I spent two weeks in Florida this March, experiencing a nice blend of family and solitude.
I flew down on my own, rented a car, and drove to my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Vero Beach. It took no time to settle in to Jeff and Wendy’s hospitality, and their beautiful place. In the mornings, I worked for a few hours before putting on my running gear, packing two hard-boiled eggs, a slab of cheese, and some Gatorade, and heading to the beach for a run, and my picnic breakfast.
South Beach was my favorite hang-out. I could run toward the south with the wind in my face and pass fishermen and other walkers. After a few minutes, I was pretty much alone with the sand and the pounding surf. It was easy to get lost inside my head and work the winter out of my bones.
In the afternoons, I met up with Jeff and Wendy somewhere for a beer, and then Jeff—a chef and co-owner, with my brother Allan, of Patrick’s Pub & Eatery in Gilford, New Hampshire—would cook us a fabulous dinner back at their house. I’d wash the dishes, and then we’d watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, followed by a few rounds of cards, mostly Whist or Hearts.
Because Jeff is a skilled player willing to take risks, he won most of the games. Wendy and I called him names I can’t repeat here.
The second night, Wendy went to bed early, and Jeff and I played cribbage until midnight. There was a moment when Jeff was kicking my ass, smiling broadly as I cursed him. My mind flashed back to our house on Eleanor Road in Walpole, Massachusetts. I could see my young self, sitting across from him on the gray living room carpet, losing at the card games War, Crazy Eights, Go Fish, Slap Jack, and the board games Monopoly and Sorry.
As the 70s rock music my brothers blasted on the stereo in our basement played through the speakers in Jeff’s living room, I saw him giving me a new pile of money from the bank in Monopoly every time the eight-year-old Janice would go bankrupt. I saw him teaching me that the way to win was to buy more property, take calculated chances.
I saw Jeff and Allan teaching me how to waterski at our lake house behind my father’s green Glastron. I saw in Jeff’s eagerly victorious face the birthplace of my competitive nature and my independent spirit.
In that one moment, I had a deep sensation of belonging—the kind I have had only sparingly since Ed was alive. This hot flash of familial love fueled our comfortable cribbage rivalry. I cursed Jeff loudly as he pegged across the finish line to beat me.
In the second week of my stay, my niece Martha arrived with her two young sons, and our games shifted at night to Uno. We dispensed with the swearing. We went out for the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had—several times.
And then it was time for me to take my solo, three-day adventure to Sanibel.
Jeff loaned me a cooler and helped me pack it. He gave me his GPS. Wendy offered a suitcase that was a more reasonable size for a short stay than the huge bag I’d lugged there with me.
I left for Sanibel at 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning, padding out before it got light to my rented Ford Focus. But I didn’t feel alone. I was taking with me some important reminders that there were people who had my back.