Sunday, April 19, 2015

A faraway farewell

Stadshuset and Riddarholmen Stockholm  |  A faraway farewell on afeathery*nest  |
During my summer internship in NYC the year before I graduated from university I often took the bus out to NJ to visit family on the weekend. Spending long, lazy days at their home felt like being on a proper vacation—there was always something on the grill, Latin music playing from the outdoor speakers so people could salsa on the deck, tons of fluffy beach towels to wrap yourself in after emerging from the pool, and tons of channels to scroll through when the heat and the food and the chlorine got to you and a nice snooze in the air-conditioned house while sprawled on the comfy couch and some action-packed movie or goofy comedy played in the background was required. With lots of other family dropping by toting heaps of covered foil trays piled high with hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken that had been marinating since early morning and every kind of salad and grilled vegetable kebob set-up imaginable, plus gaggles of kids running through the house, it was always a party.

On one of those weekends he was in the garage tuning up one of his motorcycles, the colorful, slick, racing kind, and asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. I shot him a look worthy of my early-twenties know-it-all-ness (which actually outlasted my twenties) and said, "Are you crazy?".

I had grown up in Virginia, where bands of big, brawny men and tough, don't-take-anyone's-nonsense women sat astride Harley's and rumbled their way down the main streets, encouraging cars, trucks, and trailers to move out of the way.

They weren't frightening or aggressive—but they made an impression. The glint of hot summer sunlight off of gleaming steel, the creak of leather pants and vests, and the impenetrable reflecting sunglasses they wore which meant you could never see anyone's eyes all spun an aura of awe around them.

Sometimes they were a bit of a nuisance, though, like when late at night after a rollicking dinner at the barbecue restaurant next to my parent's store a group of friends all strolled out to their motorcycles and simultaneously revved their engines after hopping on. The vibrations would cause everything in their vicinity to tremble, including the glass windows fronting our family business, which would inevitably set off the alarm and cause the police to call our house after midnight, waking everyone up and forcing my dad to stumble out to the garage, get in the car, and drive the 20 minutes each way to shut it off.

So when it came to that July day in New Jersey and a question about whether or not I'd like to ride a motorcycle for the first time I emphatically said no.

But then I was persuaded to give it a try, and after a quick lesson on how to sit, lean, and balance myself on this speed machine that had nothing behind my seat to keep me from flying off of the back, I agreed to let him take me out.

I can't say I had fun the whole time—I was quite terrified at the beginning, but I did have the courage to do it and only because I knew that nothing would happen while he was driving. When we roared back up the driveway he said, "I don't want you to ever ride with any other man...unless you know you can trust him completely."

+ + +

A few years later on a street in Sicily I walked up to R, the owner of the boutique I had met a few hours earlier when I happened inside it, and asked if the motorcycle he was standing beside was his. I asked him because I knew, knew already, that he was someone I could trust.

The next morning R attempted to give me a motorcycle lesson so I could learn how to drive one myself, but after quickly deciding that I'd much rather be a passenger, our lesson turned into a ride down to the beach for lemon granite—with him driving.

Four years later he moved to the US, we got married (not once, but twice), he became an American, and soon after we moved to Stockholm together.

+ + +

Last week my brother called to tell me that he was gone.

I knew the call was coming. I knew there wasn't much time left after the doctors had sent him home. They said there was nothing more they could do for the sickness that was attacking his body.

But knowing that, knowing that after a year of pain he was free of it, didn't help at all. All I knew was that a man that I had been close to growing up, but less so after he and his family moved 4 hours away by plane from NYC and then a few years later we moved abroad, a man that wasn't immediate family technically, but had for the majority of my life been the only and best family I knew, a man that by every count ended up being one of the most important in my life, was gone.

The next morning after brunch with friends in Södermalm, R and I took a long walk up and across to Gamla Stan, around the teeny island of Riddarholmen, crossed over to Kungsholmen and perched ourselves on a bench at the foot of Stadshuset where tour boats were bobbing and we could hear the bells from Kungsholmens church tolling. Sunlight had finally come back to Stockholm and we were completely drenched in it, our faces turned up to the light. I had been quiet as we walked, thinking of him and how I wouldn't be able to say goodbye, not really, at least.

So as we sat I pulled out my headphones and R took out his phone, swiping to his music to play the song I had requested, one that reminded me of him. We each stuck an earbud in and I began singing along as the song started.

And in doing so, I said my goodbye.

Everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

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