intersection that needs my full attention, and after checking the map on my phone, I finally figure to make a left turn here, and straight on will take me to my desired destination.
The sun seems to be finding its way out from behind mottled grey and white clouds. The blue sky blotches in between are a pleasant backdrop for deep green trees lining Spurwink Road, equally pretty but so unlike the more-fully overcast, soft-beach colors of earlier this morning. I’m wondering how much longer it will be until I arrive in downtown Cape Elizabeth. The road seems to open up and be wider now, and just as I notice this, I see on my left a cheerful yellow and white building surrounded by a paved parking lot. The building appears more like a double-wide trailer, just kind of plunked down out of nowhere, all very Wizard of Oz. The sign post at the road tells me all I need to know: Spurwink Country Kitchen with a red, white, and blue flag that reads ‘Open.’ Looks like I’ve found my lunch spot.
Adding to my checklist of travel necessities, first and foremost locating a public bathroom, a place to lock my bike gets mentally noted along side the need to not miss an outlet to charge my phone. These, I’m learning, are very important details to help my travels be more pleasant, just a part of those ‘steps.’ My bike now finds its hitch along rusted black-iron railing that flanks simple steps leading up to the doorway. There is a moment of uncertainty as I open the door, hearing it creak mercilessly and my bike shoes making that funny ‘clack’ sound on the step inside drowns out my fears. “Just go on in,” I tell myself, “whatever it’s like inside, all will be okay.” From the stark exterior of this place, I am instantly transported to the coziest home-away-from-home interior space. Suddenly, I’m in someone’s welcoming large living room, dining room all-in-one. This is what I like best about that diner experience: its personal because it’s like walking in as the unexpected ‘where-have-you-been-all-this-time’ guest, sitting at their casual dining room table and you feel like you know the people and the place so well. I want so much to feel the familiar, to feel welcomed. This place wrapped itself around me now, and eased my sense of my feeling like I’m falling off of some precipice. [Rabbit Pt. 02 to follow soon, thank you, again, for reading.] ~Paula