Nine months ago today, almost to the hour, my wife of 21 years, companion of 27, died in this house, upstairs from where I’m writing, after an afternoon binge-watching Inspector Morse next to each other in the bedroom, a pleasant day until it wasn’t. The suddenness was, not the way the word is used now by ignorant children, awesome. She was here and then she wasn’t, though her body lingered for a while until it became ashes in a box next to the chair she sat in every morning writing. Before and after: everything else was the same, but not the important thing.
Nine months in the house we lived in together, the home she made for us after the Witch Creek fire burned us out of Del Dios, in another October (2007), just less than nine years before she died. Another “tragedy,” people called it, which took most of our possessions but left us, and the cat, alive. I went back to the empty lot today where we lived then, cleared now of brush and dead trees for fire season, picked up a piece of tile from our old walk-in shower, and a shard of a vintage stoneware cereal bowl, all while thinking about these words, and our life there, and the time between.
In another context nine months is time for a new life, but not in this. Most of today I tried to find words, drank coffee and looked out the windows, walked around the house, touching this and that. Dust has settled everywhere I hadn’t looked, and many of the places I had, I can’t keep up, I don’t keep up. She said I wouldn’t keep up if she died first, in one of those hypothetical conversations we used to have before they became real. I said I’d get sixteen cats, but I haven’t. Nine months living with the things she left behind and, it should go without saying, not over it. I have no illusions, I believe I have no illusions, but in a way I’m still inside her life, a different possibly better person than I was 27 years ago, annealed in the fire of our relationship, both of us happy (my belief) just before the end.
It’s not that nothing has changed in nine months. The awesome suddenness imbued everything she’d touched, particularly on her last day, with a patina of sacredness (there may be a better way to put that). Just a couple of examples, the chair she sat in every morning has not been sat in by anyone else, though it’s the most comfortable chair in the house, and the towel from her last shower is still hanging in the bathroom, on the hook where she left it. It wouldn’t bother me anymore to put the towel back into the laundry cycle, I don’t feel, no longer feel, as Joan Didion wrote she felt about her husband’s shoes, that she’ll come back and need it. It’s still sad, but I no longer feel the need to protect it, no longer tragedy but part of life, one or the other of you if you’re lucky enough to have something like what we had. I guess that’s, however slightly, moving on, but truthfully it feels worse, like a traumatic injury where, when the shock wears off (and I’m not saying it has) the pain rises.
This is, as she would have predicted, all about me, all about me missing her, and not about her, the person she was, the life cut short like a bird shot out of the sky (but see www.saraiaustin.com for some of that flight).
I miss her every day.