I am talking to a friend of mine. She’s a young widow too. I’m telling her I feel like one of those people in the glass boxes at fairs.
“You know the kind,” I say. “People step into them and a giant wind machine kicks in. Money starts blowing everywhere and they try to grab something but they can’t get their hands on anything.”
“Totally,” she says. “There are some days in grief where I feel like I’m literally losing my mind.”
“That’s exactly it,” I say.
I keep losing track of the days. I’m missing appointments and phone calls, socks. I only have 1 sock but not the other. When I find the other, the 1 is missing.
Other things are missing too. I won’t state the obvious. But lately, it’s felt like I’ve had to keep saying it.
I’m going to the bank. I have to convert his checking account to an estate account. I have all these papers with me: the death certificate, the Letter of Administration, his banking information, my driver’s license, a blank piece of paper on which I made notes months ago when my mother and I went to the bank and tried to do this very thing.
Back then, we had sat in wobbly office chairs and listened to the woman tell us we couldn’t do anything until we had the Letter of Administration, which is a legal document proving that I am his wife, his next of kin, the one responsible for settling his estate. It’s required when someone dies intestate, which is a term I have had to learn that means he died without a will. He would have thought that word was funny; we would have looked at each other and known we were thinking the same thing.
I remember, as I drive towards the bank again, the creeping sense of panic clawing at my body the longer the appointment went on. I wonder if it’ll feel the same this time.
I’d had to make an appointment to come in. On the phone, the man asked me what happened.
“I just looked at his age,” he said. “So young.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “His heart stopped.”
“No,” I said. “Not COVID.”
The man is kind and helpful. I don’t begrudge the questions.
At the bank, I wait and look at the green and beige carpet. I don’t even really know what converting a bank account to an estate account means but the bank insists that I do it.
There are more papers to sign. The woman helping me this time is a different one from the woman months ago. That woman doesn’t seem to work for the bank anymore.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” this new woman says.
I nod. She asks if she can know how he died.
“I don’t know,” I say. “His heart stopped.”
She asks for the Letter of Administration and I slide it through the cut-out in the plastic divider.
“Good,” she says. “This is what we need.”
The panic is already at my throat so I just nod, my mind already urging me to go elsewhere.
Somewhere, someone is posting photos on Instagram of the impromptu mountain weekend they went on with him. He was wearing a black Nike cap. They thought he looked so handsome. They remember thinking that.
My phone company keeps calling me. They call me at all hours of the day almost every day of the week. Finally, I answer.
A customer service representative with a slightly young-sounding voice asks me how I am. Is this a good time to talk?
“Well,” I say, “my husband is dead, so, I’m not great and it’s never really a good time.”
After the representative offers his condolences, I ask what it is my phone company wants me to talk about so badly. Is there something wrong with my account?
“No,” the representative says. “They just want you to upgrade.”
“Well,” I explain, “how does the newest model of my phone stack up against the model my husband had?”I tell him the model of phone that he used.
“One day,” I say, “maybe I’ll use his phone instead of mine.”
“Oh,” the representative says, “Yeah. His is basically the same as the new one. Doesn’t make sense to buy a new phone if you have his.”
I can’t even bear to turn his phone on, let alone imagine using it as my phone, but I don’t tell the representative that.
“Well,” I say, “That’s honest. I appreciate it.”
The representative tells me I’m overpaying on my plan. It turns out I paid off my current phone almost a year ago, but unless I call and adjust my payment options, I will keep getting charged for phone payments I no longer need to make.
“Thank you,” I say, but I’m already disconnecting. “I’ll have to fix that.”
Somewhere, someone is celebrating their 26th birthday. They read birthday cards sent to them from friends and family. He bought them tiramisu and roses the color of a sunset.
A final notice comes in the mail. It’s for my sweet man. He never changed his mail from his old address because we were moving and so now his mail redirects to the apartment. The redirect means it has taken a long time to get to me and now the mail will be returned if I don’t go to the post office tomorrow.
I wake up at 7 in the morning and by 8:45 I’m on the road; the store opens at 9 a.m. I wait in a brief line and when it’s my turn, I slide the notice to the man at the till and say that I’m picking something up. I have my driver’s license ready.
He looks at the pick-up slip and then my license. I have my answer ready. I already know what he’s about say.
“Nothing matches,” he says. “Not the name or the address.”
“I’m the next of kin,” I say. “I’m his wife. His widow.”
He shakes his head.
“It has to match.”
I can tell I’m going to have to say it. It’s so early in the morning. I didn’t want to start the day like this but I say it anyway.
“He’s dead. That’s why the mail redirected, see?”
I point to the yellow redirection label affixed to the slip.
“What?” The postal worker thinks he hasn’t heard me right. He thinks my mask has muffled my voice.
“He’s dead,” I say again. “I’m his next of kin.”
He shakes his head again.
“HE’S DEAD,” I say quite loudly.
I pull up the Death Certificate, the Letter of Administration on my phone.
“Here,” I say. “Do you need proof?”
He looks at the letter and then back at me. Then, he’s handing me the mail and I’m thanking him.
“Have a nice day,” he says.
I close my eyes, for a second.
Somewhere, someone is talking about their first house. He wants to design it. He imagines a green, living wall inside because of their way with plants. “Or we could buy one of those project homes with good bones,” he says.
The coroner calls me. She wants to go over some of the details of August 15, 2020, the day that he died.
I try not to make it obvious that I’m crying on the phone. I try to answer the questions. I try to remember what time it was when he was found, collapsed on the bridge.
Dead on the bridge, the coroner assures me when I ask, again, if there was any way he would have been alive.
“No,” she says. “The evidence is clear. Whatever happened, it happened almost instantly.”
“Well,” I say. “That’s something.”
The call is almost forty-five minutes long.
After, I go in to my voicemail and see that I never deleted the voice mail that recorded me telling someone that he had died on the day that he did. It remains so strange to me that their phone recorded the call and my phone received it and saved it.
I listen to it again and I hear myself say it, “He’s gone.”
I called so many people that day. I said it over and over and over again.
I get up and wash my face. I look at myself in the mirror and I say it again, but I can’t make the words make sense: “You’re here because your husband is dead. He is not coming back. You have to believe that. He’s gone.”
I watch myself talk and wonder who this person is talking at me. Why hasn’t she brushed her hair?
Somewhere, someone is moving to another province for their husband’s job. They buy a floral bike helmet and it’s back ordered. They show him the picture of it online. They talk about riding outside in December — that’s how nice the weather is where they are going.
I’m on a patio with a friend. She’s talking about her home renovations and I’m in awe of her bathroom.
“That’s what it’s come to in the thirties,” I say. “We all lust after in-suite laundry and a well designed bathroom with a walk-in shower.”
The conversation moves on. How do we even get where we do? I can’t remember. That’s been happening a lot lately. I keep forgetting things: how old I am, what year it is, therapy appointments, to hydrate.
“Hey,” my friend is saying to our server, “my friend here is a widow —”
She surprises me with this and I laugh but she continues talking.
“Whenever she feels like getting back out there,” she says.
“Not soon,” I say. “Definitely not soon.”
“BUT,” she continues, “if she does, would you consider it a problem that she’s a widow?”
The server’s eyes are sort of shocked above his mask. I feel a little bad for him. I know, from months of seeing it, that people don’t know what to do with the word widow. They don’t know where to put their hands, so to speak.
“Well,” the server says, “it depends.”
“On what?” my friend says and I can see the conversation is not going the way she thought it would.
“I guess on whether you killed your husband or not,” the server says.
Now I know more about our server than I expected to. I know, for example, that he uses humour as a coping mechanism when he’s uncertain and also that he’s likely never had anyone close to him die.
Neither my friend nor I laugh.
“No,” I say, “I didn’t kill him. He just died, very suddenly.”
“Oh my god,” the server says.
“His heart stopped,” I add.
I can almost see the crater that this server wishes would open up beneath his feet and envelop him.
“That’s awful,” he says. “I wouldn’t consider it a problem. No.”
“See,” my friend says, embattled but triumphant.
When I go to the bathroom later, after I return, my friend tells me that the server came over in my absence and apologized.
“He says he thinks he offended you,” she says. “He apologized and told me that he actually thinks you seem really nice.”
“So,” I say settling back down, “he doesn’t think I seem like a husband-killer?”
“He feels really bad about that,” she says. “He kept telling me.”
Somewhere, someone is planning their honeymoon trip to Japan. He insists on using all of his lifetime airline points on first class tickets. Hundreds of thousands of points. “Worth it,” he says. They count down the days until they leave.
I come around the corner of the bedroom in the apartment and I really believe it for a moment. I’ve forgotten but I also haven’t because of how fervently I think it.
He’s going to be there, I think. He’s going to be there.
He’ll be there in his black jeans and his soft, long-sleeved, black Lululemon shirt, his hair rumpled, and his eyelashes impossibly long against his cheeks. Maybe he’ll hear me walk in and stir. He might say my name and he might not. Maybe I’ll just find him in bed, sleeping, and nothing will be wrong. The kind of not-wrong where it doesn’t even occur to you that anything could be.
But then I’m there and the bed is just how he left it, months ago. I sit down on the edge and I can’t remember why I came to the bedroom at all. I think I needed something from the bookshelf but now that I’m here, I can’t fathom what it was.
How did I get here? I think. I keep losing my train of thought. I must have gotten lost, somewhere.
Sometimes, I’m slow to respond but I really do read and love all of your messages and comments. So, as always, you can reach me by hitting “reply” on the Sunday email or by leaving a comment.