Nothing is easy with Ben. He says the same about me. We are both right. In his typical way, I received a text on Friday: “I need you for 30 minutes sometime between now and Sunday.” Knowing he doesn’t like small talk, I replied with the following: “7 am Sunday at your house.” I pulled up to Ben’s house on Sunday at 7:07. Why was I late? I felt it would only be right to show up late for my last workout with him. I rolled up to see a moving truck parked on the street, and Ben walking toward me holding a very long pole saw. He only needed a black cloak and he’d be the grim reaper. He opened the hatch and put the saw in the car, carefully as to not decapitate Phoebe who looked curiously on. “Drive,” he said. “Where?” Two words emerged, “The bench.”
Ben and I didn’t talk much enroute. When we got to the bench, we sat. Ben has a few rules. One of which is “no sitting on the bench.” He means the bench in the gym but sitting on any object that isn’t the ground is unfamiliar with Ben. Our conversation was about Horseshoe Lake. While many in Shaker Heights are upset with the damn being removed, we love the “return to nature” of the lake. It’s been less than a year and the land is already taking its biological state. We sat for a while until Ben said the magical words: “Let’s Go!”
We walked east down the path. As we passed our friend Nate’s bench, he guided us toward the preserve. Phoebe was excited because we were going “off road.” We hit a small trail that Ben has been maintaining since he arrived in Shaker. The trail isn’t long (I believe the path is miles and winds in and out of pathway) but it’s somewhat challenging to someone like me who uses walking poles. We must have been a sight. I’m a large dude with poles walking with a dog and another guy holding an 8-foot-long pole saw, through the woods.
As we meandered, we came upon a tree with an underwhelming branch. Ben pulled out the pole saw and cut down the world’s smallest branch to reveal a metal sign. “Jake’s Trail.” I would have started to cry immediately if it weren’t for my initial chuckle thinking about Ben bringing a huge saw to cut something down that Phoebe could have gnawed off in two seconds. ONLY BEN. He then explained the story behind “Jake’s Trail.” Ben ran the trail Saturday and submitted it to https://fastestknowntime.com/. FKT is a website dedicated to adventurers who want to set courses throughout the world that others can attempt to race and beat the current best time. While not the longest or most difficult trail, it’s meaning is special. He set two rules: It must be run counterclockwise, so you must see the sign. Must start at the bench so the end of the run is uphill as a reminder that Jacob battled uphill at the end. He did it beautifully.
Ben and I then looked at one another and cried. The tension of the morning was broken, and our conversation got real. We just told one another that we loved each other and that I’d come and visit. I told him I’d come see him when I lose 50 pounds. He said come any way I am. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a resignation of defeat but a welcoming of spirit and love. It’s not easy for Ben and me. We are two difficult people for totally different reasons, and it’s perfect!
Today, on Ben’s departure date, Jacob has been gone 1 ½ years. I don’t know how we’ve moved forward but we have. Ana continues to show her spirit with every step she takes. She takes his strength and blends it with hers. I admire her for so many reasons. The past 18 months has been mired in darkness and light, grief and joy, and tears and laughter. I’ve learned that grief the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While I agree that these are five emotions I have, they are fluid. Some moments I accept Jacob’s death. Other moments I am depressed and angry. Grief is never-ending cycle of emotions. I miss Jacob on so many levels and I am fighting regret with Ben’s leaving.
Death and separating, while different, carry similar stockpiles. I miss Jacob. Acceptance isn’t quite here today. So long, my friends.