The Healing Trip, Part 17
(From my journal dated Sunday August 4, 2019)
I am so grateful Jessica was here yesterday. Not only because she was able to spend time with her uncle, but because of what happened on the way back to Sylvania, shortly after we left the hospital.
We were barely out of Savannah when my whole body began to shake. Quiver, seemingly from the inside out. Even though I was talking to Jessica and she appeared to understand, nothing I said made much sense to me. I had not had a seizure in years, but the sense of one coming on was as familiar to me as that sinking feeling one gets when they are suddenly hungry. Although I'd nearly been stripped of the ability to have two coherent thoughts over the past weeks, I knew enough to know that I needed to pull over.
The sign for Cary Hilliard's shimmered in the late-afternoon heat like a dream-induced beacon from the right side of the road. “I need to eat something,” I said to my daughter. “I need to stop and eat something solid.”
Cary Hilliard's has been a family favorite as far back as I can remember. When we were children, our parents brought us here and then, after we were orphaned, Van and I came together whenever I came “home” and we took a trip to Savannah … to shop … to see family. “I have ordered the same thing every single time I walk in here,” I told Jessica. "I have not a single memory of eating anything but ..."
I didn’t change this night either. Deviled crab, fat french fries, tender hush puppies, green beans glistening from being cooked in lard, sweet iced tea.
After dinner, Jessica drove us home. I’m not even sure what time it was when we arrived, but I took care of the usual--kitty litter, laundry, getting the mail. After a shower hot enough and pelting enough to get the smell of a hospital off me, I told Jessica to turn on the TV and find something mindless, like The Golden Girls. Something to make me laugh. Something to make me forget. I stretched out in the reclining love seat, sitting where Van typically sat and, lately, slept. Within minutes, the issues facing Dorothy and Rose and Blanche and Sophia filled the room. Issues that could be solved and would be solved in the short span of a half hour. Before the first episode concluded, however, I fell asleep, comforted in the knowledge that my child lay nearby on the sofa.
From the moment of planning my trip to Ireland, I knew that I wanted to take Clare and her family out to dinner one night. A nice dinner. One with drinks and appetizers and a main course to remember. Now, in Edinburgh, the opportunity had come; that night we would dine in the hotel's posh restaurant. Light from the numerous chandeliers had been muted; their crystals dripped like diamonds from the queen's crown and shimmered in a room that had a decidedly 1920s feel about it. The woodwork, the tailored uniforms of the wait staff, the framed photos of the famous on the walls ... but not the music, which came live from a guitarist who'd set up in the front of the restaurant. A blessing because we were seated near the back. Clare and I had arrived before David and Diane and ordered a bottle of pinot grigio blush for the two of us to enjoy. Within minutes Clare's parents joined us and, after placing their drink and appetizer orders, we settled in to study our menus. What would we feast on tonight, our first night in Scotland?
I had become as much a creature of habit here as I was at home, ordering the same meal in every restaurant. Here, the words "fish and chips" skipped from my mouth on an air of sheer anticipation (you cannot get fish and chips like this in the US). I had come to notice that Clare was as much that creature; she had ordered her usual haggis (but for an appetizer) and, uncharacteristically, steak for her main meal.
For the next couple of hours, over music entirely too loud and food entirely too delicious, the four of us chatted (as best we could) and laughed and simply relaxed into the evening.
In between the measures of the night's symphony, I often found myself mesmerized by a young couple sitting nearby--she sat quietly nursing her drink and nibbling at her food while he focused on his phone and ordered one drink after the other. Eventually she got up and walked out, not to return while he continued to work the tiny keys of his phone and down his drinks. I mentioned all of this to Clare telling her that I wondered what their story was. Because, I know, everyone has a story . . . and those stories often find their way into my books.
But there was also a memory that moved between their table and ours . . . all those times Van and I sat across from each other in restaurants. But we talked. We shared. We remembered. And we told each other stories the other had yet to learn.
And, I pondered . . . was the woman who left not to return the young man's girlfriend or sister or wife or, even, a coworker? Was he even remotely aware of the time he'd lost, precious moments given over to a lifeless phone and whiskey that, tomorrow, would have passed from his body and into the sewer?
Did he know, I wondered, that those moments would never return to him again. . .