May 14 and it’s raining. The brackish water is six inches deep when I put my feet down to get out of the rental car. My sneakers, socks and pant legs are already wet from the other three driveways that I stepped into and sloshed through. I stopped caring about getting wet. Then, I stopped caring about whether my rental car was going to make it through the water. I’ll see how that goes.
There is a pattern now with this going from house to house, searching and knocking. Out of the car, then taking a moment to mutter a subdued curse into my chest as my feet sink yet again into the brown water with a dubious post-industrial truce with refineries upstream at Marcus Hook, Chester and Wilmington. Splash through the water in the driveway. Stomp up the steps trying to shake off some of the excess water. In South Bowers, all the houses have steps, a full flight of steps, since all the houses are built on stilts.
Maura, my wife of 41 years, is the reason I am here in South Bowers. She is right there in the stew, the heated part of the stew, which cooks around me. Well, she is not there with me in a physical sense. She passed last September. I can’t bring myself to say she died, because she didn’t die completely. Maura is right here with me most of the time on the steps and in the car in the passenger seat, giving directions like always. There is nothing ghostly in this. It is not supernatural, it is just completely natural in every way. But I feel her drifting away from me.
From the tops of the stairs, in the gaps between the beach houses, I can see far out across the Delaware Bay. The sky is a soft canvas of charcoal brushed clouds. It is raining gently; no anger in this sky. Miles out in the Bay, there are towers of more insistent and punishing rain which moves across the far horizon of water, but not here in South Bowers.
It has rained for two weeks. The Delaware Bay is flooding up onto the land, up under the houses between the stilts, up onto the edges of the streets, and engorging the inlets of salt marshes and small rivers which empty into the Bay. This flooding is not an act of malice or vengeance. This is not a Katrina-style end-of-civilization flood. This is a simple act of the Bay retaking a salt marsh landscape which rightfully belonged to it. This flooding serves as a reminder that place on the edge between sea and land, which had been borrowed from the water, would some day be returned.
That’s why I’m here. To return something I borrowed 43 years ago to the place where it belongs. I hold it in the pocket of my jacket. My fingers wrap around its smooth and rounded lines in the palm of my right hand. I had forgotten that it even existed for many years. I found it when I was cleaning out our house for sale. The house held too many memories, which I couldn’t escape. I had to sell or else I would be pulled under the waves of grief.
I decided that it had to be today, May 14, our first anniversary since she passed. So I flew in from Seattle and rented a car. Despite the rain, despite the flooding, it had to be today that I came to South Bowers. I could feel the tides shifting, and her presence in my life seemed to be pulling away in the tides. May 14 is a day for promises to be made and for promises to be kept.