It’s eleven in the morning. I’m sitting opposite a Volkswagen service department man at our local dealership. I’m not supposed to be here right now. My day’s script with accompanying task list reads differently. But apparently my writers spent the night in revisions forgetting to send me this new draft at dawn. A draft placing me just about now in this chair off of Highway 1 in Iowa City, Iowa.
We’ve been living off-script since Tony died. Still I create lists, plans, and expectations for each day. Being organized makes me feel all is well. Yet organizing grief is a misnomer. More often than not this multi-layered emotional experience infused with its copious practical matters thwarts my plans. Every seemingly small event includes more paperwork, takes more time now, and lumps up my throat. I’m beginning to believe the trauma expert’s two-year healing prediction offered to me early on in grief when I batted it away, unable to accept the road ahead.
Today’s change, the part of the script in which I was to be zipping down Interstate 80 toward lunch with a dear friend, was replaced with a scene involving the mystery surrounding my defunct email address. I had some head’s up on this one. Knew already the computer people, far more skilled than I, were working on it. So the phone call asking me to come downtown to their shop wasn’t too out of line with my day. A small change to be accommodated. What surprised me on my drive downtown, sent my heart racing really, was the check engine light glaring at me from my dashboard.
The computer people found all sorts of information about my email domain. Information formed early in the history of The Men’s Center. Information I did not know or really even cared about until now. Standing in the waiting area of their shop I learned how to reinstate my email with the help of a number of people working in far away countries across wireless air waves. The check engine light however forced me to reschedule lunch.
A ten minute drive later I find myself at the service check-in desk staring at the man behind the computer. It’s been all business up to this point. Masking perhaps what he thinks of me. I’ve been clear, maybe a bit demanding, in what I need which is a loaner vehicle. Tony’s classic Mercedes not currently well either. It’s engine light coming on too and the air conditioning ka-poot. Not having an appointment for this interchange may be part of the problem as well. Coupled with what could be construed as my sense of entitlement. Masked desperation (mine) the truth.
The car is under Tony’s name in the service man’s computer. Of course it is. I never did anything with the cars but drive them and take care of some routine stuff like getting gas. I tell this stranger to remove Tony’s name and why. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he says.
Good. He got that one right, I think. The many faceless computer people I spoke to on the phone today forgot this small moment of acknowledgement, a courtesy. Then looking deep into his screen he says, “I sold you that car,”
“The one I’m driving? In Cedar Rapids?”
“Tony was a counselor,” he states looking up at me.
“Yes. It was unexpected.”
Days later I remember. I wondered aloud, maybe even complained about having to look at a car on the north side of Cedar Rapids, ninety miles from where we were living at the time. But Tony felt he was getting a better deal out of the area and really liked the salesman. I acquiesced. We desperately needed a new car. Bugs having taken up residence in the back seat of our station wagon. Feeding off the crumbs deeply embedded in the universe existing underneath where the cushions meet forming a crevice. Multitudes of food particles leftover from the early childhood years of our children.
Now our former salesman turned service department guy clicks away at his keyboard. His eyes reading the screen. Yet a shift in his face muscles and posture, almost imperceptible, shares something with me as the room’s air parts for just a second. I take an instinctive, singular, sharp breath in. Through my mouth. Sucked in with a bit of noise from the wind of it. Realization flooding me just prior to my intake of oxygen or perhaps a recognition of something deeper than words.
He assures me my car is safe to drive until the scheduled check next week. Maybe he is less business like now. Maybe softening. Hoping if necessary there could be service people of all kinds willing to work with and for his loved ones in his stead. Or maybe I just imagine all this. Once again wondering if molecules of emotion are to be trusted or not. But then knowing they are. Floating human truths to be paid attention to.
Nothing else runs on schedule for the rest of my day. I throw it all to the wind. Go car shopping all by myself for the first time ever. Find finally what I want which is really not to see another check engine light until I’m way out of seminary. Along with heated seats and a white exterior because Tony was so very safety conscious. And I can’t bear to hear his admonishing voice in my head if I pull out of the car lot with any other color. Then I shop at a different grocery store, the one Ricky works at on the weekends. Get lunch giving into my hunger for once, and buy hot, homemade Mennonite pretzels for Paul. Once home crawl back into bed writing on my day-off from words and during the afternoon hours instead of my usual early morning reverie.
But what stays in my heart this particular day, one of so many in our ongoing complicated grief, is this: Someone Tony knew for just a brief blip on life’s timeline saddened knowing he no longer is here on this plane of existence. And I take great solace in this small knowing and others like it. Glimpses of others’ sense of loss and possibly their own approaching mortality. Their emotional release, although often cloaked, creating a molecular communion of sadness of sorts swirling in the air.