You say to your husband who is not there, “Good morning, my love. Can I make you a latte and toast with Nutella?” And you do. You make coffee and toast for both of you. And then you remind yourself, “You know, if you keep pretending Marcus is here with you, you will need to see a psychiatrist.” You don’t care. You need to keep talking to him. You need to believe he is with you in your desert cabin. You need to make him his favorite breakfast on your anniversary.
You’ve lost 15 pounds from the stress of losing your husband, your best friend, your confidante, your soulmate, so you figure you should just eat his Nutella bread and you drink his coffee, you need the calories.
You’ve become an expert at crying. You have sobbed hard like this every day for 33 days now. You are used to looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing puffy eyes. Permanent puffy eyes. You don’t care. You don’t care about much. You don’t bother to brush your teeth. You don’t shave your legs. You never put on makeup or lipstick, not even lip balm on your dry, cracked lips. You don’t care that your jeans are two sizes too big from losing all that weight, uninterested in food, uninterested in life, unable to eat, unable to swallow with grief living like a rock wedged in your throat.
The phone rings so you raise yourself off the ground, slowly. You turn off the shower and crawl to the phone which sits on the bathroom cabinet. It is not The Phone Call. It is Melissa, your best friend in LA, the only person who seems to be able to rub any salve on your shattered soul. She hears your voice and KNOWS. She knows you need help. “Come home,” she says. “I will give you my bed. I will take you swimming in the ocean and walk with you on the beach. We will find you a place to live in Malibu so you can still be in nature. You need to come home.”
You load up the dogs – “Team Terrier” you call them – into the car and drive through Big Bend National Park. You choose this route even though it will add two hours’ driving time and cost you a $20 entrance fee, because you have been meaning to do this for several months and you still have not done it and your husband’s passing has shown you, you cannot wait. “Do it now!” you hear him telling you. “Don’t wait another day!”
You recognize the friendly face working at the national park entrance booth. It’s Blue from your yoga class. You can tell from the way she looks at you with sympathetic blue eyes she knows about your husband. “You heard about my husband, didn’t you?” you ask her. She nods with compassion. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she says. “I need to get out of town,” you tell her. She nods. “I understand,” she says as she runs your credit card through her machine.
You drive through the park, looking at the scenery but not really seeing it. The park feels so big, so empty. You cannot wait to get out of its confines, its wilderness only magnifying your loneliness. Once you exit the other end you drive into a half blue, half gray sky. It is a cloud burst. “That’s Marcus,” you say. “He is expressing himself. He’s mad that he was yanked away so soon.” You understand. You would be mad too. You are mad. You are angry with how life works, how unfair it is, how you can’t control things. You continue driving east and soon you see a rainbow. “It’s Marcus again,” you note. You drive toward the rainbow, thinking you are getting closer, but the closer you get the more it eludes you.
PHOTO: Our special camp spot. Amistad Reservoir, Del Rio, TX, Dec. 2008.
Now you are going to sleep in the back of your Mini Cooper, curled up in a tight ball with your knees jammed against the door. You are sobbing yet again. “What are you trying to tell me, Marcus?” you ask for the tenth time as you lay there in a new form of misery, lightning striking all around, rain pelting your car. “Are you telling me to slow down, to stop being so impetuous?” You admit you left in a bit of a hurry, panicked by touching the depths of your grief, needing to run away from yourself. You acknowledge that he was a helpful anchor to you, like a necessary, stabilizing tether to your hot air balloon which constantly threatens to float away without warning. “You cannot get away from yourself,” he seems to be telling you. “You need to stay still and I am going to make sure you do.” That he had to create a tempest to get you to stop and listen is not lost on you.
Still unclear about his message, you sit in your car until the storm passes. The stars appear in what is now a deep black night sky. You open the car’s sunroof, staring at the stars and talking to Marcus, until you fall asleep. You wake up to the sound of a truck engine roaring next to your window. You look up and there is a large, handsome black man with a gun strapped to his belt. Your mind wonders what kind of danger you are in until you see he is a Border Patrolman. He asks you why you are parked at this gas station at 2:00 AM and after you explain – minus the part about your husband and his elemental messages – he escorts you to the next town where there is a 24-hour gas pump. You make it there, touched by this officer’s kindness, fill up with premium, and drive until you find a Motel 6, because Motel 6allows dogs.
It is 3:30 AM when you settle into your room. Finally, you pour yourself a small glass of sake, from the expensive bottle Marcus bought at Whole Foods, the same store where he discovered the soap that you bought him. You couldn’t possibly have known how much this bottle would come to mean to you, but you somehow had the foresight to bring it with you from LA to Texas. At last, after surviving the storm, surviving yourself, you raise your glass and say, “Love of my life, Happy Anniversary.”
You shut your eyes and pray that when you open them in the morning you will have a little less pain, a little more will to keep living. That you will keep remembering the man you love, and to keep appreciating what time you did have together, even if that time was cut short. You vow that you will keep celebrating what you had with him and what you still have without him. “Whatever else you want to tell me, Marcus,” you say, “I am here. I am listening.” And with that, you fall into a deep sleep. Wrapped in your husband’s bathrobe. With his scent. With him.