I sat curled up against my father's tombstone this afternoon, back hunched against the north wind, eyes shut against tears, with stray gleams of the sun through the clouds warm on my right cheek. I'd been at Momo's for Thanksgiving Sunday dinner, and I wanted to stop by to visit Daddy, like I sometimes do. I'd taken my map with me from the car, to look over the new route I wanted to try going home, and I'd found myself talking out loud about the road numbers and towns I'd go through.
It occurred to me for the first time that this, too, was something I'd be leaving behind me when I moved. My father's essence I carry in my heart, but the place where his bones rest has been a center for me. If I have any home right now, it's at his side, but I can't live always on that windy hilltop. I still walk above the ground, and I have to find my home out here somewhere. But the times when I've felt soul-weary, over-burdened with the claims I place on myself or allow others to place on me, I've been able to get in my car and drive west. Drive to this place where my roots sink into the earth. It's a place where only the most fundamental feelings can live, where I am truly myself, and where everything else is tested, found wanting, and drops away. It's only an hour and a half from Houston.
It will be almost eight hours from New Orleans.
I was offered the choice between relocating to Florida or Oregon or losing my job when my company closed their Houston site the month after my father died. I couldn't leave then. I couldn't leave my family, and I couldn't leave his grave so far behind so soon. It doesn't have that hold on me now. I've risen from those ashes and gone out and onward, as I had to. Life in this world isn't a high plain of happiness we climb towards, where nothing troubles us and we're content. Life is always walking forward, as pieces of ourselves fall away, and are left behind, and as we find new pieces that become a part of us, adding more without replacing what's lost. But I've always been able to come back so easily to where his body rests. Knowing for the first time that I'd be leaving that behind, I hunched against the warm stone, almost hugging it, as I'd hug him if I could sit by his side again, telling him my plans.
I opened my eyes to the silver-gray gravel that covers the ground that covers him. My eyes were caught by one rough pebble. Maybe it was its shape, a small tablet, almost a tiny tombstone itself. Maybe it was the angle of the sunlight that sparkled on it's face. I brushed my hand through the shards of stone, closing my finger tips on this one. I held it lightly in my palm, then squeezed it in my fist. I slid it into my pocket as I stood up. I'll take this with me now, wherever I go. I'll keep it safe. I'll find some special place for it. And when life gets too crowded, too heavy, too crazy, I'll take it somewhere quiet, and in thinking on it, let the world fall away. It won't be quite the same, but it's the best I can do when I can't be by his side.
I turned to the carved headstone one more time, traced his name slowly with my eyes. I promised him I'd come again, soon, at Christmas.
And I promised I'd come and say good bye before I go.