The problems, my own and everyone else's, slipped a million miles away, and I headed down the driveway and then west down Grand, not a cloud in the sky, Saturday morning still a gift, for now but who knows how much longer, my legs like springs, my lungs drawing the cold air down deep.
Once around the park and then up one hill, then another, my stride long and fast, across South Street and into Hudson View Cemetery, nearing a jogger's pace, up one last hill, the groundskeeper on his phone off to my right, we nod at each other, my breaths coming fast and hard, I walk past the open field and toward the gravestones, on the right a guy I went to grade school with, on the left a guy I grew up with, can't believe he's been gone ten years now.
I am feeling good, just those breaths, deep in, steam out, my time my own for a change, and then I think back, do the math, seven years ago, would have been a Thursday, the day before she started showing some signs of life, the day before we starting thinking a miracle might be coming.
One foot in front of the other, how you make it through the moment and through everything, I try to focus on the sound of my feet hitting the ground, hard, but I feel it slipping away, I feel myself slipping back, to a hospital, an intensive care unit, to the faces of the doctors and nurses.
More gravestones, but no one I knew. I read the dates, do the math, add up the years of lives long gone, trying to make it back, and I do, the sun so goddamn bright, the bounce in my step, the appreciation of this minute right here. Two women digging into the ground, planting something, I wander off to the left of them, hoping they don't see me, but one of them does, good morning, she says, good morning, I reply.
I walk on, down toward the field we played on as children, baseball, football, hour upon hour. I keep my head down and keep the pace fast, very fast.
I veer off the path and over toward the edge of a hill, toward an old tree, not sure what type of tree it is, was never much good at that sort of thing, but the trunk must be a few feet around and the branches reach high and I know it's been there my whole life, I know I've seen it before.
I think about standing at this same old tree trunk one afternoon this time of year, late 1992, same type of day, clear sky, cold air. I stop there, at the edge of the hill, think about that day, twenty two years ago. I look down the hill and out at my old hometown. Slate roofs everywhere I look, the same roofs I looked out way back when.
Some things have remain, some have gone. Church steeples still dominate what passes for a skyline, the mighty Hudson still twists and turns, the railroad bridge crosses the river. The smokestacks of the old paper mill have gone. That day in 1992 seems close enough to touch, seems to lie just beyond the reach of my fingertips, what I wanted then has come and gone and come again.
For some reason I feel elation, and I clap my hands together vigorously and yell out into the sunshine and cold air. I feel free, and thrilled to be alive. I wonder how often I will feel this way, wonder how long I have to go, my twenties of the early 90's dissolved into late forties of the mid-teens, the clock running out for sure.
I finally move, walk on, up yet another hill, now on my way home, up past the old stones now, and at the top of the hill, the stone that breaks my heart every time, the little one, rounded at the top, maybe two feet high.
Tommy Parker, it reads. 1909-1915. Born In England. Thy Will Be Done.
I picture a child on a death bed, surrounded by a mother and a father and maybe grandparents and sisters and brothers, who knows. Nothing breaks my heart more than the thought of a child suffering. I wonder what Tommy died from, think of those who loved him living the rest of their lives without him, with all his unrealized promise ripping at least some of the joy out of each and every day.
And I think, for a moment, of another deathbed, one I stood at almost exactly seven years ago. For a long time I thought that deathbed would be the death of the best of me, and for a while it was, but I walk on now, the sun and the cold feeling good, toward a house where a beautiful wife and beautiful children wait for me, I walk fast, and if troubles and sorrows lie somewhere ahead, I don't care at the moment, no, I feel young and strong and so goddamn glad to be alive.