My friend Bruce died in 2009.
At his memorial service, I helped myself to a packet of his ashes. Packets were tucked into envelopes along with a picture of Bruce. Joan, his widow, invited guests to help themselves, and scatter his ashes as they saw fit.
I took a packet, not knowing what I’d do with them. I thought about flushing them down the toilet at Jimmy’s, which is where a lot of us ended up after the service. I thought about bringing them to France with me last year, then scattering them into the Seine, or dumping them into one of the fountains at Versailles.
I remembered how he would bring me back cartons of cigarettes whenever I’d housesit for him and Joan when they’d go on vacation. I did most of my important college era smoking with him, usually on his back porch, talking to Joan while she worked in the kichen, petting a passing cat or dog. I’d come home covered in cat hair and whatever cigarette ash didn’t make it into one of the dozens of ashtrays in their home.
Since I’ve had all this free time on my hands, I’ve had a lot of time to think. And when I say “think” I mean “miss people I don’t see much of anymore”. Chief among those people is Bruce. Which really fucking sucks. I can’t fix the missing bit by just taking the bus down to Hyde Park to see him, Joan, the girls, and the animals. Offer my apologies for my extended absence. Catch them up. Promise not to stay away so long again. If I turn up on the back porch, the swinging bench will still be there. So will the plastic lawn chairs, the squirrels nest he built into the screens years ago, and the girls’ toys. Bruce is gone.
But Hyde Park is still there. It’s always there, and I think I’m always there, too. Whenever I am feeling low, I find it consoling to go there. I don’t think it’s reliving my past, which wasn’t entirely glorious. It’s comfort travel. Like comfort food. And lately I’ve been in need of some comfort. So on Sunday I went on a little day trip to the south side, and I took what was left of Bruce with me.
I took the bus down to the Museum of Science Industry. The bus was practically empty, though I did notice famed U of C professor David Bevington riding. He read the New York Times.
I walked around the museum to Columbia Basin, then over the bridge to Wooded Island. There were people fishing on the bridge. I don’t know if they caught anything. I found Osaka Garden, where a few couples sat on rocks holding hands. I sat alone under the pavilion. The wind was quiet.
I thought about taking one of the birding paths south through the park, but there were some sketchy looking dudes sitting on a bench nearby and I decided not to continue. I left the park and walked west on the Midway. I found this circular depression in the middle of Stony Island Avenue, bordered by paving stones and flowers and trees. The grass was thick under my feet. I thought about scattering Bruce’s ashes here, but it felt weird to do so with a couple of students sunning themselves 30 feet away, and a middle aged couple napping on the far end of the circle.
I got up and walked further on the Midway, until I got to Blackstone. Turning north on Blackstone, I took that until 58th Street, and turned left. I stopped next to Lillie House, where I worked for a time, took a picture, uploaded that picture to Facebook
It was important to walk on 58th Street because that was where Bruce walked to and from work every day. I’d see him walking along and I knew I could always catch up to talk, cadge a smoke or a dinner invite. But there was no Bruce. I looked around some more. There was nobody, just the street, and nowhere to go but forward.