It has been tradition for a good decade and a half now, and this year was going to be no exception. I had to have a summertime meet up with my very best friend, Mindy, or Mila as I like to call her. In years past we have traveled to far away places, each one hotter than the last. She’s a school teacher, so our travels are limited to the summer months. So why not go to Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., Memphis and San Antonio in the sweltering, oppressive, god forsaken, hotter-than-balls heat? Year after year, we’ve been undeterred.
In recent years, things have scaled back a bit as Mindy prepared to send her first born to college. We have set out on a staggering trail of visits to mediocre-at-best Midwestern towns. Places like Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids. Proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every city has a little (sometimes really little) something to offer, at least one passable restaurant, and fun to be had if the two of us are there.
Early this summer I had sent a message to Mindy with all of the weekends that were possibilities. Summers slip past us these days, the velocity and speed intensifying with each passing year. Wisdom tells me when it comes to the non-negotiable summer musts, it is best to book early. Summer will be over in the blink of an eye.
So Mindy got tangled up with little things like getting her son graduated from high school and taking a two week trip to Costa Rica with a group of high school Spanish students. When she returned in early July, she sent a message and inquired, “Are you still free the weekend of July 15-17?” It was only about ten days away, but indeed I was and I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see her. I scanned the map for a new mediocre city, and we landed on La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was a three hour drive for each of us, and someplace we hadn’t been together. On short notice, it simply would have to do.
We arrived on Friday night and didn’t miss a beat. Our time together was comprised of all the usuals – talking for hours on end, Mexican food, booze, raucous laughter and a bit of being ridiculous. On Saturday, went to the stunning shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, did some shopping, had some lunch, nursed a blister on my toe and took a little nap. By the time we got showered and ready to find our way to dinner, the sun was dangerously close to setting. We headed out quickly and made our way to the weekend’s premiere and necessary photo op – The World’s Largest Six Pack.
As is generally always the case in our kind-of-like-an-old-married-couple relationship, I researched and picked the place for dinner. Situated on a bluff overlooking The Mighty Mississippi, the bar and grill I selected had consistent rave reviews. It was busy – even though it was later in the evening – so we plopped ourselves down at the bar in order to patiently wait for a table outside. There were a couple of musicians plunking away in the backdrop and we laughed at their repertoire of music – oldies, then country, then reggae – they had it all. We chatted up the locals and sipped our Spotted Cow. We were in heaven.
The conversation took one of the more serious turns for the weekend as Mindy and I reflected on her joining “The Club” in the last year, membership indicative of having lost a parent. Mindy’s dad had passed a little over a year prior, and she had made it through all the treacherous hurdles of The Year of Firsts. I commented how four days prior had marked the 20 year anniversary of my own father’s passing and how implausible that seemed. How could something feel like a nanosecond ago and an eternity at the same time, I wondered. I told her that I always feel his presence with me and she said she felt the same about her dad. What was strange, I said, was that every year on or right around the anniversary of his death, I hear Dad’s favorite song, Amie by Pure Prairie League. But I hadn’t this year, and I wasn’t sure what was up with that.
Mindy and I finally got seated on the patio and proceeded to order what seemed to be the best fish I ever ate in my entire life. No joke. This was some amazing fish. I don’t even know what they did to it. Maybe the fact that I was really hungry impaired my judgment in some way. Or maybe the fish was really just that good. Truthfully, I may never know.
With my belly full, I looked down at my plate and had one more piece of this most delicious fish left to devour. I almost wasn’t sure I couldn’t do it, but who was I kidding? I could. I reached for it, and Mindy stopped me. “Listen,” she said. “It’s your song.” And yes – right then, right there, I heard it. The two-man band inside a riverside bar and grill in La Crosse, Wisconsin was playing Amie by Pure Prairie League.
You can imagine, I’m sure, that a chill went straight through me. I got goosebumps. I got tears in my eyes – lots of them. I grabbed Mindy’s arm. I accused her of requesting it, even though I knew she hadn’t left my side since we got there. I said over and over that I was so surprised this had happened. And Mindy, my soul mate, my best friend, the one who gets me every time, simply said, “I’m not surprised at all.”
For those of you who are grieving, who are hurt, who have lost and not yet recovered – know this. Even though you can’t see someone, you can’t touch them, you can’t hear their voice – I promise you this: No matter how much you are missing someone after they are gone, they aren’t really gone at all. They are right there with you every step of the way.