Monday, October 24, 2011

Whispers in the Dark.

“Mommy, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Sweetheart.”

Lying here in the dark, her warm cheek pressed against mine, we both stare into the dark watching the shadows of her butterflies float in the dark and the nightlight’s pink flecks twinkle across the wall. She is afraid of the dark. Afraid of what the nighttime takes away. Someday she will understand that she is not alone. I’m afraid, too.

I love the night, and I hate it with equal measure. In the early years he would call me during a lull in his shift, a few minutes of stolen intimacy when we would share our days and dare to dream about the future. And when he was called away, whispers in the dark.

But time has its way of slipping away unnoticed and youthful dreams were replaced by the fulfillment of family. Night shifts became day shifts and late night phone calls became feet wrapped together under the covers in a good night embrace. Side by side, fingers laced together as each day disappeared into slumber. And still we whispered in the dark.

But the dark deceived me, stealing the warm comfort and replacing it with a lonely chill. In one night, everything changed and the last whisper ricochets inside my memory. Words that had once gently closed each day slammed the door on a lifetime.

I love you.

Sweet dreams.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Make Lemonade.

“Mom, how do you make lemonade?”

Anyone who knows me, knows that asking me for culinary or libation guidance is a little bit like trying to sell a swimming pool to an Eskimo. But he is earnest and I am caught off guard. Not because I can’t find my way around Google, but because he isn’t the first to mention lemonade this week.

The other came in the lines of an email from a friend I would not have met had it not been for my husband’s unauthorized departure. In an ironic twist that fate inflicts all too easily, we had read about her loss only weeks before and standing in that kitchen I had felt more connected to this woman I did not know than to any other spouse that had been left behind before. They were young and happy, like we were, with their whole lives ahead of them. They had two children, one boy and one girl, of similar ages to our own. He shared the same calling as my husband. Looking at my husband I told him I could not imagine how she felt at that very moment. And then two weeks later, I knew.

From one suddenly left behind to another. Making lemonade, right?

As a child I loved lemonade, a taste that stayed through my teenage years and well into adulthood. Sweet and sour shaken together with a dash of youth and summertime. But lemonade is as individual as the person. It’s not the ingredients that tempt the palate – it’s the art of making lemonade that does.

In the early years of our marriage, we harvested hundreds of lemons from the yard each year. We froze the juice and savored lemon tarts and moist meringues. We soaked sliced lemons in pitchers of crystal water. We made lemonade.

And then I made my own.

“Sweetheart, I’m not exactly sure. But, we’ll learn together.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Peeling Back the Layers.

“Big and Floppy. I’m not going to tell you again.”

It’s not like I’m in a position to argue. She’s hovering above me, gently humming torture device dangling in one hand, and if I didn’t like her so much I’d consider telling here where to put it. Big and floppy, indeed. 

I am not sure what has caused me more physical angst in recent years. Grief? Age? Probably equal measures of both. And they’ve enjoyed their little WWF tag-team routine far too thoroughly, which is why this little cocoon of rejuvenation bears a striking similarity to the dungeon under the control of Snow White’s  wicked crone of a stepmother. Lights are dimmed, machines steam like cauldrons bubbling and soothing music that feels less Zen and more Edgar Allan Poe plays as she towers above me and rubs her hands gleefully.

I am a little concerned that she enjoys this so much, but I am not about to argue with a woman who has gone to bat for me against hormones and grief.

When he died, we were overwhelmed with kindnesses – deliveries of food and trips to the park, bills paid and laundry washed. Donations squirreled away for an education we dreamed our children would have. Pictures sorted for the funeral and a house decorated for a cold and lonely Christmas. Toys for them and memorial bike rides for him. And tucked within the hundreds of cards, filled with the notes and names of people that had touched our lives, a gift for me. A simple gift I would not have given myself but that someone, somehow, knew I needed.

I barely spoke that first time, listening only to the whirring of the machines in a desperate attempt to calm the raw nerve endings that flinched at the slightest touch as she worked quietly on the epidermal layer protecting the weeping landscape beneath. In the mirror I saw a woman aged by sadness. She saw a woman still young but simply buried underneath the ashen skin. In the beginning, we endured each other in silence. But as time went on the skin she dedicated herself to restoring and the shattered soul it encased grew pliant and more willing. Silence faded into laughter as a new life emerged from beneath the layers.  

Laughing, I know that her admonishments about sun spots damaging her canvas are proof that we’re living in each moment. Peeling back the layers is no longer painful and I trust her to know how much I can withstand, even if she does get a little too excited about something “that feels like bugs eating your face.”

Watching her hand dance above me I wonder how tight her grip is. Because if that peel takes my nose with it …

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spooks. Spectres. And Steve.

Our war is in its sixth year. 

To be honest, he doesn’t even know about our little feud, which is less war and more burning desire on my part that a tornado will set down on his yard and remove every strip of yellow caution tape, enormous furry spider, animated headless object and bubbling cauldron. 

It’s not that I want to win the award for best Halloween d├ęcor. Frankly, I really don’t want to spend hours draping cotton cobwebs over shrubbery and between tree branches. Or assemble miles of extension cords just so pumpkins will grin from the doorstep in the night. Only to take it down three weeks later.

But I live in one of those neighborhoods. You know. The ones filled with families. Families with Dads that like to decorate. Or that have wives who make them do it. And there’s always one house in that trumps the rest. At Halloween, it’s Steve’s house.

(I’m 98% sure Steve is his name because my husband once said it was. But because alliteration sounds fun, we’re going with Steve. Even if there is a 2% chance his name might be something else. Like Joe. Or Zeke.)

Steve is the reason that my kids grade our house each year on a sliding scale that goes from putrid to petrifying. He doesn’t just deck the spooky halls spectacularly. He actually becomes part of the grim landscape, jumping out to add the final touch of terror while the neighborhood kids shriek in fear. So when Steve starts wrapping his trees in caution tape, I don’t hear maniacal screams from his little yard of horrors. I hear …

“Why can’t you decorate our house better? And make it more … you know … Halloween-ish.”

Which is why I am wrestling with the landscape. A heavy ladder. Two new gargoyles. A sparkly web. Another spider. A ladder. An assortment of pumpkins. Extension cords. Choking down the insect that just rocketed past my uvula, I step back and evaluate.

He can have October. But when December rolls around? It’s on. Like Donkey Kong.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Love Notes.

Leaves turn and fall, lying helplessly as they are ground to dust underfoot or whisked away to wait in disheveled piles of decay until they are swept away next spring with winter’s remains. Prettily painted toes vanish into buttery leathery soles and the crisp night air is caught in the fibers of woolen sweaters.  

Autumn has arrived.

And with it a scattered restlessness that permeates my days and my nights as I peer over the edge of another year. The air in the house is no longer angry and cold. Shelves and drawers once filled with the memory of him now lie barren and a garage once filled now lies half empty. Memorabilia has been moved and pictures rehung. Furniture sold and bought. Old routines abandoned and new ones created. Slowly and carefully, the house that was ours has become mine.

Storing a lifetime is messy, a cataloguing of memories and memorabilia that is as frustrating and incomprehensible for the onlooker as it is excruciating and depleting for the unwilling participant. His clothes hung untouched until dust had gathered and the sunglasses stayed where he placed them in the hallway that day. Relics of a life that should not have been lost left frozen in time as though leaving them in place would somehow alter reality. And yet, as the season of decay descends again the memory of him lingers in filing cabinets and drawers, cupboards and boxes.

The house beats with a new pulse, a warm cadence that is oddly comforting as I blow the dust back from boxes and drawers that have waited silently for me. Sifting through aging papers and faded ink, the memories of a life built on shoestrings and pennies pinched come alive.

Tucked between old resumes, household budgets, cars paid off, membership cards and career accolades covered with handwritten notes, it was as though he left it there for me to find in this month when his death looms largest and when I am being forced to reconstruct the deconstruction of our life. Running my fingers over the words, I remember that night.

Sleep well. Love us.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011


The sound of children playing floats through the open windows after dinner. Garbage cans roll to the curb in the morning dew and the smell of nutmeg fills the house. 

October is that perfect moment between summer’s last gasps and winter’s chilly grasp, when nights are cozy in their crispness and hands are held tighter. Horizons catch fire as leaves fade to gold and auburn and orange and autumn wreaths welcome you home. The boys of fall light up Friday nights while the girls dream of being homecoming queen.  Fires begin to crackle in the fireplace and pumpkins grin fiendishly in windows.

I hate October.

Now before you get your jack-o-lantern-maple-syrup-beer-swigging-fall-color-lovin’-and-I-was-born-in-October panties in a twist, hear me out. I used to love October. Every cozy-sweater-first-snow-black-cat-and-mug-of-cider minute of it.

But now I am answering questions about whether or not Daddy resembles the decaying mass erupting from the dirt in your yard against a display of crumbling faux grave markers.

I fend off their excitement as they campaign to create a display of grave markers for the man we have lost, all the while imagining what the letter from the homeowners association would say if I had given in to their demands for a permanent tombstone in the front yard. When the doorbell rings and it’s our turn to pass the neighborhood “boo” I think only of the doorbell in the night to sign official paperwork. Walking to the mailbox, I wonder how many of them ask about the ones left behind in the house on the corner. I dread the emails and phone calls checking in, as much as I need them to reassure me that he has not been forgotten.

But none of that matters because right now it isn’t about skulls in the yard. It’s about squeezing into that red-lycra-pitchfork-tail-and-patent-heels costume.   

Because if I’m going to roast in the pits of hell, I need to be dressed appropriately.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sands of Time.

I wandered through those halls supported by frail or massive columns … spires which looked like rockets starting for the sky, and to that marvelous assemblage of towers, of gargoyles, of slender and charming ornaments, a regular fireworks of stone, granite lace, a masterpiece of colossal and delicate architecture. – “Legend of Mont St. Michel” by Guy de Maupassant

It is magnificent.

The rolling fields and weathered stone villages have vanished into the night and all that stretches out below the fading full moon are miles of liquid grey tidal flats. Leaning out beyond the window sill as the wind howl s and rain falls on my face, I feel alive in this ghostly place.

We are staying in a centuries-old hotel knit tightly into cobblestone pathways that wind through a medieval town wrapped around the foundations of a towering abbey, the first stones for which were laid a thousand years ago. The history embedded in this place is fascinating – thousands of souls whose names are long since forgotten walked the dark halls of this holy castle in worship while others rotted in its bowels. I am fascinated by old buildings, both preserved and crumbling. It’s the stories we know that draw us in, but it is the stories captured in the mortar and lost in time that fascinate.  

For all of its bleakness, there is something magical about this cold and barren place.

Watching the moonlight’s shimmery dance across the sand, I wonder what lies beneath it. If we scraped it back would we find the roots of this rock? Would we find the remains of the unlucky ones who disappeared into the quicksand while others watched from the shelter of this stone refuge as their footprints faded with the slow weep of the tide?

Or would it run through our fingers like time slipping away?

I want to stay here and climb under the covers with the windows thrown open, sleeping away time as though it would somehow return to me the moments lost in the mortar of our life. Here I could linger – without regret and anger and sadness and impatience – in that middle ground between rest and awake where we let down our guard. Here, surrounded by stone awash in a sea of shifting sand, I could simply linger.

While the sands of time lost run through my memory.