Maybe it was too early, but I took a trip to Jesse and Claire’s house with Eryn for a few days. I was apprehensive about leaving the house and the Cape so soon, because it just didn’t feel quite right yet. I wasn’t ready to be away from “you”, but of course you are so infused in my heart I will never be away from you, nor do I ever want to be. From the moment I set off for Somerville to meet up with Eryn, you were everywhere. I stopped to wait for her and see the kids, and there you were. You were standing outside on the sidewalk. You walked up the stairs with me and we were greeted lovingly by Isis. And then that burning question reared its ugly head again. Will I be enough without you? For Isis? Zeke? Eryn? Our family???
It was glaringly obvious as I walked up the stairs to Eryn’s apartment that you were everywhere and yet you were nowhere. Zeke and Eryn arrived home from an appointment and although I didn’t see it, I wondered if there was a sense of disappointment for Zeke to see me arrive at the house alone. You and Zeke were always “as thick as thieves” and such great pals. I respected and could never penetrate the bond you two shared. He was sweet to me in his greeting.
Andrea came out from downstairs and drove Eryn and I to the airport with the kids along for the ride. At least that felt new. Not many people would understand how your first wife would be driving me to the airport to see her son with her daughter. But then, we were always an unconventional family which is what I love about us all.
Arriving at the airport brought back a flood of memories of trips to California and beyond. Bumbling nervously at the airline check-in machines, checking luggage and worrying about their weight, reaching security check-in with you, grabbing coffee and snacks, making a restroom stop and then taking a seat at the gate are things I remember so well. Boarding the plane, getting settled in our seats and sitting next to you as we traveled together, two peas in a pod. We moved in harmony as always, because we knew each other so well. You would stash the carry-on, I would carry your headphones and snacks, in my bag and no matter where we were going we always brought items we both meant to work on while in flight, but ended up talking, watching movies and sleeping instead. Yet, we lugged all this stuff with us anyway. We moved together like a well-oiled machine during our travels. Well, we were like that wherever we were together.
I felt you on the plane. You were everywhere and nowhere. I saw you get up to go to the restroom. I saw you listening to music on your new Bose headphones. I saw you sleeping with your neck pillow. I saw you look at me and smile across the aisle and grab my hand for a soft loving moment of comfort when we were seated across from each other. You were there. Everywhere. I wanted to leave you on the plane so I could experience the visit with Jesse, Eryn and our family with a new eye, but it didn’t happen. You were in the San Francisco airport worrying about getting our luggage. You were there when Jesse picked us up in his beautiful new car. You admired it so much. You were in the front seat, because you deserve a place of honor near your eldest son.
Getting to the house was also a reminder that we hadn’t actually been there for a few years because of your health. The last time we ventured to California we had driven there, a beautiful ending to a long dreamed about cross country trip. It was one of the happiest times of our lives. Just you and I traveling across our beautiful country with not a care in the world, totally immersed in a beautiful, fun and eye opening experience. Seeing the grandchildren and helping them decorate for Halloween before flying back home to Boston was such a fitting end to an already tremendous experience. Driving up to the house and walking in the door brought it all back for me. You were everywhere and you were nowhere. It was devastating.
When we got to the house Jesse led me up to the guest bedroom where we always stayed together. The room looked the same as always. There you were again. “We” placed our things in the familiar spots and your presence caught me off guard. I was trying to be so brave, but I was unable to manage it. We had stayed together in that room so many times before. I could barely catch my breath sitting on the edge of the bed, once “we” had settled in.
The biggest wave of grief hit me at bedtime on the first night. I was absolutely sick from the grief. The grief I was trying so hard to restrain. I had to hold it back so as not to wake up the family. It enveloped my entire mind and body. I have never felt anything like it. I could not stop the pain in my heart nor the tears streaming, no not streaming, teeming down my contorted and misshapen face. For a second I thought that I would never get a grip on it, that it would continue on and on and I would die from it. In fact, I wanted to die. I truly did. I wanted to have you come and take me with you, a feeling I have had all too often since you left. I was gripped by the permanency of your death. My chest and throat were closed off and the weight of your death felt heavy on my heart. I have never felt so out of control of my own emotions. The agony of your absence fractured me to pieces. I wanted to gather the pieces and whatever else I could of myself and run outside to scream at the top of my lungs. “Where are you?” “Why can’t I see you?” “Show yourself!” But somewhere deep inside my soul, I knew you weren’t able to. I knew that although you were everywhere, you were nowhere too. The realization of that is what makes me stagger and fall. Every time. The heaviness of losing you has been far too great a burden to carry.
Over the days spent in California, we had some great times too. I was glad to be there with our beautiful family and enjoyed the weekend tempo of the household. We took some hikes and enjoyed the beautiful vistas of Silicon Valley and Stanford from above. The weather was beautiful and we were able to enjoy the fresh air. We talked about you and about life, ate well as always, and I managed to carve in some alone time for myself. I did not want to drag anyone down the rabbit hole I had unwillingly climbed into. I was careful to keep most of my agony to myself. Once in awhile, it was hard to contain, so a few times it seeped out without my consent.
You were so present in the house. We played Michigan Rummy one night and I felt your presence again. It was a game I remember playing when all of the kids were young and we were at your mother’s house. You always made us laugh with your antics as dealer during the last poker hand. Jesse has taken up the mantle. It made me smile to see him take over your role.
On Monday we got to see Chloe in a play at her school. I saw you there too. You were in the bleachers watching. I could see how proud you were of her. She seemed so mature all of a sudden and she was sharing the one thing we may have helped to ignite in her. Theatre. In these precious moments you will live on forever.
Our trip seemed to end just as quickly as it began. It was time to go home and I had a bittersweet feeling as we left the house. Among the many “firsts” I have to muddle through without you, this one seemed very difficult for me. Thankfully, our family is who they are and I love them for it. They were right there with me helping to put my pieces back together, even with their own struggles.
Jesse dropped Eryn and I off at the airport and we boarded the plane. There you were again, hugging Jesse goodbye and sitting between us in the seats on the plane. I had a never ending urge to curl myself up next to you and lean my head on your shoulder. I tried to distract myself with other things. I watched a movie, did a crossword puzzle and eventually took out my computer to write this. When I got to the end of the second paragraph, I fell apart. Because I was on the plane I had to restrain myself and the physical pain from trying to hold it in was torture. Eryn sweetly offered me comfort and helped me to come back around. I was fine for the rest of the flight and in Somerville when we said our goodbyes. Then, as if I hadn’t had enough tears, I headed out on the road and into rush hour traffic. It was yet another reminder of you. How many times did we drive home in rush hour traffic on Rte 93 and 3 after leaving Dana Farber for your doctors appointments heading back to the Cape? Many many times. There I was sobbing uncontrollably while trying to drive the Jeep back to the Cape. I thought I might have to pull over to the side of the road because I could barely see through the tears. Fortunately Zack called and talked to me for about forty-five minutes which was a blessing. We discussed our sadness and the empty part of us that you filled.
When I finally rounded the corner by the Superette onto Samoset in Eastham, I was hit once again. Samoset Road is the road to our dream house. The childlike excitement we used to feel driving down that road to our getaway beach house never got old for us. It was the homestretch to happiness and we had to keep pinching ourselves to believe that it had come true. When I drive down that street alone now, I am reminded of those times we arrived on a Friday night to stay for the weekend. Fire in the fireplace, and end of the week cosmos. We were so incredibly happy. We never wanted to leave. Eventually we moved here so we didn’t have to. Tonight I drove down the road alone again and was reminded of the life we worked so hard to achieve. The homestretch to happiness has now become a pathway to pain. Help me remedy that. Please. I will seek happiness once again, but in no way will it ever match what I had with you by my side. I don’t like being a sad person. It is not who I am. I was never made to be morose or blue. I don’t like wearing my grief on my sleeve. I have always sought the best of life and will continue to do so. It will take some time, however.
Paul? You are everywhere I turn. You are so much a part of who I am in this life that I may never recover. Nor do I want to…recover from you. You are the best part of me. Our connection made us both better people in the world. How do I continue without my life partner? I guess I have no choice but to find out.
Stay with me. I will listen for you. I will hear your song through my heart. I will keep you with me for as long as I live and beyond and we will sing together again someday. This I know to be true.