I love driving up the Northway. I love the moment I enter the Adirondack Park. Today the tiny leaves on the white birches were emerging in their lime green glory. Mist hung low on the cliff faces. Cold foamy water gushed from crevices. Rain splattered against my windshield while I sang along, badly, to a mix my son had made me.
All the way to Plattsburgh, then onto the Old Military Turnpike, heading to Malone. I’ve been in Malone several times over the last few years, mostly to work on my mother’s estate madness. Usually, I am driving with Brother Bob; he prefers the road through Dannemora and along Chazy Lake, down Lyon Mountain, edging by Chateaugay Lake, into Brainardsville, then down the hill into Malone. Today, I chose my old standard route from Plattsburgh to Ellenburg to Chateaugay. I have not driven it alone in a long time. It is my road of broken dreams.
In 1988, my husband lay paralyzed in the intensive care unit of CVPH in Plattsburgh. My children were in the care of my parents in Malone. I lived on the nursing home floor of CVPH, but I spent 18-20 hours a day in the ICU. The staff gifted me with my own raspberry scrubs, I had become almost a fixture. I cleaned his tracheotomy tube, I did his exercises and one warm July night, I washed his hair while a team of nurses held his head, unattached from the halo that kept his spine in traction.
I tried to slip away from the hospital on good days to visit my children. I hated for them to always see me, tired and worn with worry, in the hospital cafeteria or lobby; they were not allowed into the ICU. I would hop in my suburban mom mini-van and head down the Old Military Turnpike to Malone. There were no cell phones in those days, no laptop computers. I drove in isolation. My thoughts kept me company, but my daydreams were turning to nightmares. Invariably, I would arrive in Malone to find a message from the hospital to return immediately. One day I walked in to a ringing phone, I never even saw my kids before I turned and walked out the door to speed back to CVPH.
I found my old favorite radio station from Montreal, SHOM-FM for musical respite on those lonely trips. That summer, they kept playing “The Legend of Jack and Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp. He sang “Oh, yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” I fiercely sang along because I could not imagine life continuing if my husband’s did not.
He died and I survived. Life went on. John Cougar had it right, though, the thrill of living was gone. Today’s drive brought me back to those desolate times, with the grey skies, the damaged landscape, the broken pavement. But, if the thrill of living has not returned, at least time has given me the ability to find in each day something, some blessing, some gift, some reason to go on. To live, not just to exist; to move forward. No thrills, perhaps, but small joys, like the glimpse of a hawk winging over the pines. It is enough.