Sometimes (not often) I briefly forget that she’s dead. It happens when I’m falling asleep, or barely awake in the morning or in the middle of the night. In my hazy mind, Stephanie and I are talking, or laughing, or on our way somewhere in the car, and for just a moment she’s there with me. I hear her voice, and the sound of it is beautiful and wonderful. It makes my spirits soar, I’m suddenly so relieved, so joyous … but then I’m awake and the truth kicks me in the face. I’m not sure whether that moment of false happiness is a fair exchange for the repeated catastrophe of knowing in the next moment that she’s gone.
There are times when I’m OK for a few hours at a time, at work, mostly. It’s just a normal day at the office, no worries, I’m doing my work and then … and then I remember, and I need to scream louder, more horrified than any man has ever screamed. Screaming is not workplace-appropriate, though, so I just sit at my desk and try to keep my eyes dry. I scream inside, my brain winces, my world evaporates, and I need the refuge of the men’s room, or I step outside.
It also hits me especially hard when I’m on my way home from work. The end of the workday was something I always looked forward to, because it meant I’d be coming home to Stephanie. But now, when I get to our apartment there won’t be anyone to talk to except the cat. There’s nobody I can do something nice for, fetch a beer for, nobody who’ll listen as I explain what some stupid co-worker did today. No-one I can help, and no-one who can help me. Stephanie is not going to give me a hug when I walk in. She’s not going to be happy to see me. She’s not going to see me, ever again.
I haven’t told anyone at the office about her death, except my boss. He needed to know, so I could stay away for a few days of round-the-clock crying. He knows that I’m a private person, so when I called to tell him, he offered his condolences and said he’d keep it quiet in the office. That’s probably the wrong thing to say to most people, but it’s exactly the right thing to say to me. The last thing I’d want is for co-workers to stop at my desk all day and tell me they’re sorry for my loss.
Work, then, is something of a refuge, at least while nobody knows. On good days, the humdrum duties of the office block out most of the agony. But then there are moments when I can’t shut out the memories.
Thursday was the first weekly office meeting I’ve attended since Stephanie’s death. As meetings go, our departmental hubbubs are better than most, but still, my mind tends to wander. In the past, when my mind wandered, I was thinking, What can Steph and I do this weekend that might be fun? At Thursday’s meeting, of course, that’s not where my mind wandered. There will be no joy in Mudville this weekend, or any time soon.
In hindsight, everything was optimistic when my wife was alive. Even with the worst things in life – her illness, our bankruptcy a few years back, the Trump administration – there was something deep down under the surface that said, “Things will get better.” If I was at work or running errands, just out and about doing humdrum tasks with or without her, there was always optimism in my footsteps. Always I knew, When I’m done buying these groceries or returning this library book, I'm going home to Stephanie! And she’ll be happy to see me!
Man, you can’t top that feeling. We weren’t rich, I knew I’m not getting a promotion any time soon, and we had problems, sure — enormous problems, actually. But almost any time I was doing anything, that feeling of just plain optimism was either at the surface or a few layers under. Stephanie felt that way too, at least on days she wasn’t sick in bed or seeing a doctor.
That feeling is gone now. Completely gone. Everything has changed from vaguely optimistic to explicitly craptastic. You will see me smiling sometimes, at work or at the credit union or anywhere I'm required to interact with humans, but the smile is completely fake. There’s nothing at the surface or underneath, nothing at all except Pain, and What’s the point?