Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To Baltimore, with Love

I went into the city yesterday.  Dear friends welcomed a beautiful baby boy and I couldn't wait to meet him.  I've always jumped at the chance to drive into the city.  I've always loved it.  I remember my first ride in, as an adult, TJ at the wheel.  We were driving in to go to a club, so it was dark and the city was a ball of light.  Driving up the long, elevated ramp the city looks like a pop up book.  A page opened up to reveal buildings, all shapes and sizes.  Old and new billboards alike.  My eyes always flying to the older, dilapidated industrial buildings to admire the lettering style on their signs.  It was always special, riding into the city.  And yesterday was no different than any other trip.  The sun shone bright in the sky and the weather was so pleasant.  Not too hot, but not too cold.  I had my windows cracked to let in the air.  When I'm stopped at lights, I look up.  I always try to remember to look up as often as possible.  There's so many beautiful and interesting things to be seen that so few experience.  I took the familiar roads past the harbor, watching people bustle through their morning.

The closer I got to the hospital, the more nervous I became.  My stomach restless, doing little flips inside me.  Listening to the sirens of the ambulances.  I shook my head in an attempt to clear it several times.  This was a good trip.  Beautiful new life.  I found my way to the garage and drove to the very top.  I couldn't wait to view the city from that height.  Before I opened the door to reach the elevators, I took three deep breaths and let them out.  Then I opened the door.

It wasn't the same hospital that TJ died in, but there are characteristics that all hospitals have.  I found the information desk to check in, got my badge, and worked my way towards my destination.  The lobby was just a lobby.  I was just fine.  I was directed down a long hall towards the correct set of elevators.  As I went, I passed several waiting rooms on that main floor.  I looked at the faces that I saw.  Some were sad, some tired.  I wondered what they were suffering from, or who they loved that was suffering.  I made a point to smile as I walked along, tricking myself in some ways and genuinely meaning it in others.  When I came off of the elevators on that 15th floor, the smell hit me.  I was in the hospital again.  I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it smelled like in the lobby instead of up here.  It didn't work.  I lifted my hand to my face, fist clenched against my mouth, my index finger slipping upward to rest under my nostrils.  I smelled the salt of my own skin.  I breathed deeply and prepared to move forward.  This was a happy time.  New life.  Time to build new associations.

I enjoyed my time spent with my friends and their precious baby.  I relished the small moments I was able to steal time just to look at him.  I kept thinking about how TJ would look holding him.  Welcoming him to the world along with me.  How much he would have wanted to congratulate and dote on our friends as much as I do.  I realized then that this will be my new future.  Being able to help friends any way that I can.  To be able to play with their little ones and spoil them rotten.  I'll be that weird "aunt", the one everyone has.  That woman with the tattoos, organic smells, flowing skirts, and a hoop in her nose.  I accept this new part to be played.  It will be a pleasure and a gift.

As I said my goodbyes and closed the door behind me I felt a sigh well up inside me.  As I exhaled, I thought about how much I really needed different air in my lungs.  I walked quickly past the nurses station to the elevators.  In the lobby, I wove a path as best as I could through the sea of ailing people.  I needed to get my ID back and some cash for the garage.  Finally, I arrived at my garage elevator.  I watched the lights tick away my ascent; 4th floor, 5th floor, all the way to the rooftop.  Swinging open the glass and metal door, a rush of crisp air filled my lungs.  It tasted like fall and exhaust.  It was wonderful.  I didn't leave right away.  I just leaned over the cement wall looking out into the city buildings and breathing deeply.  I wasn't ready to get into my car yet, I needed more air.  I looked around, studying each building I could see.  Wondering how many people were in it at that moment and what their lives were like.

Once I was home, I couldn't seem to get the smell of hospital off of my hands.  It's the soap there.  After TJ had died I didn't want to leave him.  After a few hours, the medical examiner arrived to make his assessment.  He said I didn't have to leave, but that it may not be a good idea for me to stay.  I decided to allow myself a break.  I hadn't used the bathroom, brushed my teeth, or even combed my hair at that point.  And it was after 9am.  I went to the restroom down the hall.  When I went to the sink to wash my hands I cried and cried.  As I scrubbed, I couldn't even see my reflection in the mirror; my vision was clouded with tears.  Whenever I cried, I put my hand over my mouth.  As if the action would save me from hearing the sound of myself.  I know that's why the smell of hospital was stuck on me yesterday.  Being so familiar with the smell of the soap from covering my mouth with my freshly scrubbed hands that one morning in March.  I tried all kinds of smelly soaps all evening, but it just wouldn't go away.  It was distracting, the smell.  But it didn't suck me back in time like I kept waiting for it to do.  The memory of the scent was there, and the association to my emotions was there.  I felt unsettled when I'd get a whiff of my skin, but it never held my mind back there.  I was able to let the wave pass instead of being swept away by it. 

Ever since I left the city yesterday, I've been thinking about going back.  How I think I'd like to live there, in Baltimore.  A friend told me two days ago that he thought I should move away.  It stung.  I heard it as rejection.  It still stings a little; my vulnerability ever present.  But I get it.  It's a way to be in a new environment that isn't so fraught with memories of my old life.  I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit that he might be right.  Visiting Alaska was freeing.  Being in a whole new place, a new routine, smiling at people knowing they could never know what happened to me.  Frederick is small.  Everyone knows my families.  When I leave a room, I can only imagine what goes on.  If I'm discussed.  At what length... but in Alaska I was just me.  Tragedy wasn't so extreme.  I could breathe easier.

I realize that at this point in time I could never go that far.  I don't know if at any point in my life I could ever go that far.  But maybe I could get the same desired effect and not have to move across the country.  Maybe moving down the road to Baltimore, or outside of it, would be a step.  It's a different place filled with newness and also familiarity.  It's not far, but far enough.  I could still see my friends and my family often.  It couldn't hurt to try it.  If it doesn't give me what I'm looking for, I can come back.  TJ always had a special place in his heart for Baltimore.  We even talked about moving there just months before his death.  I hope he won't be too upset if I make that move without him, after all of the years of poking and prodding me in that direction.

I've got a lot to think about, but I'm feeling good about a change of scenery.

1 comment:

  1. I know it wasn't an easy trip, but I was so happy to have you come visit. You're developing quite a voice for writing, and I enjoy how you describe the sight and smell of the city. I was thinking briefly yesterday how when anybody asks Camden where he's from, he'll say "Baltimore." And, anticipating the personality traits he'll adopt from me, he'll say it like a little tough guy.