I thought I had this. The first year I was doing it, moving forward, smile on my face, plans, etc. Walking around and functioning, pretty much, in spite of feeling like half a person haunting a place I used to call my home. My stomach hurt, but I was okay.
Everyone said the second years is the worst.
They were right. Good Lord, I thought I had this. I get in the car and drive out to see Jude, past the graveyard where Don is buried, a place we used to ghost hunt and now I bring flowers to. We used to get coffee in the winter and drive in a junky van and explore there, the cheapest date possible. I loved the Eastland Disaster Memorial, so we’d always spend time on the bench, holding hands and thinking about the families that lost everything that day, off to a happy picnic, unsuspecting that everything they loved was about to go away forever.
Once, as we were walking away, I fell on a patch of ice. I lay there, waiting for Don to notice and come running to save me. After a bit I realized he wasn’t going to turn around, and decided to see how long it would take it to dawn on him I wasn’t there. I could hear him talking to me as he walked, telling me some anecdote. Finally he turned around, and walked back to where I was lying on the cold ground.
“Why are you on the ground?” he asks.
“because I like the way the PAVEMENT smells,” I growl.
Horrified, he helps me up. Poor Don, he knows he will pay for this. The whole episode is a metaphor for abandonment and my childhood I’ll be sharing in therapy later. I feel like I spent a good bit of my marriage looking for clues that my fears were real, he was going to leave me, he would forget me if I didn’t get up in his face. Don Hill, willing sacrifice for the sins of my father.
I drive by the cemetery. Sometimes I stop, and stand at his grave, decorated with pictures from Jude and knick knacks and coffee cups. Marked by the wrought iron cross Sage and Meeko took turns hammering into the ground. I tell him I am sorry, even though I know it’s just bones. Only bones.
I had picked out this plot, stood there with my friends while Neil read scripture, listening to Don’s sisters sob and my niece squeezed my hand. It was only on my third or fourth visit I turned around and saw the Eastland Memorial. It is directly across from Don’s grave.
Sometimes I blow right past, only there are speed cameras on Foster and I have to go slow. Simple Minds plays, on the radio, more often than not, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” because apparently Don is in charge of the radio stations in heaven and wants to send me a message, an 80’s anthem, perfect for us. It plays as I pass in the morning, plays on my way home. I don’t tell people this because it sounds like I have lost my shit, clutching at straws. It’s true, though. If I take Lawrence it doesn’t play.
I spend the day with Jude, answering him when he tells me Daddy’s sick, Daddy has the floop, Daddy’s in heaven with Jesus, with Coco the Rabbit and Gramma. Jude picks up my phone and tries to call Don, tells him he wants to play with him. I tell him we can’t see Daddy anymore, but Daddy loves us still. Jude tells me Daddy disappeared. I cry the whole way home.
I drive down Foster in the dark. As I approach the iron gates of the cemetery the song starts to play. I slow down, so I don’t get a ticket and between the bars a skinny coyote slinks out on to the street. He stops and looks at me, holds my gaze for a moment, and trots into the trees on the other side of the road. A horn blasts behind me because without realizing I have stopped, just staring at the trees where the coyote evaporated into the dark.
I sit up that night, watching crime shows, really sick ones about sociopaths that dissect their victims and leave the parts scattered around for innocent bystanders to find. I smoke a hazelnut e cigar Dylan gave me, the tip of it glowing in the dark, blowing rings of steam over the dog sleeping at my feet. I say a silent prayer during each commercial, Have mercy. Jesus, God, please. Have mercy.