The path

In Memory of Franco Garcia
Pulled from the Reservoir 4/11/2012
Your path was short, but you are home.

Our shoes make a satisfying crunch in the sandy gravel as we follow the lakeside path. Side by side we walk through the early morning mist that hugs the orange and golden hued trees. The air is still in the early morning half-light and does not yet carry a hint of winter’s arrival. We chose this path instead of our typical indoor gym routine the moment we stepped outside. The fall air so welcoming that we could not refuse it. It was a shared thought that Paul vocalized “Let’s walk around the Reservoir together instead”.

Strangers would know that we are a couple because of our proximity to each other. But we each walk now cocooned in our individual thoughts while our footsteps are synchronized. In my mind I go through my closet figuring out what I will wear to the wake tonight. Charting the directions to the funeral home and then as thoughts are apt to do, flashes of scenes play. I see his empty cubicle, the pictures of his two daughters and hear him talk so proudly about them. He loved them so intensely. He was only four years older than me.

As if to highlight how separate we are at that moment, Paul abruptly says “Don’t refill the soap containers.” I laugh, because this is something I would never think to do anyway. Do people refill soap containers? I think to myself. Maybe it’s because we have chosen a different routine this morning that makes Paul think that I will continue to do things out of the ordinary.

We have walked this path many times before. But, the light is different now. The sun rests lower in the sky. The Canadian geese are gone, replaced by small mallard ducks that slowly and quietly glide across the still water. While it is the same path, it is completely different.

We round a corner and come to a long stretch of grass, brilliant green in the yellow sunlight that now manages to push through the morning clouds. I used to love mowing the grass. As a teenager I would make money by providing lawn-mowing services. It was satisfying to push the lawnmower in long neat rows, admiring the trim appearance of the yard. The hum of the mower, the smell of cut grass and the solitariness of the task was healing.

Every week I would mow The Harrell’s yard. After so many years I knew the routine. Eventually Mr. Harrell would no longer need to tell me what to do. Trim the ivy on the hill in the spring. Empty the gutters in the fall. Clean out the lawnmower before putting it to rest in the winter.

Mr. and Mrs. Harrell would banter back and forth in a playful way while I worked in their yard. Mrs. Harrell would make iced tea filled with lemons and set it on a tray outside for me on those hot muggy North Carolina days. In the fall, I would sit on their rooftop gathering clumps of leaves in my hand and watch them from my bird’s eye view carry on their daily tasks. In the sunset of their lives they were happy and content in their mutual rhythm.

Then one early summer day their son, who would be my age now, stood in the park across the street from their house, placed the barrel of a gun against his head and pulled the trigger. The daily rhythm of their lives forever changed.

A duck splashes in the water and I am shocked back to the present; amazed by the ability of my mind to play a lifetime of images and memories in an instant. The sun has climbed high enough that our faces are bathed in the morning light.

“The lighting is good” Paul says pointing to my face. This is a shared joke that needs no explanation. How many times have I been on the other end of a camera with him and said “No, don’t take my picture from this angle, the lighting isn’t good.”
I slow down and say, “I’m going to make a meat and potato pie for dinner this weekend.”

“But you never cook; why the change?”

“It’s good to mix things up” I say. “I used to be good at cooking. Its fall, it seems right.”

“And I’ll start writing a blog.” Paul says sarcastically as he pretends to type “This is my first blog, already I’m bored. Goodbye”

We laugh at the absurdity of changing roles as our footsteps fall back in sync. The sky is mirrored in the lake so that the path looks like a bridge floating in mid-air and my heart becomes so full of the beauty that I think it will burst. Soon it will be winter and the path will be so thick with snow that it will be impassable. But for now we walk side by side. I return to my thoughts and turn words over in my head examining them like jewels; back to our familiar path, our feet in lock step; a world within a world within a world.

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