It’s been a few weeks since you left. The flowers from the funeral home that made this place look like a greenhouse have all wilted. The kids are in school all day so the house is quiet. It’s just me and my supersonic memory of the past 20 years keeping me company right now.
I took flowers to your grave the other day — I was running out of places to put white lilies, pink orchids and plants with plastic butterflies attached to them. I don’t know what words to tell you when I’m there, so I only stare at the dirt where you rest underneath. I mutter how unfair it is. We didn’t get to finish our love story. We didn’t even get through the thick of it. You left during the rough patch. Our really, rocky patch. So here I am trying to hang on to the good parts of a love story we had and wondering what to do with all these memories.
Everywhere I go is a memory of you. Of us. Painfully awesome reminders all around here of how much we once loved each other.
As I leave the cemetery, I look across the street at the little garden shop you liked to visit — where we found a bunch of crap to put in our first house all those years ago. Do you remember when we came to look at the Christmas trees decorated and aisles of fun ornaments we browsed that holiday season after we got married? I remember there was a guy dressed as Santa and we both sat on his lap and took a picture. We were laughing so hard. We looked so stupid. When you’re in love I guess you don’t care how stupid you look.
I had to drive past the corner grocery store to get home — your family’s oldest store in a string of locations you owned in the region. It’s on this corner that your funeral motorcade paused and stopped for a brief time to acknowledge this is where four generations of independent grocers has come to an end. It’s right here where you, the president of your family’s grocery business, stood in the July heat for hours slinging hot dogs with your store employees during the Fourth of July parade each year. With nothing but smiles, you served and thanked customers with a genuine heart. Some guy who inhales on and tosses his cigarette here on the sidewalk waiting for the bus doesn’t know this corner is sacred to me — and he apparently doesn’t know that he shouldn’t f*ck with cancer. As I drive away, I still hear you laugh when your friend Eric jokes you are overcharging people for those hot dogs.
I had to visit the lawyer’s office the other day — just one of the many depressing things widows need to do in order to get their shit together and carry on. The office is next door to the newspaper I used to work at when we were first married. I blink back tears recalling the day I snuck in the work bathroom here on my break to pee on a pregnancy test in 2006. I was pregnant with our first child. I couldn’t contain my excitement, anticipation and joy of what we had yet to come. I could barely wait to tell you that night when you got home from work. We had so much love that day.
It was at this same office years ago that I met a maintenance man who had a leprechaun tattoo on his leg. Of course, I chatted him up and found out he was a huge Notre Dame fan who had never been to my hometown of South Bend where our beloved Irish play. I came home and told you that man said it was his dream to take his son to a football game there. Knowing that we had alumni tickets for that next weekend’s game, you didn’t hesitate in telling me, “Give him our tickets.” That’s how you were, hon. You didn’t mind helping other people, selflessly giving what you had — and in this case, easily making someone’s dream come true. I loved that that’s how you lived your life.
So many places are playing Christmas music right now and I wish they would stop. Nobody but me knows about the years we conquered our long-distance relationship with promises of Christmas visits — anticipation of hot chocolate in front of a fake fireplace listening to Bing Crosby. I counted down the days in that lonely, little Missouri apartment until you drove nine hours to deliver me a Christmas present in 1998. I forced you to listen to every song on my Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas cd that year (and made you like it, too). Some of the holiday songs remind me of the Christmas mornings you sat on the couch taking pictures of our children tear into their presents, screaming about new Barbies and electric scooters. Those pictures have forever frozen in time the love I felt for you on those mornings.
I’ve had to tackle your side of the closet, hon. It sucked. Every one of your T-shirts, your sweatshirts, your ratty gym shoes — they all have a story. They each have a memory more vivid and painful than the last. Remember your ugly, green Notre Dame hat that was so tattered and worn? The one I begged you to throw out and even hid from you for a while so you wouldn’t wear it in public? I look at it sitting on a shelf with your other hats and my heart aches thinking of ever parting with it now. I see your goofy face in that hat and I never want that memory to go away. I wish someone would explain to me how a shitty hat can make your heart break into a zillion pieces.
I opened your sink drawer to look for the Aquaphor and saw your toothbrush in there. It’s just another thing I can’t bring myself to get rid of. If I did, I think the finality of your life here would set in and I’d lose it. I picture all the times you bragged about how pretty your teeth were. I remember the times we raced each other brushing our teeth and you made fun of how the toothpaste always ran down my chin. It was fun to laugh with someone before bed who didn’t care that his wife looked like a rabid dog. I look into your vanity mirror and only see your laughing face all those times you watched me wriggle and squeeze my way into a pair of Spanx or a skirt that wouldn’t zip over my butt.
I found your wedding ring in there, too. The simple white gold band you hadn’t been able to wear for a good year and a half because the weight you lost made it fall off your finger. I looked at the inscription I had put inside it before our wedding 15 years ago, “Loving You Always.” Neither of us knew what that meant back then. It’s clear now. The love we had will always remain somewhere in me. I’m not going to care about the crappy times or the fights we had about stupid shit or over the people who got caught in the cross hairs of a temperamental marriage … those things will never erase the times we had pure love. I wear your ring on my middle finger now. It’s a reminder of the “loving you always” part of an unfinished love story.
Our bedroom is excruciating to be in because it’s where I found you that last morning. It’s where I looked into your beautiful eyes one last time before forever shutting them. Your one-in-eight-million, two different colored eyes. The right one is blue, the left is green, I remember you telling me the night we met. He’s rare, I realized then. I close my own eyes and picture you wearing that green sweater the night of my 30th birthday — when we laughed at the terribly inappropriate hibachi grill chef all night. I wanted to sit on your left side to see how that sweater brought out your green eye — my “favorite” eye.
There were probably a lot more shenanigans — tickling, laughing, and snuggling the kid-who-just-peed-her-bed in this room than “bedroom” things between us the past several years. It doesn’t take me long to find those memories below the sadness that surrounds this space every day. Remember that night you came in and burst out laughing because I was stuck in the middle of the mattress that collapsed in when I jumped into bed? I don’t want to forget that laughter because it makes me remember that love story again.
I remember our story with each picture I look at, each friend who comes to visit — even in writing thank you cards this past week. I’ve been sitting here addressing and licking hundreds of envelopes and my mind goes to a joke from a Seinfeld episode we loved about toxic envelopes that only you would appreciate. Nobody really understood the fact that ours was love story born out of our mutual fondness for sharing and laughing at pointless Seinfeld quotes. From what seemed pointless though, we built a pretty good story. We only knew each other a short 20 years, but I think we packed enough good in there to help me get through each day — to get through every painfully awesome reminder of that love we had. Four of those reminders greet me every morning at the breakfast table and pray for you at night. These reminders — your daughter’s toes that are exactly like yours, your son’s grin that mirrors yours, your baby girl’s nose that’s just like her daddy’s — will never allow me to forget our short love story.
Rest well dear husband, we’ll always hold you in our hearts as we carry on down here — you know, going to the grocery, to school, to soccer… yada… yada… yada.
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