Split down the middle, but surviving.
New branches growing independently on either side.
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”
I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.
When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.
I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.
After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.
He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)
He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.
He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.
We hear them now and remember.
If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?
I thought I was the center?
Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.
That must mean something. Take a pic.
Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle. Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor. I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.
Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it. For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it. At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.
The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.
The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.
We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?
She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.
I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.
She doesn’t believe me.
Neither do I.
Things fall apart.
I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.
Until it happens again.
Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”
Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.
Wind goes right through me.
I’m always cold.
I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.
The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.
nos ad lucem…