*** thanks to my lovely friend (and fellow widow) Liz Burns for leaving this quote on Facebook for me whilst I was in Savannah, and for making me LO (very) L.
Taking off from Heathrow, I rub my locket as though releasing the genie from its bottle and whisper to him, "Come with me baby."
The terrified flyer next to me seems to be helped to make light of her own fear because I giggle each time we hit turbulence. Her husband works at Quantico http://www.fbi.gov/hq/td/academy/academy.htm - an unlikelier alliance you would not find, yet I share my reserve of sweets with her and we chat easily ... it turns out her mother grew up in Savannah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savannah,_Georgia and she knows Thunderbolt / Isle of Armstrong http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&q=isle+of+armstrong+georgia&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=Isle+of+Armstrong,+GA,+USA&gl=uk&ei=74rcSpHoE9Wr4Qa_9bX1Bg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CAwQ8gEwAA too.
I choose "The Hurt Locker" http://thehurtlocker-movie.com/ to watch and find myself identifying with the almost death-wish recklessness and buzz that the main character in the bomb disposal unit (based in Iraq) thrives on, leading me to wonder how Bokalollie is doing.
Due to being delayed at Heathrow, I miss my connecting flight, and consequently land in Savannah at almost midnight. I rapidly control my composure - the sound of crickets and the humidity in the air, the smells too - are so reminiscent of him and our many trips to the Caribbean. The delay did allow me to view the most spectacular sunset in Washington however ... I definitely associate these with him and actually believe he has a hand in them these days ... he always said that I tended to think of him as "Superman" (I did) ... and now I really do. The extra time at Washington Dulles Airport also affords me the opportunity to buy a bell for Cliff's Mum's collection, which Jenny carries on adding to, as well as buying 2 postcards for Dad and Jenny for their stamp and postcard collections, respectively.
Karen greets me with a huge smile and cuddle and we head for her jeep where Ronnie the wonderdog and a vodka, coke and ice are waiting for me. This really touches me as it is something that Cliff and I used to do for each other.
Half an hour later Karen, Mike, Ronnie and I are sitting in their screened porch, chatting, drinking and smoking until around 02h00. There are white Christmas style lights wrapped around her palm trees and this makes me think of Cliff and the resort where we got married. It makes me smile.
After a really good sleep, Mike takes us out on the boat from around 11h00 till 16h00. It makes me think of Cliff so much, but I'm smiling each time I think of him, and it feels as though he is close by. Karen takes control of driving the boat and we get lost (but of course it is Mike's fault LOL) ... I really don't care. It feels so good to be on the water - there is something so cleansing and healing about being there. We moor at a great place for lunch - again I know that Cliff would have loved it there - the music, the food, the drinks. But it makes my week when lots of dolphins come so close to the boat - seeing them makes my heart smile.
The dolphins remind me of the time we took a catamaran trip in the Dominican Republic and I spot a MASSIVE turtle. At the time, I am so so so excited that I shout, "Look everyone, a DOLPHIN" but it didn't matter - what mattered was that Cliff, the crew, and everyone else saw this big old turtle, even if they all laughed at my expense later.
I'd told Karen that I don't normally drink during the day until she suggested frozen margaritas and guzzled a few at leisure. Total bliss. I am so pleased that I am able to enjoy the whole day, that I am able to think of Cliff and smile, and to share those memories with them.
Mike is the "big cheese" at Savannah's Hinckley Boat Yard http://www.hinckleyyachts.com/, and both of my hosts used to work at Palmer-Johnson http://www.palmerjohnson.com/, so it is fun to cruise around and look at the boats moored there. One of them is worth $68 million (yes really), and they know many of the owners, the crews and the community that is involved in the industry, so I lap up the stories, and enjoy learning more about their careers and experiences.
When we return home, I announce to Mike that, "I am a good, happy tired" and I truly am.
During the course of the week, it's almost as though I'm visiting Karen, and Cliff is really at home waiting for my return. And you know what, it's good to have a break and pretend for a while. I will dream of him VIVIDLY each night I am in Savannah, and I wonder if this is his way of telling me that he has come with me.
After one lazy morning (they all were for me in truth), Karen takes me to a Mall so I can do some shopping (dollars burning hole in pocket) ... whilst there we decide to eat lunch at the Mexican restaurant and when we sit down, I notice it's called "The Dugout" causing me to blink away the rising tears. It's a strange name choice for this restaurant, as it's on ground level and nothing like its namesake where Cliff, in his own words, "grew into a man". I feel the panic rising within me when I hear Peter Frampton being played on the PA system of another store, and tell Karen so that she can deal with my shopping if need be.
I still don't (thankfully) seem to have the buying frenzy that used to fuel me when on holiday with Cliff, but I do buy a t-shirt for myself, a dog toy and other items for other people ... but I am really pleased with the stamps http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2009/pr09_070.htm that I purloin at the local Post Office for Cliff's Dad. They are normal US stamps, but come in a sheet commemorating US TV shows from the 50's and are a nice addition for his collection.
Each night we take Ronnie for a walk and stop at Bill and Ginny's on the way home. Bill is a good old Southern gent with some fairly bigoted views and is 80 years old if he's a day ... but damn he's easy to fall in love with, and I find myself looking forward to sitting on his screened porch (which is around the size of a small English cottage in itself), watching the sunset, chatting and laughing. I will consume 2 vodkas each time we visit, and Ronnie and Karen will partake in 2 dog biscuits and scotches respectively.
At the end of the week when I say goodbye to Ronnie (and Bill) I will tell them both that they had damn well better be here when I return to visit in a couple of years. I can't stomach goodbyes now, neither can I bear the thought that they may not be, nor do I want to imagine the pain of loss that others would feel.
Karen and Mike are "hosts extraordinaire" and I really do (genuinely) manage to smile, laugh, rest, sleep well, unwind, and until the very last night ... there is no need to release the sorrow and pain - the tears - but after a whole week, even a wonderful respite from everything as this was, my cup is ready to runneth over with tears .... I can feel them building up from deep within my body, not knowing when they will strike, and they eventually come whilst waiting with Ronnie in the Jeep for Karen to return with the pizzas that she has pre-ordered. I start crying because I so desperately wish I was returning home to Cliff. Ronnie becomes quite concerned about my visible anguish until the smell of pizzas wafts up his nostrils, thereby taking ALL his attention. Karen notices me wiping tears away and is upset for me. But the pizzas are from Papajohn's in Thunderbolt, which grounds me and strengthens my resolve - because I start thinking about Kathy Papajohn and wonder how she is doing (she lost her soulmate and husband - Stephen - on the same day as I lost Cliff). This thought then leads me to PJ, and I hope with all my being, that her kidney stones are dispersing - I know that I thought Cliff was dying when he suffered from these once years ago, and saw his silent tears roll down his face with the sheer agony that they impose on your body. I can't contemplate feeling that ill now, the thought alone terrifies me - and I choose my mood and reaction ... by the time we're back I am fine.
I do check Facebook most days and leave a message for Lloyd who is also on leave in Spain and has been enjoying the sun. Roy and Marcus both leave me such beautiful, candid and touching messages on there ... which make my heart soar and keep my spirits soaring ... these men, all these men, who are "real men" in my opinion, and who are also "true" friends of Cliff's are immensely special and VIPs to me.
It is hard to sit in "Tequilera" at Washington Dulles Airport, where I am currently enjoying a frozen margarita and some yummy Mexican culinary (ok, maybe fast food would be a more accurate descriptor) delights ... then I think to myself ... it could be worse, I could be at Boston Airport which is where the two of us ate and enjoyed a cocktail or two, waiting for our flight back to the UK. I simply couldn't bear being there. The memory would overwhelm me ... the way we were ... how easy it was in each other's company, the banter and the laughter ... the way he would look at me and his ability to make me feel special with his eyes - the language that they spoke and that I understood. I could get goosebumps from one look. I miss those clear blue eyes so badly. The memory is so vivid that I can scarcely breath ... of us buying some soldiers a round of beers - they were in the same bar as us at New Orleans Airport en route back to Iraq (I think). I remember whispering to Cliff that they didn't look old enough to be fighting in a war. And him looking at me, really looking at me (so I knew he was serious) and gently saying, almost admonishing me - "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh Boo".
And I smile, really grin broadly, because I helped a soldier on the flight from Savannah to Dulles just earlier today ... because of Kim and Warren. I like to think that someone would have helped Warren if he'd been struggling to find somewhere to stow his bag ... and when we landed at Dulles, I made everyone wait while I passed his bag back to him. In gratitude, he proceeded to accompany me to the correct gate for my connecting flight ... "just want to ensure you are safe Ma'am" ... it felt very nice indeed being walked all the way there by a handsome (and young) soldier. Kim would have laughed her rocks off (if she had them), but I also know she'd understand why I did it.
Cliff would have been in his element in this trip, although I suspect I wouldn't have seen that much of him ... he'd have been happiest playing in the Hinckley Boat Yard with Mike, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he'd also have happily fixed the flashing on their roof for them. I am so proud to be his wife and know I always will be.
It was a poor second-best to light a candle for him in Savannah cathedral, and although I couldn't find it within myself to pray when I did so, having Karen next to me lighting a candle for her beloved (and very very missed) Daddy, gave me enough strength not to cry, and I'd like to think that my presence afforded her the same. We left quickly after lighting the candles, my mind and body certainly, if not hers too, seeking out the warmth and sunshine, along with a different focus.
I am so so proud to be her friend. Karen is a beautiful woman - in and out - and I love her. It's incredible that we were friends at Ursuline Convent for Girls http://www.tildonk.co.uk/ between 1974 - 1976, and despite the fact that we've only met up once since then (2 years ago), we remain firm and fond friends. It's easy, you know ... it's really easy to be in one another's company.
(Karen is standing on the far right. Boo is right in the middle, her hair tastefully done by Vidal Sassoon - in two pig-tails.)
What else did we do?
Well ... being the two convent boarding school girls that we once were, we went to the ironically named Bonaventure Cemetery http://www.savannahga.gov/cityweb/cemeteriesweb.nsf/6f01764198462d668525703b006b1481/e3d89c83dac0d9e585257035006681c3?OpenDocument (made famous by the book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midnight_in_the_Garden_of_Good_and_Evil and a history lesson in itself which is the true purpose of our visit - not a new obsession with graveyards I am happy to confirm) in true Patsy and Edina (AbFab) style, sporting the obligatory wine (or was it bubbles?) and vodka in Karen's "Weekend Waterford". I somewhat irreverently posed for a photo, in the spot where the statue of the Bird Girl used to stand, balancing our drinks on my hands as though they were the Bird baths that the haunting statue held. The original statue was eventually removed by the parents (due to the overwhelming unwanted fame that having her on the cover of the book and the DVD brought to their daughter's grave). I felt somewhat disrespectful afterwards and can only admit that I got swept away with the whole Patsy and Edina moment.
We then wandered into the Jewish part of the cemetery. Karen and I both placed stones on some of the graves which had none. I notice that Karen is walking on the little dividing walls, in preference to walking over any body's final resting place. I become aware that my voice is low and quiet. I mention to her that Cliff's Mum's family was Jewish and she comments on the Hebrew poem that I'd included in his Eulogy.
I was honoured and privileged to be accompanied around the cemetery (and the City of Savannah too) by Savannah's very own Jim Bell (pronounced Ji-im) whose own uncle was mentioned twice in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" ... and mightily pissed off he was about it too. Jim can trace his family right back to the birth of this beautiful City and I found him to be a charming Southern Gentleman who is far more entertaining and has vast insight and sometimes unpublished and rare snippets of local history. He is a treasure trove of information, knowledge and gossip too!
Jim points out the Confederate "markers" on some of the graves - these denote that the deceased fought in the Civil War, and I find myself in awe of this ... often stopping to touch one of these markers (shaped like a George cross), very gently. It is Jim who encourages me to pose as the statue of the Bird Girl, so I feel as though I have been given permission by someone whose blood is rich in old Savannah birth-rights. At one point, he growls, "This is my City and I will damn well do as I please."
The words on one gravestone really speak to me and make sense: "Cosmos Mariner. Destination Unknown." I wonder if this man had common traits, strengths, loves and interests to my husband.
We sit on the marble bench erected in Johnny Mercer's memory, the songs that he wrote inscribed on its side ... and "Moon River" reminds me of my Uncle Peter, as well as taking me to another time ... in New Orleans with Cliff, walking down to the waterfront, so happy, safe and loved ... en route to a trip up the Mississippi on a paddle steamer ... a sax player catches my eye and I smile. He asks what I'd like him to play for me, and I reply in a heartbeat .... Moon River ... and Cliff pauses to give him $20 for his trouble, barely admonishing me ... "Boo, he's not being friendly, if you request a tune, I really need to pay him, OK?" In a time when I was clueless - to this loss and pain and would have failed any streetwise exam ... in truth I still would, but I am learning to pause before acting/speaking (some of the time), but at least I have learned to not be pressurized into anything I'm unsure about ... and I know who to seek counsel from ... now that the person who was my counsel entirely can no longer gently guide me. That said, I still hear his voice when I need to ... it comes from within me ... I actually know what he would say, so I DID listen.
It happened to be Karen's birthday whilst I was there, and I mention this to Jim, so he insists on picking up the tab when we wine and dine at "1790" http://www.17hundred90.com/index.html. Upon arrival, he introduces us "Ladies - and I mean the term loosely," to Savannah's Judge ... and I can almost hear my beautiful husband laughing next to me. Being the week of her birthday also means that I am fortunate enough to meet three sets of her friends and I happily jest and banter with the South African ex-pat contingency over a very good lunch, later meeting other friends at Tubby's Bar http://savannahmenu.com/tubbysthunderbolt (which happens to be Mike's local much to his amusement), as well as a charming British couple who are ex pats there too - I felt very much at home there too ... these were people my parents would have befriended with ease.
As Jim showed us around Savannah, I could almost see Scarlett O'Hara swishing around in her long ruby and white dress. It is the most charming and beautiful city, resplendent with Live Oaks covered in moss and resurrection moss, giving the whole city an aura of romance and sense of history. Karen tells me that she feels that trees - old trees such as these - soak up so much history and have stories to tell us if we only knew how to listen and I find myself agreeing. We both have our photos taken with the "Waving Lady with her dog" http://www.ourcoast.com/attractions/wavinggirl.shtml - I feel a connection to the statue ... her story is that of being widowed yet walking down to the harbour each day to wave goodbye to all the men going to sea.
One afternoon, Michele calls me from Florida and her Mum walks into her home whilst we are chatting, so she puts her on the phone without telling her it's me on the other end of the line. This lady has known me since I was three years old, and lived on the next street to us in Belgium, additionally she loved my Mom so much and they were good friends for decades, both being ex-pat wives. Of course I cry when I hear the delight in her voice upon discovering she is talking to me ... it had to happen - her voice conjures up nostalgia for a lost childhood, when life was so simple, before I knew anything of the heartache of pain and loss - her voice brings my mother to me, her words are so apt - "There is nothing I can say to you my love ... there are no words to describe your loss ... but I still imagine you as a child ... and WHEN ARE YOU coming to visit us?" She tells me that she is proud of me for endeavouring to make Cliff proud of me, and agrees that memories are the single most important thing we have as we grow older, before instructing me that I have to make more newer memories, hastily clarifying that she is NOT insinuating with someone new, just in case, god forbid I have misinterpreted her meaning. The tears that come are soft tears, but it is a hard battle ... which I win in time to say goodbye.
A girlfriend from my second boarding school - Carolyn drives for 4 hours after work, simply so we can have some time to catch up properly, and this means the world to me. Karen and Mike welcome her as if she is my sister - and she fits in so easily that there are moments when I forget that we three girls do not share the same school memories ... and we stay up late (for me) chatting, talking candidly and without reserve about our lives since we left school. Just as with Karen, I slip into that comfortable feeling of no time having passed, even though we have lived a lifetime since those days. Karen is so thoughtful and cooks a dinner worthy of any Michelin-starred restaurant - then quietly slips away to bed leaving us to share the heartaches and highs of our lives ... even though she needn't have ... I wanted her to stay in fact, to share my second school's memories and days through being immersed in the laughter and things that we confided. I love learning about her twin girls and the respect and fondness that I already hold for Carolyn mounts even higher, when I learn about the hurdles and heartaches she has encountered and overcome. These old school ties run VERY deep indeed. During the course of the evening, we chat (via Blackberry) to Melanie in Sydney who is sad that she cannot be with us.
Another old schoolfriend, Rob Phillips finds me on Facebook whilst there ... and when I share my plans to visit Geoff Richman, Andrew Yule, Melanie Roberts and family next year (in Australia, followed by a stopover in Singapore to see Kendra a.k.a. Biteena) ... also mentioning (for humour value) that Cliff used to watch me "like a hawk" due to my never-ending ability to talk to (and trust) everybody and anybody - he responds to my mail the following day, suggesting that I visit him in Thailand en route, then "just a thought" ... "we could descend on everyone together and travel together," adding his brother Richard (based in Melbourne) to my existing itinerary.
OMG, I love these old friends - the boys (now men) always gave me a sense of security and safety (sometimes in a fraternal brotherly way, sometimes something more - we were going through adolescence and hormones were popping all over the place). I reply briefly to his mail, exclaiming that Cliff is probably exhaling with relief at the prospect of him joining me on this next adventure, and leave him my landline number so we can start to make plans in the new year.
Thank you, Daddy for spending extortionate amounts of money on my schooling, and for choosing the schools that you and Mum chose ... yes, I happened to receive a good, solid education. I learned how to learn. I learned to love certain subjects. I learned how to drink. I learned how to love. But above all else, I was priveleged to make friends for LIFE, some of whom I have flown halfway around the world for when they found themselves facing their darkest hours, and some of whom have done the same for me.
And so I sit here on this 747 and I realize that I can now picture Karen in my mind's eye, walking Ronnie past the policeman's house (who happens to be married to the neighbourhood kleptomaniac - LOL) and I will now be able to visualize her sitting with her neighbours (and all of their dogs) enjoying a social drink on Bill's porch each evening.
And I sit here thinking that for the first time since I lost him, he has not given me a beautiful sunset today ... then we take off and I look backwards out of my window, to be rewarded with one so majestic that it takes my breath away. No one else seems to notice, and I remain selfish with it ... a private moment ... love ... just the two of us, as it always was.
I ponder a while on sunsets and then for some inexplicable reason, my thoughts lead onto alternate realities and I ache, literally crave finding the other "Boo" out there somewhere ... I am desperate to tell her to love this magical special man she is with - as much as she can today - because he could be cruelly stolen from her at any time, and when that happens, all she will be able to do ... is to love him enough to let him go, the ultimate selfless sacrifice that she can make for him, evidence of the feelings that reside deep in her soul and her heart and her very being.
I pray that Mike will be ok so that Karen does not have to know this pain too.
I think of Kendra and the love I feel for my old friend almost overwhelms me. Because, despite her own unimaginable and unspeakable pain through loss, she has helped me beyond words throughout this year.
I sit here and look at the "Skymap" and wonder how womanNshadows is doing - because I can see Charlotte on the map and know that is in North Carolina ... when the map zooms out, I can see the outline of Wales, and think of J and Moose, and find myself looking forward to phoning her ... it strikes me as no coincidence that she and I both found ourselves in vaulted churches away from home, yet we never desire to do the same at home. The map zooms in again, and I can see cities and towns in Canada, and my thoughts drift to SuddenWidow, and another old schoolpal, Karen whose husband is battling cancer currently. I pray he is strong enough to beat it simply because I want to protect her from this ... this ... this ... horror and pain.
I sit here scribbling this post down in my new, yet well worn Moleskine notebook that Lynette advised me to buy, so that I could capture some of my more personal or private memories within its pages ... and hope that she is feeling better so that she can cope with the daily battle of widowhood ....
and that leads me to realize just how much I have missed these new friends - my sisters in arms - my fellow widows ... from blogging, from the Bereavement Forum ... and I smile.
I sit here and choose to watch "Angels and Demons" and wonder WTF no one told me that Ewan McGregor stars in the movie.
I sit here and bargain with God (and Cliff) ... "No, not this flight .... there is a baby and a toddler a few seats ahead ...," but I can't stop the grin spreading across my face when we hit some bad turbulence.
I sit here and realize how much I miss my dogs.
I sit here and rub my locket. I whisper to him, "Come home with me, Baba ... if this plane should go down, catch me ... I shan't be scared if you are there to catch me. I love you. I miss you beyond belief and beyond words."
I sit here and I know that I will howl uncontrollably, that it will bring me to my knees, literally, probably as soon as the dog-sitter leaves. But I also know that this has been a milestone - an achievement - in this unwanted journey ...
and I sit here and think, "he'd be proud of me .... my ability to talk about him, without any hesitation, with a smile, even laughter, instead of sobbing ... and it occurs to me that I've made some progress, just a smidgeon, but for the better nonetheless."