Breaking Away

November 29, 2017


This I thought I could do. Fly to Paris, buy a train ticket to somewhere, anywhere, then get off, find a room, take a walk, have dinner, go to bed, and then get up the next day and do it again. Just for two weeks to start. I thought I could do that. I knew I needed to try. It was a way to get back to how it was.

Because how it was is too beautiful to lose. Visiting a museum, you would look at a painting, a sculpture, a tapestry, a bronze and then you’d look over to Carolyn’s face, and that’s where you’d see the energy and the celebration and homage that you’d completely missed in the work of art in which you were supposed to see it.

“Let’s go see stuff,” she said to me once, when we’d pulled up to the Visitors Center at the Grand Coulee Dam late that afternoon. She’d never been to a dam before, but she was excited about seeing this one. By the end of dinner later that day, she couldn’t wait to get a good spot to watch the laser show produced on the dam’s concrete face.

It was when she’d show me the photos she took of the farmhouse museums she toured in Bavaria that I saw that it was in her eyes where her stories were told. I had come to her five years ago, after we’d met for the second time in our lives, thinking she would need my words to complete her pictures. One trip through a photo album was all it took to show me what I needed to do was shut up and listen. Like if you met Mozart, you know?

She had the gift of taking you on a journey with her without you feeling she was lording it over you. She simply wanted to share the feeling she had, the way someone wants to share their dessert by handing you a huge forkful of it.

I would not attempt here to try to see through my eyes what she would have seen through hers. I might as well try to describe through my glasses what someone was seeing through the Hubble telescope. Yes, it was just that extraordinary to travel with her.

I’m contemplating doing this, not because I think I could replicate the experience that traveling with her could produce. She wouldn’t understand what it was I was trying to replicate anyway. “I’m just me,” she insisted. “Nothing special.”

Just what the Girl With the Pearl Earring would say if asked.   

I don’t know what I will see out of those train windows; illusion or memory may be as ephemeral as the stations I’m passing by. But I know if I don’t try to see what she would have seen together with me, I’ll be missing a large part of the point our lives had come to mean to each other. The point of what she’d shown me in those farmhouse photos without even trying to. Or when she’d say, “Let’s go see stuff.”

Carolyn has provided me the means, the method and an admonition. Don’t you dare curl up and die to the world of travel, just because I’m not here with you. I always fell asleep on the train anyway, so it’s not going to be that different. (She’s right about that.) And as far my eyes, it wasn’t my eyes, it was my heart. Open yours. I’ve seen you do it. And for goodness sake, go see stuff.

It’s an experiment; I’ll see if this is the way I’ll keep her close. On a train, myself awake and her quietly asleep next to me.

The way it was before.

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