Yesterday was a darker day than most, but the thought of writing about it- trying to capture the complex kind of darkness- is overwhelming. Words will fail…words will fail- the stream of consciousness speed of light kind of pain says over and over as I try to capture it.
Do I write about going through my dresser in attempt to purge and organize before I pack and move- something I’d always previously enjoyed and found therapeutic? How this time, I find I’ve left enough of your clothes to make it hard for me to get up after sorting through one drawer- just enough, I realize- for a weekend trip- a few of your favorite soccer jerseys, your favorite basketball shorts that you slept in or wore around the house- the very same ones you wore when I drove to Staten Island to pick you up our fourth time meeting -for a youth ralley in Maryland- July 17th, 1999- five years to the day until we would get married. A few pairs of your socks I have been wearing since they fit and most of mine have holes. A pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them that I got you for Valentine’s Day while we were still dating…and that you refused to throw out for that same reason even though they are quite tattered. Your sock drawer also has in it two pens- one from Google and one from Commerce bank- free pens you picked up probably at work. It has a converter for your cell phone for Australia and New Zealand- your tour destination before your last. And it is littered with foreign coins- Euros and Korean Won mostly. And also the lock of your hair I had the funeral director cut off for me- now in a Ziploc bag. And the velvet pouch he put it in which I happily put in the discard pile.
Besides your clothes- there are mine. These too are saturated with memories. The outfit I went out to buy the morning that we met- that I could never bear to part with. The complete Indian outfit you bought me for my first birthday with you just because you saw it at some street fair and “thought you’d look cute in it.” There is the brown cashmere sweater you bought me in a thrift store across the street from the boutique where I got my wedding dress on 9th street in the village. There are the pajamas you bought me in Sweden and the free t-shirts I sleep in. There are nursing bras that I was still wearing when you died- having just weaned Audrey a couple of weeks beforehand. There are the many pretty nightgowns I received at my wedding shower including the one I chose for myself for our wedding night. Audrey tells me it is very pretty. There is so so much in those drawers. So many more items – each with a background and recollection. I smell your clothes and can’t believe how they still smell like you – especially the part around the neck. All the while Audrey is occupying herself by collecting your foreign coins in another little pouch I give her. “I’ll start a collection!” she says.
In my top drawer also, is my old cell phone. The phone I had then when I received the call- that was sitting on the kitchen counter as I ran to it…I decide to charge it.
Later, I turn it on and find a video of Audrey as a baby swinging in her swing that you put on there along with the words, “Audrey LOVES Mommy!!!” Three exclamations- I notice. Just an example of the sweet things I took for granted in the “before.” And then I scroll through the photos that are stored there- random ones because back then I didn’t use my phone as my main camera like I do now- a picture of me in glasses I was thinking of buying- so I could show you- a picture of shoes I saw for you in a shoe store on the upper west side and wanted you to see so I could buy them for you. Remember when I used to have someone else to shop for? There are a few photos of Audrey so infant-like- I barely recognize her as ours at first. In the text message tab is the true story- there are texts from the night of Audrey’s birth that I had treasured, “It’s a girl- her name is Audrey,” I had sent out to friends… and their replies. And then there are the everyday ones – a few from me to you or you to me- though neither of us had texting plans back then- “Hey- I’m outside the door- let me know when it’s safe to come in…” from you when you were home from work but afraid to wake up Audrey whose room was close to the doorway. “I miss you- thinking of you,” from me while you were traveling for a weekend. “Hey- just got here…” from you when you arrived at your destinations. And then…the after texts- from friends and people mostly trying to coordinate help “after.” One friend quotes the verse from Zephaniah, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing…” Another long-time friend who lives in another part of the country writes the day after your funeral, “I heard you were eloquent and graceful on Friday…” Eloquent and graceful…the part of the widow. I thought I would drop this phone off in the collection box for recycled phones at Whole Foods- I thought it would be simple- and a relief- another step forward- but nothing is simple- I had forgotten about all of this…
It’s a heavy, humid, cloud-filled day, but it doesn’t actually rain until late afternoon. We have no plans and so I’d started this project- purging one dresser- something I would’ve easily done in my old life- along with an entire room including closets- in one afternoon. Now I sit on the floor afraid I can’t move from that position while Audrey beckons me that the “show” is starting- an imaginative world she creates with about 100 paper dolls she’s carefully cut out and spreads out all over our living room floor.
Didion talks in “Blue Nights” about her promise to herself to “maintain momentum” early on in her own grief process. I realize that I too have had an unvoiced, but similar promise- I’ve acted on it whenever I refused to miss a shower, or leave dishes in the sink even after one meal, or spend an entire day inside. Didion then talks about the loss of her own momentum manifested in ill health/shingles, and the feeling one night that she is afraid to stand up and get out of her chair at the theater I believe…
I fear the loss of my own momentum lately. I doubt my competence as a mother a lot more than I did in the early days…months…the whole first year. Audrey’s at least able to entertain herself for longer now so I find myself devouring books each day while she works at her “art studio,” or even while we eat a meal together. Words- any decent words that can articulate this kind of pain are like rungs in this very painful ladder I walk up…barefoot. I am more tired than I’ve ever felt in my life and decide to make a doctor’s appointment. I even try exercise and taking more vitamins. I feel like I need some kind of IV to keep me awake each morning, afternoon and evening.
In another devotional on grieving, I read that grief can also be described as “the loss of courage.” The courage to do the most mundane of things- get out of bed, get up off the floor after sorting through the items in your dresser- the one with the phantom drawers that are still yours and not mine no matter what I put in them.
Lewis had equated it with fear. And there is more fear now. Fear of being separated from my daughter, fear of looking at my bank account, opening up the mail, picking up a ringing phone.
Even though it’s still raining by five o’ clock, Audrey and I decide to take a walk across the street to the Japanese place and get udon noodles. Before we do, I take off my wedding rings and leave them on the entry way table- even though I always wear them- today I don’t feel married at all. I am too sad- and too alone- and missing you too much. Audrey wears her rain boots and splashes as we go. As we sit across from each other at the small square table – the only people in the restaurant- it seems like she could be thirteen rather than three- which I also feel bad about. But then she decides to play waitress and places my napkin on my lap for me as the waitress had just done for her- and then collects our empty dishes and hands them out again- “Just one more time…” a few times. “Thank you, waitress…”
After our udon, Audrey and I splash back home and she pretends that we are able to splash into a puddle and into another world- a current favorite. We have to pretend once we jump in that everything is different- our apartment building, our apartment- we’ve never seen any of it before. “What is this whole new world?” she says. I am wishing it was.
It’s been a week of brokenness- more than usual.
A friend of ours relays some news to me- her one year old son has just been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. They are heartbroken, and I am in tears when I read her email in a shopping mall with Audrey. She’s already been through so much in her life…I can’t help but ask, “Why her?” I can’t help but feel for some- life is easier…more is given. She quotes a famous Christian speaker in her email who says that “shattered dreams are the prelude to joy. Always.”
“But will it be enough to fill the brokenness? I have a hard time believing so…” my friend writes in response to the quotation. I do too…I do too.
A new friend and the mother of one of Audrey’s playmates, tells me she’s awaiting the results of a second biopsy, but that she has to pull herself together and be a good mother tomorrow. I email to check up on her, “I don’t want to be a bother- but how are you?”
And my mind goes to the families of the victims in Colorado have probably just finished funerals and are probably still in shock…the family of a six year old girl for God’s sake- but that for the most part- I haven’t heard anything about anymore- the Olympics have taken over in the media.
So much brokenness…”and will it be enough?”
Grief is also, according to the same devotional, “a gradual unfolding of life’s secrets. Secrets that surprise us. Secrets that horrify us. Secrets that make us shake our heads and wonder, How could I have lived so long and not known this?”
It is one terrible secret really. And all along you realize that the people around you probably see you as weak and fragile- sad. Little do they know all of the secrets you hold…all of the revelation that comes so much so that they appear to be asleep to you.
I find myself more lately- on my knees- not because I start out in prayer- not that kind of “on my knees,” but really- it’s a position you just wind up in when you’re desperate and sad and low. Another widow friend, I remember, has written it often in our correspondence, “it brings me to my knees…” And I wonder lately- did people consciously kneel in prayer as an act of reverence- or did they start out kneeling in this desperate, sad, low, posture, and wind up praying to their Creator?
By the end of the day, I am almost there…I am relieved- it has been a dark, existential hole of a day- but
Audrey’s been having a hard time sleeping again, and before bed, she cries after I explain to her that God made night and day- and night is for resting- through her tears- “I wish the world could be my way…and never be night time and always be morning.” I am silent. I have no response. I have no words.