All within a half mile…
I drove across the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge yesterday on my way to the Oakland Airport, after talking with Nat on the phone. He offered to feed the cats again. His voice was calming, in an otherwise busy day, filled with last-minute details.
Bridges have always scared me. A panic attack can set in and kill the view, destroy the moment. The attack becomes the moment.
The light was oddly bright behind me, sun heading toward the ocean. It was after 5:00, and I was exhausted. With the sunlight shining through the metal trusses of the bridge in hypnotic flashes – shadow, sun, shadow, sun, shadow, sun – the sound of the tires on asphalt, the occasional bump over the metal connectors that keep the bridge “earthquake safe”, I became acutely aware of how strange the weather felt. Earthquake weather, I thought. This is not a good thought while on a bridge in the Bay Area. The aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake is still something I can see in my mind – the pancaked layers of the freeways, the asphalt panel of the Bay Bridge that fell onto the deck below, the mangled concrete and steel, the lost lives. A song I’d never heard came on the radio, and one of the lines was “it feels like earthquake weather.” Wham! Panic attack. No escaping the bridge, the strobe light effect of the sun, the whirring of the tires – no looking down or to the side, the water no doubt sparkling beautifully in the late afternoon’s reflection – just a glance or two at my hands clutching the steering wheel, hoping my mind and body would stay connected long enough to reach the other side.
I kept thinking of Owen…afraid of the water…walking across the pipebridge…the wooden trestle…the Petaluma River not being such a long way below those bridges in comparison to the San Francisco Bay, which was so far below the bridge on which I was driving. The visions of the possibilities of how Owen ended up in the River flooded my eyesight, exaggerated the panic attack already in full motion, and I forced myself to think of letting go. Just let go. You can’t control this or any other moment of your life, I kept saying to myself. I took a deep breath, felt my grasp on the steering wheel release slightly, adjusted my shoulders and neck, and saw the slight curve to the right near the end of the bridge. All these thoughts and feelings happened within about a half mile, given the slow movement in rush hour traffic. Panic subsiding, I turned my thoughts to why I was driving to the airport.
I was on my way to a funeral. My brother’s mother-in-law passed away about four weeks after Owen – give or take, mind you, considering we’ll never know when he died. (How many years will I be saying this? FOR-EV-ER.) The funeral was delayed so my sister-in-law, Jackie, and her brother, Scott, could arrange for a very special reunification. They wanted to bring their father’s remains to San Diego from Houston, Texas, where the paperwork for an interstate transport of human remains was tantamount to, well, rebuilding a bridge after an earthquake. Months of phone calls, paperwork, and certainly, an exchange in consideration of the process, and now, Francie and Bruce could be committed to their final resting places - one next to the other, as they had always intended. Bruce died before I got a chance to meet him, but I’ve always heard he was a wonderful husband and father. From the time I met Francie, at Emmitt and Jackie’s wedding, I thought of her as delicate, and I loved watching her talk with people, engaging them with charm and style. She loved to dance, and I will think of Bruce twirling her among the stars now, stepping lightly around the 4th star of the Big Dipper.
This was the sixth memorial I’ve attended since March of this year, three for family members. I saw some of our old friends today, some I haven’t seen since Owen died. Coming to Francie’s funeral didn’t seem all that hard (until the bridge), she had been sick for quite some time, but seeing people tied to Owen in any way is most definitely hard.
Lea and Karma kept me company once inside the airport. They called me from a parking garage in Bellingham to sing me songs in the echo-ey expanses known to empty garages. I challenged them with a few titles, and they got through at least a line or two of each. They had trouble starting In My Life by the Beatles, so I started, sitting at a table next to a dusty window sill in the Oakland Airport. There I was, singing a song into my cell phone, surrounded by people who didn’t disappear in spite of my wish that they would. Lea and Karma had joined in the singing, but as cell phones would have it, I couldn’t hear them, because I was singing. I stumped them with Take the Long Way Home by Supertramp. This was one of those songs that Owen liked, but could never remember the name of the band. Songs done, we laughed, and talked about the fires in Southern California. I told them I had grown up around these fires, and they wouldn’t stop me from my mission, unless the airlines began cancelling flights.
We presume Owen died within a half mile of the place he worked, the job he loved, and the friends he was making at the theater. Had he turned left instead of right that night, after leaving the movies, he would have taken the long way home, but that would have been okay. He would have made it home. Instead, he turned right, and we don’t know what happened next. Maybe he took this even longer way, heading for a new home. A lot can happen within a half mile.
Song for the night: Take the Long Way Home, Supertramp