Sitting on the couch again… with my morning hot chocolate coffee drink and the asshole kitty. Strangely feeling rested and content… purring if I could.
When Ethan died, I had been on a break. I was about to help a friend move to Utah and was figuring out how to get the trailer down to San Pedro to be loaded… then driving with Justin across three states… and we were looking forward to seeing Ethan. Then Easter break… or Spring break would be over and I would go back to work.
But as it was I spent that last weak of break alternating between painful reality and saving numbness and dealing with the mess left by a thoughtless act. My son was dead and that wasn’t going to change… Driving up to Fresno for an unthinkable reason. Cleaning and collecting, settling, and arranging. Hugging and crying. Remembering and asking why. Praying and praying. Arguing with God, the Author, over this latest chapter… asking in vain for a rewrite.
But for all that now …. A life had shattered like glass and now there his ashes sit… just past my feet… in a bag in a box beneath a silly hat. It is unimaginably sad and grim and painful.
And our lives too, Justin, Marquita, and me– Sabro… had fallen to pieces. But unlike shattered glass we were left to put ourselves together like some awkward jigsaw puzzle. Building ourselves back as we went to see what the new picture, if there was one, looked like. What kind of people we were was changed, and who we are, we will be, was waiting for this effort. (There is no box with a picture on it.)
And by the way, some people waste away with grief and forget to eat. Some people eat grief. I guess I am an eater. I’ve gained 14 pounds! The picture is right now a bit chubbier.
And then it was back to work for a few bizarrely comforting, exhausting, and frustrating weeks… Where it wasn’t so much going through the motions as it was managing and handling emotions, of controlled… getting back to basic planning and executing lessons… grading and taking roll, and showing a historical video when my voice left me.
So the summer I planned- It was to be about painting and gardening and writing… as well as painting the house and working on the house in Los Angeles… this would be my process. Creative endeavors and home repair. Along with time with family and softball… It seemed reasonable.
Marquita planned a series of BBQs to which we invited everyone. Sometimes lots of people show up. Sometime only two. And people from different bits of our lives mixed over food and beer… this was good. Her plan for healing. And seeing these people interact… in a large group or just a couple. It is good.
Then I found myself saying yes to the kind of jobs- Alan’s Pro Teambuilding jobs that I usually leave to his cadre of younger temporary workers/actors. And I was on one flight or another or driving across California. And in the middle of the jobs was a trip to Palm Springs for a Wellness Conference with my district. (Which seemed like it was put on for me… slow down, learn, play, be energized. Eat buffet style. And talk when you want to.)
A different healing journey. One of hotel rooms and travel. Of waiting in airports and driving. Of places where there was heat and humidity… or just heat. Of looking for local fair to eat… (fair or faire?) and getting glimpses of people and sights and of conferences and conferences and high energy events. Listening to the same content. Getting people engaged and keeping the energy up. The exhaustion of working long days and travelling… of narrow and confining airplane seats, packing bags, upacking… prepping events, duct tape and zip ties… physically hauling boxes and bags and bikes and bikes and bikes and herding dozens of 8 year olds from a room to a bigger room…
I walked. I waited. I sat and listened. I danced and grooved. I was cold in dry air conditioning… and hot in Southern humidity. I saw Atlanta, and Louisville, and Philly, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa… all for the first time. As well as the inside of airports in Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Houston. Lack of sleep and early morning starts… late night finishes and catching up with uncomfortable and ineffective naps in terminals and on planes. Layovers and transferring planes… Waiting for my group to be called. Shuttle vans. Walking down long corridors or on moving sidewalks. Trains. Busses. Hotel beds and hotel air conditioning. I flew in little regional jets with props and big jumbo jets. I got entire exit rows to myself or was stuck next to a curving wall, trapped for hours by the mass of an immobile and corpulent woman who monopolized our common arm rest.
Dozens of contacts with hundreds of people… none of whom know my circumstances and only see an older chubby guy acting silly. And who thank me for a good event. Happy clients. They shake my hand and give me hugs. Little kids who laugh and smile over their new bikes and the grateful adults around them. More hugs. Happy. Strangers on planes who get to squeeze in next to some big guy. Concierges and hotel staff- catering and sound guys. I need this. I need that. Restaurants with good servers. Cab drivers. The United blue cap who intones “thanks for the generosity” when Chase fails to tip him at the curb side check out. Flight Attendants who bring me Diet Coke and take away my trash.
There was a little time for reading. A little time for writing. But I haven’t picked up a paint brush in weeks. Softball on Sundays is happening. And home repairs have gone untended. So last night, I went to bed exhausted from a 16 hour work day… A day that began at 3 AM… a drive from home to Sherman Oaks waiting an hour and a half at Starbucks on Ventura Bl… loading, prepping, driving to a hotel, breakfast, the event, lunch, more event, clean up and tear down, load, unload, drive back… home by 8:30 pm. And sleep came quickly.
Thunderstorms and the sound of pouring rain. Kitties huddled on the bed… Nuzzling elbows and the space between your head and shoulder.
Waking up on a slow Sunday… It wasn’t a nap. It wasn’t stupidly early. it wasn’t an airplane seat or the floor of a terminal. It wasn’t a hotel bed in some strange city. It was my bed. These were my cats. This was my wife… and in many ways I was waking up to my new life. My shower. My pillow.
It was… it is… calm and peaceful. The air is cool and scented with pine and the smell of fresh rain. The sky is grey and the sounds seem hushed and muffled. At my feet is a cat doing the slow blink and I think he is glad to see me. In one hand is a mug with chocolate coffee.
And a large portrait… of recent, yet departed handsome Ethan, looking debonair in a suit stares at me from in front of the fireplace. Our little shrine… His ashes are under the Jane hat to the left. A bear someone sent… the Run 3rd patch Tracy wore… a huge “We (heart) YOU MR. Foster” card of construction paper with hand written notes from my students… A frame of smaller pictures. Pile of cards. Some assorted and I think artificial flowers.
They say you have a set point when it comes to happiness. That if you were happy before a tragedy, that in time you work back to this set point. That if you were miserable before winning the lottery you work back to misery.
I think I am happy. I think now, that I still love my life. Certainly I have a new appreciation of the people in my life and a new thankfulness for their kindness and compassion. Friends and family.