Ghosts and Survivors

I walked down to campus yesterday and over to the chapel where we were married to consider the meaning of all this, to try to figure out how to transform a relationship with a now gone wife into something that lets you go on living in the present while still honoring and remembering that time together. I fumbled around with both of our wedding rings for a while, but nothing came to me. Finally it dawned on me that those vows we took when we exchanged those rings thirty years ago really didn’t change anything, they didn’t give us a plan, or any strategy. It was just a promise to try to live each day ahead together and build something. We didn’t know where we were going, we just knew we were going together.

Six months ago the end of that journey together brought me back to that same chapel to say goodbye surrounded by many of the same friends and family who had been at the wedding. That day I went out the side entrance to greet them and thank them for coming. Yesterday I put both those rings in my pocket, together as they belong, and walked all the way down the aisle and back out of the chapel, alone, into a mostly sunny but muggy afternoon.

I walked over by the campus pond where we took the kids when they were little to feed the ducks. A mother was there with her daughter and the standard issue bread, surrounded by the usual flock. It was rather jarring to realize that the girl was younger than my grandchildren. I wondered how many generations removed those ducks were from the ones we used to feed together.

I went over to the Campus Center and took the elevators up to the tenth floor where our reception had been. The views of the Holyoke Range are still great from there, although it was pretty hazy by then. There were a few people up there, reviewing the space for some upcoming function, but I didn’t interact with them. I was a ghost visiting other ghosts. Visiting the scene of celebration somehow felt vaguely obscene with the rings in my pocket, so I didn’t linger long.

By the time I got downstairs and went outside, the sky had completely clouded over, and it started to rain. At that point the thought occurred to me that lately I feel like I am living in some badly overwritten Lifetime movie. All of this happened, really. Pardon me for a moment while I rant.

If I were an editor reading this story, I would bounce it back at the author for a rewrite. I could handle Mom going in her time and then Barbara passing a few years later, far too soon, but Kris too, and right on top of the anniversary? Who would buy a story like that? Way too over the top to be believable. Like the characters in John Scalzi’s “Redshirts” I want a better writer.  End of rant.

After I finished ranting, it occurred to me that the rain actually was fitting for the day. Yesterday wasn’t a day for tears. I shed a few, but those were for myself, and that’s just wrong. We had thirty really, really good years together. That’s a reason to smile, even if you can only manage a wistful one. The water felt good on my face, cleansing without the salty sting. Still, I was pretty soaked by the time I got home.

I was grateful to have something to do last night besides stay home and stew, something life-affirming. The anniversary happened to coincide with Jake Tuesday, an annual event where my Morris team goes up to Brattleboro to celebrate the survival of Jake, a former teammate who suffered a nearly fatal heart attack while cycling. We gathered at a local pub there, danced a few at the pub, and danced and sang for the Fire Department that saved his life. Jake even came by for a while.

Like thirty years ago, I don’t know quite where I am headed, but I know I won’t get there by standing still. I wasn’t particularly good last night, but I was there. Sometimes, just showing up is half the battle.

I put my wedding ring back on before I headed out for the night. I just felt naked without it. Sometime in the next few months I think I will find a jeweler who can make a new ring for my right hand from our two wedding bands. Those thirty years will always be with me, but they have been transformed, although I still don’t understand how. It seems fitting that their symbol should be transformed, too.

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One Response to Ghosts and Survivors

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Jim S.

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