No, I didn’t go on vacation. I didn’t fall in love. And I didn’t go to find anything I was looking for – the love of my life already left the building. But, what I almost lost in the city by the bay was precious and would have broken my heart – again.
The jaunt to California was actually a business trip for a travel client as background for a snazzy review I will need to write. While going anywhere that smacks of fun and enjoyment doesn’t quite feel right to recent widows, as they said in The Godfather (one of my all-time faves) ‘It’s not personal; it’s business’. So I sucked it up, and forced myself to go to the Golden State. (I know, it’s rough to be in sunny California but someone has to do it, right? lol) Ready or not, I was booked on a tour, packed for the trip and grabbed a dear, sweet friend, who was gracious enough to be my travel bud for some California dreamin’.
With the first stop San Francisco, I was hesitantly optimistic. Yes, I was somewhere I had never been before but compared to the traumatic uncharted territory of widowhood, this would be a piece of cake! Ha! Said cake fell flat my first night in the city ‑ and I can’t help but think my guy had a hand in it.
Taking a very welcome shower after our long trip, I stepped into the Twilight Zone. My my honey’s wedding band, made small enough for the thumb ring I’ve worn since he died, suddenly flew off my finger – and shot straight to the drain! Even as I comically lunged in slow motion to grab it, I knew the runaway ring was out of my grasp. In shock, I grabbed a towel, and ran from the bathroom telling my friend what happened as I dialed the front desk to report the missing ring. They kindly dispatched an engineer to our room who somehow magically retrieved the errant escapee and I was wordless with gratitude.
For the rest of the trip that airborne wedding ring was sentenced to the confines of my suitcase, nestled safely in my jewelry case.
Unspeakably relieved and thankful, I began the trip in earnest remembering that California was next on my husband and my wistful bucket list. He didn’t miss seeing the state – he only missed seeing it with me since back in his public relations glory days, my husband traveled everywhere. His work brought him places I still have never seen – Paris, London, Tokyo as well as nearly every state in the US. Now in California myself, I had to wonder if he was glad I was finally seeing a state he remembered so well.
Random, crazy ‘signs’ began to pop up that made me both dubious and smile. There was a marquee sign for the Hotel Verona, a town he held close in affection. And there were marbles – lots of them in store windows and a wall of them in a shop making me think of his huge collection of large, small, vintage, handblown glass little buggers in all colors. He loved them all. Passing sheep grazing in the farmlands, made me laugh thinking of a private joke we had since we visited Vermont years ago. Seeing so many dotting the hillsides looking so tiny, we made a sign with our fingers for ‘teeny sheep’. It sounds lame now, even to me, but it was one of those dopey things that could incite laughter in two people especially medical threats challenge that ability. I saw a two figures in full sets of armor. What? How could I not think of the array of tiny metal Knights of Agincourt that that marches on a room he spent so much time in? And then there were the planes on the ceiling of San Francisco airport. Really? Nearly full size replicas of the exact World War I planes he collected? Random? Maybe not.
I haven’t quite deconstructed the trip in my mind yet; I’m only back a few days. But as I consolidate the notes I took for the article, I’m also sorting through the myriad emotions the trip incited, too. The happy, the sad, and the juxtaposition of wonder — and guilt (I’m working on that one).
From the sheer majestic beauty of Yosemite National Park to the serene crystal water of Lake Tahoe, there was no escaping the wonderful experience, especially to a girl on her first trip to the West Coast. Yet there were moments; moments that were bittersweet to say the least. Gliding past miles of expansive vineyards, touring wineries in Napa/Sonoma, I couldn’t help remembering our years as the public relations/advertising agency for a 40 winery association. I was tasting more mixed memories than wine.
True to the demographics I write about for this tour company, 80% of the participants were couples, late boomer, adventurous traveling couples we never got to be. Hearing my dear friend say a loving good night to her other half, then him returning the call in the morning to wish her a good day, it was impossible not to remember all the calls, kisses and words of love I would never hear again.
Each of us are given a piece of road to travel. Some are straight highways, some winding, twisting and some with built-in detours. A few end in a dead (no pun intended) stop. Many of us traveled them all. I know I have. Knowing just how short some roads can be, how sudden the drop off a cliff, I’m trying hard to live in the moment, a hard thing for a girl always in motion. I was especially intent on immersing myself in the magnificent sights, delectable tastes, and amazing new experiences of this California trip. And I definitely did. But even as I felt gifted and grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in California’s eternal sunshine, I couldn’t blot out those raindrops only I could feel.
The ‘Golden Gate’ that connected me to the one who cared about and loved me was no longer across the country – or across the bed. Now he is only as close as the ring I almost lost in a bathtub drain.
In the end, I think I returned from California with the makings of a good article, my husband’s ring as intact as his spirit in my heart, some cool experiences, a new closeness with my sweet friend, a few “flowers in my hair” – as well as some delish sourdough bread.