We as humans tend to anesthetize life's big events. We like to recapture major changes in nice, digestible terms such as "a new normal", "a fresh start", "hitting the reset button", etc. Putting a positive spin on things is, well, my strong suit. And so I am guilty as charged; when people ask about my move from the country place to the town dwelling, I say pretty things. Things like, "Oh! I love it. So close to my work!" Or something equally perky such as, "Oh! Did you know I have a balcony porch?"
Please know I really do embrace the cool stuff surrounding my new digs. It's just that I want to also recognize the pain that comes with a move. It's a package deal.
There's the flurry of activity -- the huge household sale, the realtor's handshake, the final lap around the pond in your neighbor's ATV. The arrival of friends with trucks, trailers and strong backs, ready to get you from Point A to Point B with major sweat equity in the belly of Summer.
There's that sweet First Night in the new place, dog-tired and overjoyed for an air mattress and a fan.
But there are other firsts. The first time you come home to no wagging tails at the door, no urgent meows of where-have-you-been. You sucked up the no-pet policy when you signed the lease, but wow -- who knew the comfort of an animal could be so strong?
There's the first time you grocery shop and automatically grab your daughter's favorite cereal. Wait, you say to yourself -- she moved out months ago. And you put the Fruity Pebbles back on the shelf. You suddenly want to crumble in a heap of misery, but you can't do this in Aisle 7 of the market. You'll have to wait. As others bustle past with their carts, coupons and husbands in tow, you have a sudden keen vision of your own husband leaning on the cart or reaching easily for the top shelf because he was 14 inches taller than you. Who knew grocery shopping would become another exercise in grief?
There's the first rogue wave of sitting alone in your new livingroom. This was meant to be a quiet victory, this looking around and feeling warm and fuzzy about the combination of paint, light, bookcases and coffee table. This should result in a long sigh of satisfaction, a sense of home-at-last. Instead, you look around for any sign of him and realize this new home will hold no memories; there is zero shared history within these walls. This is the day you initiate the new carpet with your own tears, lying face down until your muffled sobs have robbed your victory moment; you sleep this way and drag your aging aching joints around the following day. "Are you ok?" your friends say, concerned. "I slept funny," you reply.
The other day I decided to be extreme and fuss over my solitary dinner. I used the good china, and ate by candlelight. It was exquisite. Somewhere between the greek salad and the brie (on expensive little thin wafers), I laughed out loud. It was a sweet dripping chuckle, arising from the solar plexus and exiting in a fine spray of table wine through the nose. I looked across at the empty chair, and could only think how annoyed he would be about the candle. "Turn the lights on!" he'd bellow. "What good is a meal if ya can't SEE what you're eating?" And so you have another first: A flash of memory that brings tears of mirth, rather than sorrow. Who knew?
Home, bittersweet home. A new beginning, sure -- also a velcro-like peeling away of the old and familiar. Home, to be truthful, is a place where it's really okay to feel everything. It's a place to be safe and real. It's the place where you can take off your public persona and look in the mirror and recognize the scared girl behind the career woman; the worried mom behind the confident mentor; the married widow underneath the label that says "unattached". No so. I will always be tethered to him. Even in a new place where he did not say goodnight and check on our daughters before switching off the lights.
Goodnight, my Love. You are not here, but I have carried your memory into this place. I'm sure you'd be pleased with the lower utility bills, and yes -- I have a good handyman. I carry a flashlight in the car, and I always park underneath a street light, the way you advised in your caring policeman voice.
It's been 3 years this weekend. I'm going grocery shopping today. If I need something from the top shelf, my dear, I will think of you. And I will ask for help. And I will be brave and not cry. When I get home, I will take off my public face, and I will be honest. It's okay to cry at home, where the walls can hold my pain.