SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, 2016
Whenever I visit my sister, I set my alarm clock. Being a non-parent and not a child, I would typically be the last person to wake up. For some reason, I always feel like I would be judged about making my way down after 10:00 am. My sister said she wanted to leave at a certain time, and I knew once she was ready, I better be ready. I came down and said good morning to everyone. Things were their usual hustle on the weekend. In the meantime, my brother-in law was fastening the travel carrier on top of my sister’s car so we can have plenty of room to stow the luggage and beach chairs. It was still pretty early by the time we gathered our stuff and left the guys, waving goodbye in the driveway. My nephew’s birthday was in a few days and we were going to miss it. We all were going to miss it, including my parents, and I felt a little guilty. Somehow my sister convinced him that it was a good thing that we were leaving him and his father to their devices (and travel baseball). To them, that may have been the best party ever, no interference in their bromance.
I have to say that all three of us were pretty content in the car, excited to go on our girly adventure. This combination of three had never been away for an extended period of time and it would be nothing short of amusing. I love my sister dearly, and she has become my close friend. There was a lot of decompression that we both needed and we were looking forward to doing it together. Our time together is always fun. The time on the road went somewhat fast with the exception of my mind crawling in despair, but I was trying my best to stay levelheaded. I had a lot to look forward to this week. The traffic was whizzing by and we talked in spurts, listened to the music or sat in quiet. Almost two hours past, I was not that sure where we were and it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until we began passing the signs for the tunnels and bridges for New York City that I got very anxious again. Up until that moment, I had not had any thought about the route that we were going to take. I know my sister had been to Cape Cod and to our day’s destination of Newport, Rhode Island; I never questioned her directions. Somewhere, as we got closer to the New York City exits, she began to question her route and asked me to look up details of the directions on my phone as she did the same. By the time she discovered we should have taken another route as her instincts told her, we were driving through New York City, which for me, felt like a tank running over my wounded heart, repeatedly. The last few years, the city was the backdrop of my relationship that only a few days ago, was abruptly ended. I did my best to not breakdown and cry as we passed familiar places, the home to the person I have cared the most about in my life. Every second we drove in the city limits, images of him, the moments that we shared here, places we had been, were all vanishing and it made me mournful. With my niece in the car, I couldn’t take the risk of her seeing me like this or having my sister worry about me even more while she was driving.
Eventually, we made it past the city and it was clear that there was another route that would have bypassed the city and was much shorter. It was unintentional, but still it put yet another scar on my heart and I never said anything to my sister. The road ahead cleared out and the traffic was less hectic and it felt like we were well on our way again. Within the hour of leaving the rush of New York City and passing New Rochelle, we passed the Connecticut state line and I remember thinking in that moment that I had never been further north of New York. Somewhere in all the looking around and having the air rush in through the opened windows, I see I had just missed a call from my mom. Not less than a minute later, at 1:51 pm, I called her right back. When she answered, there was a pause that lasted for an eternity and my stomach sunk. On the other end of the phone, over 200 miles away, I heard my mom say, “she’s gone.” I wailed, “Oh, no,” and started crying. My mom asked where we were, meanwhile, my sister had to hear and watch my anguish as she is driving. I told her we were in Connecticut and she told us to pull over and call her back. My sister got off of the highway at the next exit. She knew exactly what was said without even hearing. In those moments, I lost it. I truly lost everything. I was overwhelmed with shock and grief and realized that my sister had somehow navigated off the exit and to a parking lot somewhere right next to a mother and son at a skate park in this unusually idyllic setting. The strange thing was that this place where we parked seemed like an oasis compared to the harsh optical of the grit of large sound barrier walls on the highway. It was green and there was water and palatial homes and an entire life on this side. We were in Greenwich.
For obvious reasons, I can’t recall the next order of things once we parked. I know we sat in the car for a while and I think my sister called my mother or my father’s cell phone, or called over to the Graham’s. The accounts of what happened were second hand. Apparently, my father instinctively stopped over to the Graham’s to check in on his way to visit a friend. At the time he had gotten there, my grandfather informed him that he was about to call the daughters to come over because my grandmother was unresponsive. Either way, my mother was called and she was soon over and then a call was made to the hospice nurse to officially confirm my grandmother’s death. I will forever be grateful that my father made that decision to stop over because the thought of my grandfather being there alone any longer than he had was horrifying. That is how I understood the events as I was told.
I was still bawling while my sister bravely had a conversation on the phone with whomever was on the other end. Perhaps in an attempt to force me to settle down and avoid any more of a traumatic and confusing scene for my niece watching all of this, my sister sent us both along to a bench under a tree. Somehow, this place we stopped was calming with its surroundings. It was a lush park with trees stretching towards a New England waterfront. There were boats and birds and clamshells pointing out of the water. In between the sorrow and phone conversations, my sister said to me that this was not a coincidence; Frances brought us here to Roger Sherman Baldwin Park (our sidetrack was not a mistake). It felt purposeful and was only punctuated by the fact that there was a sculpture on the grounds that looked like an angel. After my sister made all the phone calls to cancel the reservations, to our parents and to her husband back at home, we absorbed our surroundings and breathed the air. My sister did her best to explain to her daughter why this much anticipated girl’s trip was coming to a startling end. She was disappointed and confused.
We got back in the car and did a little exploring down the road before we headed back to New Jersey. This particular part of Greenwich was very affluent. We passed the Bruce Museum and along the road were grand waterfront homes. We passed the Indian Harbor Boat and Yacht Club, which ends at Rocky Point Neck facing the Long Island Sound. Several men were fishing at the point. We parked at the very end and got out. It was peaceful and serene with sailboats out in the distance. I went back to the car to get my camera and tried my best to take a few shots. When we were finished, there was a bit of a situation trying to get back out of the spot. Some inconsiderate driver pulled up next to us, making it a back up move only. I stayed out to direct my sister’s reverse escape. It was pretty nutty but we managed. I jumped back in the truck and we were off.
Thankfully we were able to take the route back that was originally planned and we bypassed New York City all together; the trip was shortened. We decided it was emotional eating time now that we were all hungry after our long start of the day. At some point we decided that Popeye’s was the answer. I wasn’t going to get my Cape Cod fish and chips, but this was going to be the next best thing. Somewhere on the road, I did a search for the closest one that wouldn’t take us out of our way. We figured that we could find something else for my niece as well. The GPS took us to Irvington, New Jersey and there was a McDonald’s that we hit off first to get my niece a Happy Meal. When we pulled up, the frozen strawberry lemonade in the picture was calling to both my sister and me; neither of us had had one before. We went back and forth about it after she ordered the Happy Meal. We went for it and ended up drinking it quickly. As an aside, Irvington was a wake up call to the harsh reality of life. Clearly an impoverished neighborhood, at least 3 different people panhandled the drive thru line during the time we waited. It was difficult to see and even more difficult to explain to my niece why people were asking for money.
Our next stop was Popeye’s. It may have easily been 10 years since I had eaten anything from there, but I knew I wanted the fish and fries that came with a biscuit. In the order, we ended up with an extra biscuit because we declined the drink that came with the meal. Hog heaven. Every ounce of the tarter sauce was used and we were all quietly eating in an insatiable way. It was too much. I am pretty sure my niece had an upset stomach as a result. It should have been expected from all of us. I was keeping my brother-in-law updated of our eta. He was still at a birthday party with my nephew and he told me that he had not told him yet about our grandmother; he was going to let my sister tell him when we got back. That time came too quick. When we arrived, they were not back yet. I saw them come in the door and I could tell my nephew was confused about seeing us home. My sister left and told him and, I saw him later with the largest crocodile tears. It made me even more upset. He is old enough that he has spent time with her that he can vividly remember. I only wish that he would have known the Frances I knew, the one that was not confined to a bed.
The rest of the evening is a blur…I know that my aunt was flying in with her husband that night.