Last week, I was unable to write for this blog. I had developed a migraine on Sunday, and I was feeling tired and spent. These past few weeks, I have found it difficult to write. It seems I am pouring over the same old themes: sadness, longing, attempts to make myself anew. How many ways can I express it? So I decided to try something different this week, and this is the result.
Ellen awakens, as always, at 6:30 a.m. No need for an alarm. She rises from her husband’s side of the bed, sets her feet onto the bare wooden floor. She took up the carpet a month ago.
He used to hold her, in the mornings, then he’d turn on his side, and drift back into sleep. She’d dress as quietly as she could, in the dark, in winter, so as not to disturb him. Before she left for work, she’d bring a cup of tea to his bedside, and, upon arising, he’d guzzle it down. He loved his morning cup of tea.
His name was Jan—a Polish name bestowed upon him, the only boy in a sibling group of five. He tried in vain to live up to his father’s expectations, impossible standards for him to meet. He carried the burden of his father’s disappointment, but it made him kind instead of bitter, made his heart tender, and soft, and sweet.
She stumbles into the bathroom, where the soaps he bathed with still rest in their dish on the side of the tub. She washes her face and brushes her teeth. She treads down the steps to the kitchen, and stops at the calendar she made, with photos of him, a different Jan for each month of the year. She’s placed it carefully at eye level, so when she comes down the stairs, it’s the first thing she sees. She pulls a mug from the cup holder, scoops three teaspoons of coffee into it, and waits for the kettle to boil.
She sticks, most mornings, to her routine: 30 minutes of yoga, a 30 minute sit. She lights her candles, swirls her incense. She straightens the pieces on her shrine, ensuring everything’s in place. She wants simplicity, and balance. It is a small comfort, this order. It helps her life make sense.
His was a world rich with activity and excess. He found pleasure in food and travel. Beautiful music could move him to tears. He loved his children fiercely; he was a devoted friend. He’d carve his way down winding roads in the countryside, and stop at hidden pubs for tea. Their life together was not about order. He brought her spontaneity and joy.
After meditation, Ellen reads. With him there was not much time for reading—always a family party, a friend’s gathering to prepare for, a music event to attend. This year she’s read more than 25 books, filling the empty hours he once consumed.
She’s come back to her writing, too—words on the page, crafted and shaped. Her life with Jan was busy, with little room for the quiet needed to pick up the pen. Sometimes she craved a bit of solace, and now she has it—all the space she could ever use—alone, in this stone cottage, at the top of a hill.
His love for her was strong and deep, and he wasn’t afraid to express it, his arms wrapped around her body, her fingers intertwined with his. Of this she is certain: she will not again, in this lifetime, know that kind of touch.
Her cupboards and drawers are clean and ordered, freed of the wires and cables and gadgets he kept. She’s stripped back to the bare essentials: simple and stark, symmetrical and neat.
She walks these hills and talks to him, pointing out the flowers he loved. She sits in the grass and discusses the weather. He knew the air streams and their directions and patterns; he was a better forecaster than the ones on TV. She used to call him The Weatherman. He loved the weather, and welcomed it, in all its forms. It’s been such a cold summer, she tells him. She pleads with him, wherever he is, to fix it, to bring them a bit of warmth, before winter sets in.
She likes to think he can hear her. She listens intently for an answer, searches the skies for a sign.
She tries not to dwell in the future. “It’s pointless,” he used to say. “Better to enjoy what’s right in front of us,” he’d tell her. “We got no idea how long we’re here.”
When she came home from America, she brought him a card. “I want to grow old with you,” it said. Three weeks later, he was dead.
At night, she readies for bed without him. For company, she gathers a stack of readings, her IPad, and a tasty treat. She stands at the calendar, and tells him good night, places a kiss upon his paper lips.
Ellen lies on her husband’s side of the bed. She fluffs the pillows and turns out the light. She asks him to come to her in her dreams.