Let's see... where did I leave off...
Oh yes - back in Buffalo. The kids and I stayed in the little apartment above Matt's aunt and uncle's farmhouse where his Grandma Munn used to live - on the dairy farm in our old neighborhood. So peaceful and wholesome. Grandma Munn was such an awesome lady. I'm so thankful I got to know her, and I'm somewhat comforted that she's up there with Matt. She passed away four days after we were married. We were fortunate to get some nice pictures taken with her on our wedding day, at her home.
It was perfect for the kids and I, and we were so comfortable there. I also liked it because it was comforting to be staying where she lived - it brought me just a little closer to her and Matt. The kids had such a blast hanging out with their cousins who live a few doors down, going to the barn to check out the cows and the new baby calf, climbing the hay bales, eating fresh picked sweet corn, playing with the kittens that were being nursed by their aunt kitty (long story), and the space for Jacob to ride his borrowed bike on grassy hills, stone paths and mud puddles. With the kids being just one year older since the last time we were here, it made it so much easier for me and more fun for them.
The whole time I anticipated this trip, the question loomed in my mind.... Do I visit the home we built together? If I do, should I dare go in? Will I be a blubbering mess? Will I be sorry that I did because I might hate whatever changes they made?
The first time I drove by the house, I was on my way to Rick and Mary's farm. I had to drive by since it was on the way, and before I got there, I asked myself, "Do I turn into the driveway, or just keep going? Pull in, or keep going???" Before I answered the question, I found myself pulling into the driveway. No one was home. The kids and I just sat in the car for a few minutes while I looked at the outside of the house. I looked at the siding. The siding Matt put in, piece by piece. I looked at the spot where Matt had to replace the one strip because a ball or something - now that I think about it, it could have been a bike tire (Matt's or Jacob's) crashing into it and cracking the siding. Anyway, I looked at that spot, knowing the crack that was there not long before. I looked at the overhangs. The porch railings. Looked at the spot in the front where Matt used to plant impatiens and tulips, now covered with stone. I looked at the hill where Jacob and his cousins used to ride their bikes. The garage doors that used to be open all the time with Matt working in the garage - usually building something or fixing something. The shed that three generations of Row boys worked on together. The house is missing the life we brought to it. The life that would still be missing even if the kids and I stayed. I was frozen in thought for a while, and then finally pulled away. I brought the paperwork for the tractor. I had been holding on to that with the intentions of mailing it to the new owners from day one, but not getting around to it, I decided to just bring it out with me. That way, I could use that as an excuse for why I stopped by to see the house while in town. If I saw anyone home while I was visiting, I would have the paperwork in the car already so I could pop in. A very handy opening to an awkward situation.
One of the things I just remembered was when Matt put in the lantern halfway up the driveway, he anchored it with a cement base. I have an extremely vivid memory (which doesn't happen often) of him finishing up the cementing and putting the pole in. The kids and I put our hand prints into the soft cement. I told Matt we were done and that he should do his next. He wouldn't. I looked down at our hand prints, and it just seemed so wrong to have the three of ours there, but not his. I left a space for him to put his hands in. I asked him why not, and either he didn't answer or I don't remember the answer, but no matter how much I tried to get him to put his hands in there, he wouldn't. It was really upsetting to me. Little did I know how fucking symbolic that would be.
The kids and I so thoroughly enjoyed spending time with friends and family we've missed so much. It was tough (and exhausting) to try to make sure we weren't leaving anyone out, but I know there were many we didn't get to see or spend enough time with. We had a chance to visit The Gow School where we worked for years to see everyone there. They were always like our second family. They have a memorial garden in Matt's honor that is just beautiful. My intentions were to visit Gow at least twice while we were in town, but that didn't end up happening, and my one visit there was totally rushed so I could make an appointment with my life insurance agent (finally getting that in place). Life insurance people - no matter how young you are, if you have a family, GET SOME. I know plenty of young widows and their children who are struggling to make ends meet because of their spouse not having life insurance. That should be the least of their worries when also trying to survive and function after losing their loved one. Trust me.
It was a struggle to get up out of the bed in the morning while there. I didn't expect that. Knowing we were in Buffalo another day without Matt - it was as hard as I imagined it would be. It felt so wrong to be there without him (I was still in shock at the time I moved, so I don't think that concept had a chance to really sink in). Yet, I could feel him with us at times, and there were times it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
I made it a point to visit some of the places Jacob has the most memories. We went to one of the places in town where Matt and Jacob would ride their bikes together. There is a little trail with a "jump" behind the pizza place we used to order our pizza from that held a lot of memories for Jacob. Sydney, Jacob and I went there and walked along that trail, walked on the little hill that's the "jump," and went up a bit further to the railroad tracks that Jacob loves so much. They, too, hold memories for him with his daddy. We went to the Red Caboose ice cream place that's near there and also to the park we used to go to all the time. We went to another ice cream place in town that we used to go to with Matt. They have great hot fudge...
I have to say, I gorged myself on pizza, wings, hot dogs, home cooking and soft serve ice cream - just like I intended. My stomach was KILLING me for pretty much the entire trip, but it was SO worth the pain.
One day, we were on our way to meet our friends to go to a picnic, and I saw that the garage doors were open to my house. The kids and I pulled in, and the owner was on the John Deere tractor I brought the papers for. He was mowing the lawn, like Matt used to always do. I waved him up to the house and when he killed the motor, I introduced myself. He was surprised, and seemed happy to meet me. He invited me in and without much hesitation, I said sure. The kids and I went into the house and also met his fiance (I don't know if they've gotten married since I sold the house to them, but they were engaged when they bought the house, like Matt and I were when we built it). They are a very sweet couple who adore their new home, and appreciate where it came from. They appreciate the quality of workmanship that Matt put into it. I gave them some history on the house, and Jacob told them about the raspberry bushes they didn't know existed up the hill. They said they didn't have to do anything to the house after moving in, but paint some of the rooms their desired colors. I was pleased with the colors they chose - I think they compliment the house really well, and the furniture they have in it looks beautiful. I felt good going into the house and seeing what it looks like now, and that it's being loved and appreciated. Jacob felt comfortable there and made himself at home, lounging on their chair in the living room, and Sydney mooched some grapes from them, too. I didn't bawl like I thought I would, either. I told them the next time I come to town, I'll bring the photo albums of when we built the house - we have pictures from before Matt was the one-man bulldozer and cleared the land, to the finished product. And the paint war in between... We had so much fun building that house, and it was probably a true test to whether or not we could last the duration.
I did a really great job of repressing my emotions for the majority of the time I spent in Buffalo, except for one or two brief moments. Like when I was at the Run for Row, and one of Matt's former co-workers came up to me after the race. He sat down to talk to me - I never met him before. He said he worked at Cameron while Matt worked there, but now he doesn't work for them anymore, but many in his family still do. He was in charge of the first machine Matt was testing the night he was killed. That one was getting tested until midnight. As he was talking to me, I tried so hard to really hear him and listen to his words, but my thoughts kept interrupting. As he was telling me how much he admired Matt's work ethic, blah blah blah, I was thinking, "couldn't you have done something like tell him he should go home? Cover the shift for him that he was covering for Rob? Have something come up with your machine so he wouldn't have to test the next one that killed him?" I don't know what the expression was on my face, but he ended the conversation by saying how nice it was to meet me, and he got choked up as he said goodbye. After he walked away, I lost it. I'm always happy to get to talk to the people Matt was with last before he died and to hear little bits and pieces of his last moments, but at the same time, it's so hard. And it brings me right back to wanting to be Superman and fly around the Earth at warped speed to turn back the time to somehow change the course of events.
Since the moment I made my decision to move to California five months after his death, I haven't looked back or doubted my decision. Things just seemed to fall into place to make it possible, and it felt right. Before I left for Buffalo for this visit, I wondered if it would plant the seed of doubt. If I would get there and feel like, "What the hell did I do??? Why would I leave our home? Our life here?" I had one very brief moment of that, but more defining moments that confirmed for me that I made the right decision. I think our next trip back will be a lot easier.
What I didn't expect was when I returned home to California, the sense of closure I felt at "returning to the scene of the crime." Closure, in the way that as wonderful as it was to go back and visit, my home is here now. Maybe there will be a time years from now that I'll decide to move back - I've changed my mind before (for instance, when Matt first died, I vowed I would NEVER leave our home). Or maybe I'll decide to live somewhere completely different. But for now, I love Pasadena, and I think it loves me.