Road report: tough stuff

Cholla cactus stud the high plains east of Clines Corners, New Mexico

I made it home Friday evening, exhausted. Now that I’ve had some time to sort through what I saw and felt and heard on the road, I want to comment on some of the hard bits of the trip.

One of my faults, I’ve often thought, is that I’m not quick at assimilating things. A friend recently gave me a useful insight: “You’re very internal,” she said. “You have to think about things for a while. And when you write, you illuminate them for all us.” (Thank you, ‘Berta!)

The first really tough moment came the second day, as I was driving between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas. The highway climbed up onto the high plains, the sea of shortgrass prairie stretching away to the far horizon to the east, and I burst into tears. The last time I took this route Richard was driving. It was November, not April, he had just come through his first brain surgery with flying colors, the one where it looked like they had gotten the whole tumor, and we were happy, optimistic, holding hands.

Richard Cabe, Texas, November 2009 (three weeks after his first brain surgery)

I pulled off at the next exit, got out, watched the trucks roar by, and let the wind dry my tears. I shot a few photos of the prairie studded with spiny and tough cholla cactus. Then I got back in the car and drove on, and on, and on….

The next day, as I headed south and east from Lubbock, my route took me down a road Richard and I had never taken together. I found my eyes watering as I realized that is true on a deeper level, too: I am in fact on a road Richard and I never took together. That’s my life now.

Oh, yes, he’s with me in spirit–I feel his presence very strongly sometimes. That’s all wonderful and sweet, but it’s not the same as being right here on this plane of existence. That part, frankly, sucks. It’s lonely being Woman Alone after being married to the love of my life for the better part of three decades. Come to think of it, when he died, we had been together for more than half my life.

Skullcap, sundrops, blackfoot daisy, bluebonnets and other wildflowers on a Hill Country roadside

The next rough patch was seeing the wildflowers, whole swaths of them, coloring the Hill Country. Gorgeous tapestries of color and movement and sound, the butterflies dancing on the air as they flitted from flower to flower, the birds singing themselves into mating frenzy. The Texas Hill Country in spring, especially this spring after last year’s killing drought, is an in-your-face example of the resilience and sheer beauty of  the community of the land, the interwoven lives we call nature. Richard had told me I’d love the Hill Country in spring, but we never managed to be there at the right time, so I didn’t know. You can’t imagine the glory of it until you see the masses of wildflowers, hear the birds, smell the fragrance. Seeing it alone gave new meaning to the word “bittersweet.”

The hardest moment of the trip though, came on the last day, after I’d driven almost 2,400 miles in ten days. I had one final stop to deliver a message to a sculptor Richard knew, “Just tell Mark Saxe ‘thank you’ from me next time you go by his place.”

Sunset over the Arkansas Hills–home

I took the back road, winding up the Rio Grande Gorge, and stopped at Mark’s gallery and studio in tiny Rinconada. I half-hoped it wouldn’t be open. It was. Mark’s wife, Betsy, a ceramicist, took me around back. Mark walked over, his face gray with rock dust, and I had a vivid memory of Richard looking up from a granite basin he was carving, his smile joyous and rock-dust-gray. I gave Mark the message–and the news. I thought I could do it without crying. I was wrong. Mark hugged me, and we talked about life and death–and Richard.

Then I got back into the car and drove home to sleep in the bed Richard made for us. By myself.