Today I took a winter walk, which is slower than a usual walk because there’s slippery snow and ice everywhere. I walked past Ogden’s, our favorite breakfast spot, and through the park, and stopped to to sit and pump on the swings, floating up in the air and back to the ground like I did when I was a little kid. Every time I walk that route, past the swing-set in the park, I sit on the swings and pump for a few minutes, until I get dizzy. So I’m sixty years old, but still a kid.
All along the walk, and even while I was on the swing, Stephanie was on my mind. Then I walked back via Johnson Street toward the apartment, past the coffee and tea shop where we’d often spend hours together. I turned the corner, and stopped at the driveway in front of our apartment complex.
This is where Steph got into the car for the past few years. Curbs and grass were difficult in the wheelchair, so we needed a place where there was a sidewalk for her and pavement for the car, and nothing in between, so she could wheel her chair right up to the door of the car.
I would bring the portable ramp down from the apartment to the sidewalk, wheel her down it, and then I’d put the ramp back in the apartment, and while I was doing that she would wheel herself toward the car. It was a race, to see if she could get to the car before me, but usually she only made it about 2/3 of the way before I was back, and I’d push her wheelchair the last twenty or forty meters to the car.
Stephanie’s wheelchair is still in the trunk, but I never stop the car in the driveway any more. Today I stood where the sidewalk meets that driveway, and started crying. How many hundreds of times did we loiter at this spot on the sidewalk? If we were leaving, and I hadn’t already brought the car to the driveway, I’d leave her here while I brought the car. Or if the car was already in the driveway, she’d scoot into the passenger seat, and I’d fold up the wheelchair and stash it in the trunk, and we’d be off to wherever we were going. If we were coming home, this is where I’d pull the wheelchair out of the trunk and unfold it, then hold it while she scooted from the car to the chair. A few feet away is where we often stopped on a sunny day to chat with the neighbors. But today, Stephanie is not racing me in a chair, not chatting with the neighbors, and not waiting while I put away the ramp.
That stretch of sidewalk is a sadder place now, than it was. The world is a sadder place. And a dumber place, less interesting, less amusing, less creative, and a heck of a lot less funny. I wonder frequently what Stephanie would say – about the news, about our neighbors, about my day at the office – that would make me laugh. In all our years together, Stephanie never stopped making me laugh. Well, until she died. Not much laughter lately. Her jokes and clever comments remain untold, and my giggles ungiggled.
And on serious subjects, whatever the topic, Steph would offer a valuable insight I hadn’t considered. Generally, my reaction to news or events is a knee-jerk. Stephanie was more contemplative, and often broadened my perspective by adding some nuance to the news, bring up some aspect that hadn’t occurred to me. So much insight, now unseen. I’m going to have to work at it to keep from becoming a stereotypical “Get off my lawn” old man.
She’s not anywhere at all except in my memories. She is gone. Absent. Never again will she laugh, or make me laugh. Never again will she cry. Never again will she make her delicious scrimpy noodles, or make the cat purr, or make me stop and think about things. Never again will she anything, everything. Never.
As recently as last summer, when I came home from out in the world, a dang terrific woman was waiting for me, and she was absolutely, unquestionably happy to see me. She would kiss my face, tell me stories, make me dinner, make me happy, point me to news she knew I’d care about, and she would always, always, make my evenings so sweet I didn’t particularly want to sleep. Even if one of us wasn’t in a good mood, even if Steph wasn’t feeling well, even if she was in a “give me space” mood, there were about three evenings total in all our years together when we didn’t sit in the same room and have a nice time.
No more. Now there’s no-one. I’m still surprised sometimes, to find myself alone. Still flabbergasted, every day, at how dull and pointless it all seems without her. Everything we did, everywhere we went, from the driveway to you name it, we were making memories. Everyone does. It never occurred to me, though, how every little thing in the universe would be the opposite of what it was, when she’s gone. How utterly empty everything would feel once we were no longer “we,” and those memories are all that remains. It breaks my heart that she’s gone. We had such a good time together, and stupidly, we thought we had years left, and then suddenly we had no time at all.
It’s twenty-some degrees outside, as cold as it’s been all winter, yet I stood at that driveway and that short stretch of sidewalk, and cried for ten minutes.
More about Stephanie.