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.
As Sarah, Shelby and I near the time to depart for our summer vacation, I am reminded of just how different things were, and I am finding some appreciation of the very fact that as a widower, those differences weren’t always convenient. We’re traveling to my favorite place on earth, the Great Smoky Mountains, at the end of July.
Megan and I always took our “big” road trips around this time. In between her birthday and our anniversary, occuring about 10 days later. It was convenient, because of large annual festivals going on around home, it got us away from the tourists invading our space, and allowed us to be tourists ourselves. We always did quite a bit of shopping and “touristy” type things, but my eyes were constantly transfixed on those mountains, standing like 6500-foot ramparts on the edge of the tiny town of Gatlinburg.
I knew, given Megan’s illness, that the majority of the time spent in the trees, creeks, and cool air would be supplanted by more pedestrian endeavors in gift shops and restaurants. I would see far more people than birds. Kitschy “mountain man” shops, selling red plaid, black teddy bears, and pine scented soap would be chock full of persons wearing fanny packs and crocs, scoffing at the idea of walking any further than a few feet from their car to see a real black bear or smell a stately stand of pines on a mountaintop.
I hated the very thought of Gatlinburg, but I still loved going there. I still do.Read more