I’m packed. The emergency bag is equipped with my favorite cardigan, my biggest nightgown, and my knitting needles. I decide to use the hospital’s toothpaste and toothbrush. And there’s no need to pack a comb. I am going to look like shit, and unknotted hair won’t change that. Mom disagrees with me entirely.
The stars are hiding tonight. Overcast clouds threaten to spill over. Gussy is taking a quick leak on the bed of pine straw that’s been there since we moved in. My legs reject the offer to climb the ladder, refuse to lift my feet off the spongy grass. The tea I’m making will put me into a deep sleep.
Everything, thanks to Mom, now has a resting place in my house. If I were to die tomorrow, the police would think a perfectly functioning working-class woman lived here quietly and simply.
In the dining room hangs a gaudy mirror she purchased at the one and only decent thrift store downtown. My reflection looks like a ghost with a balloon attached to its body. I’m a shade away from being a skin-shed version of myself with frizzy hair and hormonal pimples.
I’m sorry, I whisper, I’m sorry I can’t do this one thing for you, fulfill your most important wish. But doing it without you is heartbreaking. I deserve a second chance at life with someone who doesn’t dare lie to me and then die on me.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it? The man who sold it to me was telling me that the old lady who dropped it off also sold him a print of one of Monet’s earliest works. But I didn’t think it was quite your style.”
“Style evolves, Mom. I could have an obsession with Impressionism that you don’t know about because you live three states away. I could have fallen in love with Monet’s work in my sophomore Art History class. But you wouldn’t know that, either, because you would rather bake a cake for strangers, or repaint the dining room, or pick out the colors for your door wreath than listen to anything anyone who actually cares about you says.”
I am being difficult, crazy even. I’m feeling things I don’t want to think about. I need to close Pandora’s Box for the night. I’m not the kind of person who cries into a box of Girl Scout cookies for three days watching infomercials and then picks her chin up off the floor. I’m stubborn. I will cheer up when he is returned to his side of the loveseat and she is nonexistent. The gods be damned.
“Goodnight Mom. Thank you for the mirror. I actually do hate Impressionism. Monet sucked.”
When I met her for the first time, I was still glowing. The blood in my husband’s hand was lukewarm, or at least I believed he had a fighting chance. The shock of sudden tragedy covered my head like a veil, emitting a false cheerfulness fueled by naïve hope.
I rearranged the magazines on every side table three times. I was the only one in the waiting room. Even the nurse disappeared from her station.
When she walked up to the counter, I could tell she was exasperated, tired from something, and ticked that no one was at the counter to help her immediately. I hated people like that, but she looked distraught and this was a hospital waiting room where people were told whether or not their loved ones made it, so I forgave her impatience.
She wandered around the stiff chairs and generic, square end tables, disheveling one of my magazine stacks, and pretended to be interested in a local wall mural, probably done by kid cancer patients.
When the nurse returned, she scurried up to the counter, her squat legs and permed hair sticking out of her frumpy frame, uninviting. “I need to see my husband and quite frankly, I’m unimpressed with the running of this hospital. Especially in this waiting room. I mean there should be a nurse sitting at this desk every-“
“What’s his name, ma’am?”
“Jesus, how many Timothys come through this podunk town anyways?”
“I need a last name, please.”
I dropped the three Better Homes and Gardens I had in my hand. The pages splashed to the floor and both of them looked at me. Not my Tim. Not the man who rescued me from a bus stop long after the bus stopped making rounds. The gentle soul who treated me to a latte, swooned at the sight of me in my underwear, blushed when I said ‘I love you’ for the first time. The man who liked nothing more than to be seduced and reduced to sexual matter, though the slightest hint of it at dinner brought on a bout of red cheeks and fidgeting.
“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. Timothy was accompanied here by his wife.” And the nurse’s finger was pointing at me, an uncomfortable accusation judging by Squat Woman’s facial expression.
Our first eye contact was menacing, and although I was no stranger to a stare down, I broke the gaze, counted the ceiling tiles between us: 17.
She rolled her eyes with exasperation, dismissed the validity of my existence in Tim’s life.
And I backed away from her, looking at the woman Tim left years ago to be with me and felt a tinge of incompetency. I was pretty, I was healthy, I was sane. But she was strong, filled with fierce dedication to Tim and loathing for me.
Everything he ever said about his wife came back to me.
“She’s delusional. I can’t get through to her that the divorce was final two years ago.”
“She won’t stop crying. Our dog we bought together passed away this morning.”
“Her car got a flat, and she didn’t know who else to call.”
“She’s having a fit again, asking when I’m going to come home.”
We collectively agreed that he should take pity on her. I loved him enough to deal with a crazy ex almost every day. And that was that.
Hours passed with no sound other than light jazz and the tick of the clock hanging above the nurses’ station. The wily haired ex sat slumped in a chair near the entrance, her tired old body threatening to fall into deep sleep.
And then I saw a flash of him behind the swinging doors, watched as he emerged, glided over to me with swift surgeon movements. The blue suited doctor who wheeled him to the operating room, the man who I was going to name my savior, the bearer of miracles.
“That would be me.” It came from a few paces back, her short legs trying to waddle their way into our conversation.
Blue Suit looked back to me. “She’s his ex-wife. But she can listen if she-”
“So that’s what he told you?” I felt the sharp jolt of venom. I found the missing puzzle piece, the patch for our gaping hole.
In that one breath, the universe hovered over my life and defecated on every moment I clung to so tightly. Timothy was pronounced dead. The other Mrs. Kidd was pronounced beneficiary of his estate I didn’t know about. And me, as my knees buckled and I felt my weight shift to the cold tiles, was pronounced pregnant, widowed, and duped.
trending thoughts: #itried #onedayillfigureitout #goodbyemylove
It’s so easy to write someone off and convince yourself that they’re terrible, nasty people just because they don’t fall in love with you. But she’s not awful or mean to me. She’s wonderful. And I am choosing to let go of these emotions with a list of things I loved and cherished about her.
10. Beauty. I put this at number 10, not because your physical beauty is (in my opinion) unparalleled, but because aesthetics was such a small part of what drew me to you. There are so many other things I cherish that come from within.
9. TV commentary. There is nothing better than listening to your thoughts about whatever show we were watching. You are so observant and intuitive. You let people’s words and actions, even fictional, affect you. Even at 34, you let yourself experience vulnerability. It’s refreshing.
8. Your hands. They are always busy doing something. You aren’t one to stay idle for long, even in slumber. Your ability to do and keep doing is astounding. You are an extremely efficient person.
7. Your laugh. You sound like you mean it, like you don’t give a fuck who hears it. It’s so full and genuine. You let yourself experience things like comedy without over analyzing it. It’s incredible how in the moment you are sometimes.
6. Your spontaneity. One night you want to watch TV and eat unimaginable amounts of food, and the next, you want to wear my push up bra and catch a show at NBT. I loved it. I love that you know what you want and you do it, or do everything you can to get to it.
5. Your love for the girls. Those pups grabbed ahold of a fairly large part of my heart. And my favorite moments with you involved your heavenly bed and the dogs. You watch over them, love them, spoil them. I never saw a more gentle look in your eye than when you look at Sookie and Chloe.
4. Your altruism. You gave me things even when I had nothing to give back in return. You still give me things. I’m truly blown away at how well you’ve treated me. I love you so much for that. And I love you even more for not resenting me. I was so afraid of that. But you just keep on giving. And you just keep on sharing the love.
3. Your openness. I could have had twelve toes and two articles of clothing to my name and you would have still talked to me. You look at someone and see a human being. You give everyone a chance. You never once judged me for being too emotional, too lazy, to messy.
2. Your honesty. If you think I’m being bitchy, you tell me. If I’m depressed, you call me on it. If I hurt your feelings, you tell me. If I look pretty, you tell me. If I do well in show, you congratulate me.
1. Your intelligence. Hands down, this is what drew me to you in the first place. I could listen, for days, to you. Everything you know, everything you choose to talk about is relevant and interesting. I simply adore it. I simply adore you.
You mean a lot to me. And we shall always be friends. But it’s time for me to say good bye to my daydreams. I need to open myself up to other people, now. Other people who have the ability to fall in love with me back.
“When do you come home this time?”
“I have to go, Sarah. For business.”
“Why can’t I come with you? Why do you go every fucking weekend? Why doesn’t your paycheck have an extra zero from all this overtime? Nothing adds up, Tim.”
“Well, math never was your thing, if I’m remembering your college algebra grade correctly.” His hands were shimmying their way up my torso.
“Stop flirting with me.” And the anger evaporated, turned to steam from our hot and sweaty passion. Neatness eluded us. We would come to after a fit of dizzy love and realize our clothes trailed the hallway, a lampshade sat askew, the milk in the kitchen left out. I loved him enough to waste dairy and overlook his weekend absence, the one gaping hole in our life: ignored and hanging in the corner.
“Have you finally bought a mattress? You know that flimsy air one you sleep on isn’t good for your back, especially now.”
“I sent you a package with those candle warmer nuggets you used to go on about. Did you like the scents? I tried to pick out the softer ones. I didn’t want you to get nauseated.”
“Arthur’s graduation went okay. It rained all day, but it was a nice vacation for us. Your father really does need to get out of the office more often. We missed you at the party, but Arthur said he would bring by a piece of cookie cake and the rest of the chicken casserole. Do you think I put too much pepper in this one?”
“Sarah, I read an article about grief and how constant communication with family members is crucial. Please call if you need to talk about anything, alright? I’m… I’m just worried about you is all.”
“Gosh Sarah, I really, just, don’t know what else to do. I mean if it weren’t for your boss sending me updates, I wouldn’t even know you’re alive. You don’t go on Facebook, you don’t call, don’t text. Are you eating? Well, anyway, Dad really wants us to come up there. We want to be there for you during the transition. It’s bound to be hard on you, dear.”
“I just wanted to let you know our flight is coming in August first. You don’t need to worry about picking us up, Dad’s renting a car. He wants to take a day trip to see his cousin at the beach. But anyways, we’ll be there around seven thirty. Will you be home? Should we look for a key? Just let us know what you want us to do, okay? We don’t want to be a bother. See you soon.”
And always, without fail,
“I love you sweetheart. Praying for both of you.”
I fucking hate my family. Not because they ever did anything bad. Mom always made the right foods, cleaned the right way, decorated the house with the right designs, said the right things to guests at executive dinner parties, treated Dad right, treated me right, treated Arthur right. Right, right, right, right. WRONG.
I crave off-the-rocker parents. The ones who collect albums that always play after dinner and read Aesop fables before lights out. The ones who drag children to peaceful protests, watch cultural documentaries, who support all extracurricular activities, no matter how controversial. I want a home where everything is a little bit of right and a little bit of wrong all rolled into one piecemeal childhood. Maybe five year olds shouldn’t listen to The Beatles every night, but it would have been fun.
My legs feel like Jell-O after climbing up and down the ladder. I shouldn’t be exerting so much energy at this stage, but looking for him is a ritual.
I sit on my side of the loveseat, lay my hand on his side, and concentrate on how his palm felt when it pressed against my own. Our fingers always got sweaty, his first then mine. And the heat would swell our fingers, clasp them even tighter together. There’s still nothing more enjoyable than holding his sweaty, slippery hand.
When the phone rings, I feel bile slink up my throat all the way to my tonsils. Especially when the caller ID is a familiar name.
“Hi Anne… No, everything’s fine… probably next week… no, my parents are here, I’m fine… no I haven’t decided yet… thanks, I know, I know… okay, I told you I’d call so I will… you, too. Bye.”
You should really be nicer to her, says Mom
You should really be nicer to your daughter, says me.
I have two days to accomplish the following:
1. Buy a mattress
2. Unpack the dishes mom bought me as a wedding gift
3. Buy groceries that aren’t frozen
4. Lug all of the other gifts to the basement
When the woman who has always done everything so right comes here, all she will see is wrong and all she will say is how wrong I am.
I am not keeping it. I will not keep it. I am not going to keep it. She needs to hear how right it sounds to me. How final the decision is.
I do not change. That’s everyone else’s job: I am lazy, sloppy, sometimes whorish, sometimes a prude. Just last night, I was caught between the decision to unwrap all of the wedding gifts from my late husband’s few friends or flick through a few Indie films that popped up on my “Because you watched 500 Days of Summer” list. I chose the latter. Maybe because emotional hurt is the worst of all, but my slovenly work ethic had more to do with it. My emotions are about as frozen as our anniversary cake shoved behind ice cream pints and cheap Indian microwave dinners. I won’t feel the pain of making coffee-for-one with our Hamilton Beach BrewStation for another year. He’s just gone. And I’m just not.
At the end of sunset every night, I sit on top of our home after climbing up the ladder that doesn’t settle on the ground. My legs are shaking on the rough shingles because the danger of stumbling up clumsy metal scares the shit out of me. And I slum it up on the roof, wrapped in a blanket, letting my eyes flit from East to West, star gazing. I try to pick out the same star every night, the one shining like his teeth when he smiled, the one that mirrors his unique glimmer when he was being coy. I tell my heart that I’m picking the right one out, that I can tell his radiance apart from all the other starry souls. But my angry, grieving head knows otherwise. This whole yucky, what-you’d-see-in-a-movie romance is bullshit. Sometimes the fog of industry prevents me from seeing any stars at all.
Three weeks ago I sat up here and threw my phone across the street in a fit of hatred toward communication. It catapulted into a bed of puny daisies, trampled by ADHD toddler feet and the loveable mutt who pooped in my yard (I let him because the neighbor would feel bad and mow my lawn). When it landed, there was an audible disruption in the otherwise quiet night. Gussy barked, losing his damn mind on the porch and the shithead pre-tween clambered out of the house, snapping at Gussy to ‘shut the hell up’ and ogling the iPhone wrapped in fresh daisy paper. A gift.
We settled into a stare-a-thon, so I took pity.
“Finders keepers, kid.”
“Do you have Verizon?”
I gave her the thumbs up. “Happy Birthday.”
“My birthday’s in November. Weirdo.”
The door slamming as if to say ‘fuck your rooftop, gift giving, lonely nights’ was the best thank you I’d received in quite some time. Her honesty struck a chord.
Tonight, the ambulance sirens are ablaze with agitation and exhaustion. There’s a pile-up on the highway according to the chipper news anchor, and I can smell the urgency from 3 miles away. We used to go ambulance chasing late at night when Netflix had only movies we’d seen and the ten cups of coffee we guzzled while talking through our whole lives (we both believed we had one thousand years of stories worth telling) kept sleep timidly pressed against the wall of our bedroom, evading our tired tugs. And we would drive, my bare feet pressed against the dashboard, my hand sometimes unzipping his pants, always resting on some part of him.
“I triple dog dare ya to put your tongue on the pole!”
Then the laughs. Though he would always choke up, like he was catching himself from having the maximum amount of fun. And he’d gasp for some air, cough a little bit, and clear his throat, falling into silence, untouchable. His own form of punishment. I always knew when this mood struck him. I would let my fingers slide down his arm and fall awkwardly onto the armrest.
Gussy’s shit stinks. I can smell it from here, or if I open the window in the bathroom facing the side yard he favors, if it rains and the dense air lingers low about my front door. It’s ruining the nuance of melancholy memories.
Inside, the living room looks spotless. The light from the TV I didn’t even want casts shadows on the gray blue walls I fought him to have. It hits me how much work we put into this one space. It presents itself as the perfect beginning of a happy, young household. There are trinkets from our three week venture through South America. A collage of pictures from our first night to our wedding creates a faint timeline around the walls of our favorite room. My diploma looms over the loveseat: the only thing left I have to be proud of. No one ever sits in the over-sized chair the afghan we took turns knitting is draped over. Our story bombards my mind from the first blink in the morning to the last flutter at bedtime. My own story lies somewhere between my tidy hometown and that first night in college: unattended and starving.
“Honey, did you ever call Arthur about coming to have dinner with us? He really needs to be here for…”
I can hear it already, the anxiety of a woman with a stick up every orifice. The car doors slamming, the groan and shuffle of baggage.
“No dear, let’s just concentrate on Sarah right now. She’s…” And his voice drops. He does this every so often with was he deems “sensitive” information.
Whenever they visit, we plow through the same routine. No one attempts to deviate. I lead them through the house, to my room where they neatly place their suitcase underneath the window sill. Mom knit picks every decorative detail, monitors what’s changed, and what I need to do. We always go to Cracker Barrel because they don’t have one in my home state. And then after biscuits, they settle into the meat of tough conversation, biting off a huge chunk of my life, trying to digest how different I am from them. On the drive home, everyone is silent, unwilling to admit that I should have been born to parents who spent their early 20s protesting a war and smoking pot.
When they finally start to snore, I sneak up to the roof full of quick hope and an adrenaline rush from the rickety ladder.
I will let myself observe twenty stars only. If I keep going, Mom will likely realize I’m not on the couch during one of her frequent nighttime bathroom breaks. I find only nineteen. Every other reach of sky is covered with clouds, human ignorance, and apathy.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with peeople that make you feel all alone.” -Robin Williams
He taught me how to laugh. I saw Mrs. Doubtfire and I realized what it was to be funny. To be truly entertained. To feel a rushing range of emotions.
He taught me that my spark of madness was worthy, was important. I searched within and saw that my weird ideas and habit of blurting out random thoughts were a good thing. That I had originality.
He taught me that being by myself was not the same as being lonely. I looked into his acting and saw a light that blew up my whole human brain. I was never lonely when his presence was on my television screen.
He taught me that friends are precious. To treat those who fill up all the tiny little holes this vast world has left in my heart with upmost sincerity. To wrap myself up in their company and feel the warmth of genuine connection with another human being.
Robin Williams, you dedicated your life to giving laughter, comfort, smiles, healing, anything good and right to the world. You were committed to the happiness of others. I hope that wherever you are now, that your own happiness is finally felt. And that whatever ailed you on earth is now put to rest.
Thank you for embodying the essence of entertainment so selflessly. Your work will forever serve as a mentor to so many comedians and actors yet to come.