Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Day the Lake Froze

As I was pulling into the mall today to buy a new pair of jeans, my darling mom called saying she had a dream about me buying a pair of pants. Somehow she came to this dream of thinking of my grandmother. July 4th would have been her birthday, her 86th to be exact. I had been thinking of her more than usual, too. Missing her still haunts my every day. But, like mom I’d been thinking of her even more. I suppose it’s the thought of having to see fireworks again without her.

I can still close my eyes and feel the way I felt the day I woke up on Saturday February 3, 2007. It was so quiet. I had such a strange feeling of emptiness. We still lived in that horrible old high-rise apartment. But because of our unnaturally high living arrangements I was able to see the beautiful lake.

The beautiful frozen lake.

February 3 was the day the lake froze.

It was poetic and awe inspiring even before I knew what that day would bring.

The night before I had left my cell phone in the family room. I can't think of another time I've ever done that. I always sleep with my phone. As a result I never heard the phone ring in the middle of the night.

I walked barefoot out onto the tundra on our deck and looked out into white as far as I good see. The peace was deafening.

When I came back in and listened to that voicemail my heart dropped. The break of my soul was deafening. It was my uncle.

My Uncle Greg is a stoic, unemotional man known for his cutting criticism and sarcasm. He's a great guy, but he's not known for being sentimental or remotely emotional.

But in this voicemail his voice cracked. He had called me when he found her. I immediately started making phone calls, but couldn't reach anyone.

Finally I reached someone, I'm not sure who, and they told me Grandma was in the hospital. Eventually I reached my uncle and he gave me more details.

No one said it, but they didn't expect her to make it. I started packing, booked a flight into RDU, and left. I never thought it would be virtually impossible to get to the airport through the snow. I think I would have walked there if given no other choice.

There weren't many people on that flight. It was dark and quiet. The roar of the engine and vacuum of the sealed cabin was deafening. Sitting alone I couldn’t even really see anyone in the cabin. We sat on the tarmac for a long time waiting for the storm to dissipate. Flights had been cancelled right and left, so I chewed off any remaining fingernails before we even began to taxi. The plane then sat under a fountain of antifreeze before takeoff. Finally we were floating south through the sky. In actuality we were cruising much faster than normal thanks to the great tailwind. But there in the dark it was as if we were just floating through the clouds.

I felt her there that night way up in the sky. I never stopped crying the whole flight. I felt like a crazy woman, but I talked to her. I told her how Tim and I were thinking about having a baby. I told her how much I loved her and I told her to hold on just a little while longer.

Soon I was there and waiting at baggage claim while my cousins waiting quietly by my side. We ran out to my aunt and all hopped into the minivan.

My Aunt Theresa sped to the hospital. The road to the hospital was closed because of some sort of game or concert so we got stuck, had to find an alternate route, and got mildly lost. But, we made it to the hospital. It was late so the hospital was deserted and achingly quiet. We ran through the halls to the ICU.

The smell of death of that wing was unmistakable.

I saw my family lining the hall in front of her room. My uncles and my mom were in the room with her. I walked in and everyone walked out into the hall to give me a moment with her.

I had so many things in my heart I wanted to say. But the words could not come. I just held her hand and brushed the hair from her forehead. In the moment the tears choked me and pushed the ache into my heart I felt her go. I watched her heartbeat stop and the tears exploded. I was standing alone holding her, my family out in the hall. I was still out of breath from running through the hospital. I had been there only seconds and she flew away.

My family came back in and we all cried together.

The deluge of tears on the dried tears felt like they were frozen to my face. Everything about that day was frozen. The lake, her life, my heart.

Sometimes I still feel that deafening snow. It’s almost July, almost her birthday, but if I close my eyes I can see the frozen lake that day and if I’m really lucky I can see the last time we watched fireworks together on her last birthday.

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