Why do these pictures weaken me? Why do they ignite in me the powerful dread that explodes in every place of me? Why do they rip up every part of my insides? Why does the small tear I always hold in my heart since you left, recklessly race down the rest of me? Why, when I stare at the pictures our last vacation together, a year ago, am I falling apart? The obvious answer may be because I miss you terribly, but it’s more than a longing for you. These photos of our vacation shows the importance of us, as a couple, as a family, as a unit.
Whenever we had extra money from bonuses and tax returns, it didn’t go into the house. You looked to the house as a building with a purpose to shelter us and gather, and it just wasn’t as important to you as spending time together. Sure, we kept our house clean(ish) and in working order. We decorated so we can sit in it with pleasure. We didn’t need for it to be fancy or modern, but functional, practical and warm. And we did make it warm. Over the years, I heard from many visitors how our home felt warm and inviting. Perhaps it felt like that because of the afghans skewed across the grape juice stains of the couch, or pictures and photos held on by tape or magnets crowding the refrigerator door. Maybe it was the plants everywhere, giving life and greenery and drawing attention away from the cracks in the baseboard or the closet door that never quite closed. Maybe it was the dog toys scattered on the living room carpet giving the appearance of play and fun. But what I think gave our house an inviting warmth was the love in it. Our love glowed inside of it and anyone who visited was drawn in from the comfort of it.
So not all the extra money we received needed to go into our house. You were content in it; the family was content in it. No, most of any extra money went toward family vacations. Those were important to you. Those were the times were we relaxed and explored and road together in a car as a family. We got to know each other through our son’s fear of Disney characters at three, our daughter’s teenage angst of being away from her boyfriend, my menopausal crabbiness and your constant need to see everything. And in the good times – the sunset on the shores of Hawaii, the climbed mountains of the Rockies, the camping in the Amish land of Indiana, and the wild horses of the Outer banks – we drew together, closer, experiencing once-in-a-lifetimes together.
You loved to experience the land and all it had to offer. You needed to see what you read about or heard about. You were drawn to nature, all it had to offer and all it meant. You lit up in new experiences. You were yourself in the relaxation of long walks and scenic hikes. Vacations were your chances to be be free, unconstrained by the walls you worked in eight to twelve hours a day. Vacations were your chances to reconnect, or connect more with your family because you were a family man, first and foremost. You wanted us with you because we were the most important part of you.
Remember how you used to say you work to live? How work was your means to an end? And how I didn’t understand because it conflicted with my ‘love what you do‘ philosophy? (Another difference between us that worked for us) I kinda understand now, and in the process, understand you more. Because sitting these past few nights, looking over pictures of our last vacation, I see the pure smile in your eyes. I remember the joy you exuded in your normally reserved self. I am transformed in the peace of you during those moments. I feel every part of you in those pictures. They show who you were and the money, the sacrifices you made for it all to happen. They show your need and want and desire for our family to to have these times to connect through nature, through experiences. And I know you wanted more of this. I know because you started the beginning stages of a a vacation for us a week before you died. Perhaps the last one with just the four us I remember you saying sadly.
So maybe that’s why these pictures tear me up, even this morning. There will be no more four of us together on the road, to explore a city, a town, the open roads. Those times died when you died. And as I sit in my house, our house, mandated by the pandemic for another six weeks to stay put and only able to walk among the familiar, I mourn our vacations of once-were and those of what-could-have-been. In my aloneness, the echos of our vacation fights, of our moments of wonders together, of our just being one unit, haunts the inside of me and I am scared, and I am lonely, and I am confused, and I am sorrowful.
These pictures I look at also released something else in me besides pain. By looking at them, I am no longer angry in the mess I sit in now. I am no longer angry at all the projects left to me to complete or begin. I am no longer angry my house, our house, is not the modeled house ready to sell, or a house that has not aged well. Because these pictures show me your priorities, and it wasn’t in keeping our house ready to sell. It was in keeping it a home and building a family structure, built on memories and time together. And I am thankful.
Today is not a good day for me. I miss being a couple with you. I am reminded every day, every minute, you are gone. Distractions don’t come easy when you are restricted by movement and without people interaction. I continually wonder why Life handed me such a heavy load to carry, such a crappy cargo to drag around. In my moments of self-pity, and I have so many of them, I continually try to seek answers as to when my break in life, any break, will come.
And these pictures I look at? These are the pictures that brings my pain to the forefront today. I am reminded of what I had in you – a good man, a solid man, a man who loved his family first and foremost, a man who had his priorities in order. Even with this broken heart and a glance at another photo, I am thankful.