For several years I would move not only houses, but cities. I am embarrassed to admit that I moved my young children 10 times between 1985 and 1992. Like an addict, my drug of choice was the excitement of moving, it was for a time euphoric, though too soon I needed more. One common theme prevailed, new places brought new friends and the fresh chance to erase the past and the sad memories associated with all that had been lost.
We first moved to San Diego in 1988, it was less than a year when my career relocated us again. We returned to San Diego in 1992 when my sons were ten and twelve; this time I made them a promise; we would not move again until they were both out of high school. Though I kept my promise, staying in one place did not satisfy me; when I could no longer move cities and houses, I would change jobs.
September was often a big change month. In September 1987 the children and I moved to Southern California from the Bay Area. In September 1990 we moved to Denver. In September 1992 we moved from Denver to San Diego, seeking yet another new life.
Since returning to the Bay Area at the beginning of June, I have made every effort to process through the grief I have carried with me for so many years and tried to avoid. I understand more clearly today, I had never fully processed the loss of so many life dreams that did not either manifest, or last. The ending of my 8 year marriage changed every single part of my life. As I moved away from my husband who took care of all finances, I said goodbye to a life of security and time with my children, a life I was not ready to leave. I let go of my identity as a stay at home mother and our beautiful home with the carefully wallpapered and decorated bedrooms of our children. The kitchen I had baked the character cakes for their birthdays, the cabinets I had refinished myself. For years I would long for my dear friends in the neighborhood, our playdates and walks to the park with toddlers in tow. To nearly everyone around us, the end of our marriage was a choice. What everyone else did not know, and a lesson I would learn over and over again in my life; some choices make themselves.
Coming to terms with all that was lost has been an integral and often painful part of the experience of returning home. It happens even now, so many years later, I will drive by a place, hear a song, smell a familiar scent and memories will flood my consciousness. There is no way around these doors, you must open them and walk through.
Though I have returned to the Bay Area many times since Andy's death I have until this summer avoided visiting his grave. Just the thought of driving over the San Mateo bridge towards Half Moon Bay where he is buried would elicit a tightness in my chest and a sick, heavy feeling would engulf me. Just remembering those awful days before and after his death, my sadness and fear of the future painfully acute.
At the beginning of this year I made a promise to myself, I would change everything in my life that was not working and I would begin again, but this time, it would be different. I wanted to go home. My 50th birthday was the catalyst. I was living with a man I did not love. Working in a profession that was no longer supporting me and was fast becoming obsolete. The financial crisis in the economy had arrived to shake many of us to our core, to teach us the lesson about what really matters.
Returning has not been easy, I have had to process through the events of the past and not only feel them, but accept them. It has been necessary to forgive myself for being the lost, anxious, vulnerable and insecure girl who lived here before. If there is one thing I have learned about this process it is that you can't go back, but you can come back.
Last Sunday was the anniversary of Andy's death. After nearly two decades, it was time. I got up early and began my drive, it would be my first visit alone. He was buried in a breathtakingly beautiful hilltop cemetery. His bronze plated coffin, regal and elegant, as he was. I had chosen an exceptionally large spray of white roses to blanket his coffin for the mortuary visitation and funeral. After the ceremony at the cemetery our friend Gary tried to hand me a rose he had pulled from the spray as a remembrance. I would not take it, my habit of blocking painful feelings had begun. I didn't want to see those roses, I didn't want to remember the coffin, or the day, or the place. In fact, I did not want to remember any of the events that lead up to that awful moment, I just wanted to escape. I wanted to forget the entire experience as if it had not occurred. But of course it had, and I was never to be quite the same again.
After the funeral and in the days, months and years preceding, I have worn my strong woman mask. I can handle anything, I can take care of everyone, if you need anything, just lean on me, I will hold you up. This theme has carried into my poor choices to marry men who were far less deserving of me than I understood at the time.
On this day at the end of summer 2008, I do feel differently. I have begun to accept, so much that happened so long ago, and since. As I savor the best of my memories, I embrace the grief that has changed me. On this new September I want to visit and leave him something from me. Along the drive, I had stopped in San Mateo to purchase a beautiful bouquet of white roses, I ask the florist to please give me a red ribbon, I will tie myself. I write him a note on the ribbon. I let him know I will always love him, and we shall never forget him.
I stood at his grave for a long while, in silence, then talking. I tell him that I wish I had handled it all better. By that I mean, all of it, his death, my life and choices since. I finally go back to the car and drive down the long winding road out of the cemetery. The tightness in my chest returns, though this time, rather than wanting to go far away, I am drawn to return. I do not want to leave him alone there, I must go back. He has been there nineteen years alone, yet it felt as if I was leaving him for the first time.
I drive back. This time I park near his grave, I do not get out, I sit in the car. All that I have saved inside of me returns, I sob. I feel. I am so fucking angry. I am disgusted at the apparent unfairness and fragility of life. Why did this happen to Andy, with his magnetic personality and brilliant mind, sons who needed him, he did not deserve this. I am selfish, I miss him and the unconditional friendship we had. I miss the life in his huge smile, I miss the confidence in his stride. I am sad for him, he missed being there to see the boys grow up. I am sad for the boys, they missed all he would have taught them. My frustration with the outcome of Andy's short life is futile, it will not change a thing.
Our relationship endured and evolved, beginning just as I was turning sixteen, ending on the day of summers death in 1989. From the bouquet of flowers I leave for him, this time, I pull one for me. I drive away, long stem rose safely in my lap. As fall begins, it is a new September.
"I'll remember you too clearlyBut I'll survive another dayConversations to shareWhen there's no one thereI'll imagine what you'd sayI'll see you in another life now, babyI'll free you in my dreamsBut when I reach across the galaxyI will miss your company..."Lyrics from the song "Company" by Rickie Lee Jones