Decided to occasionally use this space to write about stuff other than cricket. Feel free to ignore. It’s just I need a place to put all this and Medium is lame these days.
Two summers after our father died, my brother, sister and I went to Cincinnat for a week. We stayed with my grandparents — my father’s parents — in their big house on the big lot that they built after the war. On the second to last day we were there we went with my uncle — my father’s older brother — and aunt and their youngest daughter to a water park. Also with us were several people from my aunt’s family. The Cornells. People I didn’t know. With them was a younger cousin named Stormy, who wore a slim black one piece swimsuit and had long damp black hair. I asked her about her name, but she didn’t hear me.
It was a hot blue sky high sun Cincinnati summer day. The kind of summer day of youth that somehow finds a way to last forever.
At the water park I sat on a towel on the concrete bored and hot and a teenager. I went up and down water slides. I felt out of place, distant, sad. My uncle seemed the same. He didn’t want to be there. I didn’t either. The day my dad died my uncle stormed onto the plane my grandparents were on as it sat at the gate before departing to Minnesota even though he didn’t have a ticket. Screaming and wailing and utterly despondent with grief. The flight attendants had to pull him off the plane. He didn’t fly in until the next day. At the funeral he shook with sadness. Cracking sobs. He looked like he was going to split in two. Cleave himself into a thousand pieces. Into dust.
At the water park after maybe 30 minutes my uncle suggested the two of us walk back to their house in Hyde Park. My aunt tried and failed to get a house key off her key ring. So we didn’t take keys, hoping that my cousin Brian freshly home from his freshman year of college would be there to let us in.
And so we walked. For hours. In that hot high sun. My neck turning red. Up and down all those southwestern Ohio hills. For hours and hours. Past malls and warehouses and neighborhoods and strip malls. Without shade, without pause. We just walked. And walked. And walked. And walked.
Finally we returned to his house where my cousin was and he let us in. He had just woken up. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. The night before he had been out with friends at the Steve Miller concert. The three of us drove to a late lunch in the village down the hill. My cousin drove. We listened to the doors. LA Woman. Motel Monday murder madness. Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness. I sat in the back. My uncle sat in the passenger seat. His window down. He thumbed along to the song on the roof of the car. He seemed free. Unrestrained. Happy. Somehow. Like everything was perfect and he could ask for nothing more. At the restaurant he ordered soup and it was too hot to eat to so he spooned ice cubes from his water glass into the soup to cool it.
That’s the clearest memory of the entire day. The site of those ice cubes drifting and melting and cooling his vegetable soup there in the dark diner while that summer day blazed away on the other side of giant windows on the far side of the room. Noise and dishes and conversation.
It’s a day that sticks out like few others. We all have them. Those childhood memories that for some reason stick and live forever in that space right below our hearts. I remember the sunburn and the sun and the sky. I remember Stormy’s eyes, Stormy’s swimsuit, Stormy ignoring me. I remember the hills and the broken sidewalks. I remember the smell of the chlorine. I remember my aunt struggling to remove the key from the keyring. I remember the boredom. I remember the sadness. I remember all those hills. I remember the ice cubes in the soup. I remember the heat.
But I don’t remember what we talked about on that walk. It was hours and hours. Miles and miles. When we arrived back at my uncle’s house my cousin was shocked, in utter disbelief, that we had walked all that way. But I don’t remember a word of our conversation. Did we talk about school? My dad, his brother? Did we talk about aging and life and girls and the pit of sadness we both carried? Did we talk about the weather? Did we talk about the government? My uncle was a teacher and one Saturday at my grandparent’s house in their cool basement in my grandfather’s radio room my uncle interviewed me for a project he was working on for his master’s degree. We talked for an hour. Talked and talked and talked. I remember almost every word. We talked about growing up and school and my teachers and little league. When we were done my uncle realized he had never hit the record button on his tape recorder so we tried to recreate the entire conversation but it wasn’t the same and he was so upset. I remember his frustration. It rings out like a bell.
But I don’t remember a single word from the walk a few years later. Not a single one. Did we even talk at all? Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we walked in uncomfortable silence. Me and my uncle, my dad’s older brother. Me, his dead brother’s oldest son. Walking through the hot streets of Cincinnati. Two years after the worst moment of our lives. Two years after I watched him collapse at that Catholic church up the street from my house. Two years. The both of us still collapsing. Yet. We walked. The two of us. Maybe we didn’t talk. And maybe that was okay. Maybe we just wanted to remember. To be close to someone we had lost in the only way that was left. And maybe that’s why he seemed to happy in that car ride later. Tapping his fingers on the roof along with The Doors. Because for a few hours he had walked next to his dead brother. And maybe that’s why I remember the day so clearly, words or no words, because for a few hours I had walked next to my dead father. And so maybe it doesn’t matter what we talked about. Or if we didn’t talk at all. He saw me in all my sorrow there on that hot concrete wet towel, and took me away from there, and together we walked up all those hills. And together for a few hours we were okay.
All that heat, all that sun, all those miles, washing it all away. Somehow. A son with his uncle who was his dad. An uncle with his nephew who was his little brother, 15 and skinny and quiet with red hair and glasses and a sunburn and willing to walk for hours.