We loved to travel together. Explore new places; go back to loved, familiar ones.
We loved to find those cool, funky spaces. The ones that have a magic about them. Where you go and you don’t just see but you feel. Some we found researching; others we stumbled across.
We loved art. Strolling through a sculpture garden. Browsing a store and finding a wonderful piece for our home. Discovering fun garden art while walking the streets.
We loved food. Not fancy food. But good food. We’d always try to find those places that would have something we couldn’t easily get at home. Good seafood (gulf shrimp, mussels). Barbecue joints. Great burgers (your favorite). Quirky pubs. Places with originality. Fun deco. Outside seating.
Traveling with YOU was easy. Effortless. Fun. Full of joy and happiness. Happy moments abound.
WE loved to travel. TOGETHER.
now i am alone. i still travel. i still discover cool, funky spaces.
This past weekend I traveled again. This time to St. Louis, MO. A city we never went to together. One of those new places. Before I went, I wondered whether or not it would be easier to go to a place that held no memories of our together-travels. I thought it would be a place “free” of memories. Devoid of memories. Devoid of YOU. Not like Philly or D.C. or P’town or Germany where memories lurk around every corner. I thought there would be nothing to remind me of YOU and ME. After all, WE had never been there – TOGETHER.
i was wrong. utterly wrong.
If anything, this trip to St. Louis became a Journey of Memory Streams.
Whatever i did, wherever i went – streams of memories flooded me.
As I walk the streets Friday morning, I come across the City Garden. Cool sculptures throughout – a winged horse, a giant statue of Pinocchio, fountains for the kids to splash in. I am transported back to D.C., strolling through the sculpture garden at the mall with our boys and my mom; another time in D.C., you taking the photo of me in front of the giant LOVE sculpture. Statues of two giant bunnies. And my mind takes me to watching ‘Buffy’ with our boys that first summer after you moved to Germany in 2004 to be with me. Anya, the demon-turned-human, was afraid only of one thing – bunnies. So funny! The musical episode, which we loved so much, even has Anya’s Bunny song.
I walk on to see the Arch, thinking about “Defiance”, one the sci-fi TV shows we watched together; a show set in post-apocalyptic St. Louis. I wonder if we would pay to go up to the top of the Arch where in the show young Alec hosts his outlaw radio show. I’m sure we would have gone up. I don’t do it.
Then the Mississippi; music coming from the steamboat docked at its shore. New Orleans – our last just-us-together-travel. Creole-style food and cocktails in a lovely courtyard. Slightly tipsy and so full from the wonderful lunch, we boarded the steamboat Natchez. I see you sitting in the sun, taking photos with your phone as the boat leisurely made its way down the river. I snap a photo of you standing at the rail, smiling at me. We explore the boat. I don’t board this boat.
A helicopter takes-off to take folks around the Arch. In my mind, I see our whole family watching mesmerized as helicopters kept taking off and landing at the Hudson in NYC to take people close up to the Statue of Liberty. Our last family trip. That weekend in October 2015 in NYC. Our last-ever family photo taken right there. You and I and our boys. Arms around each other. Smiling for the camera. We didn’t know it would be our last family photo.
My eyes tear up. I need to sit down, choosing a spot in the shade of a tree overlooking the river. I call on you. Ask you to send me a sign. Show me that YOU are here WITH ME. A round robin flies toward me, perches down in ‘my’ tree, not even five feet away from me. Birds are flying all around me, picking up worms from the warm grounds, never staying long in one spot. This bird. It stays. Sits there for minutes. Chirping away. Is it you? Talking to me? It must be you. Trying to comfort me in my lonely ventures. Looking at this bird, which might be you, talking with it, I feel connected to YOU. And that is what matters.
For lunch, I check out the Sugarfire restaurant, a barbecue place just minutes from the hotel. The smell of smoked meat filling the air. You always said that you could tell if a restaurant would be good or not by the smell of the food filling it. You were always right. This place smells right. Pulled pork, ribs, brisket, burgers. The cole slaw just the way we liked it – juicy and sweet. Yummy potato salad. And I’m sure you would have gotten the creamy-looking mac’ and cheese. You would have taken my photo, me licking my fingers after chomping down on the ribs. As usual most people are inside, preferring the A/C’ed dining room to the outside seating. We always sat outside if we could. Sometimes the only people to eat outside. Now, I’m sitting here alone at the outside table. The food is great. But, oh, it is so lonely. I eat quickly, so I can escape.
The evening takes me to an outdoor festival. A stage for the bands. Music and the chatter of people filling the air. People strolling around, sitting in their folding chairs or on the grass. And my mind transports me back to the times when we would enjoy those festivals together. Carrying our matching blue folding chairs. Germany 2004. Our first outdoor music festival. We snug in beer and chips. When the security officer stopped you, asking you to open your ‘Tasche’, you looked at me uncomprehendingly and said, ‘Babe, he said ‘Tasche’? and he let you through probably thinking, oh, she’s just another stupid American who doesn’t speak German. The ‘Tasche’ (=bag) story became one of our favorite fun-moment stories. How often did we recount it to others and each other? In my mind, I see us sitting under the umbrella in the German summer rain, listening to the Scorpions’ soft ballads, sneaking kisses. I’ll never forget how much in love we felt at that moment. That feeling of absolute bliss. YOU and I – an island of love – just US – amidst the crowd. And now, I sit in the grass, hold on to my plastic cup of red wine. A lonely soul alone by herself – amidst the crowd.
After a day spent in session after session at the conference, I venture out again. And find another cool place. A kind of old-fashioned grocery store; high-ceilings with all kinds of different flags suspended from it. A counter where you can get ice-cream, coffee and other drinks. I order a Vanilla shake – so good – and in my mind, I order the banana split for you. You loved banana splits but would so rarely get one. When I tell our Nik about this, he tells me he didn’t know that you loved them. Now he knows another little snippet about you. Or, maybe, very possibly, you would get the ice-cream with whipped cream and a double shot of espresso. Again, my mind transports me back…this time to Germany. Sitting in the court yard of the Italian Eisdiele (ice cafe), murals on the walls, vines providing shade, and you delighting in German Eiskaffee (not with ice cubes but coffee with ice-cream and whipped cream) and, of course, our obligatory Spaghetti Ice (vanilla ice cream squished through a ricer to make it look like spaghetti, red raspberry sauce on top and shaved white chocolate resembling parmesan cheese). Our favorite.
Later, I go back to this place. They have $5 Bloody Marys, too. And memories stream through me once more. Of all the times when we’d stop on the Cape on our way to P’town for the breakfast buffet and $5 Bloody Marys, so early on a Saturday morning, the beginnings of so many wonderful P’town vacations. And the memories keep coming. Sunday brunches in P’town at Fanizzis by the Sea. Bowls of mussels. And $5 Bloody Marys. Then going back to our condo and hanging out by the pool. You reading, me swimming. Gliding through the crystal clear water side by side. Smiling at each other.
Two doors down from the grocery store is a comic book store. It is June 3 – The new Wonder Woman movie has just come. Wonder Woman! A whole window is decorated in Wonder Woman stuff – re-prints of old comics, the new graphic novel, statues, a banner. You – my/our Wonder Woman. I look at the bracelets on each of my arms. I still wear them. Wonder Woman Helmer. Team Wendy. Inscribed on them. Reminder of those horrible last weeks when you were dying and we hoped so fiercely that you could be Wonder Woman and beat this beast called cancer. Against all odds. A reminder, too, of how much you were loved. By so many. Who came together for you. To support you. In your last days and hours. Wonder Woman. Weekend. I enter the store, want to buy a statue for your memorial table. In my mind, I hear you say, babe, $80 is way too much. Don’t do it. So I don’t. And I know had you been there with me, we would have bought you some of the re-prints of the old comics. And the new graphic novel. And it would have been fun.
I walk on. St. Louis’ City Museum. … My heart almost stops. Even now as I am writing this. Not a museum. A magical place. A giant magical playground. Like a crazy Harry-Potter-kind-of-playground. I go up to the roof top – a yellow school bus seemingly dangling dangerously over the edge of the building (you can go inside, open the door, and look down); a ferris wheel (remember when we rode the ferris wheel at the Heinerfest in Darmstadt and I held on so tightly to you because I am afraid of heights); slides and ropes; weird metal cages that you can climb in. A shallow pool where you can skip across from stone to stone. A stone dragon wrapped around it. You loved dragons. Your inner child. All of a sudden, the dragon’s eye flashes in multiple colors at me. Is it my imagination? Or, is it you. I decide it must be you. YOU. To let me know that you are here. With me. I almost start crying. Again.
As I go up to go down the long white slide, my fingers keep pushing the imaginary pop-out eyes of the little figure that Shannon gave you and that is still on your orange bag. Going up the ramp inside the German Reichstag (parliamentary building), you got a sudden bout of vertigo and kept pressing that little figure. I even have a photo of your hand doing that. My mind also transporting me back to all those times when I’d do something you wouldn’t want to do and you’d sit there and watch me and smile at me and take photos of me. Now there is no one sitting there, watching me, smiling at me, taking photos of me. To go inside, you can go down a 10-story spiraling slide, landing in the ‘caves’ part of the ‘museum.’ Everywhere you can crawl in, crawl up and down and around. A maze of tunnels and caves, walkways, and hidden openings. There. An opening into an ‘underwater’ world. Two giant white whales. Magical mosaics. Mosaics…Memories of our last trip to Philly in 2014 stream through me. Magic Gardens. This magical maze with alleyways and stairs all made of mosaic tiles and glass bottles. Oh, how we loved that place. I filmed and caught about a minute of you actually speaking into the camera, explaining the artist’s process; he calls it ‘blob’, you say. Countless times I have watched this ‘blob’ video now. Hearing your voice. Seeing you pucker your mouth the way you used to do. Seeing you move your hands so expressively as you explain. Taking you in. The photo of you and I taken at Magic Gardens is one of my favorites. Sits on the shelf above the TV. Our heads together in unison. My face lit up with a happy smile. Your goofy grin. Joy.
But now I don’t have YOU to share these magical places and moments with anymore. There is no YOU to create memories with. All that I have now are these streams of memories of YOU AND I and our TOGETHER-TRAVELS.
Maybe in that way the YOU that never again can travel with me, maybe your spirit-soul you can still share these experiences with me somehow. Through me. And maybe when the day comes and our souls will be reunited, all of this will become part of US. Who knows.
I thought St. Louis would be absent of YOU. Instead, wherever I went and whatever I did, these streams of memories kept you as close and connected to me as you possibly could.
YOU were a constant part of the ME.
And, I hope…that I am still a constant part of YOU.