I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Home again

After I learned a week ago today that Emily was gone, I purchased tickets to travel back to Boulder. Because it was Christmas week, the best fares I could find were to travel on the 21st and return on Christmas Day. Any other days would have ratcheted up the cost too much. Smart Guy got up with me at 4:30am on Tuesday and drove me to catch the airport shuttle taking me 100 miles south to the SeaTac Airport. My flight to Denver was uneventful, and I stayed with Sarah and Josh, two skydiving friends who were the bests hosts anybody could have asked for. They have a small menagerie of animals: three cats, a dog, three parrots, and numerous fish tanks. I wrote about their home on my other blog here.

On the day of the memorial service, we were all three of us in a pretty emotional state as we traveled to Mile-Hi Skydiving, where Emily died, and where almost six hundred people had gathered to honor her. If it had not been Christmas week, there would have been more, but although three hundred chairs were set up in the enormous airplane hangar, there were literally hundreds standing in the back, on the sides, trying to find a place to hear her huge extended family tell funny and poignant stories about their beloved cousin, sister, niece. The skydivers were given a chance at a later time to read or tell their own tributes to Emily.

One of our skydiving colleagues does lighting and sound for professional musicians, and he did an incredible job of setting up a fantastic enormous flat screen and creating rotating pictures of Emily's life. He also compiled and edited a beautiful video tribute to her. Much more happened that I documented on my other blog, but here I want to talk about how the experience impacted me, the whole five days out of my life that felt like being in another world.

So many of my old skydiving friends and students were there, all grown up in the sport, and as we hugged and cried together, I kept hearing how much I have been missed. It was gratifying to hear, but the truth of it is that I have changed: Boulder and that Drop Zone are no longer my home. As wonderful as it was to see everyone again, the circumstances made it almost unendurable. I felt every one of my 68 years. Emily's mother Terry is five years younger than me! I left that part of my life behind when I moved here and I never looked back. Now I am a retired senior who makes a few skydives a year, around 50, instead of 250-400 I made each year for fifteen years. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it just as much, but I am no longer an instructor and like it that way. Emily many times told me she was going to take my place, take care of young skydivers and especially young women, like I did. She surpassed anything I had accomplished in everything except the length of time she taught.

The day after the memorial, Christmas Eve Day, Sarah drove me to my old boss' home in Boulder, where I stayed with them, Mickey and Karen, and got to see their beautiful grandchildren, Samal and Danesh, who have changed incredibly in the three years since I saw them last. Mica, their mother, married a man from Kazakhstan, Sayat, and the children are two of the smartest, most accomplished six- and four-year-olds on the planet. Really. Walking into their home where I had been many times felt very comfortable, and they went out of their way to accommodate me.

On Christmas Day, Mickey drove me to the airport in Denver and I had an uneventful flight home. Smart Guy was waiting for me when I got off the plane, and he drove me those 100 miles north to our home in Bellingham. I was too tired to do much other than eat dinner, sit in a chair and doze, and went to bed at 7:00pm. I slept like a log for the first time since Emily died.

And now I am home, with a week of traumatic and joyous memories behind me, and I can pick up my own life again and thank God for all my blessings, which are numerous. I had no idea how foreign Boulder would feel to me, after only three years away. I had lived there for almost forty years, after all! The brilliant sunshine was lovely, but I missed my home environment every day. My skin felt shriveled after only five days in the extremely low humidity, and although I loved the sunshine, I found myself moving away from so much direct sunlight. Everyone has their comfort zone, and I understand why it's hard for some people to have all the grey days and rain of this part of Washington, but for me at this time of my life it feels just right.

As we dropped down through the clouds and circled Seattle, I could see the Space Needle and downtown, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and I knew I had come home, to the place where I belong.

18 comments:

gayle said...

So glad you are back to your HOME!!

gigihawaii said...

not to mention Smart Guy, waiting for you with open arms.

TechnoBabe said...

Just the traveling is tiring, much less the emotional part too. Take care, friend. Glad you are home safe and sound.

Gigi said...

I know that was an exhausting and emotional trip - but it was something you had to do. So glad you are home; safe and sound.

Linda said...

DJan, I am so sorry about the loss of your friend. It seems such a tragedy.

I enjoyed this post and your experience returning to Boulder. I've returned to Texas 3 times in 6 years and everytime found Texas farther into my past. Apparently there's no going back, but it's wonderful when you have no desire to go back, and I don't.

I think you came through this tragedy in a healthy space. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Reeder said...

Oh, yes, I can relate! Not to the loss, but to the homecoming. With as much fun as we are having here, I still will be ready to return home to my Seattle on Monday night. I keep applying lotion on my hands to keep them from cracking. The house has humidifiers, but we are sleeping in a motel two blocks away, and every morning I am dried out.
But while I am here, I am taking a walk every day in the sunshine! By next weekend I will probably be back in the Northwest rain, but it will be a low of 8 and a high of 20 here in Colorado! That's harsh!

Norma Jean said...

There's no place like home...no matter where it may end up being. We establish our comfort zones and that's where it just feel right.

Glad you got to go to her memorial. It sounds like it affirmed her life and yours.

The Retired One said...

I am glad your flight was good...heard on the news about all kinds of backups in flights due to weather related delays.
So glad you feel at home where you are now,...we feel exactly the same way...whenever we get home we feel so grateful.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Glad you are home, wouldn't want you dried up like an old prune:)

Donna B said...

Yes, I can hear it in your writing... Washington is now your home. I am so glad you went to honor Emily. Nothing is as exhausting as emotional grieving. What a trooper Smart Guy is! 100 miles each way! What a guy!!

I find myself so tired this trip to California. We spend the majority of our visit driving in the car, traveling from one family member to another. I wish we could just set up one big party for everyone... in one place!

I still feel like I am straddling a fence... one side is California because my family lives there and the other side is Nevada, where we call "home". I find myself now saying, "we are going home" (to Nevada) yet, I still don't feel it 100%. I long to get off the fence and know which state will be our final place...

I am so glad you are home, safe and sound. We drive back tomorrow morning...

charmine. said...

Glad your home D-Jan.What a week that was!Emily was loved,she lived the way she wanted and died doing what she enjoyed-skydiving.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I guess Thomas Wolfe had it right all along about not being able to go home again. Emily was fortunate to have a role model like you.

PeterDeMan said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful experience Jan, despite the circumstances.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

This was a really meaningful trip for you, to honor Emily and reunite with your friends, and then to realize the degree to which you have moved on. It's always good to know when we have finally and fully settled into a new home.

Grace said...

I'm really sorry to read about the loss of your friend. I know there will be a void for a long time.
It is good that you have a place you feel is home.

Jo said...

I'm glad you're home.

I feel so bad for Emily's family and friends. She was much too young. Much too young...

Sandra said...

I'm sorry for you loss.
This post was beautiful.

Linda Myers said...

You know where your home is now, and where your memories are.

When my plane descends to land over Seattle after a trip, I feel grateful. There's nothing like your home airport!

Welcome home, DJan.