Note: At the beginning of May, I joined a 30-day writing course designed by Megan Devine, founder of Refuge in Grief. Every day we get a writing prompt, and there is a secret Facebook group to post to and share writing with other members. There are losses of all sorts, mostly deaths, and some losses are recent and some, like mine, more in the past. There is something special about the group — I joined for the writing, and I’ve gotten much more. Find more info about signing up for the next group here: link. My post for Day #19, unedited, is below.
Image credit: Belmont Public Library
“You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Last night when I got home I asked Grace what she had done with her day. She is newly home from her first year of college. She told me that she and Elena (cousin) had gone to Ghost Road, off of Chickatawbut Road in Milton, to take Winston for a walk around a secret pond.
“I remember the day we later found out that Dad had died, Sally had taken us for a walk earlier that day around that secret pond in Chestnut Hill,” she told me.
“What? What?” I ask, confused. “You went on a walk the day Dad died? Who went?”
“Sally took me, Eli, Lydia, and Sara,” replied Grace. “Then later the police officer came and told us Dad died.”
It was one of those moments when I realized there was something I had forgotten, or never knew, from that confusing, consuming time that Jimmy died. In the days preceding July 25, 2016, when all we knew is that he had run away and no one could find or reach him, we swung between huddling together and trying to solve the mystery — Where is Jimmy? — to carrying on as usual with grocery shopping, dog walking, and (me) working. It was summer school time, and I was teaching a class.
So, I learned or was reminded, on the day we found out, in the afternoon, that Jimmy had been found dead in a hotel room, —
Wow, I had to pause there after I wrote that. I have a life, I had a life, in which the man I was married to, was estranged from, would run away and go to a hotel room and die of an overdose.
I don’t always think of that. The facts of that day. All I can picture is the moment the police detective, Matthew Something, drove up and got out of his car in a Red Sox shirt thrown over his uniform. I can never forget that and I never want to: the vivid Red Sox shirt, all white with the red trim and lettering, over the dark uniform and against the darkness of his car. He walked over to me standing there outside. He had called ahead. After days of searching for Jimmy, I knew what he would say before he said it. Sally was standing outside with me, on the driveway. He walked over. He told us, “Mrs. Kokernak” (no one calls me that), “I am sorry to tell you that your husband’s body has been found.” And then, the details of the finding. The questions about the name of his doctor, and his psychiatrist. They would investigate. There was likely no crime. He could not tell me the cause of death. Then the kids come outside, Eli, Lydia, Grace. One of them ask from the front porch — Sally and I still in the driveway — “Mom?” as if my name and the question mark ask everything.
“Dad has died,” I say. “He is found.”
I’m tired of this. I look up above to what I have written and I see I switched from the past tense to the present tense (verbs). It’s in the past, but in remembering I feel it in the present.
Last night Grace told me that earlier that same day, the day the police detective Matt came in the afternoon with his Red Sox shirt on and told us Jimmy had been found, deceased, in the [name of hotel], earlier that day Sally, my sister, had taken Eli, Lydia, Grace, and her own daughter Sara on a walk around a secret pond in my children’s hometown.
And now, three years later, my beautiful and brave Grace tells me she has taken the dog for a walk with Elena, Sally’s other daughter, around a different secret pond, on Ghost Road, in the town we live in now.
We moved from our family home, the one we lived in with Jimmy, because sometimes it’s too hard to live with ghosts. It was too hard. I remember that home vividly, because it is the one I made, though I don’t always remember what we did in that home. I remember the furniture and how it was arranged, the trees I tended and the plants I planted, and the wallpaper in the first floor half-bath, the hooks on the wall in the mudroom and the dirt on the floor, the brass window latches, rooms my children slept in, faucet fixtures I bought during the renovation, wall lamps beside our bed, back porch, and grass that never grew under the over-sized Japanese maple in the backyard. I remember all that as though I could still see and touch it. What we did there, like an apparition, so flimsy I could put my hand through it and it would disappear like a soap bubble.
6 thoughts on “Ghost Road”
This took my breath away, Jane—how clearly and devastatingly you describe the shock of that day…and the ongoing aftershocks. I love that there are secret ponds scattered around Massachusetts, though—there’s a lovely metaphor there. Thank you for sharing this,
Thank you, Rosemary. You’re right: shock of the day and “ongoing aftershocks.” That is helpful, actually!
Beautiful writing. I am struck by the word and theme of “secret” and even the “secret FB group”—
But mostly, I am struck by the story you tell here—how the past is present and the present is past. That last paragraph is stunning. The last line, superb. I read the last paragraph out loud to Diane and couldn’t get through it without crying. It’s beautifully paced.
Jan, thank you. Your observations and response mean a lot to me! I hadn’t really thought of the theme of “secret” (in a purposeful way) until you and Rosemary called it out.
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Great reaad thanks