He heard her last breath depart. She’d stopped breathing in the same practical manner she’d completed other tasks, “That’s it. All done.” He touched her. She didn’t feel like herself, he could feel the her of her had moved on. Just as he’d used to fear in the early days when they’d argued, she’d left, gone, no amount of remorse would bring her back.
The decades had gone by so fast. One day they were young and carnal and the next they were grey and frail. He’d been convinced that he’d go first or they’d go together. He never considered that she would go before him. He thought she’d always be there. He was accustomed to her.
He purposely rattled around in the early mornings so she’d wake up. Unless she was hanging on to residual anger from the previous day, she’d open her eyes to listen for a moment before she announced, “I love you.” Her declaration was always fresh, an important new discovery. Even when he was annoyed or impatient to get on with the day, it was reassuring. She marked his place in the world.
She’d been so determined about everything. She was emphatic that there should be no “wailing and wringing of hands”. Her bon voyage was for family only, and even then only the family she wanted- invitation only with a velvet rope and a bouncer if necessary. It would have been a lot harder for him if she hadn’t been as organized. She’d researched every detail and left directions. She bypassed a will entirely. Her accounts were payable on death and her tangible assets were distributed while she lived.
She’d never been able to rationalize what her grandfather had done to her father. He’d left him only one dollar from a sizable estate, that provided handsomely for the remaining heirs. It was an old legal tactic accompanied by the cruel words “through no error or inadvertence”. She’d thought it was the epitome of callousness. She’d always said she wanted everyone who mattered to know exactly what she thought. Over the last weeks she’d reminded him, repeatedly, that she’d left instructions in their strong box and documents in their bank safe deposit box. She didn’t want him to worry.
He was worn out from anticipatory grief. He didn’t know what to do with himself. She’d be disappointed if she could see him procrastinating, wanting to put it off. He went out to the garage, to her potting table. He got down on his creaking knees to move the pots on the bottom shelf aside. Her argument, that this was the best place for the strong box, had been as amusing as it was sensible. What “invader”, she’d wanted to know, would think to look through her “pretty” flower pots for a strong box? If the house burned down the box would remain unscathed in the garage. He’d given in to her logic. It hadn’t mattered to him. She was the one who kept track of things and made sense of their life.
He pulled the box out and jiggled his, seldom used, key in the lock. There it was, in a heavy cream colored envelope, the stationary she’d always used exclusively for him, marked “Just in case”. He set it on the potting table while he replaced the box and pots. He walked slowly across the driveway to the screen door, seeing things for the first time as he imagined she’d seen them. The flowers were wildly bright, accompanied by whirligigs and wind chimes. He cried to think of her. He was happy that she’d lived through a final summer. When she’d worked, she always took her vacation in early August “just before summer starts to fade”. Sobs heaved from him as brokenhearted tears rolled down his grey whiskered face.
He heard the screen door bang shut as he entered the kitchen. He drew a glass of well water from the tap as he looked out the window at the bird feeder, then around her kitchen where she had exclaimed many times, “I love home.” He went to the table and he sat down, knowing this would be the last time he heard from her. He opened the envelope and he read.
Please don’t feel guilty, don’t have regrets and do not take up drinking again; you weren’t very good at it the first time around.
I loved you so much in the beginning. We just knew, remember? We knew separately, at the same time, that the other one was THE ONE. It was uncanny. We were connected at the heart and joined at the pelvis, all thrust and grind until we could barely walk then we’d do it some more. No one lived in our world but us. Strangers stopped us on the street to remark on our bubble of happiness. I thought it would last forever.
I was woefully unprepared for the responsibilities you assigned to me. I had no idea how the world worked. I thought my job was to entertain, that you would manage the tediously difficult tasks. I learned, not for myself but because it was important to you. There was so much to keep track of. You changed me but you didn’t change. You were able to continue being true to your inherent person, the man residing within.
There are many things I wish hadn’t happened. I wish I had never tried to have babies. I didn’t know how to do it. I was catatonically afraid. You and that awful OB-GYN forced me to go to the psychiatrist after my body rejected the first baby but before I aborted the second one. You took me there, spoke privately with him, as though I were not a grown adult, and deposited me on his couch without further ado- she’s broken fix her. That’s how I felt, like a possession. It was a defining moment. I knew then that I was less than last. I allowed you to be first.
The psychiatrist was a receptor. He heard me. I suppose, in the beginning, I represented income, describing objectively that I had misplaced myself, tucked away in a safe spot in the attic or a dark, dry corner of one of our closets, lost and sadly missed. I made the choice to abort that second baby. I felt as though my body was sheltering an alien, draining more of me away until there would be nothing left at all. You didn’t understand. You didn’t want to know so I stopped trying to tell you. I accepted my position.
It was a matter of survival really. I knew who I wanted to be. Just like everyone else, I wanted to be special to someone, special to you. I learned through trial and error that I, alone, knew the yearning of my secret heart. You made the suggestion that I ought to go see my “paid pal” again. It was dismissive and derisive all at once. You gave me permission to share part of who I was with someone else.
I wanted you to want to know me, that’s all. Those years of appointments became one long unsatisfying tryst, a coupling lacking in desire, something to fill the time. I hated that I was doing to him what you had done to me. Life demands maturity.
I created a routine that allowed me moments of happiness in little pockets of loveliness. You demanded less of me or I found a way to circumvent those demands. I didn’t leave you because I knew what you wouldn’t admit, you relied on me. I don’t believe dependence is the same as love. I don’t. Maybe for you it is. We’re different.
Since you’re reading this you must know everything is in order. It’s all taken care of. The details are in the strong box and I put a copy in the bank safe deposit box in case the garage burns down.
I loved you with all my heart.