I just re-read Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking" and realized I've had some of my own "magical" thoughts this year. Didion writes about how she can't give away her dead husband's clothes because he'll need them when he comes back. She can't move because her husband won't know where to find her when he comes back.
I haven't really indulged in thoughts of Mike coming back, but I was overcome by a strange feeling at a restaurant recently. I was having dinner at a place on the beach where Mike and I once ate. Then, it was a cold winter day in Florida. It was raining and we had just gone out for a drive along the coast. Julia was just over a year old. We stopped for a bite to eat. I remember running through the parking lot because it was so cold. We hurried inside and got a table and ended up eating the best lobster bisque. The inside of the restaurant was kind of dark with kitschy beach stuff on the walls. It was warm though. I didn't want to leave.
The other day, I was with someone else. Julia was there. We sat outside on a deck, shielded from the hot Florida sun. I could see the door that led to the inside. It was kind of dark with kitschy beach stuff on the walls. I couldn't stop staring every time it opened. If I walked through, out of the sun, would my old life be waiting for me? Would Mike and Julia be sitting at the table waiting for me, as if I had just gotten up to go to the bathroom? If we went out the front door would it be cold and rainy? Would we have to hurry to the car?
I could see it so vividly. The door was pulling me in. I wanted to go and see. But I knew I would just be disappointed. I had to stay focused. My old life was not on the other side of that door. No matter how bad I wanted. No matter how much magical thinking I did.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
It’s been 365 days since you died. Three hundred sixty-five days since I saw your face. Three hundred sixty-five days since I sat next to you, holding your hand, listening as the time between your breaths got longer and longer. Three hundred sixty-five days since I leaned in and told you I loved you, promised you I would take good care of our baby girl and that it was OK for you to let go; you didn’t have to fight anymore.
I wish I could tell you in all those days that things have gotten easier, but I still miss you all the time. I miss you when I see something funny and want to tell you about it. I miss you when I walk into a dark, empty house. I liked it when you would wait up for me at night. I miss you on holidays. They have been so hollow, sort of pathetic, really. I miss you when Julia is wearing me out and I feel like a bad parent and I have no one to tell me that it’s going to be OK, that I’m doing the right thing. Or if I’m doing the wrong thing, no one is here to tell me what’s right. I miss you when my friends complain about their relationships, because even though I liked to bitch about you never once turning on our dishwasher, you really were a good husband. You loved and honored me as your wife, and as the mother of your child, and you never once spoke disrespectfully to me, even though I’m sure I deserved it on more than one occasion.
And speaking of my annoyance with your lack of household help, I see now what contributions you made to our family. So I miss you when I’m pushing the lawnmower up the damn hill and taking the car in to get the oil changed and paying the bills.
Sometimes I’ll come across something, like your handwriting or a photo, and it will literally take my breath away. I got my West Virginia license plate and on one side is the number 5, the other side, 30. Your birthday: 5/30. I like it. Feels like you’re with me. Other times, I feel a physical emptiness, a hole in my chest. I feel incomplete.
But when I think about you, I think about how you were full of life. You loved life. You were larger than life.
I envision you sitting at the Anchor, everyone gathered around, cracking up at whatever you were saying. And I felt so happy being the girl sitting next to you. The girl who got to go home with you.
And I know that you would want me to live life. To teach our girl to live life. To love life. To get on with life.
It scares me a little bit, because to let go of the pain would, in a way, be like letting go of you. But I will never let go of you. I’m working on separating the two. I’m trying to push those memories of you so sick, struggling to breathe, out of my mind. But oh, do they haunt me…
I want to remember the you who still ate the key lime pie I baked for you, even after I dropped it on the floor, because you didn’t want me to cry. The you who took me out for a drive in your car with the top down on a Sunday afternoon. The you who saved the cork from that bottle of wine we were drinking the first night we kissed. I still have it, by the way.
I want to remember you kissing Julia’s belly while she squealed with delight. And watching Eagles games with her. And pushing her around the neighborhood in the stroller.
Oh, if you could see our girl now. You were always so eager to watch her grow and learn and discover new things, while I was the one who wanted her to stay a cute, cuddly baby. You would be beaming right now. She just finished her first year of preschool. She spent weeks watching caterpillars turn into butterflies. She can put together 100-piece jigsaw puzzles by herself. She’s finally starting to pedal on her bike and can successfully blow a bubble. And on this very day, she’s taking her first tennis lesson. I have to admit, it is pretty cool.
She’s not into dolls or really girly things. She still likes books. She sneaks them into her bed at night. It reminds me of how you told me you used to go to bed with a radio to listen to Phillies games. She still eats blueberry Eggos and vanilla yogurt every single day for breakfast and still can’t drink through a straw.
She can still test my patience, wear me out and get on my last nerve. The whining and yelling. Oh God, the whining and yelling. But we’re working on it. I’m trying to teach her to be a proper young lady. She’s so smart. And funny. And beautiful. But you already know that.
Thank you for giving her to me.
I feel like I haven’t been the best mother to her this past year. I’ve been distant, in a fog. But I want to snap out of it, and I know you would want me to snap out of it. You would want me to live. So I’m going to try. And I hope you’ll watch over us and maybe point us in the right direction. We’ll try not to disappoint. And I hope you know that you’re always with us. Always.