Across the Miles

The work whistle blew yesterday and I had just settle in for the evening when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was the shaky voice of my stepson, Brandon. It’s midterms and he was stressed and feeling alone and missing his father. Keenly aware of my own feelings as of late – of feeling Keith’s absence, we sat on the phone with both of our voices wavering. There is so much of Keith alive in his son. That boundless energy, that passionate stance, the dogged determination. And yet he is still so young, so much to learn, that he hasn’t mastered his father’s seasoned skill of harnessing all that – well – stuff. Knowing this, I want to protect him from his own whirling dervish. It’s not possible. Like his father, he has to figure it out on his own.

So I sit on my cell phone, across the miles, trying to find the right words to say to a young man desperately wanting to find his place in a scary world, find his emotional footing without a father to extend a hand to steady him. All the while, I find myself searching for the same things – my place in a scary world, my footing without a man who so adeptly steadied me when I would spin out of control. I know it’s his father’s voice he wants to hear on the other end of the phone. I know that when I hang up, I just want to bury my head in my pillows and smell Keith there as I once did. We can not get that back. We can’t replace what was lost. We can’t even lean on each other since we both are so precariously perched on the quicksand of our grief.

I could tell him that although I can’t fix it, I can understand it. I could tell him that if he can get through this, he will be stronger, smarter, better. That I am proud of all he’s fought for, gained, learned. But most of all, I could promise him that I will always love him – in a voice without wavering, crystal clear across the miles, as if I was right next to him, as if Keith was saying it through me.

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Bad Weather

Being witness to wind and rain and storms and snow are still the strongest singular events that make me feel Keith’s absence. Bad weather would electrify him and turn him into a one man National Guard. After hours of watching the weather, tracking the path of the storm, analyzing the radar loops, he would formulate a plan.

His first directive was to head to the gas station with each vehicle and all 5 of our gas cans before the clouds moved in, topping off each vessel with all the gasoline they could hold. The generator that still sits in our garage, a silent reminder of Keith’s ever ready approach to threatening weather, would get the once over to make sure it would fire up when needed. Then it was a trip to the grocery store for water and canned goods. Then he’d busy himself around the yard to clear anything that could blow around. If snow was imminent, he’d line up all the cars at the end of our driveway, wiper blades lifted off the windshields as if they were reaching their black rubber arms to the sky, praying to be merciful to them. It was very clever of him because we never had to shovel the driveway and there were no trees to drop their snow laden branches on our precious modes of transportation.

After the snow passed, Keith would clean every snowflake off of every inch of all the cars and hop in the lead car which was always the best to drive in snow – because he had planned that out too – and take an assessment tour of the town. He’d come back home, babbling excitedly about all the drifts, impasses, emergency vehicles he drove by, reporting in on any damage, and which businesses were open and which were closed. Then it was back outside with him so he could shovel the steps and walkways.

If it was rain that fell, Keith would suit up and head out with his shovel in hand, always at the torrential stage, to dig trenches through the back yard to channel all the water away from the house. I’d sit in the nice dry house, peaking out the windows at him, watching the rain drench him and roll off his cheeks and nose, fascinated with how it didn’t ever seem to phase him as he trenched away. He never stopped to wipe his face or shake off the endless drops. I can still see the faint trails of those bygone trenches snaking across the back yard like ancient dry river beds. They are the mark of a man who was master of the elements, protector of home and family.

I tried to fill those shoes Wednesday. I found the shovel but left the gas cans empty, I moved my mother’s van to the end of the driveway but didn’t lift the blades, I ran to the store but only to get dog food and laundry detergent. I surveyed the scars of the old trenches – all the while feeling that old familiar heaviness that sits in my chest when I become acutely aware of who is not there. Keith must have sensed my distress because the blizzard that could have been wasn’t. The rain lifted, the winds subsided, and my weak attempt to batten down the hatches was more than enough to survive unscathed. Once again, he gives me the gift of returning to my life without him, as if to say he still is protecting his home and family – through this storm and all the storms to come.

A Postcard to a Friend

Last week the front of a cherry pop tart box arrived in my mailbox – a custom pastry tart postcard with the simple message – thinking of you – from my childhood friend, Karen. It took me back to that time in our lives when we were young, in college, full of dreams – and would mail each other postcards from the sides of wine cooler cases with our critique of the bouquet and essence of each flavor.

We first ran into each other on the playground in second grade – literally. Actually, I ran into her and we knocked heads. I broke her glasses and gave her a nasty gash right next to her eye. It wasn’t long after she was rushed to the nurse’s station that I felt the goose egg rising on my forehead, so I straggled in behind her. And that is how we met. We formed a girl gang so we could chase the boys on the playground. She being the fiery bold Captain and I the sensitive gentle second in command.

We went to separate schools until our paths crossed again in high school. She was still that fierce bold girl from the playground but had metamorphosed into a stunning blonde beauty. She made the cheerleading team and worn the Caroline County Farm Queen crown. I was still the shy sensitive girl, tuned in to all the hormonally charged emotions rolling around the halls of our educational confines. An Emo before Emo’s existed.

We spent our free time together, sleeping over at each other’s house, driving around in her Mach I listening to Her Yaz cassette tape. Our last summer before going off to college, we worked together busing tables in the sleepy tourist town of St. Michaels. We shared our dreams. She would be a dazzling lawyer and I a renowned journalist.

Time has rolled on so far from that day on the playground when a shy sensitive freckle faced girl crashed into her bold fierce beauty of a friend. The miracle of us is not that two opposites could create such a strong friendship. The miracles lies in the fact that we have always seen in the other what we carry in ourselves. She has always seen my own fierce beauty. I have always felt her deep well of emotions. Our lives may not have landed where we dreamed them to be – but sitting here, holding my cherry pop tart postcard, I know it will all be ok – because we still dream big for each other.