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.