My beloved knew how to rest.
This is not to say that he didn’t know how to work very hard, he did, but when he wasn’t working, my beloved luxuriated in rest.
On weekends, he regularly slept until mid-afternoon. Of course, he would crack open one, dark eye around the time I would leave the bed (7:30 a.m., usually), and mutter something about “getting up soon, baber,” but his other eye was always mashed into the pillow and I knew he would be asleep as soon as I left the room.
I padded as quietly as I could around our apartment, brewing tea, waking my laptop, pulling on heavy socks, twisting my hair up on top of my head—all in preparation to write, as I did most weekend mornings.
From my writing nook, I could see down the hallway into the bedroom, a slant angle that afforded me a view of my beloved’s legs beneath our grey quilt.
Around noon, the legs would stir. My beloved would roll over, and I would glimpse his phone in his palm. Usually, there would be a brief burble of noise, likely a half-formed remark on the time, but then quiet would descend again, his legs falling still.
Around 1 p.m., I would hear the huff of him startling awake, and then he would finally roll out of bed. He would shuffle down the hallway, his golden-yellow sleep T-shirt askew, blue sweatpants sagging in the butt, eyes at half-mast, and he would look at me, push a hand through his ruffled hair.
“Whoa,” he would say as if it were actually a surprise and not a regular occurrence, “I really slept in late today!”
“You always sleep until this time,” I would say, twisting in my chair to look at him across the length of our small living room.
“It’s the weekend,” he would say, grinning.
Once, I asked him how he could physically stay in a state of rest for so long.
My body was so used to waking up at 5:45 a.m. Monday through Friday for work that by 7:30 a.m. on a weekend my mind was already running the long and wending list of things I had to do, should do, wanted to do, and should have done last week but didn’t and now really must to do.
My husband told me that sometimes he considered getting up when I did.
“But then I think about what I would do”—my husband shrugged—“ and I just can’t think of anything.”
“Nothing?” I said. “You can’t think of one thing?”
My mind raced with a list: he could change his winter tires, which he never did—he just left them on all year round and when it was October he would announce with deliberately obtuse pleasure that he “had his winter tires on early!”; he could study for his various licensing exams (LEED, Passive House); he could buy someone a birthday gift (unless I reminded him, which I typically did, my husband usually thought about gifts for his friends and family on the day of their birthdays); he could work out or run or spin; he could organize his ‘office,’ which was really shorthand for ‘Kurtis’ dumping ground of random stuff,’; and on and on my mind would go, though I said none of this aloud.
“Not one thing,” he would say happily. “So, then I just go back to sleep.”
“Lucky you,” I would say, but not wryly or even sarcastically. I genuinely admired his ability to quiet the noise and rest. I loved to watch him sleep, limbs sprawled out, his mind a blissful blank, his whole body at ease.
I cannot say if there is an After, a place where our lost find another form or existence after they leave their corporeal one, but if there is, I hope it’s like a weekend morning for my beloved. I hope he’s delighted at how much rest there is, how much he can be fully in it. I hope he doesn’t know about this weary, tired world anymore.
All of this came to my mind this week as I finally realized that somehow the holiday season has edged its way to me.
Typically, my husband and I took several days each winter season to spend with each other, to rest with each other, though the shape and contour of this time together often differed.
One year, we went ice-climbing, which was, incredibly, my idea.
I thought my husband would like ice-climbing (I was right) but I didn’t think much past that (which is how I ended up gravely surprised by the overt dangers of what is a relatively extreme physical activity). We spent eight hours outside on the side of a gleaming blue ice mountain and it was so cold my gloves froze solid. One guy in our climbing group broke a finger when his ice pick bounced off the surface of the ice at an awkward angle.
This might not seem like rest, but it was, of a kind. For months after, my husband talked about how much fun he’d had with me, and so his joy turned me to peace in the remembrance.
Last year, we booked a room for one night at a hotel in the city where we live and declared it a staycation. We picked an odd date in December, and when we arrived at the hotel, the staff told us because it was the low part of the season, we had been upgraded to a suite.
“Ohhhh yeah,” my husband said waggling the key card at me. “That suite life, baby!”
Oh, sweet life, indeed.
The hotel room was so capacious. We spun around, arms flung out, in the living room (living room!) and then flopped backwards together onto the king bed. I was still supine on the mattress when my husband hopped up and explored the bathroom, which, he declared, was at least five times as big as our apartment’s bathroom. There were two deep sinks, a steam shower, and, to my husband’s delight, a huge bathtub.
“Babe,” his head struck out from behind the sliding bathroom door, “I’m going to soak for a bit. That all right?”
It was a rhetorical question. He was already stripping his clothes off and running the water.
I don’t like baths, to be honest. You can’t read because the book pages inevitably get wet, and electronics are an obvious no-go, which can take music out as an option as well. Generally, my opinion is that if I’m going to sit around in water, that water better be salt.
I also think bathing makes me restless because my mind was, before my husband died, always looking ahead, always considering what was next. Which is to say, I was always considering him.
But bathing does not consider what is next. Bathing is simply what is now.
An hour or so later, when I wandered into the bathroom, my husband was steaming in the tub. There were incandescent bubbles floating along the surface of the water, and even his shoulders were sweating from the heat. He was thrilled.
“I won’t be much longer,” he said, making absolutely no effort to move.
It didn’t matter to me how long he took. He could have been in the bath the whole night and I would have been glad. When he was resting, it felt like I was too.
Another hour later, he emerged, swaddled in the hotel’s fluffy white robe.
He always wore the hotel robe.
“It’s the full experience,” he told me. “You’ve got to take it all in.”
And I did take it all in: the broad swath of the room, my shining husband in his robe, the gleam of the downtown holiday lights outside our frosted-up window.
We perused the hotel’s room service menu and ordered profligately. It took two carts just to bring all the food into the room for us.
We piled the heavy white plates around us on the bed and cued The Mandalorian on the television. We hadn’t had time to watch the first season, and we were delighted to start episode one in such an opulent manner. One episode become two, and then three, and then, somewhere in the small hours of the morning, we had watched the entire season in one, long, glorious draw.
“This is the life,” my husband said, and I agreed with him, though my agreement had less to do with the bath or the robe or the room service or the binge watch and more to do with the person beside me, the person for whom all of the aforementioned were wonderfully, inescapably, incredibly restful.
I sensed in my beloved this capacity for rest as early as our very first, very long first date.
I remember coming home from that first date and telling a friend that I had met someone that felt like rest, like calm.
“Is that… good?” my friend asked.
“Yes,” I said, “Because he’s also not boring.”
This was one of the incredible things about my beloved. When I met him, he joined a very small handful of people that I have met in my life that turn lights on in my body and mind, often electrifying my thoughts so I see things at fresh angles or in new ways, while also setting me at ease—unlocking my jaw, peeling my tongue from the roof of my mouth.
When my beloved died, he took the rest with him.
The rest of our lives, the rest of our plans, the rest of our marriage, the rest of his calm, his joy, his belief, his laughter, his constancy.
Now, I can’t sleep.
Now, when people, such as my patient and kind vocational rehabilitation consultant ask me things like, “This week, what brought you joy, or a smile to your face?” I struggle to respond.
“It’s complicated,” I say.
I say this because in the past week I was able to spend some time with a best friend. We talked, and bought books (or actually, I bought books and he encouraged me in it), and ate sashimi so delicious it almost melted across the surface of my tongue. My friend is often extremely busy—he’s in health care and what all health care workers are asked to do usually, but particularly during the pandemic, is beyond the reaches of the word exhausting—so for him to carve time out to spend with me is a gift I do not take lightly.
“For those several hours,” I tell my consultant, “I felt like I was turned towards the light.”
“I think that’s a win,” my vocational consultant says.
I do not tell my consultant that it’s not so simple. I do not tell her that I think a ‘win,’ would mean getting to stay in the light.
I do not tell her how, in the Before, I would drive home and though I would be sad the evening with my friend was over, I would know that I was driving from one light to another one, which I would see when I would open the door to the apartment and find the soft glow of the bedside lamp my husband always left on for me, a glow that lit the rolling shape of his body beneath the bed covers, and turned gold the sound of his half-asleep voice asking, “Did you have fun baber?”
I would slip into bed and say to my beloved that yes, I did have fun, and I’d promise to tell him all about it in the morning. He would turn from me, satisfied, and I would pull the blankets up to my shoulders, and so we would fall asleep.
Now, I drive home and though I would like to rest, I can’t.
There is no break from the days and nights that keep coming for me, from waking up and crying, from enduring his constant absence, from living as a widow, from the inevitable drive away from the light into the knowledge that there is no longer a light switched on beside the bed; there is no break, even, from the aches, and hot-burning, and heavy, and tender, and sickening, and punishing, and throbbing, and exhausting bodily and emotional pains that are sometimes so intense that I tear at my chest with my fingernails.
Still, I know I am not alone in my weariness. Amid a global pandemic, especially, I know that many people long for a break that seems unlikely, perhaps even impossible, and certainly, if it is to be at all, is not arriving any time soon.
I don’t have any way through to the rest of it, for myself, or for others who long for it, but I do have the memory of Sunday afternoons, when, more often than not, my husband would flop onto the bed, but refuse to crawl under the covers, telling me, “I’m just going to take a wee napper.”
Always, my beloved would end up falling asleep for hours and I would make sure to come into the room at some point and pull the duvet over top of him so that he didn’t get cold. Usually, when I came in to cover him with the blanket, I would end up deciding to have a small sleep, too, and so my beloved would show me the way to rest.
Now, that may not be the rest I’ve been hoping for, true, but it is something.
As always, you can reach me by hitting “reply” on the Sunday email or by leaving a comment.