There is a story after the story of my brother Mark's death. Of course. There is always one more story. My mother and my other brother, Steve, decided that cremation was the best way. So, after that long, grief-stricken week in DC, there was the issue of what to do with his remains. It was my brother Steve's idea that he would release the ashes to the mountains in Massachusetts.
The plan was to do it on Mark's 58th birthday, Aug. 3rd. I couldn't be there, so on that day I made plans to hike up Elk Mountain at exactly the same time, to find a place where I could at least be with them both in spirit.
I drove my brother's truck out there, and listened to a CD of Mark's eclectic iTunes playlist along the way. I laughed and I cried as I drove and sang along to Bob Dylan's "Jokerman", then "Oh Very Young" By Cat Stevens (oh very young, what will you leave us this time? you're only dancing on this earth for a short while), "Cover of The Rolling Stone" (we keep gettin' richer but we can't get our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone!), The Hollies (all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you), "Spirit in the Sky" (my favorite all-time funeral song), and, just to twist things up, Steppenwolf's "The Pusherman."
Someone on the outside looking in might have thought I was crazy. The truth is, I was a little crazy.
Along the way, I noticed the signs at the Refuge that warned to NEVER HIKE ALONE. Flashbacks of my friend and I getting lost, Lucy and Ethyl-style, and going off-trail on that same mountain nagged at me, and distracted me from the zone I wanted to stay in. I called Pam and told her to send out a posse if she didn't hear from me in a couple of hours. And this time, I brought water and my cell phone.
I needed the water. It was 110 degrees that day, and mine and Steve's target time was straight up at noon, Central. There was one other car at the base of the mountain as I headed up, although I couldn't see or hear anyone. Briefly I considered the odds of me and a serial killer being on the same mountain at the same time, but I pressed on.
I hiked about halfway up and made it to a clearing. I went off the trail, making visual mental notes of landmarks along the way. The first clearing wasn't quite right. I tried to settle in, but I wanted to be facing due northeast, and this place was more to the north. I back-tracked and went higher up. I hiked over some rocks, headed toward the edge of the mountain, and found my spot, where I sat down and waited for a text from Steve. I was about 20 minutes early, and it was blazing hot. At that hour there was no escape from the sun. And quiet? There was no fear of the serial killer sneaking up on me. I could hear the grasshoppers jumping.
I did finally hear the serial killer and his friend way over the distance, but they weren't crazy like me and moved on down the trail.
I can't tell you where my mind went. All over the place, I guess. I cried some, and prayed, and visualized what my brother Steve was going through, and my brother Mark, as he was released into the universe, free from the burdens that we all suffer from.
I got the text, said one last prayer and got up. Soaking wet, I found my trail, went down the mountain and back to the truck, and drove home to my family, to my life. It was over. The peace I was seeking found me, to an extent. There was some closure.
That is just one more story behind the story. Turns out there are many. That is one of the measures of a life, I suppose.