On Monday of this week I finally made it to the orthopedist. I was upset to see the night before as I was filling out the patient history forms I’d printed from their website that it asked for the disease history of your spouse and if they were deceased, the manner of death. I’m aware that I usually fill out my family history- including the medical history of my family of origin, but I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before. Anyway, I fill it out.
While I wait for the Dr. in the little office, I read Steven Hawking’s recent book, “The Grand Design,” the one where he lays out the theory of the creation of the universe- the one that doesn’t require a God at all. It’s something mind-boggling like a million universes may have come about- all different- but we just appear on this one because it is suitable for us. By way of introduction, there is a paragraph explaining how modern physics has changed the perception of reality.
Today’s approach is called “model-dependent realism” and “is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. ” He goes on to say that if two theories or models exist and work, you can use whichever one is most convenient.
I stop reading and look around the room. Thin grey drawers are labeled with white labels and black type: “syringes” “casting.” Modern medicine always feels so primitive to me, so I wonder for a moment if I can imagine some other reality for this place and successfully explain where I am. I start to feel maybe everything around me is somehow made up by me. It’s scary. The door is open and I hear a nurse on a helpline: “I was right in the middle of a study and I got the message, “Error, Must input …” I forget the rest, but she went on and on about this. It seemed satirical to me because everything in this office seemed very hi-tech. When I checked in a small camera on the receptionist’s computer took my photo for my file. “Just smile for me,” she’d said after I got back my insurance card.
And of course, when the Dr. comes into the room, an elderly man with kind eyes, who sits and looks through that history I’d filled out, he has to turn to me and say very slowly and pronounced, looking over his reading glasses: “You’re very young to be widowed,” almost as if I’d done something wrong and was being scolded. He was kind, and said he didn’t mean to bring up anything painful. I told him no not at all, it is there all the time. He gives me some shorts to change into and does the exam. Bend forward. Do you feel this? And as I suspected, I need the MRI- he prefers a closed one.
On Tuesday of this week I meet with a psychoanalyst they have on staff at Audrey’s school. Being that Audrey is my first child, and I have no way of knowing what is normal in her development or might be a result of her grief, I am happy to have someone to run things by. Usually, when I meet with anyone, I have a lot of handwritten notes in front of me, but usually, I am left frustrated because I never get through them all. So this time I decided against this, partly because I just hadn’t had the chance, and instead just wanted to tell him the “story” and ask how he thought I could best help her. Of course, I was just jotting down one or two things as he walked in his office. “You’re a writer,” he said. “Well, sort of,” I answer. He was good. He looked me in the eye after I’d told part of the story and asked me who I cried with. “Who hugs you?” he asked. These are hard questions. He makes connections between my grief and Audrey’s grief. When I try to write one thing down, he stops me. “Don’t write, just listen.” He interprets my family of origin, how that affected my marriage and my grieving. When I tell him about my early fears of Audrey forgetting her father, he tells me any specialist in his field will use this phrase, “the body remembers,” and that of course she will remember. I tell him her dream and how she thought it was real. “Let me ask you this- was it? ” he asks. At the end of just an hour, he assures me Audrey is doing really well, and that it’s more me having trouble. Yes, this is true.
On Thursday of this week, I go to the city to meet with my financial advisor because I have finally transferred your 401K to my own account. It was the last of the canceling, erasing, duties I had to do.
As I take the ferry across the Hudson I am thinking about how the island of Manhattan represents our old life. It’s where we met, fell in love, got engaged, had our child. Now I am separated from it by a river. Now I am on the sidelines. But when I cross over, it’s like I step into a diorama in a museum set up to remind me of our prehistoric life there.
After the meeting with the finance guy, I go downtown to a string store on Walker street to give them your electric cello to sell on consignment- which they have volunteered to do at no commission. I take the subway, for what is only the second time since you died. I tell your friend who I eat lunch with before heading downtown how strange it is that NYC public transportation is my greatest grief trigger. Who would’ve thought- the smell of the subway or the exhaust fumes of the buses at Port Authority could cause me this pain. But I suppose more than any holiday traditions we had, we spent the most time together, a large portion of our relationship, traveling on mass transit. Where I go under, there is the S train- the columns there are the ones you jumped out from behind when you met me there on the day you proposed. I stop and stare before going down more stairs to the N train. Once there, I am remembering how you always told me exactly where to stand, which car to get in depending on my destination- so I’d be at exactly the right place when I arrived at Canal Street. You would’ve done that today. I stand right at the bottom of the stairs. I know nothing of these things.
I carry your electric cello in front of me on the train and speak to my reflection in the window across from me: I miss you. There is a man sitting across from me with a single tear tattooed to his face just below his eye on his left cheek.
It is an emotional drop off. The instrument itself you’d only had for about six months, but it was something you’d been working towards for so long. We’d been pricing them and then you got this great deal so you could rent to buy and you did, and now here I am returning it. As I left my apartment with it that morning on my shoulder and headed to the ferry, these are the simple words that come out: “Damn, this is upsetting.” And it is.
What’s more, I am entering part of your world that I never entered. I remember you trying to sell your other cello there and I felt worried about who you were leaving your cello with. I didn’t understand then how well you know the music world in NYC. But you did, and everyone knew you. And I get that now. And I feel horrible about it…all the times I questioned you.
Anyway, I know as I’m walking towards this place, that you have walked these same paths many times- and I realize again, what every widow comes to learn, how her husband led so many waking hours of his day, without her. How these two things, otherness and intimacy- war with each other.
I shake hands with this man who knew you, and we go upstairs and talk for a while beneath the high white tin ceilings of the Soho building, in a room filled with large basses. The contrast of the white and wood is beautiful to me and I wish I had a camera. I tell him the details of “the story” and he tells me about a car accident he was in at 19 where he lost a girlfriend and a close friend- how you never get over it. He talks about other things- realities we can’t see…how he felt everything in his life had been moving to that moment. How I knew also. He has intelligent eyes and also is married with a three year old daughter. When we go into his smaller office to print out the contract, I see her pictures everywhere. “Can you imagine?” I ask him. He shakes his head. He gives me a kiss as I leave and promises to try to get me the best deal. He is leaving tomorrow for China for business. I wish him a safe trip.
Then I shop in a few of my favorite stores in SOHO. Stores I haven’t visited since I was pregnant with Audrey…our last “date” before I gave birth actually- we came down here and had brunch at Balthazar and you bought me a trench coat that I could barely try on over my belly at Uniqlo. I buy myself a vest there and a dress that’s on sale. I know you’d be happy. You were always encouraging me to buy things for myself more and take care of myself.
Then I take the N from Prince Street back up to 34th. Then the ferry shuttle, and then the ferry back across the river. It’s a long day, but I feel something. My eyes have been full of tears for most of the day…just full enough that the tears didn’t actually fall but stayed in my eyes as I walked. I’m not sure what it is…is it that I’ve gotten to be “your wife” again just for this one errand? I hope I reflect well on you. I hope I play my role well. Sometimes I’d embarrass you with my lack of knowledge about how things work in the music industry when you were trying so hard to get “in.” I hope I haven’t done that. I have sincerely tried. But the something I feel…is it just because I’ve had a day off from being with my preschooler in an apartment? Is it because I’m back in the city we loved together- where we fell in love so hard? Is it because I wore my contacts or because the computer voices on the subways sounded exactly the same as they always do, “Stand clear of the closing doors…” Is it because it was a beautiful Fall day- 15 months exactly since you’ve died. I’m not sure, but I’m going to figure it out, because for the first time, in a long time, those tears that just stayed in my eyes, that something that I felt that I couldn’t quite put my finger on- I think what I felt was almost…