Two years ago, I was saddened–bothered, even–when I found an old camping percolator and cups while trying to do some organizing in the old apartment. It had been a punch-in-gut reminder that I’d never camp with Ken again. I’d never be able to enjoy the thing he introduced me to again with him–or without him, for that matter. The memories and the loss tugged at an already fractured heart, so. I tucked that percolator away near the rest of the camping supplies and didn’t think about it again until I moved in January. Even then, it still bugged me that I’d never get to use it. For Ken. And for me. I even considered getting rid of the camping stuff since I was moving to a smaller place. But I didn’t. Couldn’t.
The percolator had been a gift from my friend Kathy to Ken after she camped with us on our iconic Ojai trip in 2005. She saw what we had for making coffee: pouring boiling hot water out of a tin pan into a coffee filter, teetering on top of a glass pitcher–as not ideal. Dangerous even. I’d only done it a few times and always burned something: my hand…my leg…Ken’s hand…Ken’s leg. It wasn’t pretty (unless I was lucky enough to splash on the prosthetic one.) The percolator was ideal. And vintage!
In all the ways life can give you unpleasant surprises, she can be just as good at delivering sweet ones. I made a new friend last year. Someone who camps. And when we found out that the other camped, we threw around the idea of getting out of town for a long weekend to do so. So, we did just that a few of weekends ago.
It was exciting to gather the camping gear and prep it for actual use! I hadn’t disturbed most of it which was last lovingly packed away by Ken’s hand after our trip to Ojai. It was a litmus test of sorts. I wondered if I would be opening a not-yet-healed wound. Though always nostalgic to see things and touch things he touched, I was mostly excited and impressed by all the things he’d thought of (toilet paper, aluminum foil, salt and pepper and on and on). He took great pleasure in being prepared and in taking care of us. And even now, he still made my first foray back into camping easier. He’s still taking care of me.
Sure, it took a little more time to set up the tent and required another person (thanks, José!) to actually make it happen, but, hey, it had been more than a decade since it had been unfurled (except the week before camping when I freaked and tried to set it up in my living room…unsuccessfully…due to space constraints.) But it was in perfect condition and felt as cozy as it ever did. Although the last time I slept in it, there was no such thing as an iPad and streaming Netflix to lull me to sleep. (I really know how to rough it!)
I wondered if this camping trip would be difficult. It’s easy for me to fall down Ken-laden rabbit holes when doing things so closely associated with him. I wondered if it would be sad. Or hurt. Or make me miss him all the more. Fact is, all those things happened. And happen regularly. You can’t share what we did and not long for it…forever. But, those feelings don’t hijack and derail me much anymore.
This trip was fun. And exhausting. (I can’t remember the last time I spent any time whatsoever on a bicycle.) But mostly fun, and it served as a confidence-building reminder about the healing effects of time. And how far I’ve come. No doubt, Ken is always with me. In my mind and heart and memory. He still weighs in on important decisions I contemplate. He still surprises me when I blurt out something he would have said or stumble across a photograph I’d forgotten about. He’s with me in ways I can’t even articulate.
For me, this was another iconic camping trip. And certainly not my last.