Nature’s Way

Spring is when our natural world emerges from hibernation—at least that’s how it works in places like New England—especially in the far-flung northern locales of the region. Buds appear, perennials poke up through the earth, and dormant lawns demand attention by way of a lawn mower.

Even in the midst of coping with the fallout from death and loss, it’s impossible not to notice and be affected by spring’s rousing “hallelujah.”

May moves forward and folds into June. Summer’s official commencement isn’t far off. And yet, the defining event rooted in winter’s cold and darkness travels with Mary and me, no matter how bright the sun shines, or how directly its rays reflect.

Upon returning from California, I was shoved into normalcy. I say “normal,” knowing that for us, normal will never be the same again. How can it be after losing someone we loved as deeply as Mark?

I’ve blogged about being a baseball umpire. Spring is a busy time when you officiate high school baseball in Maine. While our season is shorter than other parts of the country, by the first week of May, high school schedules are in full swing. With rainouts backing games up and umpiring numbers being down across all four umpiring boards in the state, you can work as many games as you want and can physically tolerate.

Beginning with an extra-inning contest at the Ballpark in Old Orchard last Friday night, I have logged nine games over the last week. Three of the nine have gone extra frames.

On Wednesday, I was on the plate between Greely and Falmouth. Mark played for the Rangers of Greely. This game between neighboring rivals pitted Falmouth with their undefeated record, and Greely having only one blemish on theirs. I had two of the best pitchers in the state going head-to-head.

When I received the assignment, I almost turned it back. Part of me had doubts if I was up to the task in terms of the emotional aspects associated with it. Like all similar situations in my life, I steeled myself for the task and decided to face up to it.

Save for Mark’s former coach being a bit too vociferous about a few pitches that he thought his pitcher should have had, things went without a hitch. I dealt with questions about balls and strikes like I had in the past—informing this coach that I wasn’t going to listen to him “chirp” about balls and strikes any longer. That took care of that.

On the way out to the parking lot to change and debrief, my partner said, “great job, buddy.” I knew he was right. While I won’t say this was easy being behind the plate in a key schoolboy contest involving Mark’s alma mater, I can say that it felt good to face up to the challenge and succeed. Mark wouldn’t have wanted anything less from his dad.

Mary’s been my rock for as long as I’ve known her. Gracious, even when her heart’s been broken. She continues to amaze me in how she’s been able to carry forth.

She’s handled what seems to be a never-ending list of Mark-related administrative tasks with courage and competence. “What else is there to do,” something we’ve both said to one another, time and time again. With our return, Mary’s resumed her weekly training with her beloved SheJAMs sisterhood. She’s focused on July, when she’ll be entering her fourth Tri for a Cure triathlon, this being the 10th anniversary of the event.

A small solace hitched to spring’s arrival that I’ve been paying attention to is the busyness inherent in  the natural world—at least when I’ve slowed down and truly paid attention to it. I’ve been working at cultivating a daily ritual of descending the stairs from our bedroom and looking out the cove-facing window that sits at the base of the stairwell. I’m enjoying cranking open the window and spending  a good five minutes taking in the sound of the birds, watching for the shadowy movements of squirrels in the trees, and marveling at the earliest flecks of sunlight shimmering on the surface of Woodward Cove.

A window into nature.

The natural world is where we both feel Mark’s presence. We noted this when we were in the midst of the desert and Joshua Tree National Park. We felt him with us at the edge of the surf, on Santa Monica Beach.

Mark’s spiritual presence isn’t enough to mitigate our sadness and stop us from missing his physical form, but it’s what we’re left with and worth holding onto.

Travel Writing

[Leaving LA and Santa Monica]

Our time in California is coming to an end. We’ve been on the road for nearly two weeks, nearing the completion of a trip we felt compelled to take. We’re missing home a bit, even our cat, Lucy. Odd how our heartstrings pull at us.

This journey has been centered on Mark. Emotions Mary and I have been contending with in losing our only son don’t seem close to dissipating. Love doesn’t disappear just because someone we loved dies. Tears continue streaming, while the holes in both of our hearts remain (and will live there forever).

Time spent in Santa Monica and Los Angeles was beautiful. Seeing Gabi again was one of the highlights of our time in this magnificent state. When political types slag California either through ignorance or ideology, they know not what they are talking about. It’s hard to put into words what we’ve seen and experienced during this briefest of stays in a place that could just as easily be its own county if it wasn’t one of America’s most important states.

Checking out of our cottage near the beach, we began trekking up the Pacific Coast Highway last Monday. We stopped and watched an amazing group of surfers spend their morning catching and riding waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach (also known as Surfrider Beach). Our morning in Malibu was close to perfect.

A surfer catching a wave in Malibu.

Continue reading

On the Beach

In 2007, we rented a camp sight-unseen in Steuben, Maine. The tiny village west of Bar Harbor, was just far enough from touristy Mount Desert Island that it remained stuck in a state that felt more like 1955 than the first decade of the 21st century we were living in.

Mark and his girlfriend-at-the-time, Gabi, drove up from Boston in her Jeep and spent the week with us. Bernie, our beloved Sheltie was still alive and seemed to have recovered from a stroke suffered in January. Our little unit of three (plus one and a dog) was back together, gathered under one roof.

It would not be stretching the truth at all to say that the week in late July was one of the most memorable ones of our married lives. We hiked, biked, played cards, and enjoyed the old house abutting a National Wildlife Refuge on a picture postcard-like portion of Maine’s coastline. “Idyllic” is another well-worn word that wouldn’t be inappropriate in framing this snapshot in time.

We never judged or compared Mark’s three “serious” girlfriends that we’ve known. However, we adored Gabi. Maybe because she was Mark’s first long-term romantic relationship—or perhaps it’s because she was so easy to like and “got” our family and the special place it occupied in Mark’s life. She also spent the most time with us and we knew her the best. When they broke up in 2009, we were sad. We wondered if we’d keep in touch.

When Mark was killed, Gabi called us that Sunday less than 24 hours after the horrible news. She was devastated. Crying on the phone, we shared an emotional 30 minutes catching up and hearing her share with us that Mark was “her best friend” and that she was so sorry for what we’d just suffered in losing him.

She continued calling us nearly every week. In February she sent a package that included photos.

Gabi was also who Mark referred to in his blog about walking across America in 2010 when he wrote,

I am on my way to a friend’s house in West Hollywood. I drank a coffee. It is my first caffeine of the trip. After I drop some weight from my pack at my friend’s apartment we will walk to ocean. We will march to an end. Continue reading

A Starting Point

To call our trip to California a vacation would not accurately capture its purpose. Perhaps “sad vacation” is a more apt descriptor.

Mark lived in Los Angeles for a year after graduating from Wheaton and being accepted into Brown’s MFA program in 2009. Returning has been bittersweet at best. Memories of our (separate) trips in 2008 abound.

As iconic as it gets.

Mark completed his first walk in 2010 at the Pacific and Santa Monica Beach. It’s fitting that our trip begins here. 

On the beach.

We’ll spend a bit more time hugging the coast, then it’s time to head for the desert. Updates will follow in good time.