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Road Trip Memories

June 10, 2012

This isn’t going to be one of my standard posts.  You see, June 10th was my mom’s birthday, so every year since she passed away I find myself becoming incredibly depressed around this time of year.  It came over me last night somewhere around 3am.  I woke up with a sense of dread I couldn’t put my finger on.  I got up and walked around the house… found the dog had somehow gotten himself out of the back yard and was sitting on the front porch, so maybe hearing him barking was the initial source of the feeling that something was wrong.  I put him in the back yard, and the dread became darkness.  And then I realized the date.

This left me lying awake for hours, thinking about her.  We had always been close.  Last night, there was one memory which came to mind for some reason.  And though I longed for sleep, this one particular memory of one special road trip came flooding back.  From the time I learned to drive, my mom had begun relying on me as a co-pilot whenever she needed to take a long trip.  We lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and took a number of trips to Florida where her mother lived.  We also took a road trip together to Charleston.  But the road trip which occupied my thoughts last night was one we took together to Atlanta on July 26, 1996.

My mom cooked up the idea sometime the day before.  She worked two jobs, though one was as a teacher so she was already off that for the summer.  The other was for some retail outlet (I’m being vague here not because I can’t remember, but because the store changed names like 5 times during her time there).  She had the next two days off from that job, and I had the same two days off from my job.  I had come home from work that day about the same time she did, and we turned on the television to watch the Summer Olympics.  They were being held in the United States for the second time in my life, this time only hours away in Atlanta.  She just sorta blurted out the idea.

Mom: Holy crap!  You have the next two days off!

Me: (fairly accustomed to my mom’s eccentricities) Holy crap. I totally do.  Why?

Mom: We should take a trip down to Atlanta tomorrow and go to the Olympics.

Me: Really? Just out of the blue like that? Do you think we’d be able to get into any events?

Mom: I’m CERTAIN of it.  We might not get to see team USA play anything, and we may end up watching some obscure sporting event, but I’m sure there are tickets.

Me: So, what about dad and Toby?

Mom:  Your father has dancing in Winston Salem.  We can invite Toby but…

Me: But he’ll opt to stay home.  Yeah.  (My brother has autism and is a bit socially withdrawn… this wasn’t a slam on him, but when given the option between being alone with his thoughts and, well, any other option, he’d choose to be alone.) So just like that? Drive down and watch the Olympics?  So do we get a hotel?

Mom: No way.  We have two drivers.  One of us drives while the other sleeps.  We’ll leave here around 3am, drive to Atlanta, spend the day down there, and start heading home some time after midnight.

Me: Okay! Let’s do this!

So we did.  We road tripped it on down to the Olympics.  After all, as she kept reminding me, how many opportunities would there be in our lives to just drive to see the Olympics?  We awoke long before the sun came up and started driving.  We took turns driving, playing cassettes in the stereo and talking.  Neither of us slept, as we previously planned.  The drive seemed to take no time at all, and we arrived in Atlanta in the fog of early morning.  As the sun began to burn through the haze, we joined the swirling traffic herded into various parking areas.  We took a shuttle from the parking lot to the Olympic park.  Once there, we immediately went in search of tickets.  We ended up buying tickets to women’s indoor volleyball (the Netherlands against some other country… I only remember the Netherlands played because of the crazy Dutch fans clad in all orange cheering wildly for their homeland heroes), and the only event we could see team USA play was women’s field hockey.  I’m actually not sure this is still an Olympic event, but it was awesome to actually get the chance to join the mob mentality and chant “USA!  USA!”

We spent all day in the park.  We bought stupid pins.  We then traded these pins for other Olympic pins.  We ate lunch by the fountain.  We did all sorts of touristy things.  After watching the US field hockey team win in a close game, we ate a late dinner and headed to the Centennial Park to listen to some of the bands playing there.  As the hour grew late, we began to tire and decided to head to the shuttle bus stop.  We got to our car, hit the road and headed home.  This time, we did take turns sleeping.

Sometime after 1am, I was driving and listening to random channels on the radio, when reports of a bombing at Centennial Olympic Park came over the air.  I awoke my mom and together we listened to a news channel as reports of the horror and devastation came in.  There was something extraordinary about the whole surreal sequence of events.  We had decided, barely more than twenty four hours before, to just take an impromptu drive to Atlanta to go to the Olympics.  We had spent the day together and had a completely carefree day.  Then, exhausted from heat and the length of our day, we decided to leave early, and by doing so we had managed to escape the madness of a terrorist attack.

I’m not sure why THIS particular memory haunted my mind last night.  As I lay awake, I found myself wondering when exactly the date of that road trip was.  And of course, I simply went online and looked up the date of the bombing, and there it was: 1:20 am on July 27th.  It was one of the greatest days we had together, and those are the memories you find yourself lingering on once you have lost a loved one. But it was more than that.  It was a truly life affirming event.  The “once in a lifetime” opportunity to drive to the Olympics which, as it turned out, it truly was.  The way fate intervened and we seemingly cheated death, leaving before the bomb exploded in the Centennial Park.  It was a time where it seemed appropriate to be glad to be alive and wandering the world together.

Not too many months later, I moved to Arizona.  After that, in the eight years that followed, my mom and I only had a handful of visits before cancer would claim her; three times she came to Arizona, once I spent two weeks with her in North Carolina.  The final visit in North Carolina, she had already been diagnosed, and the prognosis was grim.  After I left, she moved to Florida to be under the care of the Mayo clinic, and soon thereafter into hospice.  I had planned a final Christmas with her, but she passed away the week of Thanksgiving in 2004.

I don’t have a touching, or enlightened, or uplifting thought to end this thing on.  This isn’t a story about overcoming depression; in all likelihood I’ll crawl back into bed when I finally post this.  In her final weeks, the phone calls became painful.  Hospice is all about pain management, and as the morphine took over, my mom became harder and harder to reach.  She was gone from this earth far too soon, but memories like the one above, those are the spirits that haunt the mind late at night.  I miss you, mom.

  1. Well, if teary-eyed Jen is what you were going for here (before I knew you existed), then you got just that. What a touching story! I’m SO sorry that you and your family had to go through this. The Manchild’s dad passed away from cancer a few years ago, and it was one of the hardest things I have experienced to date.

    How amazing is it that all of that happened? VERY! That’s how. What a coincidence! I’m not religious, but do believe that everything happens for a reason — even if you never know what that reason is…

    Her birthday is coming up again soon. I’ll have to mark my calendar to send you some extra love that day. Keep your head up, sweetheart. I can’t tell you that it’ll get easier with time, because it really won’t. I’m sure you know that. Day to day, sure. But when “that day” rolls around, you are completely entitled to lose your shit. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

    Love and hugs and junk! ❤

    • Teary-eyed Jen is EXACTLY what I was going for when I wrote this (before I knew you). Strange, isn’t it?

      Also, your “love and hugs and junk” made me totally laugh. ❤

  2. It’s memories like this, no matter how bittersweet, that are the most beautiful. Those moments you look back on with a, “fuck yeah, that totally happened… and I had the perfect person to have it happen with”. As hard as it is to have those memories play back in your mind at the most inopportune times (3am is often a terribly inconvenient hour to have to go to the bathroom, let alone have such images and the deep emotions that come with them), cherish them.
    I know this is a wee bit late, so I hope with the time that has passed, you are feeling a bit better.. if not, then I hope you’re savoring the memories at least. On a side note, your mom sounded like an awesome lady.
    Cheers, mate 🙂

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