Time, With and Without Paul
For much too brief a time, the bakery at Wegmans in Fairfax, VA made a delicious pecan bar. Whenever I was in DC, Paul and I were sure to drive out to our favorite grocery store anyway, but its pecan bar was an especially compelling reason. My waistline will ruefully admit that food, in general, was a big part of the itinerary when I visited; we had a checklist of lunches and dinners. Paul sweetly claimed that there was some food that he only ate when I was in DC, because he wanted them to be special. Other items were probably too much of a staple, and Paul didn't deny himself these pecan bars the rest of the year. Over the phone one day, he told me that Wegmans didn't seem to make them anymore. Not only that, but when he asked for them, the staff at the bakery was flummoxed, acting like there never was such an item on their menu. We wondered if we were going crazy, if we were the only ones who remembered this pecan bar, if we consumed them in some alternative dimension. Paul kept hopefully asking on each trip, and at long last, one lady at the bakery had a flicker of recognition. “Oh,” she said to Paul, “we used to make them, but they’re seasonal.” Despite the implicit promise that these pecan bars would return when the time was right, they never did. I can’t really remember when this all happened, but in the however-many years since Wegman’s pecan bar went extinct, we have all gotten more accustomed to the notion of such seasonal offerings. We likewise loved Giant’s “Limoncello-inspired” cookies, except for how they were a “limited time original.” Some offerings did seem more temperamental than others. The burger place really had an eggnog milkshake every year, but Paul enjoyed a chopped Italian salad from Sweetgreen once, and never again. In any case, Paul and I reminisced about the pecan bars, and the episode did provide us with a long-running joke. Whenever we couldn’t find something—a baked good, the remote, a program on TV—we would say, in our most exaggeratedly sarcastic voice, “Maybe it’s seasonal.” Like the earth around the sun, I used to mark time with Paul: not just in the sense of passing time with him, but also measuring it by him, by when we would get to see each other. Though our relationship spanned 32 years in total, 20 of those had a rhythm, a routine. From 2001 to 2021, I was usually able to travel to DC twice a year: once in the summer, and then over Christmas. That divided my year into segments (and the nature of my job, a bit different in the spring and fall, introduced further gradations). My Christmas trip would carry over into January, so the month would start well, but then it was back to the grind of work. February was bleak, but at least short, and Paul would send me Valentine’s candies; March and April, too, were tedious except for an Easter package from Paul. Things started to look up in May. If all went well, June and July were glorious months when the family was together, though patience would then be required through the months of August, September, October, November… It’s been a year since Paul left us. I know that, for some people, it’s “hard to believe it’s been a year.” Perhaps that comment is about how quickly time has passed, or maybe it speaks to how much has or has not happened in their lives in that stretch of time. Neither has really been my experience. Indeed, I think about how April 7, 2021 was a Wednesday; this year, it’s a Thursday. Has time inched forward? That almost feels right. But I also don’t know if it “feels like a year,” or what a year even feels like anymore. Most of us know that time is lived time, and time without Paul has bent, stretched, and warped. The months did not bring me closer to being able to see him, so have been largely devoid of meaning. January is February is March, which is April May June, and July to December. Presumably the years will pass, and feel the same. And there are no seasons anymore, of course. At a more literal level, I live my life in a place without them; we get more rain some months, but otherwise, the year hums on indistinguishably. Missing too is the promise of seasons, when leaves turn yellow, fade and fall, but return again.
I'll be here if you ever want to turn around To everything there is a season, so Ecclesiastes—or, as Paul probably preferred it, the Byrds—says. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to gain, a time to lose. A time to mourn. A time for peace. I guess that’s true enough. But what of seasons that never end, or seasons that never come back round again? I’m so glad to have spent time with Paul, and so grateful that he sent me a text message right before he went up to bed that night. With apologies to everyone else in his life, I would like to think that this means that I was the last person on his mind, and I hope that he will be mine when the time comes. Not only was the time with him meaningful, but time itself was meaningful. Now, a time without Paul is nothing, but time. Thanks to Janae and Jeff, who in this difficult year took care of everything that needed taking care of, and treated me so well, and to everyone else for all your help and love; I am forever in your debt.