I was looking at my newsfeed and I saw this embedded video of a television advertisement for vitamins. In short, it showed a couple of couples playing strip poker; glowing young folks, fully developed and semi-clad. One voluptuous female loses the hand and begins unclasping her radiant red brassiere, but is frozen mid reach by an older janitor-type in white scrubs – is it worth noting that the guy is stereotypically black and grisly? – he snaps on the lights and says, “Go back to bed!”
When we pan back to the mostly naked poker people, they are all in their seventies. The voice-over says: “Feel young again. Take bla bla bla.” It was cute. The first person I thought of was you, nothing strange about that. We’d often claimed that sharing was the cement that glued us in our long marriage. And Facebook makes this sharing act very simple; there are just so many ways to share! I selected the proper link-button, typed your name in the “Write Something” space and clicked “post.” I could have made it private to you, but I want My Friends to see my stuff. There was nothing private or too risqué about this message.
Knowing where my mind will next go, I scramble to avoid thinking about it. But the well-traveled neuron connections are too ingrained and the next step sends a shock through my head and heart. I guess that’s the way we remember to mourn. We surprise ourselves into grief. Repeatedly.
After two years I am cored in the same cold way. Isense the approach, like the smell of a distant storm, and try to sidestep the dread epiphany, it still surprises. I have almost found a way to live with it. At first I tried to talk myself out of it. Then I went through a period of wallowing – you know, where you try to squeeze all the pain out of your heart like a fat, oil saturated sponge. As if there is a bottom to that bitter well.
Even in the beginning the surprise of your absence burst upon me when my attention drifted– even though really, I thought of nothing but you. Somewhere around one year, I fell into a long mediocre stretch punctuated by these occasional gut dropping shocks. As the time between them grew, I actually began to feel normal – or at least as normal as I’ve been since you vanished – well, maybe normal isn’t the proper word – neither is vanished, exactly. Maybe it would be better to say I became accustomed to the new muted color of life.
Then, in this blur of non-descript exhaustion, something happens and I think (without thinking at all I realize after the fact,) geez, I bet you’d really get a kick out of… and ping! There you would be. I wondered if I was just so tired of the shock, the shock of your loss, the shock of what being really alone was, my brain, in an attempt to save me, was masking the area around your memory like a segment in a tape recording that’s cut out and spliced with scotch tape. Not a very good splice either, the kind that alerts the listener that something was removed – something about a change in atmosphere. Or maybe a stray bit of the expunged sound got left behind, enough to alert the ear that a part was skipped, but not enough to tell what it was. And of course that detection would connect to the whole memory, big and garish and red, just as inflamed and sore as when the wound was made.
I got mad at the phenomenon for a bit. But I know anger is one of the stages, so I worked to let go fast, transmuting the threat of violence into more sustainable emotions. Numbness won out, slow to morph into what your non-being has now become, dull and jaded, yet unexpectedly bothersome as a steel wire splinter in the fingertip.
In addition to experiencing the re-shock of your loss every time I get excited about something, I often find myself waking up from immersive reminiscences. I am not aware of entering into these states, only leaving them, when I realize, again, in less of a balance-robbing way, that oh, yes, we are no longer making new memories together. Though reliving them is a convenient refuge, I am at my core a realist; I see the futility of growing accustomed to escape.
When you still breathed, we had an ongoing argument about life. I always thought of it as a disagreement about gusto, but I never mentioned that title to you. And truth be known, I agree with your point. I was taking the side of the devil in order to tease out the details – and I think you knew that. I based my position on a quasi-Hemingway stance, though I have not closely studied his work. From what I have read and pondered, (and why shouldn’t I wonder on Papa’s life and times? He was A Great by many standards, even as the lifetime chairman of the Dead White Guy’s Cannon.) I’ve formulated a simplified philosophy.
Take life by the horns, Hemingway’s carefully crafted image implores, experience all she has to offer with gouged-open, suicidal glee. We are at end, food for worms, and once gone only the echoes of our shrieking in abandonment will remain. Even then, not for long.
But you had a different read on the question. For you, the idea that the physical life was the end-all of reality was a ludicrous notion. Sure, you were an earth mother woman, and lived as close to the center of your power as possible. You’d tell anyone who seemed vaguely receptive that, “Woman is most feminine when she is pushing a fresh lanugo-coated human between hips made oxytocin flexible, expelling her from the largest muscle in the human body, past stretched, slippery vulva lips, grunting radiant into this drafty world.” I have witnessed this, I agree.
It doesn’t get more physical than that, friends. And yet, for you the inner spaces of life offered a more worthy challenge for a cartography of your stature to decipher. You argued that my Hemingway-esk model of standing tall in the rarefied natural world, battling death in the form of big game with big guns, was an illusion.
To be fair, you recognized that an aerial view of the heart, the architecture of human emotion and the fair lands of thought and logic, were all just as imaginary. The main rub, you maintained, was these inner workings supplied the real power. Invisible to the fleshy eye, they are the actual animator of our love, pumping life’s sticky fluid deep into the capillaries of our bodies. For you, recognition of that unlimited world was what powered the true machine.
You would say, “It isn’t important to quantify your worth. It is proof enough to understand your value.” And we would go around and around, playfully: you like a mama tiger circling her den, me poking fun at your nebulous concept of reality, all the while admiring your strength of heart.
Hey, even Hemingway chose the typewriter ribbon over of the thirty-aught-six to tell his story. We are not talking about how he signed the last page of the manuscript, because that is best left to others knowing him and his demons better than I. All writers know that they birth life from imagination. Even attempting the task calls foul on the physical world. The writer casts hopes and dreams out for a depth-sounding in this, our shared solid reality.
We creative types are a conundrum, stumbling through this metaphoric world. Dabbling in the ethereal, we grind pigments from flesh and bone to paint an invisible canvas before an audience of ghosts. Who can say what is actually real?
Probably you, my dear.
From your bodiless vantage, I imagine you have a clearer view this soupy mess. I wonder if you told me, would I understand? And maybe you are telling me, dictating your vision though our unbreakable silver cord, what remains of our bond, in a language only love can decode. As I dip deep into the shimmering void, trolling the currents of the unformed, behind a curtain that only death presumably strips away, maybe I am syphoning your wisdom. Fashioning it into literary sculpture, polished. Lovingly precise, still only revealing the barest essence of the powerful nectar you have become.
I wanted to explain how it feels. Why I post videos on my dead wife’s wall. Maybe I will understand it myself someday; my excitement at discovering a twist or beauty, some new logic that I know would touch your spark. Without a hint or whisper of that familiar precipice, the bottom drops out. And I am shocked again to realize why you will no longer respond.
NOTE: Karen asked that I publish this for Valentine’s Day 2014 – It is still very fresh and will probably be revised. This is an early draft. But I think the sentiment comes through. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To The Telling by Ron Heacock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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