Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Weight of Words.

“I wish we had Daddy’s voice.”

My hands slip on the rough cords, a misstep unnoticed by him but a reminder of the little nuances that jar our contented daily existence. He has never said this before, but this simple statement is just enough to let failure and her malicious sibling, guilt, crash our party. Like unwelcome guests that leave without cleaning up after themselves, they whisper in my ear.

Should have … If only … Don’t you wish … Why didn’t …

In the hours and days and weeks that followed, his voice and his laughter went silent as “he’s not okay” thundered through my head. The mother that once shared her fear now watched as her daughter fought against it as his voice slipped away with each passing moment. While bodies around me pushed me to make decisions about healthcare and finances, funeral arrangements and medical records, I obsessed over the sound of his voice and the feel of his touch. Silent tears in dark corners as he told me to “leave a message, and I’ll call you back.”

But he never did.

We should have bought the video camera we meant to, but didn’t. If only I could watch as he carried her sleepy body down the hall, whispering “I love you, sweetie” for just one more night. I wish he was standing beside me tonight, his voice echoing across the arena as his son takes the ice.

Why didn’t he record a longer message?

It is the last trace of the voice that celebrated our victories and soothed our fears. The voice tinged with laughter at home, and commanding on the job. The voice we belonged to and believed in, and that belonged to and believed in us. 

And on the eve of his birthday, it is once again unbelievably close and incredibly loud. 

“Sweetheart, I know you can’t hear it, but it’s there. It will always be there.” 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You Talkin' To Me?

Robert De Niro is not driving. And it wouldn’t matter if he was. Because I am one red light away from going all taxi on my driver.

“Where, exactly, are we going?”


“Nooooooo. Manhattan is back there. Behind us.”

I admit to being cartographically challenged. Two degrees and numerous test scores, however, prove that I am not stupid.

We are not going to Manhattan. If we were, it would be in front of us. Not fading in the distance through the rear view mirror.

It is past midnight and after nine hours of travel I have landed in a smoky cab that has alternated between breaking the sound barrier and dancing on the edge of disaster. I’m green with the apple threatening to make a re-appearance, and we’ve missed every green light since crossing the bridge. The first bridge.

We have been honked at, cussed at and cut off. My water bottle flew under the front seat like it was propelled with rocket fuel and at the last red light my seatbelt locked so tightly that it is now the last line of defense between my panic-stricken aortic chambers and the light of day. Or, in this case, the plexiglass wall that is the only thing separating the cabbie from the fist keeping him awake.

“I missed the turn. Gotta go ‘round.”

“You ‘gotta go ‘round’?”

“Lady, I had a long day. Stop kicking the wall!”

A long day. He had a long day. Did he promise a little girl that he wouldn’t die if the plane crashed? Did a little boy promise him that he’d take care of his sister when you’re gone? Did he sit beside a man knocking on the 100th door who farted and whose knees danced up and down for five hours? No. He didn’t. But I did and I don’t really care how long his day was, because I want mine to end.

“I had a long day, too. And I would like it to end. You stop napping and I’ll stop kicking. Deal?”

That’s right, dude. You might think you’re Robert De Niro. But you’ve got Kathy Bates in the back seat.

And she’s not happy with the ending.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Moving at the Speed of Life.

"You must have a guilty conscience.”

The officer peering in the passenger window is trying very hard not to laugh. And I see his point. I have just pulled myself over—without sirens or lights. Because the words of another officer are echoing in my head. 

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than being told your wife was a bitch when she was pulled over.”

But the officer in the window doesn’t know about the officer in my head. What he knows is from the computer terminal in his console. My age. My hair color. My eye color. My weight. From 11 years ago. My address. My driving record. The three letters and four numbers on the license plate that mean something he can’t quite place but knows he should.

A guilty conscience.

Over the three missed runs this week. The classroom art that has been building on the kitchen bar for months. The single apple jack stuck to the floor since Monday morning. The clean clothes now wrinkled because they are still sitting in the basket days after the final spin cycle. The bank account I haven’t balanced in years, checking in only long enough to make sure it’s floating above the low water mark. The leaves that meander through the yard and collect like snowdrifts in tiny corners and the irrigation system broken since last spring. The books I haven’t read with my daughter, and the computer that I haven’t set up for my son. The meals I don’t eat and the rest I don’t get. The phone calls not returned and the emails unread. Appointments missed and invitations forgotten and unanswered.

The doctor’s appointment we are late for and the school bell we will miss.

Somewhere in the 37 books on grief that now gather dust on the shelf, written by experts of an academic, experiential and religious nature, are words so complicated in their simplicity. Statistics show that those who’ve lost everything drive as though they have nothing left to lose. I believe that to be true. But I also believe this to be true.

We don’t have time to slow down.

Smiling back at the officer in the window, I see his lips move but it is the smile in another officer’s voice that I hear.

“SLOW DOWN. You are going too fast. And don’t tell me that you aren’t. Because I can SEE you.”