Personal essay selected for publication in the Spring 2019 edition of Klipsun magazine, available in print and online.
March 21, 2019
By Brooke Wilson
He said to take it on the chin and just work through the pain.
That seemed to be his solution for everything, including how to continue working together after splitting up.
Saturated in ample sunshine, a workplace romance blossomed in the bashful smiles and jokes exchanged across the counter that past summer. But as quickly as it started, it was over. And the sun-stained snapshots from those days grew faded, from another lifetime.
On the brink of the holiday season, I hauled bulging suitcases into my awaiting chariot, a 1998 Jeep Sport Cherokee. I plowed across I-5 with a conviction that could part the seas, move mountains and perhaps seize what might be the last opportunity to resolve a bitter, anticlimactic end to a hopeful relationship.
Expectations were running high and ignoring the storm clouds that gathered overhead became challenging, but not impossible.
Not until I received a phone call that startled me awake on the morning of Christmas Eve.
“Your grandpa passed away.”
And the rain poured.
Cranking the faded needle over 60 mph on the speedometer, sleigh bells and Sinatra faded from crooning to crackling as I lost signal past the exit for Marysville. I flicked through the channels, instinctively searching.
I spent countless trips on Interstate 5 over the past few months. At one point, commuting every weekend for over a month, driving back and forth between two lives. One with responsibilities in Bellingham and the other at home in Renton, Wash. with a pursuit dictated by heartache. I drove to forget, to reminisce, to keep myself preoccupied and to seek some elusive answer for curing all the pain that might be in the pastures and road signs that whizzed by. Between planning a funeral, scheduling a memorial and reconciling a romantic loss, I came to realize a few truths on these road trips.
With my grandpa, who I exchanged fewer words than I could count on both hands, I lost the chance to grow closer. Since his passing, I’ve wondered about the person beneath the man everyone recognized. The one who served in the Air Force and toured overseas, who created his now infamous jelly recipe and became a New York Times crossword puzzle extraordinaire in the Wilson household.
I grappled with the distance at work too, gaping wider than the mileage between us now. Through all the moments we attempted to carry on with business as usual, the abrasive silence that followed a stifled old flame could have easily filled a canyon.
But rather than retreat to the Jeep for another solitary road trip, I began to lean on family, friends, neighbors and roommates, who helped lighten the load. The ones who listened patiently, embraced me warmly and encouraged me to lead with positivity kept me grounded when everything else appeared in vertigo.
On another caffeine-induced drive, bending around Chuckanut and silently pleading with the universe to end its siege, a muffled lyric from the late ‘90s stereo prompted a realization.
“You can’t hurry love, no you’ll just have to wait.”
Diana Ross and The Supremes had a point about not rushing love. There isn’t any prescribed timeline for healing. And though the incessant ticking on the universal clock sounds haunting, the time that passes signals something else – an opportunity; a fighting chance to navigate the terribly paved and uneven road. Time creates a buffer that racking up mileage simply cannot achieve.
By the time these ventures became few and far between, giving the engine much needed rest, I awoke to a beautiful truth.
Within the stretch of 101 miles that physically separates me from the muse of my grief, the Jeep has carried me without question, without ridicule, without revolting against its driver fraught with tears. Cup holders stuffed with random junk became mementos in a time capsule on wheels. Crumpled tissues, a shriveled yellow rosebud from a bouquet my ex-whatever brought me, and a mason jar that once carried homemade apple pie jelly.
I owe more than safe travels to that rumbling ride.
First carrying me home from the hospital as a newborn baby, bearing with me as a newly licensed driver and now a tried and true companion in the wake of inexplicable grief. Four wheels and dated upholstery have served a purpose greater than merely reaching a destination – they have restored peace of mind.
Yes, that road may be a long, winding one that circles back or steers off the beaten path, but these travels that seem infinite are not even close to what lies ahead — the whole journey. Processing grief has become a crucial part in reaching the next destination, wherever that may be.
Among hearts new and old, grief is often illustrated as a journey faced alone, an unabated inner-monologue your only companion. But when I accelerate onto the ramp, flying solo down the highway, I am never truly alone.