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Just Like Goodbye

By Michael Barmak, Copyright 2004
December 31, 2006

This is an article about love and loss, about caring and courage, about stepping up to the plate in times of need.

I'm starting to believe that Spirit sends me signs through license plates. Often when my wife and I are in the car together one of us will spy a license plate that has our initials, CMF, MCB, or a combination of both in it. No matter what's going on with us in that moment, I immediately feel our heart connection. It's almost like God is saying, you're together, everything is okay.

This morning on my way to work, I'm driving through the Holland Tunnel from New York City when a blue sedan with the license plate "CFB 131" passes by. I start missing my wife even though I just left her 15 minutes ago. As I reach for my cell phone, another car cuts me off and I have to swerve to avoid him. Shaken up, I keep my eyes on the road and assure myself that I'll be speaking to Connie later.

My work day is very busy so I don't have a chance to call my wife. The first break I get is a little after 3:00 pm when the power at the Counseling Center goes out. The receptionist announces that there has been a brownout and the Center is closing.

I head to our apartment in New Jersey. I had already planned on spending the night alone while my wife tutors late in NYC. As soon as I hit the turnpike, I turn on the radio for the traffic report.

I'm shocked to hear that all of Manhattan is in the dark. The Holland and Lincoln tunnels are already jammed. With all of the traffic lights out, the police are advising everyone to stay away from New York City.

I immediately try to reach Connie, first at home and then on her cell phone. She doesn't answer. I pull over to the side of the road so I can decide what to do. Is this another terrorist attack? For the second time today, I miss my wife. As I punch in her number again, my thoughts go back to our last two conversations.

After snuggling in bed for a while this morning, I kissed her goodbye and told her how much I loved her. Maybe she noticed something in the tone of my voice or the way I was holding her because she said, "You make it seem like it's the last time you'll ever see me." I didn't want to tell her that my fear and sadness had to do with the story she told me the previous night as we were getting ready for bed.

She had been downtown tutoring one of her students and was suddenly shocked by an enormous sounding "boom." She looked outside and saw manhole covers that had blown out of the ground and across the street. People were cowering in the entrances to stores and others were running for shelter. Almost immediately, police and fire engines were on the scene and had closed down the area, which overlooked Ground Zero. Not wanting to scare her young student, Connie finished the tutoring lesson and went home. Even though she soon found out that it had only been a gas explosion due to an underground electrical fire, Connie hadn't been herself for the rest of the day. We talked about how on that same street, people had been fleeing the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.

"Are you crying?" she asked this morning.

I hid behind several more kisses and a long hug and then left for work.

Another special news report. Most of the northeastern United States, Detroit, Cleveland and parts of Canada are experiencing blackouts. Some governors have already declared a state of emergency and are calling out the National Guard.

A tune pops into my head; a song I wrote after my dad died.

Life goes on but I remember our love

In my heart I'll always keep you alive

You gave me life

Did I take too much

I would have given you some of mine

I miss you so much

I want to touch you again

I never got to say goodbye, goodbye

It's Too Soon

To lose you

I can't let this happen again. Not now. I turn the car around and head back toward NYC. I have to save my wife.

I soon find myself in a long line of traffic before the toll plaza. It's no coincidence that I'm stuck behind a tan Ford Mustang with the license plate "MCF 909." This time I feel a peaceful wave of gratitude. I remember another moment Connie and I spent together, the night I first saw my wife.

We met swing dancing in the summer of 1999. We quickly discovered how much we had in common besides ballroom dancing. Both of us studied our dreams and had just finished reading, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine.

Since then, my wife and I have prayed before each meal, expressing our gratitude for being together. I take a deep breath and feel my wife's presence.

My cell phone rings. Connie is okay. She has been outside in a park on the East Side tutoring one of her students. She reminds me that she survived two years in the Peace Corps in Africa, lived on her own since she was 18 years old and beat up boys regularly in junior high. When she asks where I am, I hide once again, this time saying that I'm on my way home and leave it at that.

After I hang up, I notice a sticker in the rear window of the Mustang in front of me. It is a picture of a fireman in front of the Twin Towers with the caption: "We will never forget our gratitude: When others ran out, he rushed in."

Now that's loving.

Michael Barmak, CSW, LCSW is an Inner Bonding Facilitator in private practice. He works with individuals and couples in person and on the phone and can be reached at 908-276-8191 or


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