Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The House at the End of the Street.

“Mom, we’re scared of your room. It’s okay when you are in there with us, but we don’t like being in there by ourselves.”

And there it is. The cold hard fact that something terrible happened in our house. At the end of October. At the end of the street. That’s right, Freddy. Rolling Green is the new Elm.

After years of watching them avoid an entire half of the house, darting through the door, closing open doors and setting my electricity bill ablaze light switch after light switch, my carefully guarded son and defensive daughter labeled the cloud that has hung quietly for years.

As his body lay in the room turning cold, a chilly fog descended on the house and in the moment that I found him I finally understood those words and turns of phrase we all throw so carelessly. The life sucked out of the room. The room felt different. There was something in the air. Deathly silence.

In the hours and days and weeks after, we stood firm in our resolve to return to the house where all of our memories were stored. The corners they crawled around. The wine splatters on the ceiling from Christmas Eve past. The pool we soaked in summer after summer. The hallways laughter once floated down. Memories and tears gathered like dead leaves, littering our days with anger and grief. And as days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years, the chilly winter that had descended began to thaw and it became our home again.

The house that I never wanted was no longer his, and we grew content to start again.

But the house we once clung to and now want to leave is not so easily the dearly departed. Losing half an household income, a year of unemployment and my unwilling widow status have fallen on deaf mortgage company ears, and legalities, a mother’s loyalty and my unbending pride make the house an unpleasant reality rather than the distant memory we desire. I resent the house simply because I cannot leave it. We fear it because of what the emptiness and dark nights bring to light.

But years of loneliness and aloneness have taught me much about resilience and change. The walls that once suffocated me are now, simply, walls ready for a fresh coat of paint to hide the blemishes of the past and let the light into the house at the end of the street.

A fresh canvas.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Life is perfected by death – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“My life will never be complete because he died and I can’t see him anymore.”

It is a strange thing that we, the living, do to them, the dead.

We carve immortal memories from what is left of mortal beings. One of humankinds’ greatest gifts is its ability to process emotion, raw and refined. And yet each one of us discovers, as we all must do, that is at the root of our greatest downfalls. Greed begets anger and loneliness and remorse. With great success comes great disappointment. Humor can lead us down hurtful paths, while trust leaves us naked and exposed.

But it is love that cuts the deepest.

In life, he was a man. No more, no less. He was dedicated to his job from start to finish, and dedicated to leaving it at the end of the day when he exited the uniform. Family vacations were shelved in favor of bicycle parts and bicycles, while extra income was shelved for family time. His body cleared rooms, clearing beans off the familial menu in perpetuity. When it came to handiwork, he generated more cost than cost savings. He whistled in his sleep, and hiccupped for days on end to the point of gastrointestinal distress.

In death, imperfections fade.

It isn’t that time heals all wounds. It’s that time covers them gently, pushing pain and anger and character flaws we liked less beneath a soothing balm of softer memories and laughter and the characteristics we liked more. We forget that we didn’t like the cheery voice breaking the morning silence, the clothes piled on the floor, or the way he cleaned the sink. As adults we brush these inconvenient memories aside.

But children don’t manufacture immortality – it exists in their memories. The smells that irritated me are funny memories to them. The cardboard box spaceship that left work for me left them with a lifetime of memories. The temporary tattoos that appeared at inconvenient times are permanently etched and the butterflies that I chose and he hung are his and his alone. For them, he has become the perfect memory, while I am the imperfect reality.

“Sweetheart, your life is already complete. You had the very best of Daddy, and he had the very best of you. And now we can open another door and see what or who comes next.”

“We already know what comes next. Cocoa!”

“Right. … Unless the dog is going to take out the garbage, I’m hoping there’s a “who” around the corner, too.”

“Like Gerard Butler?”