How is it that today I can be wearing jeans with paint spots on them, not from the room I painted in our new home- but from three homes ago- our last apartment in Brooklyn- the bedroom that was painted grey like the rest of the apartment, but I painted an ocean blue. The room that I painted in those jeans while a few days pregnant without knowing it. The room I later came home to after my baby shower and found you had rearranged and put together Audrey’s co-sleeper while I was gone. The room we left as we walked out of our building and down Ridge Boulevard to get you sushi and cheer you up because you confessed you were sad that you weren’t at the shower. And then as we crossed the street, I stepped on uneven pavement and fell, 8 months pregnant, skinning my knee like I hadn’t since I was a child.
How is it I can be wearing these jeans today? Today while I scrape off the morning frost from my car. Today while I take Audrey to school, take her to a play date and chit chat with other moms, while I set up a white pressed paper winter village under the Christmas tree and bake banana muffins with her for her holiday celebration at school tomorrow. Today in a different apartment in which you do not exist. On this coming Monday, we would have celebrated your 36th birthday.
I still hear you in my mind all the time- telling me that angel in the store for the top of the tree is tacky, rolling your eyes at me as Audrey sings the 106.7 light FM song and the 24 hour Christmas music starts while I drive. I shrug my shoulders at no one as if to say, “Sorry…this is it.” Mostly it’s teasing, the thing Oates says in her memoir that the widow misses most. This is mostly it. Sometimes, I almost laugh out loud because it’s so funny the way you’re teasing me…while I’m here alone now. I suppose you taught me how to laugh at myself.
With our tree up, I’ve been thinking of Christmas’ past. The first one we spent together- the way we exchanged gifts at midnight in my parents’ living room facing each other while sitting Indian style on the sofa- with the tree lit- the strong scent of balsam as you handed me a box from Tiffany’s. The first one as a married couple in our first place in Brooklyn- the little artificial tree I bought that year and the ornaments from Target, poinsettias on either side of the fireplace, and Christmas cards strung around the doorframe to our bedroom. Or perhaps that was the second or third Christmas- I do not remember.
But despite wearing these jeans today, and the checkered scarf you bought me in Europe on the first tour that you said you ended up wearing most of that leg of the tour because you were so cold- and despite wearing my wedding ring, and laying your cell phone on the night stand beside my bed at night- you slip away.
“Do not think of it, do not think of it…” I tell myself when, every now and then, the manner of your death horrifies me. I am learning how to live with you gone, but I can not deal with the way you went- how alone you were.
Yesterday, in the afternoon while resting after a busy morning of cooping at Audrey’s school- I sat up in the middle of our bed for the very first time. It felt so strange not being relegated to “my side” on the right. Audrey came running in and hugged me and I felt like I was on my death bed sitting up in the middle like that under the covers.
I remember a friend telling me “You guys are gonna have a lot to catch up on,” sometime after you died. She is a devout Christian and I suppose thought it was a bold but hopeful thing to say. It replays in my mind though, quite often. I had the hunch then, and understand now, that it doesn’t ring true. You become further and further away each day. Even if you are there…as your mom tells me, “Don’t worry…he’s there, waiting…” how will we “catch up?” Even the hope of heaven does not seem to make up for all that we have lost. We have lost who we were together, then. Before all this. While I could keep a running list of things to tell you when you got home when you were away for three weeks- (Audrey found the parrot at Trader Joe’s and got a red lollipop, we went to the senior center to put on a little stroller forth of July parade for the residents, Audrey’s been role playing with her dolls in the stroller for the first time- wait ’til you see it!) I cannot keep a running list of decades of change. Even then, after three weeks apart in the same dimension- there was a palpable distance between us when you returned. It took some adjusting.
I tell another widow friend that I’m afraid I’m forgetting you, and she says it’s not so much the man – her husband- they’re forgetting- as much as “forgetting daily life, day to day stuff, with him.” Sadly, neither the bonds of love nor the chains of grief seem strong enough to keep that kind of forgetting from happening…to make a heavenly reunion a time for “catching up.” “Never has anything in our lives together so divided us…” writes Oates as in her mind, she pleads with her husband’s dead body to “wake up!”
I am busier now…the pace quickens.
“One thought occupies me night and day… She is dead — She is dead! All day I am weary and sad,” wrote Longfellow after his first wife died. This has been my life for the past 29 months. So much so that it is always slightly funny if someone mentions you and then adds, “I don’t want to bring anything up that might be hard…” But now this weariness- this thought- has settled into my bones and being. Whether I think about it or not, there it is and will be. One day while driving I realize that I always refer to you – see there I go- as “you” here when I write. I cannot bring myself to refer to you by name. Then you leave me. Then you are gone in a different way with just that one word. You. “Hey you…” we often began correspondence.
But you…the true you- not the you in my head that follows me around…are far away now even as I sit in my paint splattered jeans from three homes ago- on our bed with our sleeping daughter beside me. Yesterday as I’m putting Audrey to sleep and praying for her to have “sweet dreams,” suddenly the feeling that you and I used to sometimes say things like, “Meet me at the fountain at Central Park,” or “I’ll be waiting under the Poet’s Walk,” before we closed our eyes and went to sleep. This seems so sentimental and is such a vague memory that for a moment I doubt we ever did this, but it has the noxious taste of nostalgia and it is true- we did do this- my often intense, but always passionate marriage to you actually contained sweet moments like this.
At some point your questions change from why, where, whatthe-ck? (that actually stays)- to how- how will I go on…how will I pick myself up and do this now? Because a hopeful reunion, as it turns out- makes the parting no less sad.