At a summer writing workshop I attended several years before my husband died, the instructor gave us an assignment to write a poem about dressing the person we loved most for death. I was angry about the assignment, still felt keenly the loss of my brother several years earlier, did not want to imagine the idea of my husband’s death. I remembered all too well finding the suit from my brother’s high school graduation photo still in the closet, consigning to ash both that suit and his body, the seven small silver hoops for his ears.
At my brother’s funeral I made my husband promise that no one would ever see me like that, a waxen facsimile of the person I had been. “I will not look at you either,” I told him, “unless there is no one to do it for me, unless I must.”
It was a terrible poem, more about the ocean than anything else, for falling in love with him had felt a little like drowning. Of the lines from the poem that remain, there is but this “I have had enough of the dead and their insistence on being bodies/to be wept over, acknowledged.”
He did not read the poem. He read hardly any of my poems. But the drowning. Perhaps he understood that. Depression is a kind of drowning. Grief too. For several months after his death, treading water would have been the most apt descriptor of what it was that I had been doing.
True to my word, I did not see him after his death. But still, that poem, with something about the dead and their insistence on being bodies. For months after his body was gone, he was still taking up space. In the house. In the bed. In all the air around me. In all the things he had left behind.
I spent much of the Thursday before Memorial Day sorting through the boxes of his things that I had been ignoring for more than a year. I turned the music up loud, danced around in an empty garage. It was warm and I watched the rain falling just beyond the wide open garage door, a light and steady splashing on the roof of the minivan parked outside. It was just the kind of day that I normally would have loved. But with each box I opened, I felt a little of my hard won peace slipping away. A mug with his face on it. Box after box of cds, those of bands that I loathed and bands I learned to tolerate and bands I learned to love, loudly, seen on small barroom stages and in clubs with no air conditioning where I was always unable to blend in, my clothes with their bright colors adrift amongst the sea of black t-shirts and black jeans. Box after box of movies. Those damn wedding dinner plates.
Here he was again, with his insistence on wanting to be a body, and I wanted to drive away from the whole mess of it, roll the garage door down for another year. I wanted even more to call someone, though I couldn’t think of who to call, not even to talk about what I was feeling, but just to listen to them talk about themselves. I wanted to keep someone company, to spend time with someone who would never be able to tell me they couldn’t live without me and mean it. To listen to the way a live voice sounded as air reverberated through a chest, then up and out. To hold onto only sound, not grief, laughter warm like that rain outside the garage door and just as near. To insist on other bodies, like my own, the thump of a heart below my hand, that steady, centering pulse, as if to say, here, here, here.