So, I’ve taken Audrey on a summer outing- along with the help of my parents who drove us and came along. It was one of the things I’d had on the list of “fun things to do this summer with Audrey” before the phone call. I’d found a farm not too far away that had raspberry picking and figured since it had no association with Dan, it’d be a good first outing.
So, I was somewhat surprised at how overwhelming the grief still is- to be out- anywhere- doing- anything.
We had to drive down Route 17 to get there- past the little bus shelter where Dan and I said our goodbyes and hellos for many years- the bus from there goes to Port Authority. The shelter is old and worn looking with graffiti and usually a few flyers hanging up with information on an apartment for rent or car for sale with the little strips of paper ready to be torn off. It sits right on the highway and during winters, the cold and wind would be brutal waiting there for the bus. Once we were married and living in Brooklyn, we often took the bus back to the city from my parents together. We’d stand huddled together- Dan would try to warm me up, but sometimes I’d joke that he was really trying to warm himself. He was always so prone to being cold. He told me when we first met that he was allergic to the cold- and would break out in little bumps. He hated the cold office buildings he had to work in, and when I heard that his last words were, “This water’s cold-I’m heading back,” I felt sick.
But we would stand there, and sometimes if I didn’t have any, he’d give me his big gloves. Then I’d feel bad at how cold he seemed so we’d each wear one and put the other hands in a pocket together. Sometimes we’d jump up and down together to keep warm. Sometimes we’d sing. I hated waiting for that bus there at that little shelter on the highway- but it had been much worse when I was just dropping him off to say goodbye. At least after we were married, we traveled together.
There’s a Stop and Shop behind the bus stop and sometimes we’d miss the bus and go in there and walk around. We’d get a cup of coffee or some gum other times if we needed change for the bus. A few times Dan really had to pee and had to ask to use their restroom.
There’s also a Wendy’s towards the end of the parking lot. I remember us going there once after fighting for hours- some long, drawn-out dramatic fight. “Let’s go to Wendy’s,” we said. And all was well.
On the highway we also drove past a small shopping area that used to have a Circuit City. I remember taking Dan there to get a computer so he could do music production. Then driving him to his apartment in Staten Island. We passed Barnes and Noble- where we’d often go to look around and get a cup of coffee. I remember most recently going with Audrey when she was about four months old. She slept in her car seat stroller while we enjoyed each other’s company and a cup of coffee. You loved heading to the music section and listening to all of the samples. You’d often introduce me to music that you thought I’d like that way- and you usually knew my taste. “I think you’ll like this,” you’d say.
We also passed Babies ‘R Us where we’d gone together to pick out Audrey’s Bumbo seat and a few other things when we were living with my parents.
Once we headed further north on the highway, I felt a sense of relief- I’d made it past the toughest parts. As we pulled into the farm, I saw a large, orange butterfly fly overhead.
Audrey enjoyed raspberry picking- even though it was hot in the sun. She enjoyed popping quite a few in her mouth as well. We filled up two containers and headed to a picnic table in the shade to eat lunch, but Audrey wasn’t really hungry and wanted to do a little bit more picking so my parents took her.
As I sat at the table, I began to weep. It had been building in my throat and my chest since I saw that run-down old bus shelter. It’s like I see our ghosts everywhere- I see us standing there together, cold but embracing. I want to be that girl again so badly. I don’t care how cold and windy it gets or if I have to wait there for hours. I will. I would.
I looked around at a pretty pond and some weeping willows on the farm. You would’ve thought it pretty, Dan. “I miss you so much,” I said aloud. It is as I’ve read in my current book “Lament for a Son:” “When we gather together now there’s always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech.”
Your absence today overwhelmed me. I could see you taking Audrey’s hand and leading her to ripe berries, “Good job Audrey!” you would’ve said. I could see you telling me we should be careful because the bushes had tiny thorns. “Hmmm, I don’t know about this,” you would’ve said to me when you first realized it. How can you not be here? And you’re not away? But you’re genuinely gone for the rest of my life? How can this be I ask myself as I sit alone on the gray bench. It is very quiet without you.
So, it’s done now. We’re back home and I’m feeling quite drained- from the sun, but mostly from your absence. “Waz bewwy pi cking!” Audrey says. “Waz bewwy EAT!” She had a good time, so I am glad.
At the picnic table, I saw the shadow of a butterfly on the table, but couldn’t find the source. Then before we left, I saw one more butterfly fly past us. These butterflies comfort me. What will I do in the winter?