“We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions- waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking- that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The first time I spoke to my old therapist on the phone after you’d died, I told him my fear of Audrey forgetting you, and he answered back with that therapist smugness in his voice: And you’ll forget him too right?
I never had another session with him. His words have echoed in my mind ever since. Because, although his timing was way off, it is true. You can not store a human being in a memory. You also cannot choose what or when you remember something. There’s a rich storehouse in there, but it’s not in alphabetical or sequential order and a lot of it remains dormant, hidden.
The other day Audrey and I see a bee and I tell her about bee stings and how I’ve never been stung. I start to tell her that you had, but then I realize, I really don’t remember if you’d ever, in your life, been stung. The thought that I don’t know and can’t ask you, is debilitating. Bees were always a point of contention for us because I’d been shown by example to run like hell while you’d remain still and calm. You got so annoyed with me for that.
It’s like Lewis says, I can still see all different parts of you in my mind’s eye- the freckles on your left cheekbone, your earlobe, your eyelashes, but it’s harder to imagine your stature when you walk in the room, and I’m pretty sure I’m not getting it all right anymore. If I see you in a video or a photo, nothing is surprising. It feels like you could still walk in the door…but more and more when I try to imagine that- I’m not sure how you look- whether your hair is long or short- whether you actually look older. I’m older now.
“Today I had to meet a man I haven’t seen for ten years. And all that time I had thought I was remembering him well- how he looked and spoke and the sort of things he said. The first five minutes of the real man shattered the image completely,” writes Lewis. And then he admits that is already happening with his memory of his late wife:
“Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes- like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night- little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her. The real shape will be quite hidden in the end…The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone.”
Two days ago I checked your email which I rarely do anymore. Just incase…just incase someone who doesn’t know what happened writes you. And someone had. I love imagining that for at least one person, you have been alive all this time. A friend from Berklee was asking so casually if you were still in the NYC area because they needed cello tracks for a certain TV network. I respond from your email and mistakenly (I think I’ve done this before), cc myself so the friend can respond if he wishes with the usual condolence. Then in my inbox when I return to my own email- your name and my stopped heart beat for a moment.
In her book, Elizabeth Edwards talks about how, even though her eldest son had died, she still felt the need to parent him. “You don’t, I discovered, leave the need to parent the child just because the child has left you.” As your wife I didn’t parent you, though part of being a wife is being motherly in some ways…so I’m not sure what the word would be for me- but I’ve felt this need too- to continue being your wife in some way- watching over you the way a wife does. Making you look good- taking care of the little things. So, I check your email and respond. I renew your domain name online. I create memorial projects for myself including a photo book of your music tours- something I’d been planning to surprise you with. I remind others of you and speak of you with them. The eleven years of looking out for you did not disappear on July 6th.
Audrey is afraid of being alone at night lately. Terrified, in fact- even with her light on, to be left alone in her bed at night. She’s never had any separation anxiety issues- but I realize that even though she’ll never put up a fight when I leave her with someone or took her to her first day of preschool, it doesn’t mean she’s not feeling things. She articulates it differently- like when we drove home from her first day and she told me the teacher had read a story at story time about a little girl whose mom died. And she articulates it at night.
I think I am like this too now, at this stage. I go about the day. I’m sure I appear mostly normal to the other mothers at preschool or the people at church or the grocery store or the library. But by sundown, like Audrey- I can’t hold it together much longer.
Tonight while I sit with her until she falls asleep, tears keep coming out of my eyes because that’s what it feels like- different from crying- just tears crawling out on their own- as I think about simple memories of being together- putting her to bed together, going out to a cafe on her eighteen month birthday, getting in the car and driving to church on a Sunday morning, bathing her while you finish washing the dishes, sitting around talking after she’s asleep. I know now what a treasure those moments were, but do I think that even by reading my revelation others whose loved ones are still alive will get it? No. It’s impossible- you may think you do, but you don’t. That seems so very unfair.
But I wonder to myself most, what we spoke of, what were our conversations? On some random night or morning or afternoon? Never have I longed to be myself- that girl married to Daniel Cho, sixteen months ago or more of course, than I do now.