The Spaces in Between
I don’t know how to describe the time that passes next. Yes, there are stages of grief. Yes, there are plenty of abysses that seem to suck into them any attempt at normalcy.
But routine often saves me. When I feel things getting bad, I notice that the house has gotten overly bad too. Toilets need to be scrubbed, and dishes have multiplied while soaking in the sink. If I throw myself a life preserver of chores and errands and rides for the boys, not only does the house start to look better, but I’m able to hang on through the riptides of depression that want to pull me out to sea.
This routine cannot, however, help me overlook the necessities prompted by Peter’s death. It is not routine, nor is it a standard household chore, to meet with an attorney to discuss putting things in my name that were in his. There is nothing fathomable or predictable about the way it feels to summarily strip his name off of the title to the car, for instance, or the mortgage to the house. Or to discuss the life insurance policy—the one I tried to talk him out of because we were both so young. I don’t like the way the lawyer says
that policy will take care of me and the boys for a good long while. Suddenly we’re comfortable, and it’s because I’ve lost my husband. That’s the worst kind of fortune. It isn’t routine, all of this. What it is, is treason, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an admission that yes, I believe he really is gone for good, and no, I’m not waiting for him to come back.
The least I could do for the person who waited for me while I fumbled around for my keys for the nine millionth time in the grocery store parking lot is wait for him. It’s the loyal thing to do. Either that or follow him in a prompt manner.
Yet I have no choice but to stay. The other people in the world who rely on me for their basic survival force me to cope with what has happened. That’s actually one comfort: I don’t have any options. I can’t think about doing anything but sticking around, because there are two people who need me to be here, now more than ever.
This doesn’t make it any easier, though. Gray days stretch into one another.
Months slip through the house surreptitiously, like uninvited spirits.
EVENTUALLY, I WAKE UP one day to both my boys standing by my bedside. Their eyes are wide with concern.
“What’s up, boys?” I sit up, rub the sleepers out of my eyes, and try to shake off the weight of the anvil sitting on my chest, my familiar companion since Peter died.
Beau elbows Hunter. He’s been appointed spokesperson.
“Mom, we called Gran, and she said to get your butt up out of bed and go see Joe. We told her you slept most all of the weekend.”
This is what they’re wide-eyed about. They tattled on me to Gran, and they’re afraid of the consequences. The thought makes me want to cry.
“Oh, guys, come here.” I pull both of them to me for a long hug. “Listen. I’ll hop in the shower, and I’ll call Joe for an appointment right after, okay?”
Joe is our family doctor. He is also my best friend’s husband. And he used to ski with Peter. He’s patched up every one of the Reynolds clan at one point or another. I guess it’s time he patched me up. This is not something I look forward to, but the way the boys look at me is reason enough to suck it up and call.
Sure enough, when I talk to the receptionist at Joe’s office, my mom has called ahead. Great. She’s staged an intervention long-distance. Since I went to college, we’ve never lived in the same town, but now that I’m alone in Boise with the boys, she keeps tabs on us more closely. Mom and Dad live in LA, and we visit them there and at their condo in Indio a lot. And if I asked them to move in with us in Boise, they just might do it. I’m pretty certain that would be a disaster, which is why the subject has never been discussed, but they do take good care of us.
The appointment is for ten. I drop the boys at the sitter and drive through town in the pouring rain. When I get there, the receptionist hustles me into a room. I check to see if I’m bleeding anywhere; I don’t think I’ve ever gotten such prompt service at the doctor’s.
I sit on a chair next to the exam table. After a few minutes, Joe sits across from me.
“What’s going on, Kelly?” He’s a fit, glossy-haired Asian man who looks trim and put together in his white lab coat. I showered, but that’s about the only thing I have going for me currently.
“I feel rotten. I think you may have heard why.”
He takes a deep breath, lets it out. “Are you taking care of yourself?”
“No. Unless it’s the random times when I can, and then all I do is sleep.”
“Reading? Taking the dog on walks? Entertaining the thought of seeing your friends? Learning how to cook? Thinking about going back to teaching?”
“I get the point. What’s your point?”
“I prescribe activity. You need to get out of the house. If you don’t make an effort at this, to exercise, or call Tessa up to have coffee, or to get a part-time job, I’ll prescribe something stronger. Antidepressants stronger. You catch my drift?”
I surrender. “Yes. I promise I’ll do something.” I start to tear up.
“Oh, Kelly, listen, we all love you, and we’re worried sick about you. But it’s been seven months. It’s time to ease back into it.”
He scribbles on a prescription pad. “Try running again. It’s good for you. Gets the endorphins going.” He hands me the slip of paper. “That’s the address of the store I like for running shoes.”
When I leave the office, the sun has come out. I squint and stop for a minute before I get in the car. The smell of the rain on the warming pavement is clean. I remember that I like that smell. I decide to give reentry into normalcy more of an effort.
I go get new running shoes on the way home. I call Tessa, Joe’s wife, to have coffee. The pain is still there, hanging on under the
surface, but I try to live through it, kind of like running through an injury. It feels awkward.
Finally, I’m able to put two days together where I function almost normally. Then I’m able to go three days with only brief crying episodes when I wake and when I fall asleep. And yes, after a long while, there’s the day I make it through without a tear shed. The day after that is spent in bed, inconsolable, but still, the tear-free day is on record.
There’s always an ache under my collarbone, but every day that I brush my teeth and put on pants instead of pajamas, I call a good day. I wait for there to be more of those than the not-so-good days.