They drove this stretch of the 101, headed for the same destination. Were they anticipating a quiet weekend together? Was he well enough to drive? These are the questions I ask myself as I navigate the windy highway that hugs the evergreened shore of Oregon coastline. I give thanks for these people I never knew.
Their daughter is the girlfriend of my not-quite ex-husband…does that make me a daughter-in-law of sorts? The borrowed beach trailer is where I call home for the night, my temporary yet oh-so-sacred place of quiet contemplation. The family lineage that allows me to be here today brings me right back to them every time. These people whose love graces me, these people that I never knew.
I go to the same church that they went to. The friends who still hold them dear are the same friends I love. Their beloved daughter mothers my beloved children. My children sleep in their house. They are woven into my life, their generosity, their joy, their love. I give silent thanks.
The spotlessness jolts me as I enter. Gleaming cream pleather upholstery on the pristine built-in furniture. The kind that won’t jostle about when you’re pulling this 20-foot home-away-from-home down a slalom-run of highway. Lush sage shag wall-to-wall and teal accents. The bed is made up without a wrinkle. I wonder when the last time she was here.
I’ve had this feeling before, this urge to re-construct the life of someone dearly departed. To know them and keep them alive in my mind so that I may appreciate and be imprinted by these people I was not destined to meet. So it was with my nearly-father-in-law, dying two short days before dinner reservations would allow the hug I still dream about receiving. I carried a quarter of his genetic material in my womb twice, dreamed of his jovial smile & the mischievous twinkle in his eye, studied hundreds of photographs, all with hopes of simulating that dinner missed. I look at his son, examine the sons of his, ours, wonder which parts might be like their grandpa’s. While we were married I wished desperately for a father-in-law, another man to love me, tease me, validate me. I wanted to thank him for whatever small role he had in making the incredible guy I called my husband. This is all still true.
And so, I court their ghosts. Follow the same white line, trace the corners of his smile on my son’s soft faces. I make up the good parts of the story and hold it close to estimate the length of his arms wrapped around me. I eat at their table and imagine their good times, wine and her amazing cooking, their love palpable in the warm air. I sleep with their ghosts, enveloped, entangled, in the memories of the people I never knew.