In the morning, Conor (Kai’s cousin) and I met Sandy (Kai’s mom) and Nancy (Kai’s aunt, Conor’s mom) in Calumet. We had breakfast, then all loaded into Conor’s car for my very first: KEWEENAW CRUISE!
First stop, the snowfall meter. This place has scary winters:
Next up, an overgrown and seemingly abandoned roadside cemetery Kai had been fond of:
Then, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. A major employer in the area, this wilderness resort and golf course was constructed in 1934 as part of the WPA:
We lunched at The Mariner in the village of Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula:
Sandy and Nancy were friends with the owners of the restaurant, who comped our lunch. Both Sandy and Nancy had worked in Copper Harbor early in their lives. Kai’s mom Sandy actually began her teaching career in the town’s one-room schoolhouse (she’s not that old; it’s just that desolate). And Kai spent some of his early years here too.
After lunch, we drove up to the top of Brockway Mountain for views of town:
After getting our fill of mountain top views, we headed west along the northern coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula to Eagle Harbor, where we stopped by the historic Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. I don’t have pics, but you can see it on Wikipedia here. And then on to Eagle River for a stop at Fitzgerald’s, a hotel, restaurant, and bar that sits right on Lake Superior and was a favorite of Kai’s. Kai once sent me this photo of himself on their deck in the dead of winter:
Because it was summer, sunny, and hot, we ducked under the deck for shade and took this pic of our own:
We then headed further down the road to a swimming hole that Kai liked and would often use to cool off after a long day of Keweenaw cruising:
I had only met Kai’s mom Sandy like twice before this (back when Kai and I both lived in NYC). Although visiting her and seeing the Keweenaw was an important part of my trip, I had been very anxious about it. What would our conversations be like? Would the visit be helpful for her or just a difficult thing she’d feel obliged to go along with? I had talked to Kai’s sister Aila beforehand, and she assured me it was good thing I was coming and that her mom was excited. Still, I worried. And, to be honest, my arrival day hadn’t been easy. The whole allergy thing put me in a weird headspace — the emotions of potentially ending my trip just piling onto the awkwardness of being in an unfamiliar place and all the Kai stuff in general. It felt like we were all trying to be helpful to each other that day, but were any of us enjoying ourselves?
Today, though, was great. My vertigo-like symptoms were gone, and I was fully rested. And, as we shared stories about Kai and visited the places he loved, the conversation was easy. I trusted that we were all having fun. It was cathartic. And I wanna say it kind of brought Kai back to life but that’s not really correct. It’s more like I transferred my fondness of Kai to his family. The qualities I liked about my departed friend had always lived in his mother. And this is where I saw them now: in her openness and kindness and sense of adventure. I couldn’t get over the story of Sandy and the one-room school house. I liked hearing stories like this as much as ones about Kai.
Near the end of our cruise, Sandy asked if there was anything else I needed to see. I thought I should just spend some more time in Kai’s hometown of Hancock, which we all agreed made sense. That evening, Conor and I went Nutini’s Supper Club, a local restaurant and bar on the town’s main street that Kai frequented and, for awhile, had an apartment above:
As we were about to leave, we ran into a local, Joey, who had been starring in a film Kai was making before his death. That felt appropriate.
We brought takeout pizza back to Sandy’s for dinner (including one of Nutini’s special Potato Feta pies — Kai’s favorite; I had mixed feelings). And Kai’s dad came over. Sandy had organized this earlier. I hadn’t seen him since the day he, Kai, and I had cleaned out Kai’s storage unit in LA. He gave me a hug and said I was a man of my word — I had come to visit. That felt nice. We all sat out on Sandy’s stoop talking till dusk.
Grief like this is a tricky thing to process. I (thankfully) don’t have a lot of experience with it, so I often found myself grasping in the dark for what to do or say. Worried that whatever I chose would be wrong. Worried that I didn’t have the energy to do anything at all. I guess I’ve found that just making an effort to do something and trusting that others will appreciate it really helps.