Summer arrives. Around James’ grave the grass slowly dries up, sustained more and more by the sprinklers, the wildflowers of spring withering in the heat save for a few resilient Indian Paintbrushes clinging to the shade. This is how I remember it in my first memories of it. The days and weeks after his death when I first came so often I developed a personal relationship with the gravediggers. I suppose they must prefer caretakers, but I never asked. Last time I went, my cell phone played the overheating game again, just like last summer. I forgot to bring water and sweated through my shirt, pausing at some point in my reverie to walk over to the hose the cemetery keeps on the edges of each “garden” for a drink. I believe the idea is that you can water the grave yourself if you so choose. I never do, at least in part because the lusher the grass is the more it bothers me. I turn the faucet and wait patiently for the warm water to pour out of the spout, the cool water requiring a few moments to overcome the accumulated warmth of the plastic. I take a few long drags and for just a moment feel like I am young again, taking a long drink at the end of a summer’s day before turning the hose on myself to wash away the filth, a necessary exercise before my mother would let me into the house. But there’s no nostalgia in cemeteries, and it quickly fades.
Lately, I find myself willing the days to pass more slowly. We are coming full circle, a calendar year since our great adventure began. One year ago today, James almost certainly had cancer. The tumor that took his life was no doubt already visible on an MRI, rapidly gaining strength. But no one knew it. He was throwing balls, crawling and eager for you to hold his hands to walk him across the floor. He was happy, as he always was. Two days later, he started throwing up. Nine days after that, we found out about the tumor. Twenty four days later, he died. A little less than a month, and with it the summer. People keep talking about how hot last summer was, fifty days over one hundred degrees. Brutally hot, a record in every book. I have no memory of that. My memories of last summer are all cold and sterile, the artificial chill of the hospital everywhere. Warm blankets pulled from the warmer on the ICU floor, a welcome respite. I took so many they eventually ran out and I memorized when the orderlies came around to bring more. They never stayed warm long enough and I always ended up cold, the chill in the air compounded by the cold vinyl couches that doubled as beds never quite retaining my body heat. The few times I walked outside the hospital I remember how refreshing the heat was, the goosebumps it raised on my arms. I achieved a spectacular level of paleness, an unhealthy pallor complete out of sync with the season.
That time is coming around again. Father’s day is right around the corner. Last year, James, considerate boy that he was, “bought” me a suit for father’s day. I think he may have even selected the pattern or perhaps thrown something in its general direction. I wore it to his funeral a few weeks later. This year it’s a holiday I could probably do without. The heat is returning too, but this year it appears I may actually notice. I have more time to notice.
The pace of things quickens in the summer, vacations beckoning and promises of summer fun on the horizon. I keep willing time to slow down, but just as last year when the world insisted on moving on despite James, it appears it will do the same this year. Each date forms some kind of strange memorial in my mind. June 14, the day he started getting sick. June 16, 11 months from his death. June 23, Day Three Hundred Sixty Five from the old count on this blog, the day we knew. July 16, the last day for so many things. Each reminds me in an irrevocable way that James is gone, and he has been gone so long that an entire year has come and gone. He has been gone longer than he was here. I wish I remembered other milestones with such precision. The first day he smiled, the first day he laughed, the first time he rolled over or crawled. But I do not. I assumed those would simply be small firsts among many, previews to impressive achievements like walking and talking. The negative dates never represented a different kind of beginning though, and perhaps I remember them better for that. You can’t choose memories after all.
I do not always remember him sadly. Often, I enjoy thinking about him. James was a source of tremendous joy. I was honored and blessed to be his father for all the time we had together. Of everything I have ever done, I am most proud of James. The summer is hard because for so many of these dates, the joy is tough to identify. Some days in the hospital, James did amazing things that I look back on and am incredibly thankful for. He was so wonderfully resilient. These days are not those days. Some days, all I can do is miss him. Perhaps some days that is enough.
Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.