I took a mini-road trip on Saturday. It wasn’t quite as long as the time the two of us drove more than 2,500 miles from Portland, OR to our parents’ house in Erie, PA, but it was a good 500 miles taking 8+ hours. Being on the road again made me laugh as I remembered our 2002 cross-country drive – how for the most part, we got along great and had a blast for the 40 or so hours we were on the road. Except for that one moment when Dad decided to call – the ONLY time he called during our entire journey – right after you spilled the entire giant cooler filled with water / melted ice all over the back seat of my Mazda Protegé at that gas station in Iowa. Of course Dad had to hear the two of us screaming every profanity and insult we could come up with at each other for those 10 minutes when we just had to vent, and thus to this day he probably imagines nothing but the worst about our trip. Timing really is everything!
One of the things I recall about our drive is how you wanted to go off the beaten path, explore America, see the sights. Highways were evil, the back roads were the way to go! You were a grad student at the time and embracing a “summers-off” mentality that I don’t think I have experienced since the late 80s. But I was unemployed (by choice), about to turn 27 (gasp!) and needed to get to Washington, D.C. as fast as possible to find a job and an apartment, so I insisted that we take the fastest route from Point A to Point B. Part of me wishes I would have just said “fuck it” and taken the time that July to relax and enjoy our time together, ignoring the fact I was broke (and in crazy debt), homeless and unemployed. Of course being as practical and pragmatic as I was (not to mention dealing with Mom screaming at me about how THEY WERE NOT going to finance my little life adventure or pay any medical bills I was sure to rack up during my uninsured unemployment), I had to get to D.C. as quickly as I could to get my shit together.
I can’t help but wonder what you would be doing now and where you would be exploring, had things gone differently last autumn. I believe that you would be in the UK or Ireland, arriving last January after completing your Ph.D. just as you had already planned, likely looking into how you could stay indefinitely – after all, your journal from your 1999 stint in Ireland (where you decided to spend those months after college graduation) has only one entry:
Spread my seed. Conquer Dublin. Move On. Repeat.
If I recall, the only reason you left Ireland in early 2000 is because your student visa expired, ending your ability to (legally) earn money and requiring you to leave the country. I can only imagine what kind of nonsense you would have gotten up to THIS time – as a bona fide botanist / horticulturist as opposed to a shady casino dealer – and what kind of off-the-beaten-path places you would be exploring (likely with a variety of lady friends moved by your “charm” in ways I could never understand). I am sure I would have visited a number of times – although I would continue to refuse to drink Guinness. Blech.
I don’t have to tell you what today represents and how hard this past year has been. While obviously this is a date that I will never forget, my plan is never to acknowledge it (publicly) again. I would much rather focus on the good times, remembering you on your birthday that is so inconveniently five days before mine as opposed to the anniversary of your death, as this date only brings up memories of the tragedy and the immense pain that you caused so many people.
It goes without saying that my friends, acquaintances and colleagues have likely grown tired of hearing about and seeing what a hard time I am having (clearly I should be over it by now, enough already! pull your shit together, woman!), but at this point I have no doubt that I will struggle with your death for the rest of my life. Not every day, of course … and maybe one day it will be an infrequent rather than a constant reminder like it is today. But it will always weigh heavily on me, and I am sure that I will think about you at the strangest, most unexpected (and often most inappropriate) times.
So onward I go, having survived Year One (the hardest year, or so they tell me), with a vow to spontaneously travel down a few unbeaten roads moving forward — which as you know is SO unlike me, the scheduler and the planner. I promise that the day will come when I have permission to take you back to Ireland, and I will make sure that part of you remains there forever, most likely along an out-of-the-way path occupied by a Highland cow or two: the perfect place for your journey to continue. I have no doubt that you will guide me and show me the way there.
I miss you oh so much and I love you, dork. XOXO.