We always flew to see my dad. Flights were reasonable; we only had one child. Every six months, emerging from the monorail tunnel of the terminal into bright Florida light, an immediate sense of anticipation. The swampy grounds, always looking for an alligator, never seeing one. The palm trees, so perfect they seemed false, transplanted, eyes and mind still adjusting, leaving Carolinian sensibilities of what a forest is behind, accepting tropical before believing that you are actually there. The airport, a direct link to my father. We made the journey so many times we no longer had to search signs for the exit, the car rental, the turnpike. We’re here, we said to the bags and each other; You’re here, the airport answered.
Grief is like motherhood. After a while, it just becomes a part of who you are. After a while nobody wants to talk about it; its tinny, all-encompassing vibration dulls. The middle distance of both grief and motherhood is un-noteworthy. It is no longer a thing to be explored, looked at in detail, talked about endlessly. It no longer defines every mood, experience, or relationship you find yourself in, yet you haven’t been immersed in it long enough to regard, or be regarded as, one with wisdom to offer beyond the most accessible horizon. Tell me what motherhood is when your babies have grown. Tell me what grief is when you have.
Do you believe that your father is still with you, a friend recently asked. I believe his love for me is imprinted on my very cells, I answered, but he is in Florida, which is why I still go to him.
We drive to Florida now. Like motherhood, like grief, the transition from where you began to where you will be is slower. I need the ground to pass beneath me, the temperature to creep up slowly by degrees. I need to see the landscape change, to mark my journey in hours and miles. I need to feel my breathing deepen, to step out of the car in northern Georgia and lift my head to the sky, eyes closed, ready to shed jackets and worry. I need to pass the halfway mark and feel gratitude for the sun and my life. Before I can get all the way there, I need to bask in the middle distance.