As Sarah noted on Sunday, I stepped off into the mountains last Friday, disappearing into the wilderness on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s no surprise to any of you that have read my posts for these past two years that backpacking, in isolation, is the most transcendent experience that I personally can have. No matter how my wanderings unfold, they always mean something to me.
However, I haven’t really experienced anything new in the three plus years since Megan was first admitted to the hospital. I’ve went to familiar places. Places that I could ramble into, disappear for a few days, and feel the comfort and safety of a home away from home. Places that I had been to so many times that I could navigate every trail blindfolded and say “Hello, again” to every tree.
I’m going to (try to) keep this short, simple, and to-the-point. Megan’s birthday was yesterday...the third since her death. She would have been 36, which, for someone born in the early 80’s with Cystic Fibrosis, is twice the normal life expectancy.
The first thing I thought of when I opened my eyes in the morning yesterday was Megan’s birthday. It was the last thing that went through my head as I closed them in the evening. Her birthday cycled through my head off-and-on all day, just as it had been doing for the past few weeks.
It is what it is. It’s white noise.
It’s not exactly a secret that sometimes, I just can’t foresee a good subject for my weekly writings here. I’ll pine over ideas to see if they spark something, thinking about if there were any milestones, anniversaries, or triggers in the past week. More often than not, I’ll find a nugget of something and expand upon it, and sometimes, a halfway decent writing comes out of it.
But sometimes there just isn’t a good inspiration. I’ll “pocket” some ideas for later, like Megan’s birthday (next week) and our anniversary (three weeks from today), knowing full well that the emotions, and subsequent words are going to flow easily at those times. Still though, it leaves me sitting here on some Tuesdays asking myself the following question.
“What should I be thinking and writing about right now?”Read more
July is here. Megan’s birth month. Although her birthday isn’t until late, the 24th, just the fact that it’s this month serves as a near constant reminder. Every day in July, I consciously wonder how many days it is until the 24th. It’s a passing thought mostly. “It’s the 7th. Hmm...17 days until her birthday. Oh, it’s the 11th. 13 days I guess.”.
It’s not a trigger fest.
In 2011, shortly after Megan’s lung transplant, we decided to have a 5-year plan of moving out of the house we currently live in. We bought this house the year we were married...2005 It’s small, in the city, with a busy highway, shopping area, and rail line within a few hundred yards, lending an ambient soundtrack of engines, train horns, and truck traffic around the clock. The house itself is old, with funky shaped rooms and ceilings, and it creaks and groans, showing it’s age.
But, it was affordable for a young couple just starting out. It was halfway between my work at the time, and our parents...30 minutes either way. The small lot took no time to mow, and the small house was easy on the heating and cooling costs. The neighborhood, noisy as it may be, is pretty safe and decently maintained. It’s not a housing development, with manicured lawns and homeowner’s associations, but it’s not run down or dangerous either. There is a gorgeous river gorge just on the other side of the highway, publicly accessible as a park, and we are 5 minutes from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
There is a a lot of upside to this little salt-box style, 1.5 story house. Yet, by the time Megan was getting healthier, Shelby was in school, and we were starting to talk about OUR “next chapter”
I don’t know how to raise a girl in any other way than I’m doing. I’ve never done it before, I don’t have a sister, and last I checked, I’d never been a girl myself. I’m pretty clueless when it comes to makeup or clothes, and the only reason I know how to braid hair is because it’s the same technique you would use to make rope in the backcountry. I’m not “in tune” with girls, and in a few years, I’m sure I’ll be far too “in tune” with boys for Shelby’s liking.
Shelby makes it easy though. She went through her “princess” phase back when Megan was still alive, so I never had to learn the intricacies of which princess was from which movie, and which prince or knight or whatever they were in love with that was turned into a frog...or something. She grew out of that well before Megan died, moving on to something called “monster high” (which I still don’t get), and has since moved on from those weird green and heavily cosmeticized dolls (is “cozmeticized” a word? Hell if I know). Prior to age 7, she had dress after dress after dress, and at least 6 pairs of heels or "fashion boots" as she called them.
Father’s Day 2017. For once, we had a weekend day where there was nothing to do. We had visited with both mine and Megan’s dads on Saturday, specifically planning to have an open day wedged into the seemingly constant stream of other events that have been taking time on our weekends together.
Sarah was awake and moving well before i was (a fairly rare occurrence), and Shelby slept until 10:30 in the morning (smashing her previous record of 9:45). We sat out on the deck, listened to music, and did nothing….glorious, breathtaking nothing.
Then Shelby presented me with a letter she wrote.
“Share your memories! (3 years ago)” Yeah, that’s what Facebook likes to do to me every year on June 9th. It helpfully pops up a notification, showing me a picture I took on that date in 2014, that I might like to share with the world. It’s such a heartwarming gesture by the team at Facebook (or timehop, or Google Photos, or any other “assistant” service, really) to helpfully suggest that “Hey there, old buddy! Looks like you had a big moment 3 years ago that we’re so sure you remember that we’re going to assist you in making sure EVERYONE remembers it!”
It’s a picture of Megan, in a colorful gown.
Summer is here. Shelby’s last day of school is tomorrow. Work is slowing down, after the “sales” season rolls into the “build” season for the company I work for. Weekends are a time for rest and relaxation. Time to get things done around the house, and to spend time in the woods, at the beach, or just taking in an overnight trip somewhere with Shelby and Sarah. I FINALLY get to spend more time with my family.
Only, none of that is true. It has been an endless series of holidays, birthdays, baby showers, slumber parties, and family visits for almost two months. It is to continue until July. That’s right...every single one of our weekends is spoken for already until July, and none of it has been planned by Sarah or I. Hell, she had THREE birthday parties to go to this past weekend, a baby shower next weekend, then ANOTHER birthday party the weekend after that. I seemingly get no say or respect in the matter, and it’s about to come to a head, where I will forcibly isolate myself from any and everyone.
It reminds me that Megan is gone.
Way back in September of 2012, Megan, Shelby and I took our first backpacking trip together. Shelby was only 5 years old, and Megan was almost two years past her lung transplant. I meticulously planned the trip, choosing the Blackbird Knob trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, in West Virginia. I was already intimately familiar with it, knowing the various campsites, creek crossings, and hills along the way, but neither of the two of them had ever been.
I chose it because of the safety factor. I knew that we could ramble in about a mile before we came to a creek that I wasn’t comfortable having them cross. Just downstream from that point, there was a beautiful backcountry campsite where we could spend the weekend. I limited them, purposefully, so that I didn’t have to worry about Shelby trying to rock-hop across a fairly sizable creek, slipping, and being washed downstream. Nor would I have to be concerned with Megan, who was still getting her feet under her on dry, flat ground in her recovery, experiencing the same.
This past weekend, Sarah, Shelby and I took our first backpacking trip together. Shelby is now 10 years old, and Megan has been gone almost three years. I barely planned the trip, deciding on Monday that we should leave on Friday for the Blackbird Knob trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. I’m still familiar with it and all of the campsites, creek crossings, and hills. While Shelby had been briefly acquainted with it, Sarah had never been.