“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…

“Without Her: 9 Months Later, I’m Not Okay”

    I was sitting down watching Nashville the TV show the other week. I was so happy that it returned. Since ABC cancelled it, Country Music Television picked it up. I can’t say I’m anywhere close to liking the writing this season. First off, they are screwing up every relationship on the show, everyone is breaking up or going through drama that doesn’t make since. Well, at least to me. See when you change too much too fast you lose the audience. I’m a die hard fan so, I would stick it out. I learned that  the show runners are from ThirtySomething. Do you remember the show? The characters spent most of the time wining. So understandably I’m concerned about the writing and direction of one of  my favorite shows…
     Out of nowhere, they killed  Rayna Jaymes

 I’m like “what the heck!?” What made things worse was that the hospital scene mirrored my conversation with Sharol. I knew Deacon Claybourne’s pain. Like Deacon, my loss was sudden and unexpected. Like Deacon, my life has been a series of twists and turns down dark roads. Conquering addiction depression, assaults, bigotry and fear. We both found a confidence and strength that came from the relationship with the women in our lives. Who also happened to be the absolute love of our lives. 

Deacon and Rayna we’re working on an album of duets together. It was the story of their life together. It was a pretty adventurous task which brought up old feelings and anxieties as they tried to write together. So at one point they decided to write separately and meet to put the songs together. Coincidentally, it was the same formula I came up with when we decided to write our own  autobiography about lives before we met and then our life together as a couple, the struggles of parenting and becoming One. That was about 5 years ago. We were up in Albany for a weekend because Sharol had to take a class. It started on a vacation, then when that weekend trip came we decided to spend some more time writing…. we never finished it. We didn’t get pass the outline of the chapters. Only God knows where Sharol’s notes are. Like me they were scattered all over the place, a notebook here a piece of paper there…

    I fell apart when Deacon did. I couldn’t imagine him living life without Rayna. Raising the two girls alone, the unfinished album, the business up in the air, a custody battle, a music career that was halted, teenage daughter dating an older guy that’s bipolar… and the only way Highway 65 was going to survive, is for him to finish the album that everybody’s waiting for…

      I once told someone “how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana?” They responded with “Aww”. Someone hit the buzzer please. “Aww…” is the wrong response! “I don’t know”, would have been better. I think what followed was something like “you’ll be okay” …in the words of President Trump “Wrong!” I won’t be okay, heck I’m not okay. My life was and in some small ways, but less with each day; intertwined with Sharol’s. Thankfully, I did not die with her emotionally; as so many surviving spouses do. Things would have been far worse for our two youngest that I still have to raise. So, how am I supposed to be Papa without Nana? How can I  finish the book we were working on, much less consider an autobiography without her? How will I lead this nation(6 children  and 4 grand) of ours forward without her by my side?.. a month ago I woke up to a runny nose. I thought it was a runny nose, it was blood. It took me a bit to figure it out until I saw the bright red on the pillow. I tried not to panic, but this is the thing I was most concerned about over the months. What happens if I get sick? Ill be alone. Usually, we’d wake up, one would  stay with the other just to make sure everything was fine. One would pray with and for the other. But my prayer partner is gone. Who will take care of me…? I thought, thinking of the future. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. The kids can’t loose both of us within the same 12 months I thought as I laid back down…

      So, you see, dear reader. When the car ran into Rayna, when she laid in the bed promising Deacon that she’d come back to him and when he said “don’t you die on me” as they ushered him out of the room…it was all too familiar with me. Some years ago, probably within our first two years of marriage. We looked at each other and I said “Dag, why didn’t you wait for me?”  I was referring to all the stuff we had gone through in our past relationships. If we had just waited for the one God had for us. We agreed it would have been fun to have had more time together. Like Deacon and Rayna we struggled but the love was real and genuine. They were arguably one of our favorite characters/couples  of the show. Now, Sharol  wasn’t a great big country music fan but she did like a good drama and watched the show with me from time to time. It’s one of the few shows that I can stomach watching without her, probably because I started watching it before she did. 

   Okay, back to Decon; facing finishing a work they started together with everyone pushing and pulling on him. But of the crowd came a voice of reason, Avery Barkley, who reminded them that the man just lost his wife. Avery later came up with a brilliant idea of how to finish the record. I have been fine for months moving forward, getting done what needed to be done. Until I woke in the middle of the night. Followed by the past few episodes of Nashville…

     But don’t you worry none, dear reader, became my hope and trust is in God and I have seen him move mountains for me these past few months. Friends have come and gone but Jesus has remain. Like that poem Foot Prints, I have only seen one set of boot prints in the snow of NYC. But I know he was with me before, so why not be with me now? If the Lord said he would be closer than a brother, as close as the mention of his name, if he gives birds food and I am more valuable to him than them, then why not take care of my needs in this dark hour? 

    Of course, that does not change our human feelings and the need for human to human contact. That need to be held. Isn’t that the reason for Eve? After seeing Adam alone, with no one like him; God decided that it was not good for him to be alone. Then by God’s grace he gave Adam someone to walk through life with. So, in this too I must trust him. I don’t just say this to encourage you but also to encourage myself. As Fred Hammond  once said sometimes we just have to encourage ourselves. By the way, Decon and the girls are doing much better. I suspect the rest of the season will focus on the continuing life, after Rayna Jaymes. I know that feeling too.

Until next time…