Your dead wife’s things are all around me. Her photos, her paintings, her perfumes. I understand this. I understand grief.
Part of me even understands the altar you created in the living room, set with her memorial service program, her incense, notes in her handwriting. Yes, this is an unusual backdrop for watching old Hugh Grant movies on your big screen TV.
You rent this house by the week, inviting us in, asking everyone who shares it to think of her, to wonder about her, to help you keep her alive.
I am doing my part, the part you seek, by writing about you both. About a marriage and a bond so strong, that a woman’s half-finished oil paintings still hang in your garage studio, as if you are waiting for her brush to hover over the stretched canvas once again. Hoping the picture will complete itself, to see what was in the painter’s heart all along.
Dear Person Wearing Black Walking Their Black Lab At Night,
Did you think your blonde hair would save you?
Perhaps it did. Something glinted in the moonlight, after all, warning me and the driver behind me that you were not a shadow, but a thing.
I’d like to think you aren’t stupid. I’d like to think you set out in daylight and meandered longer than you should have, wending through the streets, admiring the cherry blossoms, waiting too long for your pup to dither and sniff.
I’d like to think your pet was constipated, instead of thinking you were dropped on your head as a child.
But I doubt it.
I’m happy I didn’t hit you, of course. But I’m even happier I didn’t hit your dog.
I am not leaving by choice, but by necessity. The knots in my stomach, the throbbing in my head, the sick feeling in my chest when you give me the side-eye for daring to leave at 6:30 pm. I must go, because of you.
Don’t make it personal, you always said. But this isn’t personal, because I am not human to you. I am a well-oiled machine, a complicated combination of skills, a sum of parts. I am the hands that make charts and powerpoints, a head with a moving mouth that spouts the figures you need and makes the presentations you don’t want to make, a pair of legs that runs for taxis to go to airports to fly to meetings you couldn’t bother to attend.
Because I am a thing, I am replaceable.
You will not mourn me, and I will not mourn you. You are a building, a tax code, a profit margin. You are not my family. You are not my friend.
Enjoy your moment in the spotlight. I mean it. Embrace it. Revel in the power you have over other people now, because supplicants won’t always do your bidding. I’ve seen your lizard-skinned mother, your puffy father, your spoiled sister. This research yields certainty: That eighth grade is as good as your life is ever going to get. So drink up. It’s all, literally, downhill from here.
P.S. Enjoy your shotgun marriage to the guy who failed the bar four times and had to go work for your dad.
The problem is if I say yes to you now when I’m feeling charitable and have a light schedule and the sun is streaming in the window that does not guarantee that on the date 12 days from now when you need to count on me being chipper and active and fresh that I won’t be miserable running late juggling a deadline and resentful of all the other mothers who have no job and plenty of time to wash their hair and volunteer so I am saying no.
There will be people who tell you it is a blessing. That her suffering is over. And those things of course are true. But what’s also true is that the only person who has known you your entire life is gone.
When something wonderful happens, you will think, “Oh, I have to tell my Mom.” So tell her. Raise your face to the sky and mouth the words so you don’t forget that ritual. And when you are sick, and she is not there to tell you to stop working so hard, to rest, remember to take a moment and tell those things to yourself. To hear her voice in you.
As time goes by, you may notice the presence of people around you whose grace reminds you of your mother. A small word of encouragement. The offer of homemade soup. An exclamation over how nice you look in that shirt. May those people spring up for you now. And I promise, I will be one of them.
Because I am a kind person, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. I am assuming you are from another country where it is considered good manners to block someone’s driveway when their daughter needs to be driven to the hospital.
For that reason, I am not calling the police. I am merely opening your unlocked car door, using your not-very-cleverly-hidden keys, and reparking your sandy Range Rover several blocks away, beneath this unfortunate “No Parking Anytime” sign.