The day was much like this one. Sunny, blue skies, just gorgeous. It was warmer, though. And Saturday. Great day for a motorcycle ride through Harriman (State Park, NY.) Things hadn’t been going well for us. The stresses of being so young with so much responsibility had taken its toll. But just the week prior, when I offered him an out with an open door when he was ready to come home again, he didn’t take it. He loved me. He loved our kids. He didn’t want to lose us. For the first time in months, we were happy. A solid week happy. Then came that Saturday, and the bike ride he never came home from.
It’s been thirty years.
I’ve always been a person for whom food = love. I loved grocery shopping, making meals, packing lunches. Always have, even when I was a kid helping out a friend’s parents when they threw parties. Food = love. That’s just who I am.
In the grocery store with my sister, in the days after Brian’s death, I came to the soda aisle and spotted A&W cream soda on sale. Gross. I hate cream soda, but I knew someone loved it. Who? Whowhowho?? It was really bugging me, because I knew it wasn’t my brother or sister, my parents. I certainly didn’t give Jamie soda. She wasn’t even three. And then I remembered who loved cream soda. Hit me right between the eyes, sucker-punched me in the heart. I crouched down right there in the soda aisle and cried. Poor Jamie, eating her weekly animal crackers, a treat that had always been her reward for being such a good girl. Maybe it was right there she decided she would never, ever make me cry. My girl. She never has.
The grocery store was my bugbear*. I went every week anyway. My kids needed to eat. It took a while, but it stopped being a testament to my fortitude and went back to being a mundane way to love my children. Frank and I have always done this weekly task together, from day one of our marriage, kids and all. Until they were old enough to stay home by themselves.
The grocery store is again my bugbear. It had shrunk down to a tiny black speck in the back of my brain, all these years since the cream soda crushed me. Now it’s fully-formed again. It loves catching me unaware as I reach for a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that split moment before I remember the one I always bought it for is gone. It loves to taunt me at the fish counter when I pass over the soft-shell crabs. Gatorade on sale? Who cares? No one here drinks it anymore. Chris was a big guy. He loved to eat and was very specific about his strange tastes. Thus every aisle reminds me, taunts me, pricks tears out of me. I sing in the aisles of the Shop Rite that plays the 70s music my 14-year old hind brain remembers all the words to. Before, it was just fun. Now, it’s more whistling past the graveyard.
Drake’s Funny Bones get me to this day, because they were the one splurge I always made for Brian, when we were so poor there was no splurging on anything. If I see them, I choke up a little, but I smile. What a strange and adorable thing for a man to love. It will happen with soft-shell crabs and Gatorade and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I know. Right now, though, the Bugbear is flexing its muscles. Guess I’m going to have to flex my own whether I want to or not.
*1. a cause of obsessive fear, irritation, or loathing. 2. an imaginary being invoked to frighten children, typically a sort of hobgoblin supposed to devour them.