Three months after my discharge from the Marine Corps, at 22 years old, I met my wife Megan, on December 10th, 2002. The very next day, I was drawn like a moth to a flame into dealing with a long term, terminal illness. Megan had Cystic Fibrosis, and after 8 years or declining health, she received a double lung transplant, and a new lease o life. Our daughter Shelby was born in 2007. In early 2014, those recycled lungs, which had brought our little family three years of uncomplicated health and happiness, finally began to give out. She died from chronic organ transplant rejection on November 19th, 2014 while I held her hand and let her go. I'm a single father and widower at 34 years old, and no one has published a manual for it. I don't fit the mold, because there is no mold. I "deal with it" through morbid humor, inappropriateness, anger, and the general vulgarity of the 22 year old me, as if I never grew up, but temper it with focus on raising a tenacious, smart, and strong woman in Shelby. I try to live as if Megan is still here with us, giving me that sarcastic stare because yet again, I don't know what the hell I'm doing.
In about 36 hours, Shelby, Sarah and I are hitting the road. We’re not going to Texas, or the beach, or New York, or to visit my parents. We’re not planning this trip amongst anyone other than ourselves. I neither desired or solicited anyone else’s input with regards to our plans, other than Sarah and Shelby. We’re headed to the mountains in North Carolina, because of course we’re headed to the mountains.
In years past, our “family vacations” were, in general, a week-long trip to Myrtle Beach with Megan’s parents and siblings. Sure, Megan and I’s honeymoon was in Gatlinburg, and just the two of us. We also spent a week in Yosemite National Park and San Francisco together. Neither of those trip included Shelby though.
In 12 years as a couple, 7 of which included Shelby, we took only one trip where we planned and executed everything for ourselves...a trip to Maine. Shelby still talks about that trip, 5 years later. She remembers some things from our 4 or 5 trips to the beach, certainly, but it’s Maine that she wants to go back to.
This past Sunday, August 6th, would have been Megan and I’s 12th anniversary. Sarah, Shelby and I were camping, with Sarah’s sister, and as the morning light (and two dogs) woke me up, I immediately noted the significance of the date.
Then I crawled out of the tent, took care of the dogs, and made some coffee.
As I sat down for that first, glorious sip of coffee in the morning, I remembered that it was our anniversary.
Then I rekindled the campfire.
As Shelby woke up, crawling out of the nylon dome, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that she was emerging in the New York woods as the biggest reminder of Megan and I’s marriage.
I got her a pop tart to munch on as she sat by the campfire.