This story has a happy ending, of sorts. I needed to say that up front because if the woman who inspired this post was still alive, it wouldn’t be on your screen right now, and death tends to be depressing. I’m not going to lie either and pretend this is about her life. It’s not.
Instead, this is about moments. Landmarks in time that thrust up mountainous in memory. Because isn’t that the hardest part of loss? Knowing there’s no time left to create new ones?
Her name, by the way, was Trista, she was my step-sister if you have to get all legal, simply my sister if you’d rather deal with truth. While in many ways it was great having her leukemia get treated at the hospital I work at, there are downsides, like having to walk past the room she died in every time I come and go to the cafeteria. It really screwed with me much more than I ever bothered to mention for a long time. That is, until I figured out a way to drive back the brooding thoughts that kept at me.
I began picking out the other landmarks we left around the hospital. I eventually made it my mission to pick out those pockets of time when the sounds and smells of inpatient units receded behind the fact that we were together and alive, faces stretched in joy rather than composed in bravery.
Of them all, though. There’s only one landmark on the hospital grounds capable of pushing aside the memory of us as a family surrounding her bed in ICU during her final minutes, but then, that’s all I needed.
I was taking 18 units in school at the time along with working 40 hours a week, so the majority of my visits to her room were during my lunch. One day, however, I was able to sneak in an extra visit after work during a period where her immune system was strong enough for her to go outside.
She said that she didn’t know the hospital had one, when I suggested we go to the Chinese Garden and I didn’t bother hiding how happy I was to be the one to introduce her to it. I had been aggressively calling in favors from friends in different departments to alleviate any irritations she faced as an inpatient, but it was much better to deliver a smile on her face in person.
The day was bright and warm enough that we spent little time walking around the garden. After a few minutes on the bridge angling over the koi and turtle filled pond, we made our way to a covered bench on the far end of the garden and reminisced mostly on the gaps where we weren’t in each other’s lives.
My step-siblings and I were years out of touch after a judge took me out of my dad and her mom’s house when I was in the sixth grade and she was just a year behind. As tight as we were as siblings, the abuse and parental rifts wedged themselves firmly between our abilities to stay in touch the way we would have liked.
She seemed confused though, when I told her that during our years apart, I thought she’d grow up to be a playwright. I had to remind her of the plays she would write when she was in third grade complete with scheduled performances for our parents and my step-brother Aaron. “I completely forgot about that.” She confessed, and looking back, I guess I could see why. It was always myself and Adria, my other step-sister, who were cast in the plays and rehearsals usually consisted of us screwing around until Trista was screaming at us to do what we were told and threatening to call the whole thing off.
Trista and I continued poking fingers into our collective cages of memories safe in the knowledge that the beasts who dwelled in them had aged past their use of claws and teeth until she grew tired and I walked her back to her room. Her heartfelt thanks just before I headed home was the sound of purpose fulfilled and those quiet minutes together with her rose into my personal Everest of a landmark any time I needed to find my way back from focusing on the hard times on to the utter delight that I ever knew her at all.
The power a simple moment in time can have has stuck with me ever since I worked my way through that and because the wiring between my heart, my head and my art is such a twisted mess, it also became the catalyst for an idea of how to approach the many requests I’ve received from readers of Regret in Triptych who want to know more about Nicole, the dead wife in the story. Instead of writing the requested book about her, I’ll be capturing her fictional life one landmark revelatory moment at a time.
How? With oversized postcards! That’s how. Each one will feature a fine art photograph taken by me on the front themed to a landmark moment of her love story with Andros on the back. Along with giving you an unusual glimpse of her character, it will also answer what Andros was up to during the seven months that led up to Regret in Triptych. Collectively, I’m calling them “The Pilgrimage Vignettes” and these stories of heartwarming sarcasm, wit and emotional discourse will not be available in any other format.