“And think not, you can direct the course of love; for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.” – Kahlil Gibran
– – –
It started with the light bulbs and ended with the cockroach. Two light bulbs blew out. The first was in the master bathroom which went dark about a month after Hook died. Instead of changing the bulb, I stopped using that bathroom and started using the guest bathroom. Then the light in the guest bathroom blew out a week later – in the exact spot as in the master. It was just a screw-in bulb, so easy to replace but to do so seemed a herculean effort. I was never going to hear, “I’ll take care of it, babe.” I stood at that vanity in the dark sobbing then walked out, leaving the bulb for another day.
After the light bulbs, the weed edger string ran out as I was halfway through edging the lawn. That I was doing the lawn in the first place was not by choice, but the kid next door had not shown up to mow and the yard was looking suspiciously unkempt. There I was squatting on the front lawn with the machine turned upside down, staring at the black spool as though doing so long enough would make the little blue string reappear. I put the edger down, threw it down actually, and placed my hand over my eyes as my shoulders started to heave forward with the gulps of crying that were starting to form in my chest. I didn’t have to worry that my neighbors might see me because I’d started the mowing and edging just before dusk so that even if the weeder had still worked, I wouldn’t have been able to see clearly enough to finish the front lawn.
After the edger stopped working, the newspaper stopped showing up in the mornings. Every week since Hook passed away, there would be at least one morning that the paper just wasn’t there. The man of the house, the paper’s dedicated reader, was no longer alive and there was no one who was going to read the paper front to back or dive into the sports section at the crack of dawn. I might skim over the syndicated columns or read the business section, but I was barely keeping up with reading snail mail. If you peeked inside the house, you would have seen a couple of papers still in their original plastic sleeves. If I were the local newspaper, I wouldn’t bother showing up either.
My breaking point came when the Texas tree roach made his appearance in the living room next to the fireplace. When I think back now, it was as though a bug memo had gone out: Hook is gone, she is alone; invade. I didn’t mind the enormous snail that plastered itself on the sliding glass door or the Texas longhorn beetles that kept landing on top of the BBQ grill or even the geckos (had there been babies?) that were running in and out every time I opened the door. But even Hook had said that the house roach served no purpose and could be decimated upon sight.
I returned home one afternoon and stopped still in my tracks when I saw the roach. If Hook had been here, I would have called for him and he would have grabbed it with his bare hands. Instead, I had to wait for my immobilizing fear to wear off. Once it did, I ran to the garage for the roach shoe — the special shoe I use to defend myself from cockroaches that somehow managed to get past the external pest control service. Shoe in hand, I ran back into the living room, took a deep breath and screamed as I whacked the roach to death leaving the shoe on top of him. I dropped down onto the sofa and bawled, falling over to my side, eventually curling up so I could hold myself as I wailed. Light bulbs and lawns and newspapers and bugs fell under ‘stuff Hook took care of’ and they were just more reminders of my everyday reality that no matter how many times I wished him back, Hook was not going to magically appear and make this house a home again.
– – –
I’ve spread his ashes and I tell myself I’ve accepted his death, but he’s the only person I think of when I want to share something I’ve read or heard or seen. Hook is here but not here. His body is gone but he’s everywhere in this house, the rental house where we lived, where he lived and died, where I live today, and where I face time and space without him. When I walk into the closet, I press my face into his clothes to catch any remaining scent of him before even that disappears, too. I stare at photos, willing him to return and make himself whole again.
Two weeks after Hook’s memorial, I flew to New Jersey to spend time with his step-family. I needed to see again where Hook had grown up, to walk the Sandy Hook beach where he’d been a lifeguard in the summers of his youth. Two of his step-sisters drove me by his high school and then down the street to his childhood home. I reminisced on his behalf the tale he once told about a party he threw as a teenager one weekend when his parents were out of town.
Almost a month after the New Jersey trip, I flew to Trinidad with some of his ashes. Hook wanted a small portion of his remains to be spread in the rainforests where he’d collected his wasps. I felt I owed it to him, and to the Trinidadian community, to bring the ashes in person. That Caribbean island, that beautiful rain-washed country had harbored Hook for two, 1-year sabbaticals and fifteen summers. I realized that I wasn’t taking Hook’s ashes but bringing him home to a people who treasured him. In between the New Jersey and Trinidad trips, I made a short trek to San Antonio for a three-day business conference, thinking it was time to start engaging the business world again. I chose a conference out of town though so I would know fewer people.
After each of these trips, each time I returned to Austin, I found myself forced back to the beginning of the grieving process where the initial loss sits on you like a weight. I already knew there was a danger in grieving too little, which comes right before the danger of grieving too long. No one can tell you what either of those is. Each person has to figure it out for themselves which is how I learned that I needed to walk into my grief, to sit with it, to feel the depth of the loss so that Hook’s passing won’t haunt me forever.
It’s why after a funeral is over, and everyone leaves, and you’re all alone that then and only then do you get a sense of what things will be like from now on. And it’s not anything that can be rushed or helped by the presence of another. Sometimes being around people actually makes it worse, because you don’t openly grieve, not like how you would if you were alone. Instead you hold it all in. When I’m with others I feel normal, like before, and I think, This is all going to be okay. But then I’m alone and I fall apart, taken by surprise at Hook’s absence because he is still gone. He is gone and he is never coming back.
– – –
When people ask how I’ve been, I say “Fine; hanging in there; good.”
I’ve felt each of these things at one time or another, but I’ve no idea how I am really and I won’t know for some time. I think about how it would be so much easier to live during a time when retreating from society for a year was the norm after the death of a spouse. And I think, it’s still not too late for me to do that except sometimes I need the interaction of other people but not in the quantity I did before. So I tread lightly into public, refusing to go at anyone’s pace but my own and learning the hard way that even if I were dressed in all black with a veil covering my face and the words, Be Gentle, written on my forehead that there would still be those who lack emotional intelligence of any kind when it comes to those of us who are mourning.
Certainly that was the case on the plane to Trinidad with the man who moved into the vacant seat next to me once he realized no one was going to be sitting there. He asked why I was going to Trinidad and I told him. About two hours into the five-hour flight, when the attendant handed out the customs forms, this man turned towards me and watched as I started to check off boxes.
“You’re a widow now,” he said as he tapped my form with his pen. “You’re not married anymore. You’re single now. You have to mark single.”
With every word he spoke, tears welled up in my eyes as I stared down at my form, liquid blurring my vision. This stupid, stupid man kept saying it over and over again, “You’re a widow now.”
I wanted to beat him with his own iPad or scream in his face, SHUT! UP! But I didn’t. I didn’t because Hook wouldn’t have done that, and I didn’t want to do anything Hook wouldn’t have done.
When I was sure my voice would be steady, I asked, “Will you be moving back to your seat?”
“You want me to move?” the man asked, incredulity in his voice.
“Yes,” I said, “then we can have more room to spread out so we’re not so crowded.”
If there was a Hook test, I’d passed it.
– – –
My friend, Angelica, had a dream about Hook the night before I returned from Trinidad. In her dream, Hook was flying a plane to ACL. The ride was bumpy with all sorts of alarms going off inside, but Hook still managed to land the plane safely.
I’d been waiting for Hook to show up in someone’s dreams because he hadn’t shown up in mine. I’ve fallen asleep night after night with tears on my lashes and whispering, Please talk to me. But he hasn’t come to me in my dreams and that’s both bothered and saddened me. What I mean, what God knows I mean, and what Hook knows I mean is that I’ve been waiting, waiting for some sign, some dream, something that will tell me whatever it is I believe I still need to know.
He landed safely. It had been a bumpy ride, but he got there safely.
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