“With and Without Her: Twilight”

Hike 14/52 Sachuest Rhode Island. Oct. 20, 2018

I was sitting on a bench up the hill from the rocky shoreline… the sun setting, the chilly sea breeze whispering across my face and a heavy scent of sea water in the air. My daughter, the youngest, sat on my right side…

I don’t know what she was thinking about. The last time we went hiking, she was about 12 feet behind me, walking slow in deep thought. She said she was thinking about life. I half smiled, because I was thinking; like all parents of teenagers, what life?. It’s funny how the reach a certain age and suddenly “life” becomes serious. But we know better, teenage issues are no match for adult problems. Yep, and that’s why we try to prolong the process of them dealing with such things and force them to enjoy living. Anyway, dear reader, I was in deep thought that day. My daughter wanted to go back to the Rhode Island trail since the Spring. I had planned to hike up in Hudson County but hurt my knee, which was swollen and in pain, during a staff meeting. Can you believe that?! I moved my chair to let someone pass by and banged my knee into the corner of the desk. Yes, OUCH! and these 55 year old arthritic knees don’t bounce back from injuries like they use to. So, I was hesitant about putting stress on them. It was a good choice to do a lower Impact and low grade hike. It was also a chance to just relax although I wasn’t, because we there rather late. The office was closed, so no bathroom run before hitting the trail. This time I wasn’t the one that needed to go. So we kind of rushed through as we were fighting against the loss of day light. The sun was now setting. Like my life….

Hike 14/52 Sachuest Rhode Island. Oct. 20, 2018

So… we set on the beach staring out at the wavy sea water. My daughter sitting where her mother often sat. It was then that my mind drifted out like the waves underneath the yellow glow of the setting sun…

It’s like the sun, a quick thought wiz by. Our life together, our marriage…the sun of my marriage has set. As I have written many times, my wife and I loved being by or on the water. This was a fitting spot to experience both her presence in mind and her loss in heart. Even an augment… I thought as I stared at the picture preparing to write this. No, no one wants the pounding heart beat or echoing loud angry words that fly through the air during an augment. No one wants to come humbly to the other and ask for forgiveness. Though we all love making up afterwards. No, no one wants the stress of “What did I say…?” But we, I, wanted her presence in the room, on the bench, in that moment. Feeling her head resting heavily on my shoulder(why do woman do that?). Feeling her locs, scratchy, against my face. Her arm wrapped around mine… making me uncomfortable, because Sharol was tall. We were nearly the same height, her shoulders slightly higher than mine. It was always an odd struggle to fit together. I was used to short girls growing up. So we always held hands or standing together, my arms around her full waist and her head on my chest. That meant her scrunching down,Lol. Hey, we made it work for 19 years! So you see, she was sorely missed during that sunset. She wrote to me once, concerning her operation: “I feel confident that God will awaken me to you and if He doesn’t I will see you one day again. But I am sure that no matter what you’ll always feel my love with you” Unfortunately this was proven to be true.

The child that now sat next to me, who once was a tiny baby I held and whose eyes first saw me, is a constant reminder of her love. I didn’t want more children I already had two. But shortly before we were married, I dreamed of a son. Soon after God warmed my heart to the idea. After the baby’s birth and a few years later we thought of another child. We tried for over a year and after being discouraged, we were blessed with a baby girl. But I’ve told that story before…

Hike 14/52 Sachuest Rhode Island. Oct. 20, 2018(rocky shoreline)

We left the sunset bench behind us and continued on the trail. The temperature was dropping, my daughter needed a rest room and I was anxious to get back to the spot where I stacked a small pile of memorial stones for my late wife; on the coastline. We walk and walk and every so often I’d look over the hill at the shore to see if we were there. The entire 3+ hour’s ride up, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a Sharpie anywhere. When I started the 52 Hike Challenge in April, I planned to place a stone at each summit with her name on it as though she hiked with me. Sadly the marker I had dried up. The last time I was able to do it was on my solo hike.

Hunters Island. Solo hike 10/52 Aug. 26, 2018

I chose a spot at the opening of the woods, just a few yards away from the river’s edge because I couldn’t get close enough. There wasn’t a high peak and I thought it was a beautiful place for the stone. I started to write her name and I only got out Sha before the marker started to die. I rubbed and rubbed until I got the name out. It was done when I wrote the date…

Finally! We found the right spot! I creeped down the side of the cliff, trying not to trip on the giant rocks. I made it down to the stone beach and started my search. I found my pile or what was left of it. At least the base stone was still there. I turned to my daughter not realizing she never came down. So I looked for another stone that resembled my original top stone. Woo hoo, I found one! Set it up on a bolder, then snapped a photo! I bent down to set my angle… Oh snap! I thought. The moon was out… and in my shot! The next thought was Twilight.

Hike 14/52 Sachuest Rhode Island. Oct. 20, 2018

It was a sad feeling, a bewildered feeling, a feeling of loss and love, staring up at the stone. The moon marked the ending of the day. And for me personally, a reminder of the ending of part of life. The beginning of another. Over the past two years since my wife passed almost every TV show we watched together or I alone, has experienced death. The death of the wives! I started watching CBS’s Seal Team last year. This year, three episodes in, Jason’s wife/ex-wife died unexpectedly. And it shocked the crudd out of me! I wasn’t expecting it, there was nothing leading up to it. No tip off by the writers of the show. No sad music. Nothing! I set in my chair with my mouth hanging open… tears creeping up.. in total shock. Jason as expected, fell apart. I knew what he felt all too well. One minute you’re talking to your wife and the next, she gone. No “I love you” like in the movies. No, last look in the eyes… nothing. One scene, Jason was found by his friend and teammate; at the scene where the car crash happened. He’d been sitting for hours counting the cars going by. Even the hardest of men would not have watched with a dry eye. I did something similar. For weeks when I went out or took out the trash I’d look back before entering my apartment. I’d stare at the place where my wife laid. Sometimes for a second sometimes longer. I’d even walk down the hallway and look down the other end… as if in a movie, I could see her walking toward me again. My eyes would trace her steps, flashes of her face and the tubing and gloves the Paramedics left behind. It took a while for it to stop. Every once in a while when I see two ambulances parked I remember that night…

All of these men from Nashville, Longmire, Blue Bloods and now Seal Team(and others), now mirror my own life. I’ve watched these characters go through the twilight of their lives. After 10,15, 24 years of marriage now navigating, like myself, through a new world. One they were not prepared to walk through alone. Dealing with suddenly becoming single parents, single, widowers. Having the gteat debate about seeing another woman. The weird guilt some feel. Some ready or at least think so but have a hard time. It’s not so much about letting go as it is in some cases, it’s about how. How do you begin a relationship. For many like me, it was a less complicated time when we met our wives. Men and women were less confused about who and what they were. The awkwardness of starting a conversation. And then there’s the one I feel myself in these days. I’ve gotten pass the silence, I keep busy. I’m functioning in my loneliness. I constantly struggle with the absence of a physical touch. I’ve gotten used to the empty bed. But I’m staving for long intellectual conversation. Talking about any and everything! Talking over one another, interrupting, laughing, all of it. But things like that take a lifetime. That’s what many of the characters are dealing with. And I don’t think I have another lifetime to know someone. It’s funny but not funny, the older I get, the older women get. Many my age are jaded, some bitter and broken. The younger ones are just that, younger. They’re post internet, steeped in the segregated mindset of the political correctness dogma and so many find offence in a casted shadow. It’s not just them it’s everywhere. So, these old fashioned guys have a dilemma. So do I…

Hike 14/52 Sachuest Rhode Island. Oct. 20, 2018

The deer were moving around in the shadows like ghost. It was like children quietly talking, every so often you’d hear a twig snap or the bush move. If you turned your head fast enough you would see one dead in its tracks, staring at you. The birds of prey vanished and now the bats were circling above and the rabbits were hopping arcoss the path…

The sun had finally left the sky and It was completely pitch in the space of time it took to get from across the parking lot and start the engine. As we walked to the car I kept thinking of the moon and how I’m moving into that strange twilight of life. I’m at a good point in my life though, all but one of my kids are out of the house. Grown and with their own families. The house is quiet, no children arguing or fighting. No diapers to change, no more waking up at to a cry. No need to plan a vacation around an amusement park. Now I can do things I enjoy doing. Go where I want to go and when I want to. And if we had to buy takeout or wanted to go out for dinner, it’s less expensive and easier to buy for two people.

Like the men I mentioned, we’re in a place in life (depending on age) where we can do what we love. For those characters, it’s their job. They love what they do for a living. I, do not! So, I’m not only balancing life after loss but feeling stuck in a meaningless job. I’m enjoying my time on the road. I love hiking and camping, heck, I’m even beginning to love going to the gym. If I could make a living writing books, blog, and traveling, I’d quit my job today. But… here I’m, in this place. For some, too old for a young man’s job and too old to hire because retirement is close at hand. So, I find my solace out here in the open, with nothing but God and the sky above me, with woodland creatures running around spying on me. I find peace on the road meeting new people exchanging smiles and laughter and getting tips on equipment to use and take with us. I sit frustrated at my desk, waiting for lunch time to get out of the office and go to the gym and work out for a few minutes. I get impatient sitting at my desk everyday staring at the calendar and the clock waiting for the weekend so that I can escape. Escape the chatter from 20 different conversations, escape the noise of the city, escape the stench of my neighbor who insist on smoking in the hallway and it seeps to my apartment. Escape from the thing I call… my fake life, because out there, that’s where my real life is. Writing…being a writer, that’s who I really am. It is whom, I will strive to be for the remainder of my life. It’s not an alter ego, it’s who I’ve always been, but life happens and sometimes the core of your personality or maybe even your dreams get caught up in what you need to do to live life. My oldest child it’s similar to me, but he was born to a different generation. I grew up understanding that my life must be sacrificed, my dreams must be put aside because once you begin your family they come first. The following Generations want to start out doing what they want to do and do it regardless of anything else. Not saying my child has a deficiency, I was raised by those who would be called The Silent generation they were raised by, the Greatest Generation, that meant working hard and at the end of the day you get to relax and enjoy yourself. We late Boomers and Xers have that same ethnic. Without my wife by my side and raising the last child I can now go back to those things that I enjoy doing. I long to have someone to enjoy this part of life with but if God chooses to leave me as I am, then I must accept that. It’s no easy thing hiking solo at my age, I say that because many things can go wrong and you’ll be on the side of a mountain by yourself. It could take hours it can take days before you get help. But if that’s the way my life ends, then I rather do that; I’d rather die doing what I truly love than the alternative. Chained to my desk.

The first thing my wife said to me when I showed my secret I’d been hiding… “you have to write”. She had always been the cutman in my corner. Patch me up and send me back out. She was one of only two people that said I should continue writing. My sister as I have mentioned many times was the other person. My college professors were the other group of people to encourage me to do so. The rest of the people in my world and in my life, not so much. The same can be said about hiking and anything in the outdoors. There’s no real encouragement in it some don’t understand the commitment and why one would put their life at risk to do such a thing. honestly I think mountain climbers are crazy but then again, they are and I admire them and wish I had the upper body strength to do what they do…

You see, dear reader, I’m down to one child now, I’ve asked her to join me on this adventurous 52 hike challenge. most likely I’ll end up just finishing this by myself. But again I’m down to raisng just one child, I’m no longer young man with a young wife and a young family depending upon me to be around forever. The very last Great Adventure, the unknown Galaxy that has yet to be explored is death. But before I get there I want to enjoy what God has created and for me, that means spending time in His creation. The wilderness, the wild Outdoors. During a hiking trip this summer an idea for a story popped into my head, so you see it’s all connected. The ideas for my stories come from the life I live. If I don’t live then what’s the point? And what would I write about…?

That moon and stone…? It was a reminder that “she’s not here” to enjoy this time with me. That was our plan. But what about you, dear reader, where are you in life today? I’ve long since, passed the sunrise days. Sunset is here… and now before me is…

Twilight.

Until next time…

“The Road To 52”

Hiking at Dekorte Park Meadowland Trail. Lyndhurst, NJ June 9, 2018

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I believe December 2017 was the last time I posted. Well put on your seatbelts boys and girls, I have a lot to tell you…

As my thumbs tap on the screen, Darlene Zschech’s Your Presence Is Heaven is fading away into the background of my thoughts. I was listening to it as I walked into my office this morning. It is quickly being replaced by an inconsequential discussion about dogs and food, a loud conversation is Spanish, my boss yelling from her office for a coworker to bring her something because picking up the phone is far too hard for her to do. There’s also frustrating talks about problems and mistakes, created by miscommunication and poor management. The only thing missing today, is the co-worker who is usually speaking on the phone in Russian. What is not missing, is the loud mouth know -It -all, who sits next to me. With only 4 feet of space between us. As you can see, I’m in a ridiculously noisy environment. Thus the reason, dear reader, I haven’t been able to write… my office used be a quiet place to think, read and write during down times. Since the Loud mouth came up and was assigned to the desk next to me, I have slowly loss the freedom of concentration, read, think or write. Over the course of the year, I have become that employee that stares at their phone and plays games. Anything and everything to drown out the background noise! It’s so bad that my off time thoughts are flooded by the day’s words, discussions and pointless stories. So what does this have to with 52? You may be asking, we’ll get there… remember the title? Road to…

Atlantic City. August 2015

June 14th marked 2 years since my wife died. I spent the day extremely tired as I have been fighting off a cold this week. I ended the day by picking up some camping equipment from REI and grabbing dinner at a Japanese restaurant. As my daughter and I sat down “See You Again” from Fast and Furious 7 started playing. For those of you, who haven’t followed me or read any previous blogs, Sharol and I loved those movies. Each for different reasons and for the same reasons. We were a team and loved the undying love and devotion of Letty and Dom, Brian and Mia and the brotherhood of Dom and Brian. I was a fan of Paul Walker before his FF days, she came along later. When Paul died it hit us hard… when we saw FF7 we both teared up and eventually cried. We stayed in the theater long after the credits were done… it was Paul’s last FF film and our last one together. Essentially, our last ride together as well. So when my 15 year old mentioned that the song was playing, I strained my ears and took that emotional ride. Minutes before that, my other daughter text me that her son was a scooper like his Nana. I cracked up!!! They were eating chips and dip(a Bland family staple). Okay… here’s the backstory, Sharol and I used to fight over the dip. I would dip my chips, she would scoop! Dragging the dip into a heap on her chips. This caused me to constantly turn the bowl around to keep an even amount… or else! No more dip. Go ahead, you can laugh, you know you do it too.

Dekorte Park Meadowland Trail. Lyndhurst, NJ June 9, 2018

So as we were driving back home after dinner, The Kid found the song on YouTube for me. I cranked it up and drove off. I ended the night by kissing my late wife’s picture, thanking her for being my wife and saying goodbye…

“But didn’t you say goodbye two years ago?” I can hear your thoughts as I write this. Yes, I did say goodbye but I never left. The world around me has changed(we’re not getting into the crazies today) people have moved on, yet I remained stagnant. Most of my family is spread out across America. My immediate family is split between New Rochelle, Westchester county. The older kids have move on and made frightening new strides for their families. Moving to The Bronx, Brooklyn and now two to New Jersey. A dear friend of mines will be moving to the west coast. Former classmates are getting their PhD’s this summer, my middle daughter is getting married… and I have a granddaughter that I’m watching grow up in pictures. Even the church has changed. You know, Sharol used to say, the part about dying she didn’t like was that life and the world would continue “as if I wasn’t here”. I’ve learned you don’t have to die for the world to leave you behind. I’m alive watching it happen to me, it feels really weird too. It’s like watching a time travel sci-fi movie. Where the guy is watching his life on a screen and trying to figure out what point he wants to go back in time to…

Hiking at Sachuest Point national wildlife refuge. 3 mile loop. Middletown, RI. April 2018

The 52 Hike Challenge

While the entire family has been evolving into something different, something new for each person, my progression has been slow and at times no movement at all. I’m kind of settled into this widower’s life style. Meaning, there’s no partner to walk through life with. Over the past two years, dear reader, I have found my wanderlust again. As a child in school I spent hours staring out of the classroom Windows. Bored I guess, but whatever it was, I wanted to be out there. Out of school I spent my time playing in street, riding my bike, running through the building or at a friend’s house. As a teen, I traveled on the train from the Bronx to Harlem and Suger Hill where my cousins lived. Often times ridding my bike over the Macombs Dam bridge then back to my sister’s house in the Bronx. I’d sneak into Clubs with friends, just to dance all night and ride the train alone in the wee hours back to the Bronx. Whatever it was in me, I’d always wanted to go. Never stop just move forward…

Last year my daughter aka The Kid,and I went camping. She hated the bugs but loved the road trip and being away. This year I wanted to add to that. I joined a gym because I saw my strength diminishing. As we worked out together, I said I wanted to go hiking this year. It became my new obsession! Searching and searching, discovering that my busted knees and back may not make it. If you haven’t noticed I’m no longer on Facebook. I’ve just been on Instagram exclusively. While looking at pictures of travelers from around the world, I found the @52hikechallenge. Reading the story of the founders inpired me to go. I got my daughter to join me in this insane quest to hike once a week for 52 weeks. Yes! One whole year of hiking in all weather conditions. Feel free to follow our progress and cheer us on. The IG hashtag is #whitebeardandthekid So, going to the gym begin to take shape with a new purpose in mind. To train and condition the body, bad knees and all, to hike as high as it can go. I told her I may not have good working knees in the next few years and in a few years she’ll be college age. So hey, let’s go on this adventure. Let’s document it. She has gotten so used to travelling now, she wants to drive to Canada and hike The Appalachia trail…

Roadtrip to Pa. May 2018, pulled over in a truck stop to rest.

I had put aside my adventurous wanderlust years ago. The first life changing event was when I became a parent. I would still run off to a movie alone from to time to time. But Sharol tamed such lust in my heart. I no longer wanted to run or go, I found someone that I just wanted to stop for. No need to run off, but, I found that she too had a traveller’s heart and enjoyed the times we rented a car and hit the road. The excitement of packing for a trip or family vacation. Always finding a moment to be alone together. Before she died we had a couple of chances to get away alone. Gosh those were great and quiet times. Since her death and being on the road, it’s the only thing I want to. When I get to work Monday morning, I’m already planning where the next weekend’s adventure will be.

The hiking challenge has made it easy to go because every week there’s somewhere to be. Photos of other hikers and travellers and folks camping constantly encourage me to go out and experience the world around me. But in the beginning, I was uncomfortable enjoying myself, that survivor’s guilt kicked in again. How could I enjoy life without her? Was it okay to enjoy living? Then I found this…

From another hiker and a widow, who like me, loss her spouse unexpectedly. It took a month to settle in my heart. Mostly because I know Sharol would’ve enjoyed travelling, that was the plan after the children were gone. My daughter’s feet on the dashboard reminded me of her mother’s, who put her feet up as we drove down Lincoln Highway in Lancaster Pa. We had left the kids in the hotel and took a drive. Every time I leave the city I remember days like that and I feel such a freedom and joy…

So as I embark on this challenge and purpose to travel across this country, get outside and meet people. Most likely I will be writing about it. Will you follow along, dear reader? You were by my side when all I could think about and write about was the process of grief that first year. If you have an IG account will you follow the hashtag #whitebeardandthekid and virtually raise your pom poms to be our cheerleaders? I look forward to hearing from you. Psst! I haven’t forgotten about writing, as I stated earlier it’s been difficult.

Until next time…