Less than six months prior, Cara had undergone major surgery and in fact it had looked like she might not have much time left to live. Instead, the clinical trial she started resulted in a dramatic improvement. One year ago, I'd say she was probably in the best shape of any time post-diagnosis.
That morning, I had to go to the school early to get ready for the ceremonies. I walked to school, as I always did. Cara herself then walked the nearly one mile from our apartment to attend the commencement ceremony. (She normally rode her bike to the school, where she was employed, but on this day she was too dressed up to ride.) During the invocation at commencement, the speaker included a line about how we should appreciate being able to "breathe deep" of our surroundings. He, of course, had no clue how poignant this remark would be to Cara and me. On this day, she was able to breathe very well, after having had so much difficulty breathing not such a long time before.
In between the morning university-wide commencement and the afternoon Graduate Studies diploma ceremony, there was a lunch in the University Hospitals atrium. The food was nothing special, so Cara and I decided to head over to the Hessler Street Fair, one of our favorite annual events. It was a gorgeous day for a walk. At the fair, which is something of a hippie event, we made quite the couple - Cara in her polkadot blue swing dress and me in my fancy Ph.D. robes - and we attracted a lot of attention.
We both got the famous Hessler Street Fair lemonade and we both both pizza from Fire Truck Pizza Co. In fact, we had gone to the fair the previous day and Cara also got pizza that day - it was so good that we had to get it again!
At the diploma ceremony, Cara joined me in walking across the stage as I received my diploma. It was a very exciting moment for both of us, the culmination of a long journey we had taken together, for I was but a first year graduate student when we initially met.
That day is a very good memory.
Someone told me recently that they hoped that with each passing day, things for me were getting just a little easier.
Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the sentiment and am not upset with the person who said it, but I find it a little misplaced. Actually, the idea that things would start to get easier within less than a month of someone losing his wife and best friend seems fairly outlandish. The reality is I miss her more as more time passes. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm wallowing in self-pity, because I'm not, but it's a very hard thing to deal with. There will always be a void in my life. I still have a lot of really great things going for me, even without Cara, and I can be grateful for that, but I can also choose to do all I can to keep her memory and spirit alive. And that I will continue to do, and I will continue to share it with the world.
In many ways I've spent the last few days paying tribute, in my own personal way, to Cara.
Friday was National Bike To Work Day. Cara always rode her bike to work, as long as she was healthy enough. Even last year, while she was undergoing treatment for lung cancer, she rode to work many times. Me? I always walked, until we moved farther up in the Heights last summer, so now I drive. But on Friday I did ride my bike to work. It was raining in the morning, but Cara didn't let a little rain stop her from riding to work, so I didn't either. (This is despite the fact that I once fractured my pelvis in a cycling accident that happened on a wet road. This time, I was very careful!) The local ice cream shop Mitchell's (a place Cara and I enjoyed) was offering one dollar cones for cyclists, so I stopped there before going home in the evening. Fortunately, it was no longer raining.
Saturday brought the first day of this year's Hessler Street Fair. I rode my bike there as well, meeting Jessiye, a good friend of ours (especially Cara's) who Cara had actually first met on Bike To Work Day last May. I got the same lemonade and pizza (a delicious white pizza with bacon and honey) that we had enjoyed last year. Before Jessiye showed up, I also took a little walk in the surrounding neighborhood. I walked by the apartment I lived in when Cara and I started dating. I walked to the stadium at Case's North Residential Village, to the spot where we first held hands.
So many memories.
I took yet another bike ride on Sunday. I had seen that Jukebox, a fairly new bar in Ohio City, had a weekly brunch by a different local chef each week, and this week's chef was Saucisson. That's not the name of a person, it's the name of a company - actually, just two women, "lady butchers" as they like to call themselves, whose products Cara and I loved getting at the local farmer's market. I thought this sounded nice, so I set out on my bike toward the other side of town.
I rode most of the way along the Euclid Corridor, thinking of Cara the whole way. From 2008 to 2011, Cara rode to and from work (downtown at Medical Mutual) on that same bike lane. Over time, she came to despise that job - providing customer service for a health insurance company that is always looking for ways to make more money by denying its customers' claims is a demoralizing task - but that daily commute was so great for her. She found such joy and freedom in those twice-daily five mile rides. I can remember her proudly telling me how her speeds were improving as she rode more and more.
As I entered downtown, I imagined what it was like for Cara to do the same. I rode all the way to East 9th, turned left and rode past the front entrance of her old building, where I had occasionally picked her up at the end of the work day. Then I turned onto Carnegie and crossed the bridge to the West Side.
Riding across that bridge to Ohio City was something else Cara did many times. Unfortunately, due largely to a number of injuries I suffered, it was not something I often joined her in doing. So again, as I crossed the river, I imagined Cara, the wind in her face, looking out at the river and at the city she loved.
Jukebox is in the Hingetown neighborhood of Ohio City, which, in the summer, has a Sunday Market that Cara and I also enjoyed attending. We had never been to the bar itself, which is too bad because it's a neat little place. I got the Corned Beef Hash with Saucisson's corned beef, Cleveland Kraut (another local company that Cara and I enjoyed patronizing at the farmer's market), Montana Girl Mustard (another great local product!), potatoes, and an egg. I also got a Cleveland Mule, a drink with local whiskey, ginger beer, and lime, similar to a drink that Cara sometimes liked to make at home. Both were delicious.
Not surprisingly given the establishment's name, there is a jukebox there with a nice eclectic music selection. I played four songs. First, "I've Got Dreams to Remember" by Otis Redding. I don't think I'd ever heard the original version of this song before; however, there is an Okkervil River song called "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas" that is one of my favorite songs ever, an incredibly nostalgic and emotional tune, and it quotes the chorus of the Redding song. Second was "Home" by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - one of the happiest love songs ever, and a song that Cara and I sung together in the car on the way home from seeing the Magnetic Zeros play a show in Kent. Third was "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case, a song that Cara once put on a mix tape (we used to make mix tapes - well technically mix CDs - for each other). Last, I played "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles, which doesn't actually have a connection to Cara for me but is a very emotional song that was one of my favorites around the time I finished high school and started college. How the years go by...
Of course, I thought of Cara the whole time, but I felt happy. I rode home feeling invigorated. Cara loved riding her bike so much, and even though I didn't ride as often as her, I now appreciate even more what a great feeling it can be. Instead of going directly home, I completed Cara's old route home by riding into Little Italy and past the place we first lived together. I then rode up Mayfield and stopped for frozen yogurt at Piccadilly in Coventry, another place we loved.
It was a weekend full of bike rides. It was also a weekend in which I went to two shows at the Beachland Ballroom, both Saturday and Sunday nights. On Saturday I met our good friend Troy to see local indie rock duo Mr. Gnome (a really great band who I had somehow overlooked for many years!) and on Sunday I went by myself to see singer/songwriter William Fitzsimmons. Although Cara did not go to nearly as many shows as I did, I have many great memories of going to the Beachland with her. Foremost would have to be the annual prom that the Beachland used to hold in May, a chance for adults to dress up and pretend they were kids again (without the hefty price tag). One year, Cara and I were voted the Queen and King of the prom! This was remarkable considering we did not actually know anyone else there, but we must have stood out as an amazing couple.
Another fond memory comes in the fall of 2013, little more than a month after Cara was diagnosed. We saw Okkervil River, my favorite band of all and one that was very significant in our relationship. Cara, at the time, would have gotten too tired from standing for the whole show, so we brought a wheelchair and I wheeled her up to sit front and center below the stage. Although she couldn't stand, she sang her heart out along to some of the songs.
The last time we went to a show at the Beachland together was on my birthday last year. It was a stunning performance by Sharon Van Etten that we both very much enjoyed.
Spending so much time doing things that remind me of Cara is kind of a mixed bag in the emotions it brings, but I think, in the long run, it is better to do this. And it is important for me to share it with other people. I don't want anyone who knew her to ever forget what an extraordinary person she was.
Yesterday I was shocked to learn that the mother-in-law of one of my co-workers had just passed away.
From lung cancer.
Only ten days after being diagnosed.
Life is a very amazing and a very fragile thing.