My brother would never return to our childhood home--the home of his adult life. I knew it. No one had to tell me; I knew it like I knew the love of my parents, by instinct. They never had to tell me in so many words, even though they did and often, but I always--by nature--knew it. Felt it. And now, I reconciled myself to the fact that my brother's last step out of the house on Dogwood Drive would be his last step out of the house on Dogwood Drive. He'd called out, "See you later, girl," to his cat, Vanessa. But he would not. Not until such a time when she walks across the Rainbow Bridge and meows until she finds him.
On July 31, 2019, 64 years from the day our parents married, I walked into Candler Hospital around 10:00 a.m. to see Sam Thompson sitting in the lobby, waiting. Sam was the "friend I didn't know I had," as Van referred to her two years earlier when she'd helped him with visits to Savannah for chemo and then when she'd driven him back home after a 20-day stay in the hospital. (I had returned to Florida, but was about to return.)
Sam had, of course, come to see her "buddy," and, as always, they had a pleasant visit. So the day started well ... but ...
When we entered Van's room, he told us that, about a half hour earlier, a CT scan had been ordered. After Sam's visit, and as the hours drug by and still no scan, I promised him I wouldn't leave for home until afterward, in case the test revealed something we had to deal with immediately. The doctors had suggested a possible pulmonary embolism (PE), a clot blocking a blood vessel or artery the lungs. Van took the possibility in such stride, I knew he had no idea the seriousness of the situation. And so I stayed ... and stayed ...
"Dr. G" returned, this time wearing new but still-remarkable earrings. "Your earrings," I said to her, "look like they came from Israel." Turns out they did ... she has a home there, she told me, and after a conversation about the Holy Land, I felt that I had a new friend.
The transport team came to get Van, finally, at 8:30 p.m., which was 12 hours since I'd left our home earlier that day. Eleven hours since it had been ordered. I followed behind, up and down halls, in elevators, through sliding glass doors. After he'd been rolled into the lab, I remained in the white but austere hallway, alone, staring out the sliding glass doors leading to the dark outside. How could a moment, I wondered, seem so bright within and so dark without? Yet, hovering within the white walls and floors and hallways was the possibility of the worse kind of news while outside, in the dark, was the way home. The irony wrapped around me like the chilling temp within.
I called Aunt Janice on the way home and gave her the update and expressed my fatigue. "Darlin'," she said, "you know your room is right here. Always open for you." For many of the days driving home, I stopped somewhere, picked up dinner, and took my reprieve by dining with her. Talking to her. Laughing ... as only she could make me do. But, as I told her, I needed to return to the house. "I need to do the little things I'm doing when I get there ... for my own sanity..." Things like playing with the cat, or going through closets and drawers I knew Van would never go through again. Finding old photographs (like the one above) and memories I wished we could capture, just one more time. Moments, we'd never have again.
We stepped out of the hotel in Edinburgh and onto the energy and flutter of the streets, crossing one then another, horns honking around us, people calling out in different languages, the clomping and shuffling of feet making their own music, until Edinburgh Castle came into view. I had heard of it, of course, and seen it in photographs, but I'd never imagined the enormity of it. How it stands over the city like a guard--an old, elaborate guard. We took our time walking to it--Clare, her mother and father (Diane and David) and I--stopping within the splendor of the West Princes Street Gardens, which, at one time had been Nor'Loch--a body of stinky water used as a form of defense for the castle perched on Castle Rock (a volcanic rock). But, in the early 1800s, death gave way to life; the water was drained and gardens installed.
Later in the 1800s, a local gunmaker, Mr. Daniel Ross, went to London for The Great Exhibition. There, he saw a stunning cast-iron fountain created by French artist, Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann. When he returned to Scotland, he purchased the 122-piece structure depicting mermaids and cherubs, walrus and lions, and, atop, four females (representing science, poetry, arts, and industry). All put back together, the structure is truly a gift. Sadly, Mr. Ross died before seeing it's restructuring and subsequent unveiling.
As ominous clouds gathered over the city, a cooling breeze drifted through the gardens, sending sprays of water toward us, but not enough to stop Clare and me from taking the obligatory photos (I think, at this point, David and Diane were more captivated by the flowers).
After milling through the gardens for a while, we headed upward toward the castle. To say the walk was a "stretch" is putting it mildly, but the weather and the scenes of Edinburgh all around made for a most pleasant experience. We craned our necks as we drew closer to the castle, the once-upon-a-time home to Mary, Queen of Scots and the birthplace of her son, James VI & I. I delighted in the walking through of tunnels--that sense of light to dark to light again--the ancient stone streets beneath our feet, the old buildings, with their whitewashed-trimmed windows, that I imagined had houses a thousand souls over the years. The bustle around us grew as tour buses screeched to a stop near the base of the castle, spilling Chinese cargo near staircases that would lead us all up, Up, UP. Clare and I paused long enough to let them walk ahead of us, me joking that I was certain not a single person was left in all of China.
And then we entered the castle, but not before stopping inside a little store for, of all things, Scotland's finest Walker's shortbread, which we would also call "lunch."
Along with more heads and arms and legs and feet than I could ever count, we walked along the esplanade, then through the entryway, past statues of "The Bruce" (Robert I) and William Wallace (think: Braveheart), who guard the arched entrance to the Gatehouse. After passing through the formidable Portcullis Gate, we caught up with Diane and David near Argyle Battery, a six-gun battery from the early 1700s (with the cannons being in position since the early 1800s). As soon as we ascended the stone steps, I gasped, turned to look at Clare and said, "You have to see this!" Such views of the city of Edinburgh, you cannot imagine without being there. Even my photos (or anyone's), I think, do not do it justice.
Elation swirled through me! I felt that I had somehow made it to the top of the world. A one-time place of defense now provided a view toward eternity.
Additional Photos (in no particular order):
Another view from the Argyle Battery
The Ross Fountain with Edinburgh Castle (it looks close ... it's NOT. There is quite a hike involved!)
A view within the West Princes Street Gardens
A Celtic Cross welcomes us to the gardens
Diane Campbell and me at one of the Edinburgh Castle cannons
More of the Ross Fountain
Art & Poetry (atop the Ross Fountain)