I have been resisting this story for several weeks, but was convinced the other night that it needs to be told. We are coming up on seven weeks and each day has had it's own unique events. Some days stand out more than others, but frankly everything is a blur. I'm living in a fog, where I can't really remember fine details at times. I'm walking around with a big notepad these days, furiously scribbling reminders to myself to 'call this person' or 'pick up milk'. The little things can be hard to track, the big things stick around with added meaning.
It's no secret that I have been having a difficult time this week. It is getting better, but, as was eloquently explained to me a few nights ago, I am now in a stage where people are starting to move on. We've moved past the 'cards and casseroles', leaving a small group of us to pick up the wreckage. I've started looking for a grief support group. My situation is in a word unique. I haven't found one that is a good fit yet, but I've got some good leads and have met a few wonderful and selfless people that are helping me look.
When you go through something like this you find your mind tends towards the mystic. Things that a few weeks prior didn't mean a thing are now tinged with electricity. A bird in the sky used to be just that. Now it's a signal from the other side. It's hard to explain if you haven't experienced it. Frankly I sound a little crazy when I say this stuff out loud. Sometimes that hummingbird is just a hummingbird; but if it feels better to assign it a larger role, go with it.
The story in question happened the day after I brought Melissa and Matthew home. I have avoided telling it to a wider audience because it's one of those things that makes you question your sanity. It is also an intensely personal story that involves a discussion of Melissa's cremains. If this is too much to read too soon, I completely understand. Like all things, there are logical explanations for what happened. Swamp gas and mirrors. At the same time, it has given me a feeling that I am not alone. A feeling that Melly and Matt are here just beyond my view to make sure I am ok.
Melissa and Matthew were cremated. Melissa hated the idea of being buried, and preferred that she leave as small an environmental impact as possible. I feel the same way, and wish to be cremated when my time comes. It was something that we discussed, but not something we thought we would have to deal with for a long time. If you have not had this conversation with those close to you, please do. There was so much going on in those first days. I am grateful that she let me know her wishes so I would not have to guess.
Melissa's intent was to in part be kept at home, near our pets past and present. She also expressed a desire to be spread at several of her most favorite places. With this in mind I had the ashes divided in to an urn for our home and several packets for family. I spent the day prior to bringing her home building a special shelf in our bedroom so that she would be near. I built the shelf high and away from other 'launch' points so cats seeking a place to perch wouldn't knock her down. You have to think ahead, right?
I placed her urn on that shelf next to a few of her favorite knick knacks; a toy wolf and tiger, a glow in the dark turtle, a picture of Melly and Betty, some of her scruntchies. I've since added a glow in the dark butterfly. Late at night, in the dark, I look up from bed and see those two glowing objects and feel at peace. Like she is watching over me.
I put the rest of the collected packets inside a red velvet bag, which I placed in a shoebox. I then placed the shoebox inside her closet, behind her dresses, separate from danger. In an attempt to clear my head from this solemn task, I decided to go up to the painted desert with the dogs that next day.
The trip to the painted desert was restorative. It helped me feel closer to Melly, and gave me a much needed break from the desolate summer heat. I met my parents in Flagstaff and convinced my Mom to make the drive east with me and the pups.
Now Melissa worried everyday that our dogs would get loose and run away. The fear of loss was part of who she was. Taking the dogs to the park is not something she would have done, much less taking them on a wilderness hike. So of course, when I opened the back door of the car to put leashes on, they all bolted. After a hectic few minutes, we managed to round the girls back up and get them leashed for our hike. I made the comment to my Mom that Melissa was somewhere saying "I told you so."
We hiked through the Blue Forest section of the park for about an hour, during which time the dogs could have gone to the bathroom anywhere. I had bags with me for clean up, just in case. They did not go potty. They instead waited until we made it back to the car. As we were driving through the the park back to I-40 I started to smell a very specific funk coming from the backseat. When I pulled over to look, or sweet Betty had soiled herself and everything within arms length. She was busy tracking it everywhere, and worse was leaving butt prints on the windows, seats, and in one unfortunate case, the top of Daisy's head. That was the "I told you so" I was expecting.
We pulled in to scenic overlook so I could get Betty out for a clean up and so she could get the rest of it out of her system. I took her to the top of the vista so she could do her business. As luck would have it, just as she started to go a park ranger arrived. The ranger was very gracious and understanding, but made absolutely certain I cleaned up after her. Leave no trace. Take only pictures, leave only footprints and whatnot.
I then had two hours in a very stinky car back to Flagstaff to drop my Mom off, followed by another two very stinky hours back to Phoenix. We arrived back to the house and the cats at around 11:30p that night. Everyone hungry and exhausted, but everyone satisfied with our big adventure.
The second I pulled in to our driveway something funny happened. I had been listening to my iPod on random all night, shuffling about 30,000 songs. The second I hit our driveway a two minute song called "I Felt Your Shape" by the Microphones came on random. Now that song probably doesn't mean anything to anyone, but it was the last song played at our wedding. I took a few minutes to listen, said my "I love you" and took girls in.
I got everyone fed and checked on the house. The cats did a great job not destroying it while we were away. Content with everything, I headed back to the bedroom to call it a day. That's where I found it. The shoebox. Out of the closet, placed gently in the middle of the floor with the lid off to one side and the red velvet bag taken out and placed on the other side.
After several minutes of sitting with that bag and talking with Melissa, I placed it on the shelf next to the urn. Together, as they should be.
There are several logical reasons for the box to be out. A cat probably went in to the closet to find a place to sleep and knocked it out. I understand the probabilities. I get it. But I like my explanation and the feeling it gave me more.
As I was trying to fall asleep that night I picked up the June issue of Smithsonian Magazine. I was reading an article by Brian Mockenhaupt about World War I. The last lines I read that night - "I am here. I am present." That is the "I love you" I was looking for.