Walking along the old Hood River highway, I drank in the prehistoric beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. The deep ancient carved rocks whispering stories of sharp brutal winds and rising turbulent waters from the Columbia River. The early morning was unusually warm and sunny unlike most days where fog and precipitation blanketed the sleepy vacation community. Wind surfers and morning exercise enthusiasts could already be seen dotting the waters edge as I slowly moved by the houses. Most of the rustic houses sported newly painted siding, manicured lawns and not so randomly placed wildflowers along the edge of the road welcoming the traveler to their vacation home.
I carried my borrowed mug of Folgers coffee and meandered down the hill towards the train station. During the weekdays the train brings Portlanders around the mountain or tourists to experience the fruit loop, the local breweries, wineries or for the braver sort, to try their luck at kite boarding or wind surfing. The deserted train station looked ominous with outdoor buildings missing walls. Instead of walking down the sidewalk I decided to take the trail through the train yard. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been walking alone through the woods but it appeared like a shortcut to the cafe and a much needed morning espresso. A few steps down the path brought stairs that marked “The Ruins” it seemed a bit dark being only a stones throw from the souvenir shop at the train station. A few more yards brought another rustic wood sign on a tree announcing a school. Where was the school? I soon found myself daydreaming about a portal similar to Hogwarts where the ruins lead to the infamous school for the secret society found only among the trees behind the abandoned cars. Stringed lights were hung across the partially standing roofless walls at a desperate attempt to dress up the platform as an outdoor BOHO, Shabby Chic gathering spot. It all seemed strange as I popped out from the wooded path onto the busy sidewalk where the cafe proclaimed caffeine and my life’s blood.
After obtaining my espresso and overpriced hot water I wandered back along the bridge to observe the mighty Columbia River and gain some perspective on my own meager existence comparatively. Years ago I had found beauty in bridges, the design, and their differences in size, shape, materials and structure. I stopped to take in the wild beauty of the river and the contrast of the man-made metal above it. I stopped here and contemplated water. People underestimated the power of water. They underestimated the currents that flowed beneath it and if not careful were harmed by it. I compared it to my own life. People can not empathize with what they could not see, what they could not feel or had not felt. I myself have been guilty of not giving enough grace to those I could not understand. My sweet relative who lost pregnancy after pregnancy never to have a child, my friend who lost her son in second grade to a virus, my grandmother who lost a child soon after it was born, I did not know of the wild currents beneath the surface, I could not understand.
My own grief drives me in ways not understood by many. One minute I am moving in one direction and the next minute I am swirling and swelling towards another. I am trying to first and foremost care for my surviving children who themselves are also survivors, as well as stay true to my daughter’s legacy and honor all the while keeping my own head above water, sometimes only being able to float.
Lost in thought, I find myself at the end of the street so I turn to walk back the direction I came, heading back to my still sleeping husband and friends. Walking on the other side of the overpass I again observe the Columbia now from the west instead of the east noticing the slight differences in the lighting, the curvature of the water’s edge, the angles of the bridge now visible. The river and bridge perspective changed. It brings me to thinking about personal perspectives and how they vary looking at the same thing. Many relationships do not survive the death of a child. One reason is the vast difference in grief’s toll between a couple. It can be night and day, but it is the same. Two sides of the same coin. For me I could not contain it, I screamed, I pulled out my hair, I beat my fists against the wall. My husband went in, he went away, he buried it inside himself as it burned. Somehow even without understanding, we gave each other grace to move in our own way. I am not even sure how we stumbled through it, and still stumbling through it.
I picked up the borrowed coffee mug I had hidden along the path earlier, glad I hadn’t lost it and walked up the hill back to the rental. One day at a time, the song and the saying says, Oh how it used to sound so cliche.