It is surreal how the world goes on. I read the news, eat a meal occasionally, and pet the cat, pretty much the same as before, but with no meaning whatsoever. I’m impersonating myself, acting as if every day is a normal day and I’m not flailing helplessly. Alone at home I’ve bashed my head against the wall, literally, dozens of times. I’ve also smashed my fist into the wall and done enough screaming that I worry the neighbors might call the cops.
It’s flabbergasting that I can go to work, but I say good morning to my co-workers when I get to the office, and good night when I leave. I do hope they’re having better mornings and nights than I am. Everything is awful, but I’m surprised how quickly I’ve been able to appear to be back at the ordinary push and shove. I sit at my desk all day and do my work, answer emails, requisition more envelopes, whatever, all as if I give a rat’s rectum when I absolutely do not.
I catch myself frowning perpetually. It’s my new natural expression. Try picturing Humphrey Bogart at the train station, in Casablanca. When I notice the frown, I try to rejigger my face into a more neutral look, but most of the time I don’t notice, so I probably look like the grouchiest man in the world. Which is an accurate assessment.
Often, I’m in an impatient, semi-grumpy mood. Everything seems so tedious, unimportant, and generally stupid. It’s entirely subconscious, but I hear myself sighing, loudly, every ten or fifteen minutes. It’s surprising that I haven’t hollered at anybody or gotten into any loud arguments, and it seems unwise that people are allowed to sign checks or drive a car in this mental state.
I wonder how long I can go, telling nobody at work that my wife is dead? For as long as I’ve worked there, I’ve talked about Stephanie at work – not a lot, just now and then when co-workers are discussing their weekends or whatever. Everyone at work knows the name of everyone else’s spouse and kids and pets, so eventually someone will ask how Stephanie’s doing. Actually, one co-worker has already asked, but she asked in an e-mail, so I just didn’t respond. When someone asks and I can’t avoid the question, I will crumple into a ball of weeping widowhood. I’d like to put that day off for as long as possible, but short of sending a memo that says, “Don’t ask about my wife,” there’s not much I can do.
And then I come home, which is not really home any more. It’s the same address, same furniture, same cat, but now it’s just the place where I eat, sleep, and poop. That ain’t home. I watch Doctor Who and read The New Yorker and fart around on Reddit, and there’s no joy in any of it. Something smells funky in the kitchen, but I don't yet have any interest in finding out what. Probably it's time to take out the trash.
To some extent, Madison isn’t home any more, either. There are places in this town that Stephanie and I went to over and over again, and I’ll never go without her. I can go to the grocery store, sure, but the places we went to, together, all the time? Nope, can’t do it. Can’t go to the coffee shop down the street, where we sometimes spent hours reading and chatting and sipping tea (Steph) or iced coffee (me). Can’t go to Ogden’s Diner for breakfast, her favorite place, where we're well-known regulars. Too many memories, and the waitress will ask “Where’s Stephanie?,” and my face will explode with tears all over some stranger’s breakfast.
Binge-eating would have been my predicted response, because over the years that’s usually been how I’ve handled bad news – “Three giant cheeseburgers with a bucket of fries and a strawberry malted, please, and later I’ll be back for seconds.” But I’ve been eating healthier and losing weight for more than a year, and I’m sticking with the diet, because I’m still a fat guy who needs to lose weight, but especially because Stephanie so often told me “I’m proud of you for all the weight you’ve lost.” There’s no way on Heaven, Hell, or Earth that I’m going to double-cross that.
Before she got sick, we would often go for a walk on a whim. Within a couple of miles of our apartment, there’s no sidewalk we haven’t walked. Those were good times, good walks.
After walking became difficult, we still went for walks – she was weak on her legs, but she would slowly struggle and conquer any trail. She was not one for giving up. When we bought a wheelchair, she said she could have the joy of a walk even without the walking. The footsteps weren’t what mattered, she said; it was more about the pace and the scenery than the exercise. But whatever she said, of course she missed walking.
Now I walk alone, and many thoughts and moods take turns in my head. Mostly, the recurring thought is just that she’s gone. Forever. Her life has ended. It’s not a complicated thought, I suppose, but it floors me every time I realize it all over again. If I hold the thought for more than a few seconds, I’m crying.
Some days I almost think I have my crap together, But I really, really don’t. What fools me is, I might go a few hours without crying about Stephanie, because I live alone and have no friends to speak of, so I’m not talking about her. But the moment I mention her name out loud, to anyone else or to myself, in person or on the phone or even in an email, I lose it – my voice cracks, my eyes leak, and I can’t carry on.