Wednesday, January 28, 2009
A Trip Down Memory Lane in Honor of Leif's Birthday
How can you celebrate the birthday of someone who is dead? And how can you not remember and mark the day? Today, Leif's first birthday since he died, I wanted to honor and remember him. Since he couldn't come to visit us, I wanted to go to him. Visiting him is a poor term. I know there are people who derive comfort from visiting their deceased loved ones at a cemetery, but for me, it isn't a comfort. It's a way of honoring a memory, of going to the only place where any of my son's physical remains on earth still exist. I know that Leif isn't there, but it's a symbol, a place that has ceremonial and emotional connections.
But to just go to the cemetery is too sad.
The first time we came to the Tampa Bay area, on one of our many trips to Florida looking for the place we wanted to move, we stayed in a hotel in Clearwater. It was our first glimpse of the Gulf and the beaches on that side of Florida, too. We came during KSU's Spring Break in March 2002. Leif was so happy to have a spring break in warm Florida and get out of the raw, cold March weather in Kansas. Undoubtedly, he would have had a better time if he had been able to go with a wife or girlfriend, or with friends his own age rather than with his parents, but he was happy to go and we were happy to take him, as we had always taken him on those trips.
He didn't have much money as a student, but he saved up enough so that he could rent a white Mustang convertible for a day. He spent the day driving all over the bay area, and as I've written before, particularly loved driving over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We drove over that today, too, on our way down the memory lane, and thought of him and how he loved going over it on his motorcycle.
That evening, in March 2002, he drove us to dinner at Guppy's on the Beach in Indian Rocks Beach, south of Clearwater. I remember being in the back seat of the convertible with the cool evening wind blowing my hair all over the place, and Leif sounding so happy.
I don't remember how we found out about Guppy's, but later that week when we met my friend Liz, she said that was one of her family's favorites and she was so pleased we had found it.
We had a great dinner that evening with Leif. We sat outside on the porch, just as we did today. The food and animated conversation were excellent. It was there that Leif introduced us to Newcastle beer. I had Guppy's terrific "Angels on Horseback," broiled oysters topped with Applewood smoked bacon. Leif liked those, too. I think he and Peter had tuna.
After dinner, we walked on Bellaire Beach at sundown. You can see photos of Leif in the Mustang and on Bellaire Beach in this post. I don't think we took any photos of us at Guppy's.
We had all three talked about going back to Guppy's ever since then, and somehow, nearly seven years have gone by and we never did. I don't know whether Leif ever got back there after he moved to the bay area in March 2005, but we didn't, because it was so far north of where we now live, about a 60 mile drive, too long just to go to dinner.
But today, I wanted to visit Leif's grave (in reality it's a niche, but do you say you are visiting a niche?) on his birthday, and it is only ten miles from Guppy's. I thought it would be good to drive north on Gulf Blvd. and remember what we saw in 2002, remember what Leif experienced, have lunch at Guppy's, before going to his grave.
It's amazing how much came back to us, even seven years later, landmarks, streets. I could imagine Leif driving there, in the white Mustang, maybe, if he went later, in his silver RX8. Our waiter took a photo of us. When we were there with Leif, we sat at a table directly behind where I'm standing. It was evening, and the place was full of people enjoying the cool evening air and delicious food.
After lunch, we took a quick look at the beach across the street, and a kind man from New York offered to take our picture. I am wearing the double-headed battleaxe necklace I brought Leif from Greece, the one I've written about before, in his honor. When we walked back across the street to our car in the Guppy's lot, I did a double take. Parked next to our car was a silver Mazda that, from the back end, looked just like Leif's RX8. It turned out to be a Mazda 6 sedan, but for that one moment, it seemed uncannily as though he had driven up and parked beside us.
We had a good time reminiscing about the good times, just wishing that life would have been good for Leif after that.
After lunch we went to the cemetery, where I sobbed my heart out for half an hour, pressed against his stone. No matter how I try, I still cannot fathom why he is not here. Most of the time each day, I function, but the tears come at most unexpected moments and when I look in the mirror, I can see that I have changed. There is a different and sadder look in my eyes. An older look.
I was thinking how people say you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, but when it comes to family, there is only one. Only one basket, and that's where the eggs belong, but no matter how hard you try to protect them, you really can't. When one breaks, your heart breaks with it.
It was a bittersweet day. Sweet memories, sad memories, a good time with Peter, a sad time with him, together on memory lane, together in the loss of our son, together, on his birthday.