Phil was on his way to this trail head on the day he died. He left home around five thirty on a summer evening in August, and I got a phone call from a witness of the accident that took his life thirty minutes later. Somehow that trip to get to my husband's side is burned into my memory in a way that other moments from that time are not.
Five years later I still travel the route I took that day in August regularly. Initially, I avoided going down the street where I found him lying on the grass unconscious. But doubling the time required to get to locations on that side of town eventually became tiresome, and I forced myself to face that spot; over and over and over. Mostly in the car, occasionally on foot, and one time only on a bicycle. My reactions to passing the exact location where my life turned upside down have varied wildly through the years; vacillating between hyperventilation and mindless driving. The first time I realized that I'd driven by that mark on the sidewalk without thinking about Phil I cried for hours. Since then I have spent a lot of time evaluating my reactions, wondering about how they would change with time, and testing my recall on the details of that fateful day.
Five years later my heart still skips a beat while looking at that sidewalk. Countless passes by this personal landmark have both dulled and amplified my response to a trip down this road. Some days I am proud of the fact that I am able to maneuver my car down a path that so radically changed my life. Other days I drive by in awe of all that has happened in my world since August 2005. Mostly I just touch my heart or blow a kiss as I motor along.
Last week this landmark threw me one of those proverbial grief punches. For some reason instead of seeing the road as it is today, for the first time in a long time I imagined the scene as the drama unfolded that day. I saw Phil, the suburban, the cars, the people, the police, the fire engines, his bike standing upright at the side of the road, and I experienced the tunnel vision of that afternoon. All I could see in that moment was Phil. As soon as I got within fifty feet of the accident location my eyes were scanning the crowd, the cars, the road...where is my husband? Usually when I think of the accident I focus entirely on him, but in this imagining I saw myself in my mind's eye as well. Kneeling in the grass was a vision of the broken-hearted, shocked, frantic me leaning in complete disbelief over the crumpled form of the man with whom the future was supposed to unfold. My heart ached, my pulse raced, my breathing became shallow and I re-lived, just for a moment, the initial rawness of what that girl kneeling over that man experienced.
And I was proud of her, because somehow she survived.