Sunday, March 15, 2009

THE RECONSTRUCTION

Neville died at four o’clock in the morning. Darci watched him take his last ragged breath and that was the end of that. She lay her head on the bed next to him and fell asleep. It was her daughter Rose that woke her. A hand on her shoulder, and a voice calling, “Mom. Mom! Wake up.”

Wouldn’t you know it—her neck had a kink? Well, of course, it was almost nine o’clock.

“Daddy’s gone,” Rose said, her face contorting.

“I know,” Darci declared, rising from the chair.

“When?” Rose asked, she was standing at her father’s side, touching his cold cheek.

“A few hours ago.”

“We better call.”

“I suppose we should,” Darci said, feeling sick and tired of the word “should”.

*****

We buried my sweet husband at Forest Lawn, next to our son Slade. Rose was upset with me for leaving on a cruise two weeks after Neville’s funeral. I explained that his long drawn out illness had already provided me with more than enough time to mourn—more than enough. I had willed him to die at the end. I couldn’t wait. Don't get your panties in a bunch, I’m not stupid, I didn’t tell my daughter that I willed him to go. She couldn’t begin to understand.

Neville had always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise but we’d never gotten around to it. He was only forty-six, and like most couples do, we assumed that we had all the time in the world to grow old together. We planned on making fun of each other’s wrinkles and liver spots. But Cancer robbed us of our future together.

I sigh when I sit on the bed in the cabin on the ship. I don’t cry yet. I just sigh. Since Neville wouldn’t stand for cremation I don’t have any ashes to spread. The cruise is my version of moving on. I know a little something about moving on. You don’t lose a child without learning a little something about moving on. Good God. Here I am, on my way to Alaska, and I can’t wait for the ship to pull out of the harbor. I can’t wait to see whales and the icebergs. I can’t wait to eat, drink, and be merry. I can use a little merriness. Is merriness a word? I can’t wait to escape. That’s a better way to put it. I am making a great escape.

I met a couple of ladies the second day out to sea. Frankie and Anita are widows too. We’ve banded together. I guess you could say I belong to a club of sorts. It doesn’t matter that they’re both a good fifteen years older than I am. We find common ground. My new friends are from Seattle. They live in the same condo complex. I tell them about my sprawling acreage, the big house, the animals, and all the responsibility waiting at home. I learn about their old lives, how they’ve managed to pare all that mumbo jumbo down. Things change drastically when you lose your man, they confide. I begin to ponder letting go. Deciding to give the horses and goats to Rose. I make up my mind to sell the house. This information is kept a secret for the time being. The deconstruction and reconstruction of my life is in the planning stages.

The cruise ends and we pledge to keep in touch: Frankie, Anita, and me.

Once home I begin to deconstruct. The son-in-law comes for the animals. I keep the dog. Boss is ancient. He’s on his way out. I could never expect the kids to take him. He pees all over the place and reeks from the inside out. No amount of bathing can improve my dog’s odor. 

I’ve made arrangements to only work a few days a week. It takes weeks to clean out the closets. I use e-bay, Craigslist, The Pennysaver. I purge. Good-bye sterling silver, (who has time to polish silver?) Good-bye Neville’s wardrobe, (many people will benefit from his good taste.) Good-bye books, (I bought an electronic reading device.) Good-bye piano, (I never did get lessons.) Good-bye pool table, (the son-in-law nabbed that one!) Good-bye old life.

“Mom,” Rose says, when she sees how empty the living room is, “I think you better slow down. You aren’t old. You’re only forty-six. When I see you reacting this way I have to wonder if you wouldn’t benefit from some grief counseling. You never went to see anyone after Slade…”

I cut her off. “I’m fine,” I tell her. “Don’t go there.”

This is what happens—right? Change? I’m embracing the inevitable. I’m being proactive in my own life. From here on in I decide to have a say in what I am forced to give up.

“It’s just…”

I cut Rose off again. “Do you want the rug?” I ask, pointing to my mother’s pastel pride and joy. A Persian family of five worked their fingers to the bones for years and years to produce the silken wonder back at the turn of the century.

“Mom!” Rose cries. “That rug’s worth a fortune. Have you lost your mind?”

“If you don’t want it I will sell it,” I say.

“No offense, but the colors don’t match anything in my house.” Rose is staring at the giant pink cabbage roses and the turquoise border. Her brow's all furrowed and I think she might break out in tears. “But, Grandma loved Her Oriental so much.”

“Grandma’s gone,” I say. “I’ll give that rug merchant in San Francisco a call. He’ll want it. The colors are all wrong for your place.”

A week later I bring in a hotshot realtor. “I want to buy your house for myself,” she says, and she hasn't even seen the upstairs.

So I sell the realtor my house for a fair price. Lower than market. Hey, it does my broken heart good, knowing that someone loves the place as much as Neville and I did.

Laugh all you want but I bought a motor home. I finally quit my job, so Boss and I hit the road. I had always wanted to see The Deep South, so we headed east. Funny, how that old dog has adapted to life on the road so well. We'll drive a spell, and then stop to eat lunch. Then I take him for a walk. We get back in the motor home, drive a bit longer, and then stop for the night.

One fine sunny spring day, just outside of Charleston, I pull into McDonald’s for an ice cream cone. I call to Boss, (he just loves chicken McNuggets), but he doesn’t respond. Which isn’t all that unusual. The old boy sleeps so soundly lately. I find a parking place, touch his wiry fur, and I know. The dog has left the building. I get down on the floor for one last hug. Then I feel it, an eruption from way deep inside causes me to make sounds that I never thought I’d be capable of making. Every sad song, every sad movie, every loss and every miserable moment converge to send me right over the edge. I remember my mother talking about those pour souls that can’t hold on and I worry that I have become one. I cry and wail and scream and curse. I throw everything and anything that I can get my hands on. I bang my head against the window. I cannot choose what I will lose. I can only choose what to do next. If Boss smells now he will only smell worse if I don’t do something. So I use my phone to find the address of the closest vet and I drive there and take care of business. After depositing my dog for disposal, I look at the open page of the atlas I decide to drive to The Great Lakes. I have no way of knowing just what will happen next, but then, who the hell does?






All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

7 comments:

cw2smom said...

Incredibly moving story! Oh how I hope it's not true for you! I was fine...plodding along with the main character until the dog died. Then...I lost it! Beautifully written!!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Oh, thank God this is not an autobiographical story. I have two faithful cairn terriers and when they go I might have to be put in a padded room. I have dealt with more than my fair share of loss in the last two years though, and I got to thinking...

momcat said...

The barriers we build to get us through tragedy and trauma are torn down by a small thing which might be deemed unimportant by others like the passing of a beloved animal. We dont know how long life is going to be or how long our loved ones will be with us. Thanks for the reminder not to take our family for granted and expect them to always be there.

David Quiles said...

Elizabeth,

Great story. I love your main character's voice. I love how she doesn't cry until her dog passes. It reads like the beginning of a novel, a great adventure. Is there more or is it a short story?

Elizabeth Bradley said...

This is just my examination of loss. I wrote it from a dream.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

What a lovely touching story, I'm typing this through my tears. It holds so much truth- we don't know what will come our way, we have no control over that, only how we respond.

Thanks.
Lauri

http://thoughtsfrombotswana.blogspot.com

maryt/theteach said...

Elizabeth, you have me in tears and you are so brave... :'(