February 14, 2005

Sophie - Telling Stories

Rose said to me on Sunday "let's pretend daddy's not dead. Let's pretend he's just somewhere very far away...like Oregon."

You just can't make this stuff up.

Last year he WAS somewhere very far away from us.

Ray had been accepted into Springboard, his company's Leadership development program, into a session in Australia. He was SO excited, and I was so proud of him.

But when it became clear that he couldn't take time off from work, and we wouldn't be able to add to the trip and make that long-planned family excursion to Australia, he was so bummed. He didn't want to go anymore. He honestly planned to cancel, and I wouldn't let him. I knew how much it meant to him, what an honor it was and how much he would get out of it, so I made him go.

It was the longest we'd ever been apart. He was supposed to be gone for 9 days. Before he left he hid a series of presents for Rose -- puzzles mostly, they loved to do puzzles together -- so that she'd have something new to play with each day until he came back. When it came time to really let him go, it was so hard -- I'd become pretty afraid of flying, and it suddenly occured to me that he was getting on a plane without us. He called in, every leg of the trip, to reassure me each time his connecting flight touched down.

During the trip he called often, the experience was as he hoped, but he missed us.

He missed us so much that he came home 3 days early. After the session he'd flown to Sydney, because we'd hoped he'd be able to see Andrew, his very good buddy who'd shared his motorcycle-across-the-US adventure, and many other adventures, many years before. We hadn't seen him since he was in our wedding. But Andrew was out of town that week, so Ray went standby on the next flight and came home. Part of me thought he was nuts -- not stay in Sydney?!?! -- but DAMN I was glad he was home.

And since he did come home early, we were able to go to Yosemite. In hindsight we were so lucky, we had so many amazing experiences together, right up until the end. That trip was just magical -- my brother in law Blaise's company cabin near Wawona, a heavenly spot. 7 adults, 4 kids, 3 dogs. Ray & Rose & I, Blaise & Erin & their Isabelle & William, James & Denise & Jack, and Aunt Janny. We brought Rose's beloved Bradley, we were dog-sitting and practicing to see if we could get a dog of our own. The guys built a snowmountain on the woodpile behind the cabin, let the kids go sledding. Of course Ray went down the "hill" with them. James & Ray took the kids down to the stream near the cabin, started the life lessons; self-reliance & adventuring & the joys of nature. Waterfall hikes, feeding cherios to the deer right off the back porch.

The day we left we all drove a bit out of our way to go have lunch on Bass Lake. Sitting around a big table we all made a pact -- we were going to move forward on the dream we'd been bandying around for awhile, to build the "family compound". To go in together & buy a piece of land, build a cabin, make a gathering place. Give our children and our families a place to grow together. Our family, my cousins and I, we were spoiled -- when we were kids our grandfather had a ranch in the hills above the wine country, a true paradise, orchards & meadows to explore, where kids could run free. Big communal kitchen & dining table & living room where adults could run free too!And we had cousins -- lots and lots and lots of cousins -- and we all got to grow up together as extended brothers & sisters. For Ray, an only child, looking at Rose, his only child -- this was something he wanted very much for her. A place to build traditions.

We're going to Yosemite this weekend. My aunt Ellen will join us, and James & Denise's brand-new baby girl Elaine. And we'll see how much of that dream we can try to keep, we can bear to talk about. But how could we not? The dream's still real, harder now, with as much pain as hope in too many ways. But the feelings are all still true.

How do you heal, how can you mend, when the world's been blown apart? You don't, you can't. You just find a place to start tethering down the fragments. You just hold onto what you can. You just tell stories. You just remember.