She sat on the couch quietly. After some time, she got up and gathered together the paraphernalia–the plastic containers, rubber tubes and the needles they had stabbed into his arms and chest and then pulled out and thrown on the floor. Not good for the children to see. She dumped them all in the trash and carried them outside. Then she got the mop to clean up the puddle of urine on the kitchen floor and the trail of it they had made when, needing more workspace, they had dragged him into the living room.
She knew he had died before the paramedics had arrived. “Loss of bodily function,” they called it, but they had worked over his body for almost an hour before they were willing to admit there was no use. He was dead. Of a heart attack.
She could not remember the weight of him as he had fallen against her. She could no longer feel his mouth, slack under her desperate attempts to make him breathe. Her body moved slowly. She could hardly push the mop. She felt frozen, but she was not cold, and the hot soapy water did not warm her.
She went into the bedroom to check on the children. Earlier, she had held them. Helpless against their terrible loss, their awful pain, she could only hold them until they slept. She removed her son’s sweater and covered him, kissed her daughter and left the room.
She could scarcely walk and for the next few days did not often try. She sat on the couch. She did nothing. There seemed to be nothing to do. Friends arrived, said things, left. Her mother arrived and took charge of the children and the house. When her mother coaxed, she ate. When her mother said it was cold, she bundled up. Otherwise, she just sat. She did not cry.
There was a pill to help her sleep. She took it and fell into a dream. She felt her husband come to her. For a single timeless moment, a radiance. Then, “No, you’re dead. We can’t do this anymore!”
She was screaming. Her son got to her first. She knew who it was; he shouldn’t see her like this; she tried to stop. She was shaking, shrieking. Breaking away from her son, she rushed about the house, crashing into things, falling down. Facing an awesome terror, she fought against it. Finding it within herself, she tore at her own body and drew blood. Impossible to be alone. Inconceivable not to be with him. She struck out, over and over, destroying one by one each terrible moment of time.
She battled her future, and lost. Finally, she exhausted her grief in tears.
* * *
The next few days, I set myself simple tasks and accomplished them. Get to the store. Get:
In the bakery section with my mother, I reached for a third loaf of bread and then paused. “I guess I won’t need that much bread anymore,” I said.
And then I just stood there with my hand reaching out. Was I relieved because my food bill would be one person less? Was I pleased that he had died and now I would have more money? How could I have such disloyal thoughts? How could I? For a long, timeless moment, I stood there, very still, and watched as all the colors around me slowly,… faded,… away,… until my world was gray.
“Quite right.” My mother’s voice, as though from a distance, interjecting. “And don’t you feel the least bit guilty about thoughts like that. You must feel better. You must make yourself feel better so you can do better. You have children to take care of.”
* * *
Grief is gray, sometimes for a long time, and making oneself feel better has its limitations. Sometimes, all one can do is wait.
So I waited. First, I waited until all three children were grown and on their own.
Luis, my oldest child, was 19 and already on his own when his father died. He was in the military, in boot camp, and was allowed bereavement leave. However, he had to be back on base soon after.
Vivian, the middle child, was a true California “valley girl,” a bright child and popular among her friends. She turned 18 soon after her father died and moved in with her best friend.
And David, who was 12, went back with my mother to Indiana when she went back home. Soon after, I made plans to leave California and go back to college in Indiana.
In college, my first assigned reading in my first English class was Le Morte d’Arthur, the death of Arthur. Already grieving, I had to read about all those early heroes with their bloody lances and swords. I still remember Mordred, incestuous son of Arthur and his half sister. Arthur puts Mordred in a boat along with all the other baby boys in the kingdom and sends them to sea to perish. All die except for his own son, who later kills his father. Mordred, mordant, dreadful.
After that, in a hodgepodge of other literature classes I read thousands of colorful descriptions in hundreds of books. Red, wherever I encountered it, always seemed like blood. Blue was–predictably–blue. And yellow? It seemed almost every night in my nightmares I could see my husband buried, yellowing skin decaying on hands still reaching out to me.
I waited. Sometimes, all one can do is wait.
I took sociology courses and studied social change and revolution (and felt like the proletariat: disenfranchised, paralyzed). I studied small-group social processes (and tried to apply them to me, myself and my silent moan). In journalism class, I wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles (who? what? when? where? and who cares?). I took Latin (“expectabam”), Spanish (esperé), philosophy (how did I know I was waiting?), physics and astronomy (where time itself is only a construct), and bioanthropology (where the wait is 6,000 generations). I took classes in writing and editing (why not? while I was waiting). I graduated, still waiting. I moved to Arizona, and waited, then two years later to Florida, and waited, then another year after that to Washington, and waited.
I waited for 10 years.
* * *
I am in Port Townsend, Washington, walking from the residential area, which is literally uptown, to the lower-level downtown area to go to work. There are perhaps 120 wide gray stone steps that lead from uptown to downtown. At the bottom is a statue of Galatea in a fountain. She is bronze, which seems an indeterminate color, and I can see her back streaked with what looks like charcoal where rain or water from the fountain has stained her. Mist silvers the steps in front of me.
I glance to my right as I descend the steps, as I have done hundreds of times. Yes, there’s the hillside. There are the rhododendrons. It’s a little slippery today, and I reach out for the iron railing at the side of the steps. And then
with my hand reaching out.
The rhodies. They’re pink!
I stand there, very still. For a timeless moment, there is this radiance! The flowers are lush, blushing, glowing. And I can see the green leaves too, and the green grass.
At last, there is color again. I can see it!