Monday, August 14, 2017

Wish You Were Here: Chapter 4





 CLICK HERE to read from the beginning.

On the Friday night of Dan and Emily’s dinner party, I stood in my closet, taking stock of my clothes and trying to figure out what to wear.  In the last six months, my weight had fluctuated so much that I actually had three sections:  Depressed and can’t eat (two sizes smaller than normal); depressed and can’t get enough to eat (two sizes larger than normal); and then normal (which was about one size larger than I ideally wanted to be).
            The problem was that all of my choices were really only work clothes because it was necessary that I have things to wear to the office that fit.  So when my weight dipped, I ran out and got a few things that I could wear to work.  When it ballooned, I got a few things (but less than what I bought when I was smaller, vowing that I would not stay that size forever and, therefore, refusing to invest the money in it).  But in all of that expanding and contracting, I never bought anything I could go out in on the weekends.  Because I never went anywhere.
            Well, that’s not true.  I went to Izzy’s sometimes and ventured out when Emily attempted to include me in her normal life.  I had inadvertently dwindled my social life down to the three of us, not returning phone calls from Henry’s coworkers and ignoring messages from childhood friends who meant well, but who I really had nothing to say to at this point in my life.  So, most of the time, when I did go out, it was just the three of us (unless Dan decided to be brave and include himself).  And they had stopped rolling their eyes at my sweats a few months earlier.
            Knowing that Izzy was going to be bringing someone new to the party, I wanted to at least look presentable.  When I showed up the last time, not knowing that she was bringing a date, the guy did a little bit of a double-take when he saw my bright red paint-splattered sweat pants I’d had since high school, Henry’s old sweatshirt that said “Wassup?” in bold letters across my breasts, and a greasy ponytail.
            I’d never really thought of living as something you had to work at.  I thought it was something everyone just knew how to do.  It reminded me a little of when I was 12-years-old and my parents got our first puppy.  When my mother picked him up at the shelter after his “fix,” the vet tech said, “Now, you’re going to need to practice walking with him on a leash.  He doesn’t know how to do that yet.”
            I thought the woman was joking at first.  “They don’t come knowing that?”  I asked.
            “Nope.  You’ll have to train him.  But he’ll pick it up pretty quickly.”
            My mother and I tugged on the leash, finally getting Oscar to move along with us out the door.  As we tried to lead him to our car, he weaved around in a random pattern, and then finally led us to a piece of grass where he laid down.   No amount of coaxing or pulling on the leash could get him to move.  Finally, in a voice filled with exasperation, my mother said, “Let’s just pick him up and put him in the car.  I could just kill your father for coming up with this idea.”
That’s how I felt about life now:  Like I should know what to do with it, but in reality it might take a little practice before I figured it out.  I could feel myself zigzagging, trying to find the right spot regardless of where other people thought I should go.  And I felt a tug every once in a while when someone thought I might be going the wrong way.
            My mother was a tugger – or had turned into one.  I had never been the type of only child who had been smothered by her parents.  They did a pretty good job of letting me live my life partially because I think they were afraid that if I involved them too much in what I had going on, it might affect theirs.  My dad was nearing retirement age, but loved his job too much working as private pilot for a self-made billionaire, jetting him around to sunny destinations, and would probably stick with it until the FAA forced him to stop.  And my mother, who was often able to tag along on his trips, didn’t see the need to butt into my life.
            Until Henry died.
            “Are you taking care of yourself?” She said by way of a greeting when I answered the phone as I was trying to get ready.  “I can tell by the sound of your voice that you’re not taking care of yourself.”
            “I am, Mom.  I’m doing the best I can.”
            “Good.  Because it’s not good to let yourself get run down.  You need all the energy you can get.  Besides, when you look tired, you look old.  And you don’t want to start looking old now that you’re going to be dating again.”
            Dating?  Where did that come from?
            “I haven’t really thought about that yet.”
            “Well, you should.   Most people won’t tell you this, but every woman has her ‘sell by’ date.  It was okay if you let yourself go while Henry was around because you were settled.  But now you’re going to have to start thinking about landing another one.”
            “Do you think I should wait another week?” I asked sarcastically.  “Or should I go ahead and start sleeping around now?”
            “Don’t take that tone with me,” said my mother.  “You know that your father and I support you all the way.  You don’t want to push away the only people who are here for you.”
            “Thanks, Mom.  I don’t know how you do it, but I now feel supported and utterly alone.”
            “Don’t be ridiculous.  How is the house?  Have you started going through Henry’s things yet?”
            “A little.”
            “Well, don’t you think it’s time?”
            “I don’t know.”
            “When Gladys Millfield lost her husband, she had her place cleaned out and remodeled within the first month.”
            “That’s because Gladys Millfield was having an affair with the Schwan’s delivery man.”
            “How that has any bearing on this discussion, I do not know.”
            “Any other pearls of wisdom you need to give me before I go?”
            “No.  Not if you’re going to have that attitude.  I was just trying to help.”
            Sigh.  That much I knew.  However misguided her attempts were, her intentions were good.  I did my best to limit my conversations with her because she made me feel like I was moving through this process too fast and not fast enough.  Really.  It was a gift.
            “I know, Mom.  I’ll talk to you next week, okay?  I have to get ready to go over to Emily’s.”
            “Fine.  What do you have going on the rest of the weekend?”
            “Oh, I don’t know.  I’ll probably go to the grocery store at some point tomorrow.”
            “Did you put cat food on your list?”
            “Why?”
            “I just don’t want you forget.”
            “Are you implying that I’ve been starving my cat for the last six months?”
            “For heaven’s sake.  I was just trying to help.  There’s just no point in talking to you when you’re in a mood like this.  I’ll catch up with you next week.”
            That conversation had me so rattled, I felt like I couldn’t make even the simplest decision.  I finally found a shirt in the “normal” category and a pair of jeans in the two sizes larger section (thanks to my latest craving, Pecan Pralines ‘n’ Cream Blue Bell ice cream).  I bent down to look at my shoe selection and decided on flats because if I had one drop of wine and was wearing even the smallest heel, there was a good chance I would end up on the floor and possibly take someone else down with me.
            Now it was time to do something with my face.
            I had been to Walgreens that afternoon because I got the urge to try something new with my make-up.  Every once in a while I would get the itch to do something any typical woman might do, but I usually didn’t have the energy to follow through.  But on the way home from work, I happened to pass by the store just as I was having a split-second impulse to be normal and decided to run in and grab a few items that I hoped would mask what I was really feeling. 
I was beginning to notice that alone and derailed doesn’t do much for one’s complexion.
            “You should try this shade,” said the woman behind the cosmetics counter.  “It’s the latest thing!”
            Looking at the brightly colored shadow she held in her hand, I said, “Oh, I don’t know….”
            “Really!”  she insisted.  “Look at this article in US Weekly!  Doesn’t this shade just look spectacular on Julia Roberts!”
            I don’t know if it was because my defenses were down or if I was just trying to be polite, but by the time I left I had purchased three different pallets of eye shadow, volumizing mascara, and two lipsticks.  I stopped short of the chocolate flavored cream bronzer because the very fact that someone thought to put flavor in something that you spread all over your skin was just bizarre to me.  And I was worried that in one of my comfort-eating frenzies I might start digging into my cosmetics bag.
            But now, alone in my bathroom without the wisdom of the Walgreens saleswoman, I felt completely overwhelmed. Did Julia have this shade on the crease of her lid or on the lid itself?  What was it I was supposed to put on the arch of my eye?  And why is this mascara making my vision blurry?
As I looked at the end result, I was disappointed to see that I looked less like Julia Roberts and more like a hooker in a one-star 1980s horror flick.  I couldn’t help but feel a little duped by the make-up industry and wondered if that Walgreens saleswoman was at home with her feet up, sipping a Busch Light, and smirking at the image of me putting on all of the junk she sold me.
            I spent a couple of minutes, trying to undo the damage I’d done, taking a make-up sponge and working on defusing the bright blue eye shadow and trying to scrub off the lipstick which, unfortunately, was one of those brands that boasted it could stay on all day.  In the end, when I looked in the mirror, my eyes looked smudged (and not in a smoky cat-eye way - more of an I’m-4-years-old-and-playing-in-my-mom’s-make-up way) and my lips were still stained with the same color and now had a red ring around them from the scrubbing that made me look slightly baboon-like.  But the good news was that I think my eyes distracted from my lips and my lips made the electric blue I had on my eyes a little less noticeable. 
I think. 
           I heard a sharp beep outside and when I pulled back the curtain on my bedroom window, I looked down and could see Izzy sitting in the passenger seat of a Mercedes sedan.  This was certainly an improvement over the last guy who, Izzy told us at work the Monday after she went out with him, picked her up on his Vespa.
            “It wasn’t even new,” she complained.  “I could get on board if it was cute and retro looking, but it was just this beat up little scooter which says to me that he’s not riding it to be cute…he’s riding it out of necessity.  And don’t you think the fact that it was sea green might mean that he’s batting for the other team but doesn’t know it yet?”
            I walked quickly to the front door and into the mid-September night, grateful that the oppressive heat of summer was behind me so I didn’t have to worry about the rainbow of colors I had painted on my face running down in a Maybelline melt-off.  I hopped into the backseat of the Mercedes and tried out a chipper “Hey!” which made me sound unnaturally like a 30-year-old cheerleader.
            “Jane, this is Jeff,” Izzy said turning around from the passenger seat to take a look at me.  “And Jeff…I think this is Jane.  What in the hell have you done your face?”
            “Thanks a lot,” I said, giving her a dirty look.  “I was trying the new fall colors.”
            “Have you ever heard the saying ‘everything in moderation’?”
            “Have you ever heard the saying ‘shut up and stop embarrassing me or I’ll slip Draino in your Chardonnay later?’”
            “No, I haven’t,” said Izzy, turning back around in her seat.
            “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jane,” said Jeff as he backed out of my driveway.  “And I think you look very nice.”
            “Oh, Jeff, don’t sugar coat it,” said Izzy.  “You tell her she looks good, she’ll show up looking like a Toddlers & Tiaras wash-out at work on Monday.  You’re not doing her any favors.”
            “Well, this evening is starting out well,” I said, giving the back of her head a murderous look.  “Makes me so grateful I let you all talk me into it.  By the way - Jeff, is it?  I will be drinking heavily tonight so I’ll need your email address before we part ways later.  I sleep better knowing I have all of the contact information I need to make apologies the next day.”
            “You got it,” he said easily.  “Although, may I suggest that you text the apologies?  Then you don’t have to write as much.”
            “I’ll give it some thought,” I said.  “That may work better since I usually have a very fuzzy recollection of what I’m actually apologizing for.”
            “Your husband just died a few months ago, right?” He said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror.  “I would think you shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for anything for a full calendar year after his death.”
            The sudden mention of Henry’s death from this stranger caught me off guard and I didn’t know what to say at first.  My instinct was to come up with something witty, but I sometimes worried that when I did that with people I didn’t know very well, they thought I didn’t care or that I felt like Henry’s death was no big deal.  I guess my silence while I tried to decide how to respond started to make Jeff feel uncomfortable, though, because he glanced back at me quickly before turning his eyes back to the road and saying, “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.”
            ”No…no, it’s okay,” I said, deciding to go the humorous route to try and diffuse his discomfort.  “I was just wondering why no one else told me about this perk.”
            “Oh yeah, it’s an unwritten rule,” he said, his shoulders relaxing in relief.    “For a grandparent you get two months.  A parent:  Six.  Depending on the sibling and whether or not you got along with them you get six to eight.”
            “What about a pet?”
            “Pets are complicated because pet people can be weird.  If it’s a cat, they get a month, but they think they get the entire year.  If it’s a dog, they get a month and a half, but they actually take less time because they’ll run right out and get a replacement within the first two weeks and feel much better.  Ferrets or any other rodents…they should have been apologizing for themselves from the moment they purchased the cage.”
            “Interesting.”
            “Yeah, interesting,” said Izzy, clearly not interested.  “But you’re about to miss your turn.”
            Jeff made a hard right onto Emily’s street which sent me flying across the back seat.
            “You okay back there?” He asked as he pulled into her driveway.
            “Oh, yeah,” I said straightening myself into a sitting position.
            “Maybe you flung some of that make-up off,” Izzy said with a snicker, as she started climbing out of the car.
            “Izzy, would you shut the f—“
            “Hey everyone!” Emily and Dan waved from the front door, looking like the poster children for domestic bliss.
            “Hey,” we all chorused back, slamming the car doors shut.
            “I think you look great,” said Jeff as we made our way towards the house.
            “Thank you,” I said, feeling my cheeks flush a little.
            “We’re so glad you could make it,” said Emily, kissing Izzy’s cheek and pausing for a minute to look at my face before she kissed mine.  “And this must be Jeff!  So nice to meet you!”
            “Jeff,” Dan said as he shook his hand. “Thanks for coming and not leaving me with all of these women.”
            “The least I can do,” Jeff said as he made his way through the front door.  “It smells great in here.”
            “Emily has been making her famous red beans and rice,” said Dan.
            “Oh, I know I should wait for colder weather,” said Emily.  “But I’ve been craving them for weeks.”
            “Red beans and rice are good for all seasons,” said Jeff.  “That was one of my favorites when I was a kid.  I used to always ask my mom to make it for my birthday.”
            “Come in and sit down,” said Emily in her best hostess voice. “What can I get everyone to drink?”
            “Wine.”
            “Wine.”
            “Vodka tonic,” I said.
            “Oh Lord,” said Izzy.
            “What?”  I asked her, starting to tire of her snide sense of humor which seemed to be using me as the punch line.
            “Oh, nothing,” she said, waving her hand as if dismissing me.  “Which do you think you’ll do tonight?  Cry or fight with us?”
            “Well, if the evening keeps going this way, I’m pretty sure I know which one,” I said giving her a dirty look.
            “Here,” said Dan, putting drinks in both of our hands.  “Drink.  Put something in your mouths that will make you stop talking.”
            “So, Jeff,” Emily said, sitting on the couch across from his chair.  “Are you from Houston?”
            And so began the small talk.  My attention flitted in and out of the conversation, not ready to invest in Jeff yet because there was a good chance he would be catapulted out of Izzy’s life by morning.  There had been a couple of guys in the last few years that I thought might have had a chance of making it to the one month mark with her, but I was pretty sure already that Jeff was too nice.  Izzy liked men who fought with her.  She was used to getting her way in relationships, but I think she secretly liked it when she found a man who would call her on her shit.  She had no idea how much work a serious relationship took so when things got even remotely hard, she bolted like the guy had just stung her.  And while Jeff struck me as the kind of man who could hold his own, his personality was too easy for her and I doubted that he would be able to bring to her life the drama that she secretly craved.
            “Are you all ready to eat?” Emily asked when she returned from the kitchen after giving everything a stir.  “I think we’re about ready.”
            We all got up to make our way to the dining room table which was – of course – set for five people, the sight of which was enough to make me quietly excuse myself from the group to mix another drink.  This was the hard part about Izzy bringing a date:  I was the odd man out.  Oh, no one made me feel that way, but when you sit down to dinner it’s glaringly obvious.  Round tables make it not as evident that there is a piece missing.  But rectangular tables, like the one in Emily’s dining room, make it look like the table is missing a tooth or something.  Emily did her best to try and be sensitive to the situation, even taking away the sixth chair and putting the extra one in the middle of one side.  But no one ever sat in that lonely little chair but me.  Emily and Dan, being the hosts, sat on the ends and  Izzy and Jeff sat on the other side, side by side.  I knew from previous experience that when I sat down facing the entire group on my own, I’d feel like an unwanted spotlight would be shining on my widowhood.
            “Maybe we should all start eating like Moroccans,” I thought to myself as I gave my drink a stir.  “We should all sell our tables and chairs and invest in some nice cushions and sit on the floor.  Then there would just be organized chaos when we sat down, instead of having all of these silly sides.  Dan would be on board because that would mean that we could eat everything with our hands and Emily will like it because it will give her an excuse to go to Pier 1.  This is a great idea.  Make note of this suggestion so you can send everyone an email about it tomorrow.”
Obviously, I was already starting to feel the early buzz set in, when my most industrious ideas were usually produced.  Or so I always thought.  But then the next morning I would find notes about how Emily, Izzy, and I should become the next Wilson Phillips or how I was wasting my time in event planning when I should really be painting life-changing murals of cats and then I would run to my email to see if I’d sent any of these worthwhile suggestions to anyone I knew.  If I had, then I would have to send a follow-up during a more sober time, telling everyone I thought my email had been hacked. 
“What the hell is this?”  Henry had asked me the year before as he checked his email after we had been out with friends the night before.
“What?”
“Why is your entire family responding back to an email that you sent to them last night – or I should say this morning – suggesting that we all sell our houses and start a commune?”
I suddenly remembered having a hard time logging into the computer when we got home – which was a pretty good indication that I shouldn’t have been anywhere near it – and my head started to pound.
“Oh…well…I….”
“That’s it,” he said, turning back to the response from my Aunt Regina that detailed the perfect property for my proposal up in Montana.  “I’m looking into some sort of technology that forces you to take a breathalyzer test before you hit ‘send’ on an email.”
  I smiled a little at that memory as I started to head back into the dining room to join the group.  And then, as usual, my eyes welled up with the tears I could never seem to get a handle on.  I hated this byproduct of widowhood,  how it seemed impossible to feel completely happy about something without some sort of sorrow following that fleeting moment.  It wasn’t necessarily guilt – I knew Henry would want me to be happy.  It was just realizing he would never be here to share the “funny” in life anymore - that was a feeling I didn’t think I could ever get used to.  And knowing that he was the only one in my life who had that memory, too, made me feel so lonely in my own life.  What made matters worse was hearing the conversation that had already started without me, just two typical couples on a Friday night, rehashing their weeks and laughing at life’s little hiccups.  “They don’t need me,” I thought to myself as I sat down.  “I could walk out the back door and probably not one of them would notice.  Maybe they’ll just move the chairs around so everything is balanced better.”
            “I can’t believe you knew John Coolly in college!” Dan was exclaiming to Jeff he poured himself another glass of wine.  “I haven’t talked to that asshole in years.  How the hell is he?”
            “He’s good,” Jeff said.  “Has two kids and lives in Dallas.  He’s lead counsel for some real estate developer out there.  I just saw him a few months ago when I was there on business.”
            “John Coolly,” Dan said shaking his head.  “There were times when I didn’t think he could walk and chew gum at the same time.  Remember when he tried to do a headstand on your kitchen island, Jane?  Fell off and flat on the top of his head.  Henry and I thought he’d killed himself.”
            “I remember,” I said, giving a watery smile.
            “Those were the good old days,” Dan said, looking wistful.  “None of us really had any money, all staying in that shitty apartment complex.  I think that little stunt was thanks to a six- pack of Natural Ice John had had right before we got there.  He swore he hadn’t had anything, but there’s no way someone sober would just walk into a kitchen and say, ‘Hey!  I think I’ll do a headstand on your counter!’”
            “How long have you all known each other?” Jeff asked.
            “We met years ago,” said Emily, “right when Henry and Jane moved to Houston.  They lived in an apartment three doors down from us and one day, Henry and Dan struck up a conversation.  And a bromance was born.”
            “There was a time when Emily and I thought that we should switch apartments,” I said.  “Put the guys in one and the girls in another and have once a week conjugal visits.”
            “It’s great that you’re so close and work together, too,” said Jeff.
            Izzy snorted.  “That was thanks to Jane.  Emily was working some nightmarish job pushing sub-par health benefits on unsuspecting strangers and Jane swooped in and rescued her.”
            Emily and I looked at each other and smiled.  “That’s not exactly what happened,” she said.
            Years earlier, Dan, Emily, Henry, and I were doing what we usually did on a Saturday night:  Drinking beer and playing cards.  Dan was trying his best to convince Henry and me to go on vacation with them, even though Emily kept insisting that she couldn’t go.
            “I just started with this company six months ago!  There’s no way they’re going to let me take a week off!”  She kept saying to him over and over.
            Well, Dan kept talking and talking about all of these outrageous places we could go (that none of us could afford) until I finally butted in. 
            “I don’t want to go to Cuba,” I said.  “But I have an idea:  Let’s just drive over to hill country.  I know a place where we can get a cabin on the Guadalupe River.  We can just spend all week hanging out in the water on inner tubes.”
            “Perfect!” said Dan, slamming down his cards.
            “Uh…guys?”  Said Emily.  “Again…I CANNOT GO.  I’ll get fired.”
            “Didn’t you say that Claron is hiring?”  Henry piped in.
            “Yes!”  I said, suddenly inspired.  “I’ll get you an interview over there and if you get it, you can just quit your job and we’ll go on vacation before you start.”
            “You want me to quit my job so that I can go float around on an inflatable donut for a week?”
            “Yes!” we all exclaimed.
            Emily paused for a minute.  “Okay.”
            The next week, Emily came in for the interview and the following week, she quit her job, set to start at Claron when we got back from our trip.  Then we all packed ourselves into my Toyota Corolla and headed towards Kerrville, TX so that we could do nothing but eat, drink, and float around in the idle river.
            “I can’t believe I quit my job so that we could go on vacation,” Emily said, laughing and pouring herself more wine.  “But you did save me from the hell that was my job before.  God, I can’t believe I put up with that place for six months.”
            “I can’t believe Dan didn’t tell us that he couldn’t swim before we left.  He spent the entire week on that rusty old paddle boat, just paddling himself around the river,” I said, laughing so hard I almost lost a little vodka tonic through my nose.
            “I can’t believe that Henry tried to dance with that goat the people next door to the cabin kept pinned up in their yard,” Dan said.  “That redneck came out in his pajamas just about ready to shoot him.  God, I miss that son-of-a-bitch.”
            There was an uncomfortable pause until Izzy said, “Shit, Dan.  Way to bring the party down.”
            “I’m sorry,” Dan said, looking sadly into his wine glass.  “We had some good times, didn’t we?”
            “We did,” I said, standing up to make myself another drink.
            “I’m sorry about Dan,” Emily said quietly, following me into the kitchen.  “He just really misses Henry sometimes.  I don’t think he has one other friend who comes near to being as close as they were.”
            “It’s okay,” I said, meaning it.  “I like talking about the stuff we did together.  Most people try to avoid talking about Henry to me.  And that sometimes makes me miss him even more.”
            “Well, there are still good times to be had,” Emily said, giving me a one-arm hug.
            “If you tell me you love me, I’m cutting off your wine consumption for the evening.”
            Emily laughed.  “Well, I do love you.  But please don’t cut off my wine.”
            We made our way back to the table where Izzy was telling some outrageous story about how she accidentally merged two of her cell phone contacts into one and when she tried to send someone she was dating at the time a racy text, it also went out to her mother.
            “That was my last attempt at ‘sexting,’” she said.  “It wasn’t so much that I was embarrassed, it just took too much time to explain to my mother what I meant.  And I broke up with that guy before we could do it anyway.  What a waste.”
            Everyone was laughing and telling story after story, each one trying to trump the one before.  Henry wasn’t mentioned again, everyone conscious of me and how it might make me feel.  But telling that story at the beginning of the evening made me so homesick for him.  It made me miss, more than ever, how easy everything was before and how even the simplest conversation now was a mine field of uncomfortable moments.  When he was alive, it would have never occurred to me to feel awkward at Emily and Dan’s.  But now – and even though I was probably the only one who noticed – it felt like there was a huge cloud hanging over the party. Emily, Dan, and Izzy were getting louder and louder and I did my best to laugh along with them but the later it got, the more I craved being in the comfort of my own space.  And even though Jeff was participating in the conversation as much has he could, it was obvious that he was a newcomer in the middle of a crowd that knew each other so well they could finish each other’s sentences.
            I could sympathize with him.  Because in the last few months, I’d started feeling like somewhat of a “newcomer” myself.
            The party didn’t wrap up until midnight and by that time, I was experiencing the blissful dullness that comes after a few drinks, the feeling I always got right before I started sloping into sadness.  Izzy, Jeff, and I said our good-byes and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy as Emily and Dan stood in the doorway of their house, arm-in-arm, waving to us as we drove away.  I knew that once we were out of sight, they would go back into their home and companionably clean the kitchen together.  And then they would lie down in their bed, immediately falling asleep, nestled side-by-side under the quilt they’d had since they got married. 
I opened my window in the car on the drive home, closed my eyes, and felt the air blow against my face.  None of us said a word the entire way back to my house until we pulled into the drive.
            “Hey, Fido,” said Izzy from the front seat.  “Ready to go to bed?”
            “Yup,” I said trying to get my feet, which suddenly seemed disconnected from my body. 
            “I’ll call you tomorrow,” Izzy said as I hauled myself out of the car.  “We’ll go for a run in the morning.”
            “What the hell ever,” I replied, slamming the door.
            “That’s what I thought.”
            “Nice meeting you!” Jeff said, altogether too sober and cheerful for my state of mind. 
            “Likewise,” I replied.  “And thanks for not picking us up on a Vespa.”
            “Anytime,” he said.
            Like a gentleman, Jeff waited until I had fumbled my way into my house before he pulled out of my driveway and when I shut the door behind me, that’s when I heard it.
            Silence.
            It’s not like Henry was a loud or boisterous person, but there is a big difference between walking into a house where someone else might be quietly sleeping and walking into a house where you just know you are alone.
            Indefinitely alone.
            I kicked off my shoes in the middle of my living room floor while I made my way into the kitchen.  I opened the fridge, reached for a beer, and twisted off the cap as I walked to the back patio.  It was pitch black outside and I didn’t turn on the porch light so that I could see the stars a little clearer.  I plopped down on the old Igloo cooler we kept out there, leaned against the brick wall of the house, tipped the beer up to my mouth and looked up.
            Tears began streaming down my face, something I didn’t even notice for a few minutes.  This wasn’t one of those “oh whoa is me cries.”  It was more subtle and peaceful.  And that made me even sadder.  When I would cry those wrenching, uncontrollable cries, at least I knew I was feeling something so deeply that it made me believe I was possibly even more human than I had been before Henry died.  Those cries would make me feel like I was getting something out that needed to be released and that maybe I might be better for it when it was over.  But this cry – this silent, defeated cry – made me feel like I was too sad to really feel anything at all.  It was the cry of someone who has momentarily given up and who fears that the best part of her life is over.  The tears of someone who has been so overpowered by life, she knows that nothing as important as her past will ever happen again. 
            It was the cry of the lonely and despaired.
            “I miss you Henry,” I said softly, trying to blink away my tears.  “I miss you so goddamn much.  I miss just sitting with you and knowing that you were a part of me.  I just feel hollow now.  Like there’s nothing left.  There’s a piece that’s been chipped away.”
            I focused on a star for a minute, one that didn’t look bright enough to be a planet and as far as I could tell, in my drunken stupor, didn’t seem to be moving slowly like a satellite.
            “I wish you were here, Henry,” I said mournfully.  “I wish you were here.  I don’t want to do this alone.  I never did.  It’s too much.”
            I sat, blearily staring at that star for a while, my beer getting warm in my hands, the condensation making my hands wet.  I felt too tired and depressed to get up and so I stared and watched as the star seemed to wink at me.
            “I wish you were here,” I thought over and over.
            I slowly lifted my body into a standing position, walked into my house, and left the half-drunk beer on the kitchen table.  I went into the bedroom and stripped my clothes off, leaving them in a pile on the floor.  I thought about washing my face for a split second and then decided not to bother stripping off its kaleidoscope of color.  I flopped down on top of my comforter, pulled the floral quilt that was folded at the end of the bed over myself and laid down on my stomach, my face turned to one side on my pillow, tears and make-up staining the case.  And as I drifted off to sleep, I made one final wish.
            “I wish you were here.”