Yes she did. We have been married for almost thirty years now. And this morning I drove her and our daughter Nicole to JFK for their trip to the west coast. For seven or eight years now they have been going on an annual summer road trip, just the two of them, to visit all of the Major League baseball stadiums. On this trip they are covering San Francisco and Seattle. And along the way visiting Napa Valley, Portland, and some other great places on the west coast. It has always been a mother-daughter trip that they very much look forward to every year. Besides the baseball stadiums, Nicole makes it a point to find places to eat that have been featured on Dines, Drive-Ins, & Dives. Restaurant Impossible, or other Food Network shows. They take tons of pictures, send me texts along the way, and come home with a lot of great stories – stories I know Nicole will remember for a lifetime.
So why is this important? Why did she leave me? It’s important because it represents something that they used to do. The summer after we lost Andrew, they could not go on their trip. They were still mourning, and not wanting to do something that was a regular routine. We really did not do much that summer – just remembered Andrew, and waited in anguish for his one-year anniversary at the end of August.
Then two years passed. During the second summer, although still grieving and deeply missing Andrew, they decided to go on a short baseball road trip – and include me this time. Toronto Blue Jays stadium is not near any other stadiums, it’s out of the way, and had to be done as a one-off trip. Dorothy convinced me to join them for this trip. But it was more than a trip to Toronto – it was a trip to Niagara Falls along the way. That was the hard part.
The winter before we lost Andrew, when he was home for winter break, Nicole had several hockey games in Niagara Falls. I asked Andrew if he wanted to take a road trip with me, and to my surprise, he agreed to it. He really did love to watch his sister play hockey and he was proud of her hockey accomplishments. It made him smile every time he bragged to his friends about how good she was. And yes, he did brag about his younger sister.
Andrew and I took the drive up there – alone together in my truck for several hours. It was really an amazing ride. We talked a good part of the way, but when he was not talking, I just sat and listened for him to start the conversation – I did not want to be overwhelming. For six hours up we talked on and off. It was the longest stretch of time, by far, that we had been alone together in years. Quality father-son time. I drove, he drove. We stopped for food along the way. I told him about the canal system that runs along the thruway, he told me about the mountains in Colorado. I told him about Andy’s uncle’s farm in Amsterdam, and he told me about the library at school. We touched on so many topics.
When we were up in Niagara Falls, the three of us accidentally went into Canada (I’ll tell you that story some other time). We went to eat at Planet Hollywood and walked and drove around for an hour or so. He loved the stores, the atmosphere, and the loud music, everything about the town. When it was time to return to the US for Nicole’s game Andrew wanted to stay in Canada. But without a passport or valid drivers license I didn’t think it was a good idea. He was not happy to say the least, but came home with us to her game.
On the way home I promised him we would return soon, maybe next winter. I promised him that we would go back to Niagara Falls as a family and he could walk around and sightsee, we would take the boat to the falls, he could go into the hippie shops that were everywhere, even go into the casinos and hang out.
I never kept that promise to my son. We, or should I say he, never made it back. There were not many promises that I made to my son that I did not keep, but this was one of them. And it killed me that this was on the list of things Andrew never got to do. So now, a couple of years later, we were going as a family in his memory, to a place he briefly visited but fell in love with. We would walk the streets and point out the places Andrew would have visited. We picked up items he would have thought were cool and would probably have bought. We looked at the tie dye t-shirts he would have bought. It was a very nice, but heartbreaking trip. But I fulfilled the promise that we would return, as a family, except that my son was not with us.
But the trip did accomplish something, something very important for us. We went away. We went on a trip as a family again. We smiled, we laughed, we enjoyed ourselves – despite ourselves. It was a step forward. A small step, but a step forward, not backwards, not to the side, and not standing still. We moved forward, which was a big deal.
So this year, Dorothy and Nicole take another step. They are doing something that they need to do. They are doing something that Andrew would have wanted them to do. He would have been talking to Nicole or Dorothy every night eager to hear about where they ate, what they saw and telling them how the dogs and car are doing back home. We would have all been happy. I am sure Andrew is watching over them these twelve days. Traveling with them on their trip for the first time, smiling when they smile, laughing with them, and I know he is happy knowing that they can smile and laugh and enjoy themselves, once again.
For now, during their absence, I am home. Looking at the calendar and reminded of the fact that Andrew’s anniversary is next week. Wondering how I am going to deal with that. But for this week, I am happy about this small step we all took.