It is surreal how the world goes on. I read the news, eat a meal once in a while, and pet the cat, pretty much the same as before, but with no meaning whatsoever. I’m impersonating myself, acting as if every day is a normal day and I’m not flailing helplessly. Alone at home I’ve bashed my head against the wall, literally, dozens of times. I’ve also smashed my fist into the wall, and done enough screaming that I worry the neighbors might call the cops.
It’s flabbergasting that I can go to work, but I say good morning to my co-workers when I get to the office, and good night when I leave. I do hope they’re having better mornings and nights than I am. Everything is awful, but I’m surprised how quickly I’ve been able to appear to be back at the ordinary push and shove. I sit at my desk all day and do my work, answer emails, requisition more envelopes, whatever, all as if I give a rat’s rectum when I absolutely do not.
I catch myself frowning perpetually. It’s my new natural expression. Try picturing Humphrey Bogart at the train station, in Casablanca. When I notice the frown, I try to rejigger my face into a more neutral look, but most of the time I don’t notice, so I probably look like the grouchiest man in the world. Which is an accurate assessment.
Often I’m in an impatient, semi-grumpy mood. Everything seems so tedious, unimportant, and generally stupid. It’s entirely subconscious, but I hear myself sighing, loudly, every ten or fifteen minutes. It’s surprising that I haven’t hollered at anybody or gotten into any loud arguments, and it seems unwise that people are allowed to sign checks or drive a car in this mental state.
I wonder how long I can go, telling nobody at work that my wife is dead? For as long as I’ve worked there, I’ve talked about Stephanie at work – not a lot, just now and then when co-workers are discussing their weekends or whatever. Everyone at work knows the name of everyone else’s spouse and kids and pets, so eventually someone will ask how Stephanie’s doing. Actually, one co-worker has already asked, but she asked in an e-mail so I just didn’t respond. When someone asks and I can’t avoid the question, I will crumple into a ball of weeping widowhood. I’d like to put that day off for as long as possible, but short of sending a memo that says “Don’t ask about my wife,” there’s not much I can do.
And then I come home, which is not really home any more. It’s the same address, same furniture, same cat, but now it’s just the place where I eat, sleep, and poop. That ain’t home. I watch Doctor Who and read The New Yorker and fart around on Reddit, and there’s no joy in any of it. Something smells funky in the kitchen, but I haven’t yet mustered any interest in finding out what.
To some extent, Madison isn’t home any more, either. There are places in this town Stephanie and I went to over and over again, and I’ll never go without her. I can go to the grocery store, sure, but the places we went to, together, all the time? Nope, can’t do it. Can’t go to Jade Mountain for a cup of coffee, can’t go to Ogden’s Diner for breakfast. Too many memories, and the waitress will ask “Where’s Stephanie?,” and my face will explode with tears all over some stranger’s breakfast.
Binge-eating would have been my predicted response, because over the years that’s usually been how I’ve handled bad news – “Three giant hamburgers with a bucket of fries and a strawberry malted, please, and later I’ll be back for seconds.” But I’ve been eating healthier and losing weight for more than a year, and I’m sticking with the diet, because I’m still a fat guy, and especially because Stephanie so often told me “I’m proud of you for all the weight you’ve lost.” There’s no way on Heaven, Hell, or Earth that I’m going to doublecross that.
More about Stephanie.