His friend, John, referred to the Esopus as Jim’s personal Ganges. So it was. He swam here every summer as a kid, and drove up to stay here many times as an adult, until I bought the house and we moved upstate. This is the old bridge in Mt. Tremper where he would swim all the way up River from his grandmother’s house.
Jim had always said when he was gone, I was to scatter his ashes off of this old bridge over the Esopus River. He was a New Yorker – raised in Queens and lived in New York City his entire life. But as a kid, he was sent every summer to stay with his grandmother in Mt. Tremper. The Esopus ran right behind his gran’s property and he would swim with his cousin, Jacky, up river to underneath this bridge. We scattered him there a year ago on his birthday, so the Esopus river could carry him back out to the Hudson River and down the state of New York back to his beloved New York City.
Yes, the bridge has been closed for years – and yes, it was a bit illegal to squeeze through the hole in the fence to go out on the bridge and scatter ashes over the side. But Jim would have loved the illicit nature of the whole thing. Today, I did not squeeze through and clamor over the rail. I wove a bundle of Jim’s favorite flowers into the chain-link barrier on the bridge, then sat off on the side, overlooking the Esopus rushing out from under the bridge. In my mind I could see two very small boys, swimming for all they were worth against that current to make it all the way to the bridge. I laughed to myself – modern mothers would perish over the thought. But back then, it was natural to let kids run free and try crazy stuff. Jim never really stopped running free and trying crazy stuff.
Then I drove on into Phoenicia. This was one of the first places Jim took me to when I moved to NYC. He loved it up here and we would often drive up to stay a few days in Phoenicia by the Esopus. Finally, California girl that I am, decided after a decade in New York City that I needed to see stars again and have a garden. So I found a house to buy upstate, near the Hudson River and the Esopus. So after saying, “Happy Birthday” to Jim on the bridge, I went into town to the restaurant that was a favorite breakfast spot of ours. I always used to say, “One day we have to come later in the day so I can try a slice of their wood oven pizza.” Today I sat at the lunch counter and had a slice. Then walked through the town of Phoenicia, all the spots he loved to photograph. It was a little melancholy to look at the views and the spot on the street where I had snapped the last picture I ever took of Jim. But I did fine the whole time until I got home again and walked in the door of my house. Somehow it all “hit” as I walked in my side door into my kitchen and I sobbed.
My day-to-day life has shaped itself into my new normal – into who I am now. But there are still moments that take me by surprise – moments of exquisite pain and sadness. But they are also moments of pure, complete love. It is because I so loved him that I still sometimes cry now – and that is a beautiful thing.