This past Saturday I arrived at Caumsett at 7:30 am and took the service path on the right towards the mansion. It seems that in this solitude with beautiful surroundings I fall easily into conversation with Ronni.
At first I used to vocalize what I had just thought, then realized I was being redundant. Now I just let the thoughts come and go. I feel she's right there with me, chiding me, comforting me, planting ideas. I forget how I came to this conclusion, but I feel that she is able to see what I see, through my eyes, and that she wants me to look at things and at people full in the face. She wants to see her mom, and Allison, and Zach, through my eyes.
As I walked up towards the mansion I saw a tree whose shape Ronni wanted me to see. It must have been 50 years old, had grown at a 45 degree angle from the ground, or maybe had grown straight then fell over. When it fell it didn't die, but curved upward and continued growing until its top leaves were near the crown of the forest. That's you, she said. You've been blown over, but you'll continue to grow and thrive.
Later there was the half-inch thick vine spiraling around one tree, then jumping to another. That's me, she said. I grew up in a strong, close family, then I joined with you for the rest of my life. I think I ignored the condition of the trees, not sure if they were still alive, or even if the vine was alive. There was another vine which was actually a cluster of them, wrapped around each other in a rising spiral. That's all of us, she said, dependent on each other for our comfort, security, growth.
As I walked along the first path there was a rising and fading drone sound which I didn't recognize, but didn't think much about. It barely rose above the chatter of birds and rush of leaves in the light wind. Later, as I walked near the heart-shaped pond near the mansion, I realized it was a foghorn, or more accurately a fog whistle, since it was not the booming bass sound I would have expected. The sound punctuated the whole walk, but I was barely aware of it most of the time.
My middle-aged body sent me to the bathroom, where my thoughts of Ronni turned to the last days of her life. Approaching a complete meltdown, I clenched my hands together tightly and told myself to stop, stop punishing yourself. Ronni said the same. I cannot get past the regrets: how I spent more than half of her last day at work, how many opportunities I missed to be with her and tell her how much I loved her. I will incorporate those regrets into my being, that's how I'll move on. It happened, you blew it, you can't take it back, now move along. It will take years.
Then I was at the bench, at the top of the great lawn, where Ronni and I many times sat to admire the scene. Sometimes it was just us walking, for exercise. Sometimes it was Ronni in her wheelchair. This time it was me, alone. I could barely see the pond because of the fog, so I turned away to look at the mansion. It was someone's home, and someone's work place. It held someone's memories, of people who were gone long ago. I remembered reading that the family tore down part of the mansion because it had begun to feel too big; now it was asymmetrical and ugly. Mold and cracks were here and there, as the state (who now owns the building) tried half-heartedly to keep the place up. Ronni saw it through my eyes, wistfully.
Down the hill through the forest to the beach, I could hear drops of rain. When a storm approaches, it begins with a few drops, then a few more, then builds to a torrent. Today the rain was stuck in first gear, never going beyond the dripping. I don't know why I found this comforting. There wasn't going to be a torrent, because there was no line of storms on the radar this morning. But the rain would tickle and tease me, soaking my shoes as I walked through the fields, but never soaking my clothes.
I sat on a rock on the beach and watched the birds. A flock of geese had settled in the shallow water among the smoothed stones, and their cackling mixed with the plunk-plunk of the water splashing against the hollows. Two cormorants stood guard on two boulders directly in front of me. They watched me warily, then one decided to take off. She jumped towards the water and beat her wings furiously to keep from crashing into the water. She made a wide arc leftward behind the rock she had been sitting on, then straightened out and flew diagonally, gradually fading in the fog until suddenly I could no longer see her. A moment later I looked back and the second cormorant had jumped into the water but had not flown away. His head turned from side to side as though he was looking for his mate. He kept this up for several minutes, swimming away from shore towards the mist. I glanced away at the geese, then back to find the cormorant, but he had disappeared. I suppose he dove for food; I searched for a minute but never saw him again. I thought of Ronni and me, the arc of our lives.
Twenty years ago Ronni and I walked in Caumsett and I led us up a trail on the cliffs above this spot. It was fun and pretty, but the trail disappeared, and we found ourselves thrashing through the brush as though in a Peruvian jungle. Just then my pager rang - someone at work was looking for me! Before the time of cell phones all I could have done is find a pay phone, but here in the jungle we laughed, "Oh, well, no response today!" The last two times I have gone alone, and the trail has been clean and easy to follow, and of course, I stopped at the best view and cried bitterly. Ronni told me, knock it off, I can't see how gorgeous it is if your eyes are all cloudy. The drops splashed on my head and nose as I meandered through the woods.
You come out near a wide trail that could take you back to the parking lot by several variations in the route. I decided to find the perimeter of the park. Along the way there was a chattering, fluttering trio of birds (Redstarts, I found out later) for whom I just had to stand still so I could watch in amusement. You would have thought there were ten of them, but there were only three. I hope Ronni got to see them.
Consulting my map I guessed the direction I should move, but somehow I turned myself around and after about 45 minutes I found myself right back on the same cliff near the beach. In honor of my silliness I ate two "silly cookies" as I called them, then took the direct walk back to the parking lot and made my way home. On the way I listened to the podcast of "Wait, Wait" from NPR. Ronni and I used to listen in the car on Saturdays on our way to lunch together. Today I was immersed in the show as I walked, and it helped me forget the pain in my legs and heart.
I tell people I need to go through this, not around it or back away. But am I punishing myself? Am I pushing myself into places that make me cry? And should I? Maybe it's my way to keep Ronni in my life, because that's what I need. I can't have her back, but I can soak myself in my memories of her, even if it makes me miserable.
Sometimes I feel intensely alone. I cannot always summon Ronni to talk to her. Then sometimes I can.
The foghorn sounds far, far away, barely above the nearby bustle, and I keep putting one foot in front of the other.