Going through the motions

I’m doing all the things I’ve always done, with frequent interruptions to scream or smash my fist into the wall or burst into tears. When the sadness is just too much, I go for a walk. I’ve walked a lot of miles the past few weeks. Walked a few miles between paragraphs as I was typing this up.

I did a load of laundry, taking Stephanie’s blouses and pants and underwear out of the hamper first, and putting them in the pile for Goodwill. And now I’m cleaning out her closet, which flabbergasts me. Of course, we had talked about death and death directives and what one of us should do when the other one died, but … the practical reality of things like this simply never occurred to me; I never imagined that a day might come when I would be taking her clothes off the hangers and plopping them into a plastic bag. Or writing her obituary.

I’m going to take the paintings off the wall; they were more to her taste than mine. Instead I’m going to take her favorite t-shirts, souvenirs from places we’d been, and nail them up in the living room. She loved those shirts, and they bring back happy memories, so it seems like a fitting memorial.

As a very special treat, we would occasionally drive 100 miles to Milwaukee and spend the night at the Pfister, an ornate 100-year-old four-star hotel. She called it The Fairy-Tale Palace. It was way out of our budget, but Steph could sometimes score good rates from Expedia, so we stayed there half a dozen times and they always treated us like royalty. Breakfast in bed, dinner at the hotel’s steak house. And here’s her sleek, slinky black formal dress, which she wore only twice, both times at the Fairy-Tale Palace, when we were sipping champagne in the cocktail lounge. That dress goes on the wall, with the t-shirts.

The cat is being extra friendly to me, presumably because she’s lost half the staff that pets her.

At the grocery store, I always pay by plastic and get twenty dollars back in cash. But the cash isn’t for me, it’s in case I want to take Steph to breakfast on the spur of the moment, or buy her a treat on the way home from work. So, when I paid by plastic and the machine asked whether I wanted cash back, I stood there and started to cry.

I opened the freezer and found a couple of the frozen smoothies she liked so much, treats I had surprised her with, but her appetite was failing so they went into the freezer for “later,” which never came. I let them melt and then flushed them down the toilet, the saddest flush of my life.

Bringing home something nice for her was one of my favorite things to do, like the smoothies, or cookies from the bake shop, or fast-food French fries, or a burger the way she liked — no cheese, no onions, no tomatoes. No more.

We were both readers, but I usually checked books out from the library, while she preferred to buy books and keep them forever. Thus, the books on the shelves are almost entirely hers. Most of them I’ll give to Goodwill or scatter to all the Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood, but I’ll have to keep her Game of Thrones books, and her collection of everything Jane Austen ever wrote — those are the books she read repeatedly. Always she was reading two books — something new, and re-reading something Game of Thrones or something by Jane Austen. I tried both sets of books but didn't get far into either. Maybe I’ll try again.

I'm getting rid of most of her possessions, at least the things she didn't seem to absolutely love. It's making this place emptier, because a home that's full of her and overflowing is ... unbearably sad.

Some stuff I’m just throwing away or putting in a pile for charity, and whichever pile it goes into, for every item I feel a little pang of guilt. Why am I throwing away her panty hose, her medicines, her half-finished needlepoint and knitting, her magazines, her ratty old pajamas? Why am I giving away her shoes, her DVD player, her bookends, her puzzle books, her glasses? I want to apologize to her for every single item that’s tossed into either pile. And I’m sorting through all this stuff in a daze, trying not to think too hard about what it means to be going through her most personal stuff.

Occasionally I come across notes she’d written to herself, about her health issues, about our plans for some weekend, about errands to run or bills to be paid, about anything really. I read them all, even the ancient shopping lists. A few of these notes I’ve re-typed into the computer, and I envision myself reading and re-reading them in my lonely future.

The TV hasn’t been on since she went into the hospital. I have no interest in it, and rarely did unless I was watching something with Stephanie. So, I guess we can cancel Netflix and cable (and of course, there’s no “we” anymore, unless “we” is me and the cat).

She did all the cooking, and I’ll probably revert to my long-ago bachelor habit of sandwiches and microwave food. As I wash the dishes, I’m wondering how many of these plates and cups and bowls and pots and pans and such I really need. Another haul to Goodwill.

Her makeup is in the bathroom. Her jacket hangs by the door. Her crackers are on the table. Her checkbook is on the counter. Her scrunchies, her cough drops, her marijuana, her moisturizer. She’s gone, but she’s everywhere.

Meanwhile, I pet the cat. Change the litter. Get the mail. Answer the phone. Vacuum the carpet. I’m just going through the motions, trying to live something like a life. Trying to convince myself that if I do the normal things long enough, some semblance of normalcy will return, and maybe even some joy or meaning in life. I don’t really believe it’ll happen, but I’m giving it a try.