We've been en route to South Dakota for the last few days, and made it here last night. Today we went to Mt. Rushmore, one of the most beautiful and American places in America. I watched families walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying the summer. I saw them smiling. My family walked around and took lots of pictures and we smiled a little. The kids smiled, but I didn't very much. It's very hard to smile anymore, even when something is funny or touching. It's as if my cheeks muscles don't work like they used to. It's as if my cheek muscles have atrophied from lack of use.
This time last year we were finalizing funeral plans for our three year old son. Those words should never go together to form a sentence, but a year ago it was our reality, and it will be our reality for the rest of our lives. We picked out a casket, burial clothes, made a program of speakers and musical numbers, and I worked tirelessly on a twenty-five minute video of that little boy's life. That's what we were doing exactly a year ago, and it's hard to think of anything but those horrible days.
As we have driven through one of the most beautiful parts of the country, I find myself continually looking for the Northwest Coast. A week after we buried Garrett, our family took off for a vacation to Oregon. It was a trip we'd been planning for months, and when Garrett died, we knew we still needed to make the trip for the sake of our living children. They needed to have some fun and their cousins were good at distracting them. At the time, I hated everything about the trip. I hated that we made the exact same trip three years earlier when Garrett was a tiny baby. I hated staying in the same hotels and walking along the same beaches. I hated seeing park benches where I nursed him. I hated that around every corner, there was something to drive the knife a little deeper into my heart. Above all, I hated that my littlest boy was not there, and that we would never again take a vacation as a complete family.
We are in South Dakota, home to the glorious Black Hills. The Oregon Coast is more than a thousand miles away, and yet it's where my heart longs to be right now. As I've spent the day in a very sad place, trying desperately to make my cheek muscles work to smile at my happy and adventurous children, it's dawned on me that I feel an insatiable homesickness for Oregon. Today in a gift shop there was a display of magnets from all fifty U.S. states. My hand didn't go straight to a South Dakota magnet, though I love collecting magnets from places we've been. No, my hand reached for the Oregon one. I paid for it and walked around the rest of the day with it in my pocket. Every once in a while I would reached into my pocket and squeeze the magnet and run it through my hands.
All day long as I've felt this homesickness for a place I've never called home, and a place in which I felt miserable last August, I've wondered why Oregon has made my heart ache so much recently. Last year, I spent most of our vacation in bed or walking alone along the beach. Sometimes I'd curl up on the couch in the beach house and write and my eyes were full of tears during every waking hour. My heart was truly broken and my life felt destroyed. So why on earth am I now feeling such a deep emotional pull toward that place?
Tonight at dinner I realized that because it was so soon after Garrett's death, I felt him so near me. There were times on that trip when I felt as though my heart would stop beating at any moment. I would sit on the beach and cry out in anguish and suddenly, I would feel something that was almost tangible. Looking back on it, I believe it was Garrett comforting me. Maybe he was sitting right there on that beach with me. Maybe I could feel him in the misty ocean breeze. And because it had only been a few weeks since his death, I could still remember what he smelled like and it hadn't been that long since I felt his warm skin or heard his laugh.
And even though it broke my heart to revisit the places we'd spent together when he was a baby, they were shared places, nonetheless. I had Garrett memories of those places.
And here in this cozy little cabin in the Black Hills of Custer County, I have nothing. Our family is in a place that was never shared with Garrett. Yes, we are moving on a making new memories, but that's the worst thing about it. It feels like we are leaving him behind and it's enough to make the tears spill from my eyes like hydrants. Right now I want to be curled up in that house in Lincoln City, hearing the waves crash against the shore, crying and listening to music that makes me think of my Baby. I want to be that close in time to him. I don't want to be a year out from his death, because it means it has been THAT long since I've held him or heard his voice. Even though last summer was a miserable time, part of me wants to go back to that misery because at least I felt him and hadn't forgotten the Little Things yet. I'm starting to forget Things, and it scares the ever living shit out of me.
But whether I'm in South Dakota or Oregon or on the other side of the world...my reality remains the same. I am here without my youngest son, and I feel broken.