Out to sea

Friday morning, July 27, 2012, we were on the road again.

I overpacked, of course. I rummaged and found my green Shipyard Brewery fleece, and threw that and a number of other overshirts into a bag, along with my rainproof bike windbreaker, dry socks and a pair of shoes. I loaded the bag and my mandolin into the car, along with Simone.

Simone rode in style, still in the plastic box from the crematorium, but I had found a bright bag with Jolly Rogers printed all over it to carry her in. I think she had gotten birthday presents in that bag, and it had made its way to my house filled with defunct cell phone chargers, wires and other electronic ephemera. When I removed the wires and stuff from the bag, I got a strong whiff of Simone’s perfume. I crammed the tangle into the side pocket of Simone’s laptop bag and put her in the pirate bag.

I was incredibly sad. Part of me didn’t want to take this trip, because it meant that I would be parting from Simone’s remains forever. I began to think about keeping some of her with me. Moping around the apartment wasn’t accomplishing anything, so I took off.

I picked Jennifer and Sam up in Somerville and we drove to Pam and Lisa’s in Newburyport. We were waiting for Johnny to show up with Jinger and Zak, and for Maeve and Justin to show up, then we’d all caravan up to Kennebunkport in time to board the Eleanor at 2 pm. We had one chore that we needed to perform before we drove the last leg, and that was to place some of Simone’s ashes in a box to save for Jackman Hill.

When the mortuary handed Simone to me and Johnny back in April, they explained to me the system that the crematorium uses to ensure that the box of cremated remains actually does contain the person it’s supposed to contain, so I was not surprised to find a small metal tag with a serial number stamped on it when we opened the box. Simone’s ashes were sealed in a plastic bag. We cut the cable tie cinching the bag closed, and filled a beautiful wooden box that Pam had bought. It looked like a pirate chest. Simone would approve.

This for me was the first big hurdle: actually seeing what Simone’s remains looked (and felt) like. It’s mostly dense ash, with small white flecks of bone. Pam noticed that there were pieces of wire in the mixture, and we puzzled over this for a few minutes, until we came to the conclusion that they must have been staples left inside Simone from the emergency open heart surgery.

Soon after we finished and closed the boxes up, everyone began to arrive. Pam and Lisa had laid out fruit and a wonderful zucchini bread for breakfast, so once everyone had eaten a bite we got in our cars and made the trip to Kennebunkport. Traffic was heavy. When we arrived in Kennebunk, it took half an hour to inch across the bridge into Kennebunkport. We got to the dock and parked, and when the captain, Rich, gave the signal, we boarded the Eleanor with food and musical instruments and Simone. Besides the crew on board we had Pam, Lisa, Johnny, Jinger, Jennifer, Sam, Chris, Emily, Lucas, Zachary, Maeve, Justin, Zak, Carol, Kate, myself and Simone.

The sky was incredibly cloudy, and Rich told us that we might expect to get rained on, but the sea was in beautiful condition, very calm, and that there was virtually no wind. I was a little troubled by this report, only because for the last three months, I had been imagining a sunny day with a stiff wind, and thinking about how it would be to manage pouring Simone’s ashes with the boat making headway and listing somewhat. The weather had been rainy for the last few days, so I had repainted my imagination with clouds instead of sun – but I never really imagined having to use the motor without sail.

Rich motored us down the Kennebunk River and out past Cape Arundel. Once we got a little way out, the tiniest of breezes picked up, and Rich cut the engine and had his crew hoist sail. We started making small headway, and traveled out just beyond a green bell can. It was a little chilly, and it rained a little too, so we all were wearing fleeces or rain jackets. Rich turned the Eleanor about and we started to head back in.

Chris and I got our instruments out and began to play. We played “I’ll Fly Away” and everyone sang – and of course, nobody thought to bring the words, so we all got stumped. Chris and I played the Ook Pik Waltz. Carol read a poem. Pam read some pages from Thich Nhat Hanh. It got quiet, and the rain started again, a strange, gentle rain that made a singing sound when the raindrops plinked on the surface of the ocean, which was calm and still.

The time had come to put Simone in the Atlantic. I got the nod from Rich and approached the lee side of the boat. Pam was on one side of me, and Johnny on the other. Jennifer was behind me, holding on to my belt line so I wouldn’t topple in to the drink. I was really unaware of my immediate surroundings; I was only aware of the wire railing on the side of the deck, the bag of ashes in my hands, and the sea below me. I learned a long time ago to keep one hand on the boat, especially when standing, so leaning out slightly over the water with Simone in both my hands felt very strange, like I was floating in midair or something.

Photo by Justin Kennedy.

It was difficult to sprinkle her evenly. She sort of came out in smallish doses, and I was trying to make sure I kept some of her for the ride back. I didn’t want to lose all of her in the drink, so I was being cautious. Finally I managed to accomplish a long pour; her ashes rippled and danced up on the water, and the sea made a gentle fizzing sound. There was a deep power in the moment, and for a second it was as if I could see deep in to the waters and I felt life all around me. The water was green and blue and the ashes turned the water yellow and they hovered near the top, spreading slowly and twisting slightly. I watched as she fell behind us, and I managed to keep a few good fistfuls of her in the bag when I stopped pouring. I felt hands around me pulling me back in to the cockpit of the boat.

We played a few more songs. Jennifer sang “Crossing the Bar”, a Tennyson poem set to music that her sister has sent to her. Johnny sang “Blue Skies”, and the sun peeked out. I sang “Here Comes the Sun”, we played an instrumental version of “Greensleeves”, and we ended with a version of “Amazing Grace”. Rich cut the engine on, and we motored up the river to Eleanor’s berth.

We went next door the Arundel Wharf for a big meal. I watched everyone from my end of the table through tears, I could not stop myself from weeping long and quietly.

She’s happy out there, dancing with the porpoises.

Haunted by helicopters

Every time a helicopter flies overhead, I find myself on the verge of tears.

When Pam phoned me, Simone was on her way to the emergency room at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport. I was in the conference room at work in Cambridge. I turned to Adam and simply said, “I have to go.”

I somehow willed the car through Monday early evening rush hour traffic, up the ramps, over the Tobin, up Route 1, on to 95 north. I managed to squeeze and dodge and keep forward momentum at all costs, upset, knowing I was upset, knowing that I had to drive safely, but knowing that Simone’s life was hanging by a thread and that every minute counted.

The weekend was unusually warm for March, it had been sunny and in the mid-70s. The weather was shifting a little, and with a cooler front moving in, the wind had picked up and was actually tearing at the coast. My car was buffeted on my drive up, it felt like the sun and the wind were both trying to push me off the highway into the hay farms on the east side of I-95 as I rocketed northward.

Pam and Lisa were in the ER reception area, actually more like backstage at the ER, it felt like. There was a social worker, whose name I forget, but she was as kind as she could be to us. We were put in a small private waiting room until we could be told Simone’s status.

We were told that Simone was stable. The bleeding was under control. She was on a medication that kept her immobilized. She needed to be moved to Beth Israel in Boston, immediately. Ordinarily, she would have been flown down in a helicopter, but all flights weere grounded because of the extremely high winds. She was going to have to ride down in an ambulance.

We were brought in to see her as they were prepping her for the trip. She was on a ventilator, so they had to switch around wires and power supplies and IV lines and such. We were introduced to the two men who were going to drive her down and care for her. Again, I forget their names, but at that moment they struck me as the most competent men in the world. Pam asked me if I would be willing to ride down with them, and I bravely said of course I would, but the driver told me that they couldn’t take me on board.

Just before they wheeled Simone to the van, we went over to her. I looked in her eyes, which were half open. I leaned over and spoke to her softly, and told her that these two handsome men were going to take real good care of her, and that she was lucky to be riding with such good-looking guys, and that I wouldn’t be away long, and that I would see her in Boston real soon. I told her I loved her, and how she had really great people looking after her.

The driver told me that they might have to turn on the lights, just to hurry things up and make the ride smoother and quicker. All I could do was nod and wish them good luck. I told them to take care of my baby.

The last time I saw those men was in the downstairs ER receiving area in Boston, at Beth Israel. I thanked them, before we were ushered in to yet another small waiting room.

Fast forward to today.

I work across the river from the Mass General Hospital buiding where the med-evac flights land and take off. Each time I hear a helicopter, I get all trembly, and tears well up a little, and I say a prayer for the pilots and passengers.

I’ll Fly Away

There were many, many high points at Simone’s memorial service on Saturday. In fact, you might even say the whole service was one high point from one end to the other. I cannot begin to thank everyone personally for their help and participation. I’m sure I’ll forget someone who’s dear and close to me and I would never want to hurt anyone, so thanks. You know who you are.

You know how in the Navy, or in the Air Force, when a fighter has fallen and the squad does a fly-over with one position empty? I’m not sure the same thing exists in music. Leave out a part and the harmony is strangely wrong, or the melody is missing – which might prove the point, granted, that some one is missing, but might not pay as much tribute to that person as one might want.

I cried with joy when I would sing in my kitchen with Simone and Johnny. One December evening, we called my mom and sang 3-part carols to her. She wept with delight. I was so proud my chest felt like it was going to burst, and I relived that phone call all night long as I tried to fall asleep.

Simone loved the soundtrack to “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” and we sang “I’ll Fly Away” together whenever the music sort of found itself under my fingers on guitar or mandolin. I’d do it as a duet with her, and if Johnny was around we’d sing trio.

Jennifer took Simone’s place in the flying formation on Saturday, and we sang for Simone, and I could hear a pin drop when we finally stopped and our harmony echoed around for a bit. I know Simone was smiling.