It’s not the miles I mind. I70 and I have become old friends; the kind of friends that don’t care if one is tired and cranky as long as the other can be open and raw in some parts but totally shut down in others. I can’t even count the miles anymore. There have been too many, one blurred into the next, to keep track.
It’s not the change that I mind, either. Moving him into his room this time around was easier. There was less paperwork, less unknown, less apprehension. His friends were as happy to see his face as I was sad to leave it behind; a comfort, in some ways but bittersweet, still, in others.
I managed to get through the loading up, the doughnuts, the unloading, the room check, the small talk, the office visits and the good bye hug. I managed to make it out of the parking lot this time before the tears came, even though I’d warned them not to. I told myself that was progress, crying only when he couldn’t see me.
Last year when I took him there, before I left town, we stopped to visit my grandma. She was still (mostly) herself then. She knew us when we walked in, though she called him a different name a couple of times. She still smiled. Still gave the nurses hell. Still said ‘oh I love you I love you I love you my hatzya’ as she held both my hands and looked at me straight on, not afraid of saying the words AND looking at the same time, as so many others seem to be.
This year I stopped at the florist. I swallowed when they told me how much their half shriveled, brown at the edges roses were and bought some anyway. I drove to the little town where she grew up and is now buried, and thought how odd it is that each time I’ve been there, except for the day of her burial, mine has been the only car in the little make-shift parking lot.
This year I found Mina’s place before I walked to Grandma’s. The tears were there as soon as I saw the name and the year. I was seven then. I apologized through the sobs, ashamed that in the 36 years since she died this is the first time I’ve gone to see her. I could’t sit—the ground was wet and the rain still fresh, but I crouched down and told her about her great great niece and nephews. I told her I wanted to get her tulips but roses were the best I could do, and promised to try again when I came back next time. I prayed the Hail Mary before kissing her goodbye.
I crossed the cemetery and stopped, long enough to pray the Our Father in front of Jesus on the crucifix. I felt odd, standing there alone in the middle of a cemetery, but did it anyway. Crossing without stopping to pray seemed irreverent and disrespectful.
The flowers we’d left her last month were gone; so were the ones that had been there already. I noticed Phil’s headstone to my left; had it been there last month? I can’t remember. The grass hasn’t grown over her space yet, the dirt that’s not quite mud despite the rain makes me cry harder. It seems like yesterday I was hugging her but it also seems like forever that she’s been gone. I can almost hear that grass-less dirt laugh at me, telling me to make up my mind.
I crouch here, too, to chat. I have a line from ‘Hope Floats’ ringing through my brain; there’s a scene where Sandra Bullock is talking to her mother about how she wanted to be a different mother to her daughter than her mom had been to her, and says something like ‘I realize that it doesn’t matter who or what or when or where the hugging happens. Sometimes you just need a hug’ and I kept hearing ‘it doesn’t matter where or when the conversations happen as long as we keep talking’. The voice in my head had that Texas drawl even though I don’t, and I kept begging it to stop.
I kept talking, through the tears, until my thighs burned and my calves cramped and I couldn’t crouch any longer.
Then I drove away. Back to I70. Back to the blurring lines that mark the miles that separate me from him and from them. This time the tears wouldn’t stop and the signs blurred and I was mad at myself for not grabbing a handful of napkins and stuffing them in the crook of the seat when we stopped for doughnuts earlier that morning. I pulled over on the highway, popped the trunk and fished a shirt I know my girl had only worn once from the laundry bag we’d forgotten to take inside after last weekend’s trip. I giggled, thinking of Leslie’s LTYM reading and how it was so funny when she talked about using the backup panties as a Kleenex but then cried harder because it’s not funny when it’s you, wiping the snot with a shirt your girl will be excited to wear once I’ve washed and bleached it twice before putting it away.
In the safety of that car I gave myself to the tears, knowing it was the only place I wouldn’t hear ‘oh mom, he’ll be fine’ and ‘at least he has family close’ and ‘you should be used to this by now.’ I was thankful that I didn’t have to nod and say ‘you’re right’ and ‘I know’ when what I really wanted to do was just be sad that the time has flown so fast. Like the lines on the highway, blurring from the window until I can’t see them any longer.
Today I’m joining Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary for Just Write. Read here to learn more about Just Write. In a nutshell, it’s a free write about a recent or current experience without adding analysis, explanation, or clarification. (I took this entire paragraph from Erin Margolin. Read her Just Write piece, titled ‘A School Morning’, here).