As the first days of 2014 dawned last year I felt terribly down and began a series of weeks and months that were an endless cycle of pulling myself together for work and donning the mask of productivity which was as comfortable to me as the wool sweaters and knee-high boots that I put on many mornings and then falling apart as soon as the garage door descended at my house in the evening. Many nights I would give Julia a bowl of oatmeal for dinner or some other easy to prepare meal before I climbed into bed at 7:00 pm with episodes of Strawberry Shortcake on Netflix as our nocturnal soundtrack and cried quietly, my back turned away from my small bed companion until I fell asleep. I hid the fact of my evening routine very, very well. On the outside I looked like I was doing really well because I knew how to say the “right” things and flash a smile that said to most people that I was handling everything very well. My eyes were bright, my voice was steady and clear but I was not. Even if you look at the blog posts from last year they were infrequent but positive. Infrequent because when I started to write my true feelings it became apparent that I was shaking and honestly drowning so those remained unpublished drafts, half-written soul bearing soliloquies silenced by my own self editing mind. This routine continued until early March when I could not longer hide my nightly routine. Finally I sought help and decided that my lack of living was not stopping my grief or sorrow; it was providing a solitary cave for it and me to hide in. I got better and the sun of my soul rose again and I found ways to laugh, to cope and to find joy in moments where I saw them. I can carefully look for the warning signs that the “black dog,” as Winston Churchill and Wesley Cline both called depression, was creeping into the room. I tell this all not to elicit sympathy or to startle you gentle readers, but as a preface to the days that made up the beginning of 2015.
I was determined after last year to actively fight that urge to hibernate and hide away. I think part of it is the natural post-Christmas Blues as the January weather hangs gray and cold and the merry artificial lights of red and green are extinguished but I refused to lose months again to my crippling sorrow. Julia cannot have a mother whose eyes look hollow and empty as she grows because that is not the that life I, or Wesley, wants for us.
So I attacked the closets, the boxes, the places that had grown dusty both physically and mentally in the past 22 months. Until very recently I felt moving anything of Wesley’s was a great betrayal of him and me. His messily folded pajama pants in the dresser drawers and hastily scribbled grocery lists were untouched from where he placed them in March 2013. I believe that for months and now years that in some place of my grieving mind that illogical as it may seem that Wesley would come back to those who love him. My mind knows this is magical thinking; a wishful fallacy of a hurting heart but still I have not wanted to move forward because what if he comes home and his things are moved? But in the cold days of January I have felt the urge to open long closed boxes and bags and look at what I want to keep and what deserves another home. I have viscerally felt Wesley’s support, his pride at me trying hard to separate the clothes and items that have great attachment, be it nonsensical or not, and those that Wesley himself would have cast aside. And critical is not judging my choices…even keeping the multiple pairs of Grinch pajamas and possibly every color of Brooks Brothers polo shirts that they ever produced. No judgment or self doubting. Wesley is looking over my shoulder, whispering so softly, “I always hated that blue and white shirt…please do not let it clutter the closet and your heart. Let it go…”
My changes began with the new car I felt that I should buy right at the first of the year. Car buying, rarely a pleasant experience, was more painful than I had imagined it would be, but one that was needed for Julia and I to have reliability and independence. The black SUV I traded in was one that Wesley purchased upon graduating from law school and I re appropriated upon Julia’s birth stating that I needed the SUV with the baby. Uncomplaining he was once again relegated to the second-hand sedan with the questionably reliable air conditioning. But the Mercury Mountaineer had trekked many miles over the past 7 years and at 115,000 miles no longer was the vehicle that Julia and I needed so we now own a Honda CRV. A smaller SUV for our smaller family and its purchase was a concrete step that physically articulated our change in familial structure. I need a car for our actual family of 2; not our aspirational family of 4 or 5. Our needs have changed and that is not cause for strife but for moving forward. In trading in the car I felt that I was leaving behind those memories and in someway shedding who we were. Which is not true. Our memories and the essence of our family are not in metal and leather seats; they are in my mind and that is never traded in for the newer model vehicle.
The need to find structure and clarity in my home life continued as I cleaned the basement and garage last weekend with the help of family. Among boxes of books and office supplies I found a box marked “memorabilia” which should have been a red flashing sign that I might find the contents emotional. I opened it and was flooded with RSVP cards from our wedding, sweet cards written back and forth to pass our love to each other across the states that separated us in our early dating life and movie ticket stubs to every film we ever saw. Wesley was a consummate sentimentalist and kept so much of our early life together. In my searching I found an unmarked brown envelope with Blues Clues puzzle pieces enclosed and my handwriting on the back. It was the poem “Love is not all” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, that I sent to Wesley written on the back of a children’s puzzle. It is haunting to have those words in front of me. Words written by a 22 year old girl to her new boyfriend who she just might be in love with. A girl who already was thinking this boy could be the boy she might marry, maybe. I was instantly back in that place and marveled at myself who could not have know the joy; the inexorable bliss that lay ahead for her and this young dark haired Virginia boy to whom she was sending this poem. The days and years of love they would share together and the ticket stubs of movies seen and photographs of laughing faces that would mark birthdays and holidays. That our duo would grow to a trio and a duo again.
I cannot conceive that Wesley has been gone for close to two years. I said to a new acquaintance last week that my husband passed away “recently” and looked away when her eyebrows went up as I said he died in early 2013. It seems so very recent and so very close to me but life has gone on. Infants are toddlers now; Julia has learned to read and write and has changed so much and I too am changed not so much by chronology but experience. I feel like my new life is much like a puzzle; pieces that have splashes of color and shape but even as they lock together I struggle to see the picture that is now my life. But I sit and patiently try to fit the irregularly shaped jigsaw together; turning pieces in my mind and look for the patterns and picture to emerge. I strive to find the places and memories of my life to warm my soul regardless of January chill and to seek solace in my reorganization of hearth, home and heart.