The days, unwritten, are a blur. The photos help, but it's strange - now - how the fullness of these days has tipped the scales, the content of them nearly toppling me. My heart has been perilously close to breaking. The good kind, where you can't believe your luck at having witnessed and been included in so much.
The kids at Neighborhood house and their patient listening and their brilliant questions and the way they took turns and watched each other type. When we returned, later, to give them a typewriter of their own, because we didn't want them to just have the memory of it. How the tactile and the sensory matters. How we need to feel things in our hands to know them.
Walking the Capitol circle in a daze. Sips from Amy's root beer at lunch. Turning into a tourist for the afternoon. The surprise of the wind and the chill. Watching Stef drink her beer at the Terrace. Returning to Nannyberry drive for lasagna and fruit salad. Ava, later, in the living room, asking for the typewriter. The stories she is carrying, dissecting, dismantling, keeping safe.
Leaving Fitchburg for Evansville. The quiet, perfect, not-quite-long-enough ride. Little libraries like breadcrumbs. The roads, empty, and that feeling of reverence and humility when you realize how big the world really is, and at the same time so wonderfully intimate and proximate. How sometimes it's like you can reach out and touch everything at once.
A tiny red barn. A tiny blue police box. Alice in Wonderland. Amy F.'s hug. Her tea set. The lace tablecloth. The paintings in her studio and the slow, deliberate healing that comes from making art. Victoria's Hermes Rocket. Laura and her sign. The welcome and exuberance. All those kids on the lawn. Poems made out of blocks. A rainstorm that didn't come. The parting gift of lavender scones. Driving to the last campground. Driving to the last supper. Downtown Albany, Wisconsin and main street under construction. French fries split into four. Chicken strips and barbecue sauce. The sky dimpled with clouds. Hoping for a good night's sleep that didn't quite come.
But how the last morning arrived, sweet and undisturbed, through the window. That particular light that tells you, "Don't hurry. Take this in."
Shower and departure and the note Stef left on the chalkboard. And again, a quiet, perfect, not-quite-long-enough ride. The first stop in Beckman Mill and Spencer's great-uncle arriving at the exact same time. The Stateline Spinners and the circle they formed around us as we road into Beloit. The strange sensation of those final 10 miles. City limits and timing winding down too fast. Deep breaths. A bridge crossing. The faces of friends, like home. Sherry's squeal and her signs. Laurie and her eyes brimming. Kirsten and her quiet pride and awe. Bursting into tears at the sight of my sister, my nephew, my niece. Love like a kind of exhaustion. How I had to lean against the railing. The Rotary Club welcome. Rick's introduction. Amy & I, telling the story again, the words almost running out. The lineup after. Poems on benches until the very last one. The sling of the cape over Amy's shoulder. Eli's word for us: "inspirational." His otherworldly patience and attention. Teia and her shoes she wore just for us.
Our suite at Ironworks overflowing with gifts. My parents arriving with my brother. Amy's family in the parking lot. How the end turned into a beginning.
And here's where the story changes. And here's where the story doesn't change at all.
A wedding. Our wedding. What we've been waiting for. What we've been carrying. The journey of all journeys. How the road has been stretching and narrowing all at once. What arrival means when this is the place you've been moving toward.
How can I ever put this into words? The last days. The last moments. The last campground. The last event. The last poems. The last library. The last ride. The last 8 miles. The last the last the last.
The Eager Public Library welcomed us with open arms and the sweetest poetry picnic. Laura Damon-Moore designed a wonderful afternoon. Blankets on the ground, typewriters on the blankets, black-out poetry, secret message poetry, tandem poetry, bicycles, kids, dogs, adults, friends, neighbors, library patrons, stacks of books, a new gorgeous Little Free Library, laughter, stories, hope. It felt old-fashioned. It felt timeless. It felt like the softest landing.
And then Sweet Mini-HaHa Campground. A sweet site by the river. Putting up a tent amidst peals of laughter. Dinner and sipping Two Women at Dam Near Home in Albany. Dollars on the ceiling. Sweet friendship. Sweet easy friendship. The last moments. Noisy campers at the site nearby. A sleepless night. A sunny morning.
Early rise. Gearing up for the last ride. Putting on the cape for the last time. The last sweet goodbye wave from Stef. 25 miles to go. 24. 23. 22. 21. 20. 19. 18. 17. 16. 15. 14. 13. 12. 11. 10. 9. . . .
The Stateside Spinners are going to meet us at Beckman Mill to shepherd us into Beloit. At the exact moment we make the turn to the mill, we are miraculously greeted by Brock Spencer, retired Beloit College chemistry professor and great-uncle of Spencer Collins - the boy we met in Leawood, Kansas, whose Little Free Library was made famous when the town council ordered it to be removed.
After quick introductions and a few photos of the whole group, Brock and the Spinners ride with us those last 8 miles into Beloit. It was exhilerating and exhausting. We were anxious to see our friends and family who had arrived in time for our last event. And we were wishing time would slow down a little so we could relish the sweetness of these last few moments. Then suddenly Riverside Park came into view. Then suddenly Jen came into view. And Danielle. And Sherry and Laurie and Kirsten. And Penelope and Kadison. And Grace. And Stef. They were cheering and clapping and crying. And then we were enveloped in their arms. And we were finally shedding the tears we had held for the last few days. For the last few months. The sweet tears of accomplishment. The sweet tears of pride. The sweet tears of joy and camaraderie and love. The sweet tears of relief.
The last mile. An extra mile to the Poetry Garden. Mariam comes into view. Mikhal and Ron and Teia and Eli. The tiniest costumed dancers. The Rotary Club members. Strangers. Friends. Jane Fossum. Rick West. Rick Brooks. This big welcome. The last words. This sweet “homecoming.” This moment. And this moment. And this moment. The last the last the last.
And then the first. . . .