Monday, January 31, 2011

the grief tour: stops nos 1-4

I've lived with Bryan's urn for months-- the sight of that neat black box with his name and date of death printed on the lid has become familiar, comfortable. The thought of opening it and confronting his remains has been frightening, however. I didn't want the first time I opened the urn to be in Morocco, alone. This week my friend Reid was in town and I proposed a Bryan tour of Flint: the places we think of him happiest, the settings of the memories we cherish most.

Friday, my sister, Reid and I took the urn and got in the car. I brought along the Kool Aid packets left in the kitchen when Bryan died. Kool Aid was one of his shameless indulgences, like box mac n' cheese and tacky classic rock songs on the radio. When he died, I couldn't bring myself to part with those packets. At each stop we would scatter a little bit of the ashes with a packet of Kool Aid.

no. 1: Augusta

 Bryan's family moved off Augusta and out of Flint years ago, after his father's remarriage. Through high school it was the place we gathered. Bryan and Reid and a shifting crew of others playing music in the basement, Parry and I on the steps. Bryan's eternally messy bedroom with the kitsch bird wallpaper and the posters of John Lennon and Bob Marley. Chance, the family's fat, asthmatic Maltese ever wheezing on the sofa. I had my first kiss in that house. My first "I love you."

The new owner kindly listened to us explain and gave us permission. We sprinkled the ashes (and Kool Aid) in the backyard.

no. 2: Doyle Ryder
According to legend, Bryan was kicked out of kindergarten his first day. "Don't bring him back here," the teacher told his anxious father. "There's nothing I can teach him." Bryan was sent to the Gifted Program at Doyle Ryder, where he famously cowrote a play about JFK in fifth grade, discovered Nirvana and created a series of ceramics called Hawaiian Grannies.

Reid chose the big tree at the far end of the play ground as our site. It was here, he said, their group made its beeline at every recess: the most secluded possible place to light matches and swear.

Through grief, I've enjoyed those moments I get to learn something about Bryan: memories I don't have, moments in Bryan's history I wasn't there. I like being given things to imagine.

  no. 3: Flint Farmers' Market
Bryan and I had our first and last dates here. When we began talking again the summer of 2009, he mentioned he had never been to the Farmers' Market. I insisted he had to. I remember little about the walk through the market, but I remember the walk across the parking lot. A car pulling out of a spot, Bryan walking in front of me, and how I reached out and touched the small of his back. The car was the excuse, but it was a necessary first move. A first touch daring a touch-back.

Our last trip to the market was the Saturday before he died. When we pulled in Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator" was on the radio, and Bryan insisted we stay in the car until it was finished. It was one of those songs Bryan sang to tease me-- the kind of thing I found unbearably bad. "Love in an elevator, living it up when I'm going down..."

Lunch break: Halo Burger, Saginaw Street.

no. 4: Montclair
Through our high school years, if we weren't at Bryan's house, we were at Parry's. In Bryan's last months, Parry was home again for a brief interlude before grad school, and it became a place to gather again.

Bryan passed away here, and for me, at least, it seemed appropriate. I met Bryan through Parry; I saw him the last time here. The circle of our brief years together closed in.

By the end of the day the ashes were less scary. Familiar now, comfortable. Scattered over stories, two of my favorite people laughing and remembering how good Bryan was to know. How good he was to grow up with.

I feel prepared to handle this alone.


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  2. Thank you for sharing - how incredibly touching and beautiful. Blessings and peace to all.