And sometimes we go backwards, not out of necessity but by choice.
After an hour of sleep and five hours of volunteering at a restaurant, I put on my “Mirror Glasses” as my Dad once called them, and hopped into my car. I was tired, and I knew that, but something told me the day wasn’t over. The weekend prior, my sister had told me something intriguing, and it popped into my head at that very moment. Unbeknownst to me, commemorative benches had been dedicated to both of my mothers. One was in Acton, and one was in Medford, about three minutes from my apartment. I put the car in drive, and set out to see both of them.
I’m not sure why my family loves benches, but I have to admit I like the idea. It’s a place where you can sit, relax, enjoy the view, and have a conversation. My father also has a commemorative bench located in Guilford, New Hampshire, but I had already seen that one. I’d even been there for the dedication ceremony. The sky was dark that and cloudy that day, and the umbrellas we carried were necessary accessories as we stared out at scenic Lake Winnipesaukee. Dad’s family had flown out, and as emotional of a day as it was, it was nice to have everyone there at Dad’s favorite place in the world. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
I had never seen the other benches. In fact, I hadn’t even known that they existed until having dinner with my sister. I wanted to see them right away, and I was also in the mood for a relaxing Sunday drive. I may drive all over greater New England for work, but it’s nice to just cruise on a Sunday, to have the tunes cranked, and to just let your mind wander or be completely clear. It’s always something I’ve found to be therapeutic, and after five hours of hawking used cookware I knew nothing about to an unruly mob, I was ready to unwind.
I arrived at the Discovery Museum in Acton and was greeted by a green dinosaur (not real). The sky was slightly ominous, and I prayed that it would hold off until after I saw the bench. I got out of the car, and noticed right away that there were a lot of kids running around various structures. I think my mother used to take my sister and me here when we were little. Be that as it may, I became acutely aware of the optics of the situation: I was an adult male walking around the campus of this place searching for something, and I had no child in tow. Not wanting anyone to get suspicious and call the cops, I called my sister for directions to the bench.
After walking around the place a few times more, I finally found my mother’s bench. It was behind a temporary fence, and there would be no getting to the other side. A strip of caution tape was tied around the center of it, and the bench itself read, “In Memory of Leslie Heidbreder.” I wanted to get over there, to sit on the bench or at least get a better picture of it. No dice. It started to sprinkle a bit more, and after I snapped a few pictures of the bench, which looked to be rose-colored granite, I got in the car and left.
I was frustrated, but I would not be deterred. There was no way in hell I was going all the way up to New Hampshire today to visit Dad (traffic was always horrendous on beautiful weekends), but at the very least I could go and visit Linda. I had gone to the wrong hospital earlier, and had to again call my sister for directions, which she was kind enough to supply me with. Linda was at Lawrence Memorial hospital in Medford, not Leahy Clinic. I’ll try and remember that.
“Send me a picture of the bench,” my sister said.
I pulled into the parking lot with the sky looking positively menacing, but I’m not sure that I cared. If the rain wanted to come, let it. I was punch-drunk from the lack of sleep, but I was optimistic that I would find this bench, and that I’d be able to sit on it or whatever it was I thought I was going to do. I walked around the entire facility searching for it, inspecting various benches, but none looked anything like Leslie’s. There were various black-metal benches, but nothing that seemed nice enough to be dedicated to anyone special. After about half an hour, I asked the receptionist and security guard in the lobby where it might be.
They both looked at me curiously, and then the receptionist did something I didn’t expect. She picked up the phone and called one of the nurses on staff.
“I think I know someone who might know more about this,” she said with a smile.
I waited in the lobby, and after a few minutes, an older looking nurse came towards me. I thanked the receptionist for her courtesy.
Although the woman didn’t know where the bench was, she knew my stepmother Linda. The woman guided me through the quiet halls of the hospital, and showed me where Linda’s office used to be. “We’ve had a lot of renovations,” she told me. She remembered my father. “He was very tall.” She didn’t bring up the fact that they had both passed, and I appreciated that. Maybe she knew, and maybe she didn’t (okay she definitely did), but it wasn’t going to be discussed today. After feeding me a few more details, she told me that the security guard wouldn’t bother me if I wanted to explore.
I wondered around again, and even spent some time near the garden where Linda used to have a plot. Twenty years ago, each nurse had their own spot to garden, and Linda would grow tomatoes there, among other things. At dinner, she’d cut them into slivers; you’d sprinkle a little salt on them, and eat them like they were candy. I can still taste them if I think about it. Now the garden was thick with overgrowth, and it saddened me to think that this practice had gone by the wayside. I’ve heard gardening can be quite relaxing, but it didn’t seem like anyone had been out here to tend to it in a couple of years.
After an hour and a half of walking around the facility, I called it quits. The bench must have been destroyed or done away with in the renovations, and I was lightly crushed at the thought of this. Sure, it had been some twenty years since the bench had been commemorated, and yes, that bench mattered to only a handful of people, but to that handful it meant so much. Linda would have been happy that the hospital she loved had expanded its operations to serve more patients, and I am too, I just wish they’d kept the bench somewhere, even if it was off the side. In all, it wasn’t the most successful day, or at the very least, it hadn’t gone the way I thought it would.
As much as I try to stay in the present, I still allow myself to revisit the past, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We return to the past in hopes of understanding ourselves a little bit more, or maybe because aside from our dreams, the memories we have are the only way we can visit people we’ve loved and lost. I set out looking for something in particular that day, and I stumbled on something I never expected. I appreciated that nurse taking time out of her day to discuss my parents with me. I never did get her name, but I won’t forget her anytime soon. Thanks for reading.