I didn’t go to the hospital, I can’t make myself. I know it’s selfish and self-indulgent but Bill died there and I can’t force myself to go, but I worried myself sick. Jo Jo kept me informed and by the second day I was able to speak to him on this phone. He was his usual ‘tease the hell out of me jerk’, and if his voice sounded breathy and strained I could handle that. Thankfully he’s home after several days and feeling better.
Bill’s birthday is the 18th. It was always a big deal. Not like my birthday which could come and go with little fanfare. We were different in that way. His birthday always inspired a big picnic or party. It seemed important to him, therefore it meant something to the kids. Mine is in February. Even if we planned something, you can never trust the weather up here on the hill and a house can only hold so many people. Besides that, I didn’t care. After the death of my mother on July 3rd, nineteen years ago today, it lost its appeal. Normally I would go to the cemetery today. It would be one of my many trips throughout the nice weather. In the last year I’ve been there once, the day Bill died. I went there as soon as I left the hospital that day. For some reason it was imperative to let her know he was on his way and to ask her to take care of him until I get there.
On the 6th he will be gone 10 months. I’m always apprehensive as that day rolls around each month. How bad will it be? How long will it last? Will I be sad that day, shed a few tears, or will I fall into the abyss? If so, how long will it take me to climb out?
The roads were ones I’d traveled many times in my younger years. Bill and I were fans of the lake. We had friends who lived across from the boat livery and spent many wonderful times there. As I drove I recalled some of the silly/dangerous things we’d done when we were still young enough to think we were immortal. Bill couldn’t swim a stroke. He almost drowned as a teenager in a friend’s pool, but he was not afraid of the water. Once he canoed down the Mohawk River with the firemen, a fast moving, white-water nightmare. I remember I raced from bridge to bridge making sure he was still with them, my heart in my throat. He had a great time. I aged ten years.
I knew there might be flooding as I headed toward the lake. Friday there were two tornadoes not far away and the rain had never stopped. When I was almost to a spot by the river where we’d once gone mudding, spinning and sliding in the GTO until I screamed my head off, convinced we would end up in the swiftly flowing water, the road was closed. There were no options. Turn left.
I kept driving, my wipers fighting to keep the windshield clear. I had no idea where I would come out. Finally I ended up several miles north of the lake and turned right. There were fire trucks along the way, lights flashing, but I kept going.
Eventually I arrived and found the area. It was pouring, the mud ruining my sneakers in a few steps. I found ‘K’ first and gave her my card and a hug. I wandered inside the tent for a few minutes not sure what to do. My youngest grandson would not come to me. There were too many distractions. I moved to the edge of the tent looking in.
On one side were tables with my daughter-in-law’s family. Many I’d never met, despite the fact that she and my son have been together 17 years. No one introduced us. Her mother did not speak to me, but then I didn’t speak either. She recently friend requested me on Facebook and I accepted, yet we never speak. I don’t dislike her, I don’t know her even after all this time.
I looked at the people at the other table. This was mostly my family, some of my kids and grand-kids, an ex daughter-in-law and her husband; I think I got custody of her in the divorce. She’s the one who makes sure I see the granddaughters she and my son produced. Bless her.
Two of my sons were under a smaller tent talking quietly as my proxy son-in-law grilled the meat.
I found myself inching back further and further. It seemed as though I’d stumbled into the wrong graduation party. I was completely and utterly alone. I imagined I was somehow an uninvited guest. Had Bill been with me, we would have been right in the middle of things, talking, laughing, and enjoying the food. In fact my daughter would have fixed his plate and brought it to him as soon as the meal was ready. I had no appetite, not for food, nor conversation.
In a very short amount of time I knew with certainty I did not belong there. I felt an epic meltdown approaching and panic set in. I went to ‘K’ and told her that I loved her and was very proud of her and Grandpa would have been proud too, but I had to leave. With tears in her eyes she nodded and hugged me. I was back in my car in minutes.
I didn’t feel the need or the inclination to say good-bye to anyone else. My arrival and departure was not likely to be noted by many. I drove away from the lake using a different route, thankfully one that was not flooded. In the city I went to J.C. Penny’s and bought new sneakers, then drove to the casino.
I played for hours, my phone on silent. I like that, like that I can push a button and never hear a call or text. It’s almost like the glorious days of the past when people had privacy, when you could actually be unavailable for a time. I didn’t have that luxury when Bill was alive. His life’s work was to make sure I was okay and safe. While others might have found that annoying, I found it comforting. His voice was always the touch of a button away.
I played until I was exhausted and shaky from not eating all day. I drove the long drive home, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went to bed.
They say it’s the mother who holds the family together. This is not true in our case. It was always Bill. He was the one who held the key. He was the sun and I was comfortable in his huge shadow.
Now I am disconnected.
This morning I picked up the phone to call Bill’s sister. It’s her birthday. As I was scrolling through the recent calls to find her number I saw that she called me yesterday. I really should change the message on my answering machine. I never listen to them, never even notice if the light is blinking. It should say something like, “Go ahead and leave a message if you want, but she won’t call you back and will probably never even hear it. It would be better to just try again later and maybe someone will pick up.”
This weekend I have another graduation party for my great-nephew. Again with the baked beans, but I don’t mind. They are sort of my signature dish. I have to go. I would never, never hurt my sister-in-law by not showing up at her grandson’s party. How long I will stay, I don’t know? As long as I can without crying I guess.
I think I will get a room at the casino for a couple of days around Bill’s birthday if I can. It’s something he would want to do if he were still with me and it will give me a place to grieve his loss in private. I know I’m useless as a mother. When I should be offering support and comfort to my children and grandchildren I find I have nothing to give. I regret that.
All I can say is if this does not get better I am going to be a very lonely woman for a very long time.
Photo Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_vicspacewalker'>vicspacewalker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>