The shoreline on the map is clearly marked, a solid line marks the edge of where land and sea meet.
It doesn’t change to mark the tide. It doesn’t mark the exact edge of the sandy soil that meets the sea at different times, different places in each of the different seasons.
Some days the sea will rise, lifted by wind and tide to the grassy shore high above the rocks and sand.
Other days the sand is left dry and folds of wet sand, rippled ridges of new land reach far out into the bay.
It is always changing, and if one watches, the changes can be clearly marked.
The blue book is our map. A light dusty blue cover, unassuming, small, like its been printed in the office of a church. It’s 14 simple white pages, in comforting candara, soft black ink, it has become our guide to the borderlands.
I read the book first, and one afternoon give it to Griff. He reads it through, then takes the always present white hankie from his front pants pocket and wipes his eyes,
” She doesn’t have long then does she? ” he states, really not asking.
I do not answer, neither of us can or need to talk.
Like the changes in the tides and shoreline of the bay, each day brings marked changes for Hilda. We have been told that each journey different, as different as we are individuals. We are given signs, markers for her journey, things to watch for, things to recognize, things to welcome; disorientation, talking with unseen family or friends, confusion and changes in body temperature, no appetite, increased sleeping, irregular breathing, and restlessness.
Written this way they are simple signs.
When they start to appear it is not simple.
“Tomorrow I’ll be more organized”, she whispers to someone I can not see.
” We will have a jam buttie and a lollie ice, lollie ice and a jam buttie.”
She must be picnicking at the beach, I hope the weather is good where ever she is. She continues on with eyes closed.
“Do you have the spade and bucket?”
” Where are the children?”
“Are you going to the dance alone?” She whispers in the middle of a conversation.
Griff now moves close, and holding her hand answers her,
“I’m only going to the dance with you, do you have a new dress?”
“The children are asleep.”
“Yes, I have the spade and bucket.”
He sits and rubs her hands, her arms, strokes her hair back from her face. Sometimes her eyes are closed, sometimes open, sometimes in between. I feel like an intruder on a private moment between them, I move into the kitchen and give them some space.
They have been married 54 years, and its hard to watch this long good-bye.
Today he has slipped into first position as caretaker, sips of water,
“Are you hot love? Are you cold?”
She hasn’t been with us most of the day, eyes half way open, half way closed, she is halfway here. Where she goes we can only watch, we can not follow.
The weather channel plays most of the day, and they have a weather station which looks like a digital clock sitting on the bedside table. She reads the numbers off when she wakes, and is semi lucid,
“ the temperature is 66 outside….. its 70 inside… the pressure is dropping…. it’s going to rain.”
“ The weather is changing all over the world…. the weather is terrible”,
“The planes will be delayed… I hope those kids aren’t going to school… Griff put a sweater on… that snow in D.C. is terrible”
In spite of the knowledge that these signs are expected, I begin to give serious thought to banning the weather channel.
The Chaplin arrives, conversation starts, she is here for the moment.
The Chaplin asks, ” where should I sit?”,
” On your bottom, ” Hilda replies with a smile.
There in the family room the English Catholic boy, and English Protestant girl, tell their story to the Chaplin. Running away to be married, the eventual acceptance by both families and the big one, the tragic death of their youngest child John at age 5.
” His heart, he had an enlarged heart, he died on the table”, its Hilda’s high-pitched voice I hear crack. Over forty years has done nothing to dull the pain of her loss.
That was the moment I reached the end of my emotional rope. It was not the story, I had heard it many times, it was her voice, the sound of her voice.
I grab the trash and leave, walk to the bay, I escape to the edge of the trailer park where the sea is liquid mercury ebbing tide and beautiful. At the end of the road, past the pool and shuffle board courts a long slow grassy bank falls into Tampa Bay. It’s covered with a short thick grass, and soil that feels like a sponge beneath your feet, it feels as if you would sink if you standstill. It gives way with each step, and at low tide, one can step from the solid ground, to the spongy soil onto a rocky ridge littered with debris, and finally onto sand, wet and ridged from the tide pulling the water out and away.
I stand and look out, it is sparkling, cold and bright, a sharp wind cools my reddened face.
Here there is always movement, a coming and going. I realize that the journey Hilda is taking is like the ground I stand upon, ever-changing, evolving, never constant. Each day brings new borderlands, places where I can not follow.
Like the sound of her grief still fresh, there are places I dare not let myself go. Sometimes the maps, the signs mark discoveries that are not just about Hilda, but are sometimes about myself.