36. it comes in (heat) waves

written 10 months and 17 days after

In the apartment, it’s cooler than I expected it would be.

A heat wave is swamping the city, raising the temperatures to 35, 36, 37 degrees Celsius and then beyond that too but I stop looking, instead, declaring, like every one else, that it’s really hot.

But in the apartment, at the ground level, it isn’t too bad. Not even the puppy is too hot here; in her sleep her breathing is steady, not quick and fast like it is other places, such as patios or even outside in the yard when I take her to pee.

I am taking her to pee often because this past week she’s had three days of diarrhea, the first gastrointestinal upset that she’s really encountered.

It worries me, all the fluid leaving her small body—only (almost) 6lbs!—and on the third day I book an emergency trip to the vet who sends me home with 200 dollars worth of special hydration packs, wet food intended to be gentle on the gut, and powdered probiotics.

I am to double her daily meals (3 to 6) and mix water in with the wet food and hydration liquid which is brown and thick and looks like gravy.

When she eats the wet food, her bushy face hair gets crispy and flat but I’m glad she’s eating easily and she becomes so hydrated that she pees astronomical amounts, the liquid running clear.

In the night, she wakes me up, needing to pee. In the day, we step outside every half an hour.

The heat is dead weight on everything.

I stand there, while MoMa sniffs around, and think about how the last time I felt this hot, I was staggering, clutching my ribs (searing with a pain that, at the time, I didn’t know was a sign of the clots in my lungs), through a cemetery, trying to decide which plot of land would be his plot of land—my sweet man’s.

When the puppy and I go back inside, I put her in her pen and then slide my plate and my drinking glass into the dishwasher.

It used to bother me that every time he needed a drink, he used a new glass.

Sometimes, over the course of one day, he would accumulate up to 7 glasses on the counter. He would always leave dishes on the counter, whereas I would leave dishes in the sink. He had a whole line of logic as to why the counter was the superior place to leave unwashed dishes, but I was never convinced. I, also, on the other hand, use the same glass all day, just one.

Because it is only me now, my dishes take time to fill up the dishwasher. I’ve taken to washing it only half-full. But I can’t bring myself to empty it. I keep adding in dirty dishes amid the cleaned ones and doing the load again.

He and I used to unload the dishwasher together, or he would empty it while I cooked. I can’t seem to get myself to do it alone, probably in the same way that I still haven’t stepped foot in a grocery store. Not just the grocery store he and I shopped at, any grocery store at all. I just can’t do it.

I’ve never gone to get food before and not thought about what he would want. I always used to think about what he would like. How can I go and not buy him the macaroni and cheese instant packs that he likes? How can I cook without the sound of his voice? So, I don’t cook.

I was supposed to spend my first over night at the apartment in June but I never did. Now, tonight, in fact, I am spending an evening here with a friend. I dread it but not as much as I do the day when I will have to make dinner for myself. Dinner for just me, dishes for just me, the quiet of the apartment, broken only by me.

***

A few days ago, I had my second dream of him since he died.

This time, his hair was long, the way it was when we first met. He was as lanky and as goofy and as spunky as ever. He turned and when I saw him, I asked if it was really him.

It really is, he had said.

We both knew, in the dream, that he had come back from the dead.

I hugged him.

Then, we were in some kind of open air vehicle. I don’t know what kind. I was telling him something heavy, something painful, the way I used to always do with my sorrow, my agony. I would spill it out in front of him and he would help me sift through it, make sense of it, find a way to carry it.

He shook his head as I told him. It was a small shake, his mouth pressed together slightly — distinctly his. I had seen it before, when he was alive. It communicated disappointment, chagrin, but lightly. He was never heavy-handed (not even with spice in cooking… again, unlike me, who once made spicy shrimp for us so hot that he sweat his way through eating it, protesting that he liked it… which no one could have because it was too hot for any human being to eat).

He said something after he shook his head, but the words are lost to me now. That didn’t matter so much as the head shake though. It told me what I needed to know.

I said to him that I missed hearing him. He had such a unique and unusual cadence to his speech, a light and bouncy way of speaking. He spoke like no one I had ever heard before — playful, sprightly.

“It’s talking to you that I have really missed,” I said. “It’s your voice, hearing your voice, I’m so glad to hear it.”

We both knew, in the dream, that he was going to die again. We shook our heads together over the inevitable separation that was coming for us.

When I woke up and he was dead, I took a shower. The water lashed over me as I sat on the shower floor and cried.

***

I worry more about MoMa. It seems like the rigorous food and hydration schedule is helping but not quickly enough.

I read online about all the terrible things that could be wrong with her.

“She’s fine,” my mother assures me, rightly pointing out that MoMa’s enthusiasm for eating and for walking and playing has not dimmed in the slightest. Lethargy, is, of course, a particularly troubling symptom but she lacks it.

“But Kurtis was fine,” I said. “And he died.”

It lands sharply between us, though I don’t mean it to. I just spoke what I was thinking and forgot to filter that out, to keep that thought to myself. For a moment, I feel exposed, unwittingly having revealed my distrust, having exposed my own fear of fragility, which I see everywhere, though I try not to admit this to others.

***

One night, I am working late into the evening, ignoring the flap and slap of the white moth that is trapped in my room, batting uselessly against the ceiling, when my phone rings.

“It’s late,” I say to my friend when I answer, “You should be sleeping.”

We talk for almost an hour and the whole time the moth beats its body and wings against what would seem to it like an immovable, impossible darkness.

The next day, I thank my friend for calling. I practice saying it out loud before I actually say the words to my friend because I want to be able to say it and not cry.

I do manage to get through the words without my breath catching too badly. The words are inadequate to the depth of feeling that I have in my body when I speak it but they’re something.

How do you tell someone: thank you for calling me and getting me through a dark hour? Thank you for hearing my inarticulate and silent shaking? How do you say to someone, sometimes, calls like these are all that get me through?

I don’t really know, so I just say thank you for calling me instead.

***

I have cried every day since the ten month anniversary.

Sometimes, I feel so tender, I cry watering the plants or drinking water or turning the air conditioning on in the car.

(Though, I always cry in the car. No one really warns you about that — not that there’s really anything anyone can do to prepare you for this kind of grief — but I think if someone were to ask me, I would tell them about the car crying. It happens to me all the time.)

One evening this week, friends invite me to come with them to the river. It sounds good, the thought of walking out into the cold, watery band of the water. I think of the last time I wore my swim suit, which was in Bermuda, on the beach for our first wedding anniversary. It’s so hot, though, even this thought does not deter me from saying yes, I would like that, I’ll be there. I really want to go. I lay my swim suit out and find my beach chair. I fill a water bottle with ice.

Yet, when my friend drops me the pin of their location, I don’t receive it. My phone is elsewhere and I am sobbing at my desk. Then, I am sobbing outside as MoMa pees. Then, I am sobbing over her food bowl as I mash up the carrots and wet food and sprinkle the probiotic powder onto the brown, gunky goo.

My friend calls me about 35 minutes after he sends the pin of the river location.

I palm tears away from my eyes, as if he can see me, and answer.

“Thought I should call and make sure you weren’t dead,” he said, lightly and as joke, but the timing is so uncanny that my voice breaks a little as I say I probably can’t make the river.

I tell him I’m not having a great day. I tell him I’ll try to come, which is lie. I know that I can’t come. After a few more hours, I text and say say though I really wanted to, I can’t make it, which is true.

***

I see another friend for coffee this week and when he arrives, I don’t offer him water or tea or food.

I have tea and water, but no food. Outside, the sun turns even the green grass dry and spiky beneath our feet.

Finally, I remember. I make the tea poorly and never do offer cold water until he asks for some. I feel awful for neglecting any of the usual rituals of hosting a person.

As we talk, I cry over things that have nothing to do with me and my friend asks me if I would like to come to dinner with him and his partner.

I already have dinner plans, but I’m touched by the offer. I know I’ve talked too much that day about my sadness and even though I know it’s too much, I can’t seem to stop.

***

I FaceTime with my two friends who are also young widows.

I cling to my time with them. I tell them how tired I am of feeling wrong, of feeling unlike myself.

We read Dorianne Laux’s poem “How It Will Happen, When,” and talk about the turn, the way the poem moves from the (pretty accurate) portrayal of grief into the light-soaked, hardwood halls of another life.

“Hardwood floors!” I say. “I can’t fathom those.”

We talk about the ending and wonder if we will ever believe that our loved ones are dead, if we will ever really accept that they don’t exist anymore, that they aren’t coming back.

I say that it’s not his death that I wonder if I will accept. I saw his body after he died, so many times, after all.

So, I know that one day, I will know he’s dead.

I know that when I expect him to call me, or knock at the window, or ask me if it’s a ‘feaster,’ night, that I’m participating in magical thinking. It’s painful, every time I do it, but sometimes I can’t stop myself from it. Sometimes, it feels so possible. I feel convinced, at times, that if I just think hard enough, he’s going to materialize in front of me. He’s going to hear my plea and come for me.

I tell my friends what I can’t imagine accepting is what grief has done to me.

“It’s taken my past me and present me and future me,” I say. “I never feel like myself.”

I cannot accept it. The way grief dogs me, comes crashing in on me, takes me away from breathing, or river days, or dinner dates.

I cannot accept the way it messes with my mind, makes me email people in payroll telling them I didn’t get paid on time, and when they say “but you’ll be paid according to the schedule,” I check the schedule and I respond: “see, here, it says I should be paid in July but I haven’t been.”

Finally, payroll has to spell it out for me: “It’s June,” payroll writes. “It’s not July.”

I lean back from the email, stunned.

Of course, I think. It’s not July. How could I have been so mistaken?

I want my old life back, the path I thought I would be on, but as he is not here and I cannot have that, then at least I would like grief to return me to myself. I would like to feel like myself.

Everyone tells me I have to accept that grief has changed my internal architecture, that the ‘I’ that I was before he died is no longer but I don’t like being told what to do.

I look at photos of myself in years past and I can’t fathom how my face could ever have been shaped like that. Now, it’s a strange, twisted up version, tired, and I don’t know its curvature.

Give me back, I want to say to grief, but all I am doing is talking to myself.

***

One evening this week, I finally made it to go and sit by the river with a friend.

We talked about what makes friendships endure.

It was a good conversation. One of my favourite kinds: wandering, thoughtful, playful, undergirded by warm weather, the sound of the water, a little boozy.

I take my hair down and shake it out. A stranger in a mint green bikini walks by and mistakes my friend for a TikTok star. She shows us a video, exclaiming at the TikTok creator’s likeness to my friend.

“Do you see it?” she exclaims.

I don’t say anything because I can’t quite see what she means. The person on TikTok has warm, brown eyes and my friend has blue eyes with a fleck of hazel near the irises. The color variation is distinct but only if you look carefully, in the light. I don’t point this out though. The stranger is really excited about the similarity that she perceives.

“This is your twin!” she says insistently.

When we return to our conversation about friendship, we say that time and shared vulnerability are givens. We posit other things: shared sense of humour; similar way of communicating; mutual delight in the other’s idiosyncrasies; intentional commitment to carrying the other forward; willingness to hear each other out; the ability to be together, doing different things; a shared language that goes beyond the alphabet and its permutations; a sense of privilege in caring for the other, which renders the care easy, perhaps even an honour; an ease of spirit with the other; always-forgiveness, even when one might frustrate the other.

We’re sitting on the grass. Mosquitos bite my friend and not me.

We ramble home the long way and we each choose the two things we think are the main cruxes of our particular friendship. I don’t look up at the sky once, that’s how good the company is. I don’t want the evening to end but I know better.

***

This past Friday, there is a break in the heat. Clouds settle over the sun and rain is predicted. It’s a hazy grey in the apartment as I work.

MoMa’s stomach has finally calmed a bit. She’s back eating her usual kibble and my anxiety over her wellbeing ratchets down in intensity.

She even naps, which she hasn’t really for the past few days. I finally get some uninterrupted time to write and am still doing so when MoMa wakes up.

She looks at me in the way that I have learned means, I have to pee.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have known what that look meant. It’s hard to fathom it’s been two months with her already.

I take her outside. Lightening has been flashing in the clouds for an hour, thunder rumbling almost consistently.

MoMa is unbothered by the sound. She sniffs at sticks and eats grass. She tries to eat rocks, but I fish these out from her mouth, even though she tries to lock her jaw and hide the stones beneath her tongue. There is a roll of thunder so long, even the kids playing across the road in the park stop what they are doing and look upward. On and on it goes.

I imagine the sound breaking into the wet slap and burble of rain. I imagine the water falling, all at once, in a sheet, and I think if that’s what’s going to happen, I’ll stay in it.

If it comes, I think, I’ll just stay out here and get wet.

It doesn’t rain, though, and MoMa starts decapitating a purple flower. I don’t know if it’s poisonous or not so I take the bloom from her mouth and toss it out onto the road. Then, I take her back inside.

I used to think, when I thought I would have this puppy with him, that he would be the one fishing things out of her mouth.

When the rain finally does come, a few hours later, MoMa is making small whining, gurgling noises in her sleep and I’m thinking about all the moments we stop ourselves just because we worry we won’t get more than what we have, even if what we have isn’t enough.

I’m listening to the rain and thinking about that. About all those moments we don’t say I need you because we worry we might feel humiliated, or silly, or the timing is wrong, or the person we need can’t hear us.

Rain has long since washed the flower head from the road. Rivulets form on the window and run continuously. I would like to not be so afraid.

He never minded getting wet, you know. He would bike for hours in the sopping rain.


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