Today, September 1st is the six-month anniversary of Paul’s death. I am home today and, having slept in for a bit, I am now in our room sitting in our bed with a laptop wondering, “How can this be real?” Every day that goes by is amazing: my eyes still see, my heart still beats, and I continue. As I fall asleep every night I tell myself I’ve gotten through another day without him – and that it is now one day closer to a time we can be together again.
I bring myself to do things, which does not imply that I do so willingly. This was my first week of classes for the semester, and last year at this same time Paul and I went back to school together. By then he was greatly diminished physically but other than his slowed walking and difficulty climbing stairs as he once did, he was still 100% himself mentally; his glorious smile had not yet left him or the world. No one on campus really knew how ill he was because Paul’s light was so strong others couldn’t see the details.
On Tuesday I saw the chair of Paul’s department walk by outside my classroom window and decided to stop in afterward to visit with him. I brought myself there, and we talked for quite a while about things “in the present.” When it came time to leave I told him I was going to bring myself through their mutual classroom and stop at Paul’s office; I’d not been there since my sons cleared it of his personal things after his memorial service on March 16th. I did not think I would ever be strong enough to face that room without it being “his.”
I brought myself to the open door of the darkened room, and put my hand on the door frame to brace myself as I gazed into the void. It was as though past and present shifted back and forth until my mind stopped on the image of the present emptiness. I bowed a ‘namaste’ to the space (as he always did when leaving somewhere) and turned to go down the stairwell I thought I’d never descend again. I brought myself to do that, too, and went out the door into the sun and walked next door to my own office in the building next door.
Last year we made our final trip together to “our spot” at Clarenden Gorge. Ever since the summer after we met this had been our oasis, and last year he wanted to go on a mutual free afternoon during our first week of school. It was the afternoon of the day before Hurricane Irene hit Vermont. As always, it was a treacherous climb downhill. He had always been the strong one, going first and making sure I could climb down the steep embankment okay, helping me not to fall.
I’ve never been good with heights and his hand was always there; last year we reversed roles. The current was too strong for him to go in safely, but I’m a water-baby and at least got wet while he set up our traditional snack. We talked about “next year,” both of us knowing there would not be a “next year” to come to this place – at least not together. As we left the site after the arduous climb back up to the “real world” Paul turned and bowed a ‘namaste’ to our special place on earth.
Since his death I’d been planning to go to the Gorge if I could possibly do it, and do it alone. Wednesday of this week was my free afternoon to do so; I’d told my son of my plan, assuring him that I would keep my phone on me in case I had a problem. I stopped at the farm stand and bought a half-pint of the local apple cider and local cheddar Paul loved – parts of the traditional snack. I brought myself to the turnout and parked the car, changed into a swimsuit and began the descent alone.
I’d expected that Irene would have had her way with “our spot” yet I was overwhelmed by the actual sight of it. There is one HUGE rock (as in at least 20 feet tall and 15-20 feet in diameter) that Paul stood atop in our early days, singing Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay” (in his glorious tenor voice) ”. . . In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay, but our love is here to stay.” It was the first time he’d admitted he loved me, and he sang it.
That rock is now buried in the roots and trunks of trees that had been at least three- to-five feet in diameter and growing upriver somewhere when we were last there together – rather like some angry Goliath had ripped them out of the ground so he could play “pick up sticks.” The huge trees tangled sideways overhead and the sand piled into areas that had once been verdant pools seemed the perfect metaphor for my life now.
I made my way to water’s edge where I could look upstream at more familiar vistas, took out the cider and cheese and cried less than I thought I might because at least this part of the world looked like I felt and no one could see or hear me.
As the setting sun began to lengthen the shadows in the Gorge I packed up and began my ascent, alone as before.
Reaching that spot of “return to the real world,” I turned and bowed ‘namaste’ knowing that “our spot” now has the devastation of our life together spelled out everywhere. There will be other things I will bring myself to do, but when I go here I will always still see Paul on top of that rock and always hear him sing that he loves me.