Yesterday was the day for giving thanks. Since people usually do that with family and turkey, and I have no access to the former and only repulsion for the latter, I took the opportunity to take a mini-road trip.
I left around ten a.m., first gathering CDs, snacks, and maps, then getting cash and filling up my gas tank.
What a perfect day to travel: not many cars on the road, no sun glare, good music on the stereo.
I was shocked when I got the Stratford, Connecticut area, because there was snow on the ground. It was very pretty, for sure, but it felt weird. Like, it's not snow season yet, is it? I suppose it is, now.
I was cheerfully driving along I-95, lalala, hit Bridgeport, thought about seeing if I could find anything familiar, but thought better and continued on. A few minutes later, I checked my directions and saw that I had missed the exit. Whoops. Only by a few miles though; it was an easy fix.
Once on 15 North, I took a small detour into New Haven, thinking it would be fun to find Yale, walk around a bit, and call people, saying, "Happy Thanksgiving from Yale!"
But, um, I couldn't find it. I figured there would be signs and stuff, pointing hapless visitors like myself in the right direction. And there were two signs, but none after that. I drove around a bit, and found the Yale hospital. But it was raining and sleeting, and I was frustrated and my bum was getting numb.
So I looped my way back to 15 and continued onward to Wallingford. I got all excited when I saw the first signs.
Even though it had been over three years since I was even in the vicinity of this place, I actually remembered exactly where to go. I knew it wasn't the first Wallingford exit, and I knew it was right off of the next one. I exited, saw the sign for Quinnipiac River Linear Trail, and pulled into the parking lot.
Where I immediately choked up.
I couldn't believe it was still there, and I was now there again too, and that my team was nowhere to be found.
I gathered my things together, as well as myself, and walked into the park, down the paved path toward our labyrinth.
Before losing it completely, I politely asked the man behind me, walking his dog, to take a picture of me with the labyrinth. I couldn't help telling him, "I helped build this, three years ago!" He politely replied, "Oh, really?"
After he took the picture and moved on, I turned to look at the labyrinth and cried in earnest. It was still there! There because of our own hands and feet: shoveling and raking the dirt and gravel dust, placing and measuring the bricks just so. The very things we carefully put into place, it's all still there.
But we are not. I was, but the rest of the team wasn't. It felt like seeing a ghost, or reading a letter written by a loved one passed on.
In my mind's eye, I saw the whole team. I saw someone digging for the silt fence and discovering four baby turtles, only an inch in diamater. I saw Jess, Jep and Brodie sitting on the bench, drinking juice boxes and taking a quick break. I saw Seth transferring gravel dust from the pile to the wheelbarrow. I saw Ashley and Dez arranging the bricks, and I saw Shannon and Geo raking the dust in between the rows. I saw Mandi playing the Tibetan musical bowls over on the side.
I tearfully walking the labyrinth as best I could, it being under a few inches of snow. Though, as you can see, the bricks left a pattern that was pretty easy to follow.
Like I said, in New Haven half an hour earlier, it was rainy and gloomy. But here in Wallingford, the sun came out, the sky completely cleared up, and it warmed my hands and heart. It felt like it was just for me, like I was meant to be there, and though it was horribly sad, it was also beautiful.
I dug into the snow in the center of the labyrinth. And of course, there were those bricks, and the tears began anew.
I had to call a few of my teammates and say, "Guess where I am right now!"
After what must have been over an hour, I tore myself away from the labyrinth and all of the memories, and went in search of more memories.
To my surprise, I found the shelter immediately. It was just as close as I remembered; less than a five-minute drive. We used to pile into the van at noon, sweaty and tired, go to the shelter for lunch, then pile back in and return to work on the labyrinth.
Everything was just as we had left it three years ago. The shelter on the corner, where we ate only organic food (stored in the basement), and slept, all in one room like the big family we were. The Old Dublin, not half a block away, where the under-agers were able to slip in with the rest of us, and we'd hang out, relaxing on the plush couches. The other tavern across the street, where I conferenced with Ashley about being assistant team leader (but it never happened because I got called to disaster in Mississippi). The pizza restaurant where Mandi, Geo and I would go to eat and play Boggle. The shops along the rest of the main drag, one of which was a "front" for the local cable access show, on which we were guests one night. The bar up the road where a few of us went one night and sat by the window next to the door.
It was all so surreal. We worked so hard, bonded or fought so much, given so much of ourselves during the few weeks we were in this place, that our spirits are still there, just waiting to be rediscovered.