Seven months today. I mentioned that my birthday was one more milestone I had planned out way back at the beginning of this journey. I did not mention that it was the last big one until the one year anniversary of her death. I am officially off the end of my plan. I had some vague idea that I would start to shift from looking back to looking forward around this time, but that was as far as it went. It was really a survival plan for getting started. Like some ancient cartographer who had more parchment than information to fill it, I got to this point and wrote “Here be dragons”.
So what do I see now that I have arrived at this unforseen stage? Well, I know some things. I know I can travel to another continent and she will still be in my memory. I know this will always be her house, it can’t be anything else to me. I know this place is full of memories and echoes, but largely devoid of life unless my grandkids come to visit.
I know she is not here. She told me as much last summer. We were watching an episode of Doctor Who and she said “Darling, you know I love you, but if some guy shows up here in a blue box I am out of here!”. I don’t know why she did, but she said it. Did she have some inkling she didn’t share of what was coming? Was she just being flippant?
I thought about that seven months ago as she slipped away in the hospital. I considered finding a TARDIS blue vase and some sunflowers, but she was gone so fast I never had time for it. Irrational as it is, I have called to her, I have listened, and she is not here. If there is any residue of her being that survives beyond our memories, she is out there, exploring the wide universe, just as she said she would.
Early on, I thought I might somehow turn her memory into a little voice in the back of my head, sort of like a second conscience, or a running narrator. I do often think of what she might have thought or said about something, but it’s not in her voice at all. That is probably a good thing. One of the things that kept us going was the fact that after thirty years together we still had not completely figured each other out. We could have entire conversations without speaking a word, we finished each others’ sentences all the time, but we were still a mystery to each other. That is the joy of a deep long term relationship. To pretend I could ever give her a proper voice myself would be something of an affront to that element of mystery. I can remember her, I can speculate what she would have said or done, I can hear the echoes, but I can never replace the voice that has been silenced.
Like Sondheim’s Ladies Who Lunch, look into my eyes and you can see I know everybody dies. We can’t do anything about that, but we can decide if we are going to live before that. I know you can live a whole lifetime in thirty years. I also know that only happens if you approach life with a sense of urgency driven by the knowledge that every single day is borrowed.
I know that living alone is a fairly empty experience, but I also know that I need lots of time alone to continue to process this grief.
So where does all that go, when you start pulling on all the threads?
There is a tension between that sense of urgency to start building anew and the need to process the grief that collides in the here and now. I do not feel like I am ready to move on, but I can’t stay here, in this no man’s land.
I have been struggling to finish this piece for a week, stuck here looking at the void in front of me. Now on an ordinary Sunday, I think it has come to me:
White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: Bring order to the whole.
Through design.Composition. Balance. Light. And harmony.
Those are the opening lines to Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George. I remembered it having a big impact when we saw it five years ago, but I just listened to the entire second act on the cast recording for the first time in a very long time, and my head nearly exploded. I think I may have found the next sheet of my map. I have certainly found my set of topics for the next week.