Over the last few years, on Mondays, in the Before, I would wake up at 5.30 a.m. when the Philips wake-up light that my beloved bought me for Christmas began to glow at almost-full strength.
He had purchased the light for me as my ‘surprise gift,’ and when I unwrapped it I told him that it was nice, and certainly thoughtful, but I wasn’t sure I loved it. Ultimately, I pointed out, he had bought me an alarm clock.
“I thought you might say that,” he said. He pulled a slim gift card out of his back pocket and handed it to me. “Buy what you really want,” he said with a grin. “I’m going to keep the light though, I think it’ll help me wake up earlier.”
The lamp, as it turned out, did not help him wake up. He just slept through the glow. However, the lamp did help me. I found the sunrise setting of the lamp completely eradicated the awful, heavy, heart-pumping panic that I used to experience when my phone alarm went off. With the light, I just . . . woke up.
While he never overtly crowed about his triumph, every so often, he would grin when I was proselytizing about the lamp and say, “So, you like it?”
I would say, “I was wrong. You were right. It was the best gift,” and he would smile his small, quiet smile. He had so many different kinds of smiles. I wonder how many more he had, or would have had. I wish I could have had the time to learn them, to see them all.
I wish, too, that there could have been more Monday mornings where the Philips light glowed dusky red and then bright orange and then clear yellow-white, which is when I would reach up and turn it off — plunging the room back into darkness. Beside me, my beloved would be tumbled up in the sheets that he claimed I always messed up. He told me my way of sleeping was a ‘full twist and shout,’ and though I debated this strongly, we both knew he was right.
After the room was dark again, I would stumble out of bed, and walk down the hallway towards the bathroom where I would begin to get ready for work. My beloved was always still sleeping by the time I left to commute to school, though he claimed that he left the same time as I did (he didn’t).
Always, at work, by lunch time, I would stop to check my phone and there would be a message from him: “have a good day baber, xx.” He rarely, if ever, missed sending me this message.
II. This past Friday morning, I woke up at 3 a.m., which I do often, and a coyote was yipping right outside my window, which doesn’t happen often.
I listened to the feral bark and whine for an hour and when I fell back asleep, I dreamed a massive black and red spider was in my room, and I was calling for help. “Kurtis, there’s a spider,” I kept saying, but he wasn’t hearing me. Even in the dream, I knew he couldn’t hear me. I woke up again at 4.30 a.m. in the grip of an intense and brutal ache.
Tuesday mornings and Tuesday days, generally, proceeded the same as Mondays; the glow of the lamp, the commute to work, the school day, the morning text from him, the commute home, and then, the other daily text I received from my beloved every work day, for years. This one he sent from work, just before he was preparing to come home. “See you soon, xx,” he would text, and I would know he was on his way.
Tuesday nights, however, were unlike Monday nights, because Tuesday nights were take-out nights. Usually, we over-ordered sushi from our favourite local restaurant, and when it arrived, we happily dove into a ‘feaster,’ as my beloved called them. Usually, the restaurant put at least six pairs of chopsticks into the white, plastic bags.
We would sit on our couch, the one we sat on the entirety of our relationship, the one that still has small depressions where his body and my body regularly sank, and talked about the day, or watched Brooklyn 99 for the fifth or sixth time. Re-watching shows makes me feel less anxious and he cackled at the jokes each time as if it were the first time he’d heard them—a generosity I always appreciated.
IV. By 5:00 a.m., I decided to start writing this letter.
I was awake, what with the coyote and the spider, and since it was Friday, my usual letter-writing day, I thought I might as well get started.
I opened the white, blank document and stared at it. I didn’t type a single word until 9:00 in the morning.
By the time my beloved texted, “see you soon, xx” on a Wednesday, I was inevitably collapsed on our couch, usually sleeping. My beloved would come home and I would be so quiet that he would startle coming across me.
“I didn’t know you were home!” he would say. “You’re so quiet, like a piece of dust.”
I, however, always knew when he was home.
It was the same thing, years upon years, every weeknight. He would text me that he was on his way, and then an hour or so later, his grey-blue Mazda would pull up beside our place, and, through the window, I would watch him clamber out of the car, his black backpack slung over one shoulder, his bike gear in his right hand (he always cycled to work, rain, shine, or blizzard). He would wave to me as he walked past the window, and then I would listen for the loud clash of him hopping down our steps two at a time, the rumble of our door opening, his voice calling out, always: “Hey baber, how was your day?”
If I was asleep, I would wait until he found me to say, “Long,” which was the answer I gave every time he asked me about my work day. He would lean down and kiss me, repeat the word back to me, “Long?”
Most Wednesdays, I was too tired to plan anything for dinner except our ‘easy’ meals. Usually, I made Annie’s mac and cheese for him—he liked the white cheddar best—and he made what he called “caseys,” for me. All these caseys involved were two small, white tortillas, a metric ton of lactose free shredded mozzarella cheese, and a frying pan hot on the stovetop. My beloved made them in a self-proclaimed “secret way,” that made the tortillas golden brown and the edges of the cheese that seeped out was always crispy and soaked in that glorious oil that cheese produces when it melts.
I don’t eat caseys anymore, not just because I can’t bear to, but also because I don’t know how to make them. Without him here, caseys just don’t exist.
VI. Usually, when I’m letter-writing, I don’t allow myself to take breaks.
But, this week, I took a break part way through the day because I remembered that my car was low on gas, and I began to worry that it was so low on gas that the next time I needed to drive somewhere it wouldn’t start (this happened to my sister). Once I began to worry, the worry overwhelmed the writing, and so I drove to the station.
As I filled the tank up, I selected a car wash, as well. The minute I pressed YES when the machine asked if I wanted to add a wash, I felt that deep, painful ache in my chest. Sometimes, I see the loss coming, and I have a second to prepare. Other times, like the moment at the station, I don’t.
A few days before my beloved died, he had taken my car and filled it up with gas. Just because. No other reason. When he brought my car home, he told me that he had gifted me a car wash, had curled the long, white receipt bearing the code for a Luxury wash in my cupholder (the car wash had been closed when he was there).
“Make sure to go soon, baber,” he said.
I told him I would use it when we got back from our weekend in British Columbia. I thanked him for thinking of me. I told he was the best and he preened.
On Thursdays, I made one of the three recipes that I typically planned for the week. There was always some new ingredients, or spices, or preparation methods to try. Typically, my beloved worked late on Thursdays, which gave me time to decompress after my workday, and also time to cook more complicated recipes.
I would text him in-progress photos of the food and he would send me fawning Memoji reactions — he had spent hours making his Memoji and it looked so eerily like him that it made me laugh every time.
Sometimes, he came home so late that I left the food for him out on the kitchen island, foil-wrapped and tucked in with a towel. Other times, I waited for him so that we could eat together.
He would always ask me exactly how I had made the dish, and I would tell him, step-by-step, as if he were going to make the dish himself, which he never did, because that wasn’t the point of the explanation at all.
VIII. As I sat in my car and the rainbow foam wash coated the exterior of my vehicle, I thought about how his birthday is next month, just a few days before Valentine’s Day.
I had bought a card for his birthday last year, sometime in the summer of 2020, and like the car wash he got for me, the birthday card I bought for him will go forever unused.
The card that I bought involved a joke so funny that I actually showed the card to my beloved when I got it. I told him it wouldn’t matter that he’d already seen the card, because by the time he received it for his 33rd birthday, he would have forgotten he saw it.
I was terrible at surprising my beloved, in this way. Anything I did for him or got for him that I thought would bring him delight, I wanted him to experience straight away. I was constantly showing him things like his birthday gifts early.
Understand, I always wanted him to know that joy was coming.
You would think Fridays would be fun, typically. The weekend! The end of the work week! The always-omnipresent suggestion that pizza should be on the menu!
Yet, if there was a night where there was a high-likely chance of a disagreement, or a “discussion,” as I tended to call our more tense conversations, or even just a flat-out fight, it was Fridays.
By Friday, instead of relieved, I was teacher-tired—which is a special, nervy kind of exhaustion. It was a consistent enough phenomenon that my beloved and I actually worked to avoid having social plans on a Friday, because, if we did, typically, I would end up wanting to cancel.
This teacher-tired could make me especially sensitive, and sometimes, that increased the likelihood of disagreement. If we did fight, we would do so sitting on our couch, him on his side, me on mine. I always sat on the right, and him on the left. Usually, I cried. Sometimes, he did. Always, without fail, at some point, in the middle of our discussion/disagreement/fight, my beloved would crack up and laugh.
"Even when you’re mad baber,” he would say. “You’re still the funniest person I know.”
I always smiled. Even if I was really upset, I still smiled.
I would smile not just because the sound of his laugh would make anyone smile, but because my beloved was always telling me, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly, that he would forever choose to be in a disagreement with me, but still be with me, over anything or anyone else.
“Together,” he would say, “is always good, even when it’s not.”
On this point, we always agreed.
X. When I exited the car wash, leaving the roar of the commercial dryer behind me, the sun was in my eyes.
It was so beautiful and I was so sad.
By 7.30 a.m., at the latest, I was awake on Saturday mornings, in the Before. Usually, I would write for about four hours before my beloved would stir, arising to make me tea, to shower, to pretend like he was going to workout, only to settle on the couch and work in his journal, or on his iPad.
In those four or so hours of writing, I would habitually look down the length of our hallway, because, from where my writing desk is, I had a direct view of my beloved sleeping in bed. I would peer, briefly, at his sleeping form. I found comfort in seeing him there. It’s not like I thought he wasn’t going to be there. I just liked to see, with my own eyes, that he was there.
By around 4 p.m., I would stop writing, because Saturday night was always date night. Even from the earliest months of us dating, Saturday night was our night.
My beloved and I would work together to choose the meal and he would cook it, while I leaned against the kitchen wall and talked. We didn’t play music or anything. He just cooked, and I talked. I saved stories from the week that I would tell with special gusto, and when my stories were done, he would run questions or problems by me that he had been dwelling on. He was always curious for what he called '“my take.” Once, he watched a documentary on how people became politically radicalized, and we talked about this for hours, food going cold and congealed on our plates.
After dinner was prepared, we settled on our couch, and he would pull the blinds to our front window, and I would switch on the light beside the couch. We would pick a movie and stretch out our loose limbs, draping them over one another.
XII. What I’m trying to say is:
If there was to be one of us left here, it should have been him.
On Sundays, sometimes he and I worked out together, and other times, we napped in the middle of the day, stretched out beside each other because neither of us liked to sleep touching another person. When we would wake up, though, we would tangle our limbs together, and then he would show me weird and funny memes he’d saved on his phone, and I would wonder when various friends of ours were going to have kids.
We ate thick-crust sourdough toast for lunch—Texas toast he called it—sprinkled with pink salt, and black pepper, skinned with golden butter.
We stayed in our sweats, or our pyjamas, until it was time to put on real clothes around 5:45 p.m., which was when we got into his car, and he drove us to my parents’ house where we had Sunday dinner together with them and with my sister and her husband. We played board games at those dinners, and when my beloved won, which he did sometimes, he gloated, loudly, gleefully, and endearingly. He would stick his hands up in the air and cry, “Woot, woot! Oh yeahhhhh!”
When it was dark outside, and we were tired, he would drive us back to our home. Along the way, I would always make sure to ask if he’d had fun, and regardless of how the night had gone, he’d drop his hand on my leg gently and say yes.
As always, you can reach me by hitting “reply” on the Sunday email or by leaving a comment.