Monday, June 20, 2011

Mile Marker 22

So I made the trip again -- the one back to my home state. This time I was not alone, I had boyfriend with me. The last time I made the trip I did it in a crazy whirlwind of emotion and shock, just months after my husband's death. I have no idea what I was attempting to do, but I rented a car and made the 15 hour drive in one day, had an awful weekend back home feeling like my friends, family and the world had abandoned me. I then turned around and drove back in a day -- sobbing most of the way home. I needed to make some new memories to wipe out the ones from that trip.

To me, I think I hold the idea of what this trip means because it was the last one I made with my husband. We went back over Christmas time in late 2009. We were just finishing up a year that we had moved from NY to the DC area, and I had started a new job. It had been a chaotic time, and we had not been back to our mutual home state for over a year. We wanted to go back and visit family & friends. It was a nice trip back & in retrospect I was glad that we had the time there that we did. He actually spent the majority of  the time reconnecting with old friends. I am glad he was able to. I think, though we did not know it at the time, it was also his good-bye to many of those people.

But to me, the part of trip that I ascribe the most meaning to was the trip back home to DC. In my own head I often just refer to this time as "the beginning of the end." Looking back, those few weeks leading up to his death were as foreboding as anything you could make up. It all started at mile marker 22, on the Ohio turnpike. Why this sign is seared into my brain, I don't know, but it is there as plain as it was when it happened. That is where our car began to overheat. We drove on for a bit, thinking it was not so bad & we were so close to an exit that we could just make it off the road & into a garage.....

Then the engine started to smoke, forcing us to pull over on the side of the road -- quite literally in view of the exit sign, but too far away to make it. My first instinct, of course, was to panic. "What the H*** do we do now?" I thought. A much calmer-in-the-face-of-danger type, my husband got out to see what the problem was. It was bad, there looked like a cracked hose of some sort & liquid coolant was spewing all over the engine. We needed a tow truck, it was freezing cold, we had nowhere to go, and did I mention our black lab was also in the car with us? Oh, and we were also broke at the time. I mean totally broke. We had just enough money for gas and tolls to get us home & that was it. How were we going to fix the car?

Eventually a trooper came up behind us and assisted us in calling a tow truck. The driver towed our car, at my husband's request, to a car parts store -- in hopes we could fix the thing ourselves. Well, that he could anyway. As we were driven along to the nearest exit, a great revelation hit me -- I knew where we were. We were literally just a few miles away from where my mother's family lived in Ohio. This became a very important thing, because as it turned out not only did we have a cracked hose, but a blown head gasket. The whole engine would ultimately need to be replaced. What we did first was call my uncle, who came and rescued us and took us to my grandmother's house. She then called a friend of hers who worked on cars. My husband and this guy then spent the next week (yes, week) trying to fix the heap of junk that was our car. After it became apparent they couldn't, we took it to a dealer who then made a deal with us to get the engine replaced at a much cheaper cost than it should, and much cheaper than we could get a new car for, so out of desperation we took it. Big. Freaking. Mistake.

So, now on borrowed money we got a rental car, and husband drove me 9 hours overnight so I could make it to work the next morning. He then drove back to Ohio to wait for our car. This took another week. Only then did he finally make it home. We spent the next week in crisis mode, trying to figure out how to pay for everything and develop a plan to keep ourselves afloat for the next month or so, as he was waiting for a new contract to come through and would not have any additional money until then.

The following week started off as any other week. On Tuesday I made some spaghetti and meatballs. We shared our first relaxing night alone after the whole ordeal, watching TV and eating dinner together. He went to work (in our basement) when I went to sleep (a normal routine for us, as he always preferred working third shift). All I remember about Wednesday morning is that I was rushing around and almost missed my train to work, so the last words I said to him were "I'm late," as I ran out of the car. I didn't even bother saying good-bye, let alone giving him my usual good-bye kiss. I got the phone call from the ER about 6 hours later.

I made the trip back just a few days later, with my mother, who had flown out two nights night before to come help me figure out what to do. I do not remember this trip at all. I eventually made the return trip with my Dad, after we had buried my husband. Then a few short months later I made my crazy-assed trip out on my own, with my dog.

This one needed to be different. I needed to be healed. It was almost as if I was looking for redemption for a road trip I will likely need to make fairly often in my life, as I find myself more and more settled in my new home state.

I don't have so many old friends to visit, as they have all drifted off. I don't have so much in the way of husband's family or friends either, save for a couple I have managed to stay in contact with. So my obligations are few -- family mostly. The rest of the time I am free to decide who I want to see, what I want to do, and where I want to visit. A far cry from the crazy times I would be here with husband and he would have what seemed like hundreds of people to visit, and too many places to go in the few short days we would visit. The pace now is more leisurely.... more serene.

I wanted boyfriend to see where I came from. I wanted him to meet the rest of my family. To meet a bunch of other people who shared my past, and my funny accent. This is what I am missing in my new life, especially around here, a connection to that person I used to be. That person I lost somewhere on the Ohio turnpike, around mile marker 22.

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