Eight years ago, Nancy and I stood near the woodstove in the Quaker meetinghouse in Jacksonville, and sealed our vows to each other. In front of our friends and family, in a spartan sacred space, we chose our life together.
Nancy's birthday was yesterday. The holiday weekend was filled with visitors from the Ithaca Art Trail. So many of the people making the trip out to the studio were expecting to find pottery. Not anymore. We had to let folks down, and more often than not, they insisted on trying to find some way that I could keep making pots. Or they would venture their opinions about what we should do legally. Or they would tell me that they had been through exactly the same thing (only different). It was a long tiring Saturday.
Sunday we were surprised to find Nancy's parents in our driveway along with their neighbors, the Abbeys. It was such a hoot to be able to share our Art Trail weekend with family and friends. There was even cake to celebrate Nancy's birthday! The only thing that was missing was Aurora. Lo and behold, right as the cake was vanishing, the kid popped in. Just to get something she'd forgotten... but for a moment, we were all together.
A year ago, that almost didn't happen.
Rewind back to 2009. After a botched surgery and multiple surgeries and procedures, I clung to life for a month in a coma. My first waking moment from the coma was on Nancy's birthday. After a month in the coma, I was momentarily awake, and present. I told her "I love you"... and then slipped back under the waves of unconsciousness. A day later, I opened my eyes on our anniversary to find out that I couldn't talk, or move... or understand why I was in a hospital bed.
Looking up into those beautiful eyes... seeing her fear, distress and worry... knowing that I couldn't reach out and reassure her that, yes, I was in there... all I could do was cry. The hottest tears I have ever known.
If my eyes have ever said anything, they screamed volumes that day.
It has been a year. One hell of a year. I'm so glad to be on this side of where I was just over a year ago.
So how do you celebrate your first year alive when you're not an infant in a highchair? Mashed peas just don't do it for me, and applesauce messes with my blood sugar. We were all out of fingerpaints and our Play-doh had long since dried up. What to do?
Nancy and I decided last week that we needed a road trip before hockey season sucks our weekends into Never-never Land for the next six months. I had heard about a herd of elk that roam the north-central (western) portion of Pennsylvania. In a land marked on the map by almost continuous green PA State Park lands, we drove for five hours. By the time we reached the beginning of the Elk Trail (yes, PA has an Elk Trail)... it was already pushing dinnertime and the light was starting to fade. Knowing that Nancy had a full day of work the following day, we stopped where we should have been starting.
We saw no elk.
But we drove through some of the most amazing country I have ever seen on the East Coast. Rich forested lands, steep uplands filled with tall pines and ferns and brackens... all sparsely populated alternatingly by hunting shacks, summer cabins and year-rounder trailers. The only traffic we saw for over four hours was the trucks and rigs of the natural gas drilling crews. Mind you, our top speed on some of these tiny roads topped out at 35 mph. These enormous rigs full of wastewater contaminated with god-knows-what were doing far far faster than that. On roads that were euphemistically paved recently (probably before Regan's administration).... I have never worried more about breaking down.
Before we made it home, we found ourselves in a torrential downpour just outside of Mansfield. Having driven through the Endless Mountains, I can authoritatively say they are aptly named. I also have infinitely more respect for the obvious fact that this part of the country will never see a housing boom. There is simply no room to toenail a house into these rugged hills. I can only imagine how rough the winters are through this neck of the woods.
So that is how Nancy and I celebrated her birthday, our anniversary, and the anniversary of my first waking from the coma.