This is the second time I’ve dreamed that Trey returned.
This is not a dream where he simply still lives. I have those every so often, but they are comforting rather than unsettling.
In this dream, the full reality of my life exists. He died, we had a funeral, I have been sorting through our stuff and painting our house in some sort of weird ‘nesting’ reaction to grief.
And then he walks in the door. As if nothing happened.
The last time I dreamed this, it was a month or so after his death. At that time, I had gotten rid of his underwear and some of his work clothes and papers. I dreamed he came down the stairs and I was crying with relief, “I was sure you were dead! What was all of that?” To which he responded, “Where are my clean underwear?”
This sounds hilarious, but in the dream it was distressing because I was afraid that he would feel like I was tossing out his stuff too soon after his death. Like, “Good Riddance to You! I’m moving on!” He was confused about why I would have thought he was dead, and I explained about finding him in the living room and the whole experience.
This time, the dream crushed me. In the dream, just like in real life, it was coming up on six months and he waltzes in the door like it is all normal. I freak smooth out. I’m crying and screaming, and he is calm and amused. I start yelling, “This isn’t okay! You died! I held your cold hand! We all did CPR! The medical examiner came! You can NOT come back and act like this is normal!”
I asked him where he had been, and how he could explain all of this. He told me just to trust him, that he was back, and that I didn’t need to know where he’d been. He looks around and sees the closet and the cabinets, and remarks on how they’d been cleaned out. He is again confused that so much of his stuff is missing. By now I have very few of his clothes left, and sold his speakers. I explain that he was dead. We’d scattered his ashes.
In the dream, I was afraid he would find out I’d gotten rid of a box full of his hats. He had an issue with hats. I believe this is a common trait among men. I must have three boxes full of his hats.
In the dream I was afraid and confused and angry. I was so angry at him for acting like everything was normal when I had been through so much.
You think you will be destroyed by the enormity of the situation.
By the knowledge that he will never see his kids graduate or marry.
That he will never be a grandfather.
That you will not grow old together.
This, however, you can survive.
It is the little things that crush you.
The little things rob you of your breath and sting your eyes.
Requesting a table for three.
Sorting laundry without his clothes.
The stockpile of hot sauce that only he liked.
Feeding his cat.
The unused passenger seat in the car.
Getting rid of things we kept out of habit.
Keeping that hideous Scarface poster he loved.
Moving the lamp to my side of the bed.
Helping the kids with their math.
Baking cookies using his recipe.
The empty half of the dining table.
Taking the kids on their first plane ride with my dad instead of with theirs.
Leaving his token in the box when we play board games.
Putting away the Cards Against Humanity we used to play in the evenings.
Watching our favorite shows in silence, alone.
Coming home from the store.
Fourth of July fireworks.
Watching previews for movies we were going to see together, movies that still have not come out because it was so recently that we were sitting together planning our summer.
It’s the daily details that get you, not the grand plans.
We miss you.
We arrived home late last night, after a week long vacation in South Dakota.
My mom’s family has a yearly get together. We haven’t gone for a few years. You were never that great at vacationing.
This year I went. My grandparents had been unable to come to your funeral, and were thrilled that I could come to see them. All of my mom’s brothers and sisters were there. Only one of my cousins attended, which you would have predicted.
It was the first time the kids rode a plane.
You weren’t here.
So many ‘firsts’ you will miss, and this is the first of them.
The kids did great. It’s funny the things you take for granted. H opened up the tray on the seat in front of him and said, “Hey! Look at this!” K attentively listened to the safety instructions, locating the nearest exits and reviewing the informational card when instructed. Mainly they played on their Nintendos. You would have been frustrated that they were so engrossed in their electronics. Then you would have fallen asleep.
At my grandmother’s house, I must admit it was incredibly normal for you to not be there. You and I were there together two or three times, but my entire life before we married I was there every summer and some Christmases. It was so natural to be there again without you. It was almost like going back in time, except the kids were there.
They had a blast at the lake. They rode my uncle’s tugboat and K helped drive, sitting on his lap the way he used to sit on yours to “drive” our boat. That was perhaps the most difficult moment of the trip for me.
On the flight home I watched the new Beauty and the Beast. You were going to take me to see that. I remember I had mentioned to you that I knew you would never go to that movie. You responded, “Are you kidding? The animated one was one of our first dates. Of course I plan to take you to the new one.”
But then you died, you asshole, so I watched it on a tiny screen in the headrest of the seat in front of me, earbuds digging into my popping ears and stopping every few minutes to get the kids something or listen to a pilot announcement.
It was good. I would have loved seeing it with you. I think you would have pretended to like it as well.
Last night the kids slept in their own beds (hallelujah!) until close to morning. I got some much-needed stretch out starfish sleep in the wake of a week on my grandparent’s pull out sofa bed. Our bed has new sheets — cotton. Not the sateen kind you liked. I also replaced that fuzzy zebra striped comforter with one more my style.
I am claiming the bedroom as my space. I am not erasing you from it, but it is not our room anymore. You don’t live there. It is my room and I am modifying it to be the way I need it to be. I need my own space now more than ever.
I picked up the dog from ‘camp.’ She is so excited to be home, but appears to be perplexed all over again that you are gone. It hurts me to see her confusion. It mirrors some part of me that refuses to understand.
Tonight I’m putting off going to bed. Last night I was so exhausted, but tonight I feel your absence so hard. I have been shot back into the present day, am no longer in the past, but you are not here.
How are you not here?
Earlier today I was mad at you again. I was mad that you left us to deal with crap alone. Now I am just lonely and sad.
Well, I have pretty much everything I’ve been wanting for the past couple of years, and all I had to do was lose my husband.
I swear I didn’t wish on a monkey’s paw to be able to be a stay at home mom again. I didn’t encounter any shady genie types and request to be able to work from home. I never bargained with a leprechaun to allow me to quit the job I hated and end the commute I hated even more.
Here I am.
We moved here two years ago, when the kids were five and starting kindergarten. I thought I was supposed to go back to the typical work force once the kids were in school so I got a job and we moved. I spent the next two years filled with regret, often crying and battling depression. I loved being a stay at home mom, and could never adjust to working full time with all that entails. Sometimes he would comfort me, reminding me of all the reasons we moved to a place where we could no longer be a single income household. Other times, he was exasperated with me, pointing out that I was crying because I had to have a job like most people do.
I wanted to be more involved with my kids’ lives.
But not like this.
Because of a combination of life insurance, etc. and the lessening of household expenses with one less person, I was able to quit my job. I re-opened my home business and am working for myself. I drive my kids to school every day. I help them with their homework. We eat supper together. I volunteer at their school and attend daytime events with them. I bring them to playdates at the park.
All of these were things I missed, about which I regularly cried and moped.
Now I have this all back, but I have nobody to share it with.
I am so lonely.
He is gone.
Most days, it’s strange — it feels normal. Even though every detail of my life has changed, something about the rhythm is the same. Wake, pack backpacks, work, get kids, dinner, dishes. I am in a routine and it feels simply like he is not here.
For much of our marriage, we worked dissimilar schedules. He worked evenings and weekends, while I worked a standard 9-5. It has only been the past couple of years that we have had the same hours off together. It therefore does not always feel odd to not have him around.
Then the anvil drops on my head. He is not coming back. I’m not going to tell him about the awesome thing his son said to the neighbor. He is not going to scold me for dyeing shirts in the kitchen sink. He will not listen to the new audiobook released by our favorite author, nor will he see any of the movies currently in theaters.
I will never hear his laugh.
I will never drink a beer with him on a hot afternoon.
I will never tell him again that our dog stands up just like Rory Calhoun.
But everything else in my life is falling into place, and the guilt is extreme. Like somehow that horrible thing happened so these good things could happen. It’s not a fiar trade though. It’s not and I can’t handle this. I can’t handle going to help at the kids’ school knowing that I can only do it because he is dead. I can’t deal with parking my car in the garage because now there is room for it. I can’t face my clients knowing that I would still be in my toxic job if he were still alive.
I can’t enjoy these things. I won’t enjoy them. Maybe if I reject all of this, somehow the universe will realize its error and reverse this.
I know that doesn’t make sense. I know it in my head, but my heart can’t bear the weight of happiness or even of contentedness.
How many times have I attempted this? How many hours, nights, weeks have I looked at the screen, typed a few inadequate words, and abandoned the effort?
I have engaged in a nightly cycle of near-creation as I tried to find the words to express what it is to be a supporting player in your own life when the main character dies.
Trey was the life in our life. A whirlwind of spontaneous action and wild emotion, he drove our existence while I supported his efforts. He was fascinating and exuberant, dangerous and fun. I am boring and plain, safe and disappointing. I was the steady line to his sine wave. I was the calming influence on his fire. I was the straight man in our routine.
He was everything. I was a passenger.
How to express that? I couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t express the loss of me as a person when he went. I couldn’t demonstrate being a non-entity without him.
Because it’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.
I believed it all, with my entire being, throughout my entire life. I believed it after he died.
I believed it until I heard others say it. Until I realized that is what everyone believed. Heard from the mouths of others, the lie made itself known.
“So I guess you’ll be moving back to Oklahoma now.”
“Are the kids going to miss those spur of the moment trips to Portland?”
“Is it crazy to be stuck with that neon green Jeep? Are you selling it?”
Question after question, offhand comment after comment, all indicating our friends’ and families’ beliefs that everything notable about us was really just Trey. That I would shake off the trappings of interest and fun, and would live as the bore we all know me to be.
Bitch, I picked out that Jeep! I insisted on that color; Trey wanted black. We fought intenseley as we paid extra money for a rental car while we waited for this color to be available. I refused to drive a boring color while ‘hypergreen’ existed in the world. It did become Trey’s car. I told Trey I didn’t like to drive it. I told him I loved my truck too much. I did this so he could drive the new car. He didn’t like to drive the truck, and he had always wanted a Jeep. So I pretended that I was not interested much in it. The truth was that it was me who selected the car and waited for it and named it Herman. I bought nail polish to match it. I love it and have since the moment I saw it.
Every member of Trey’s family believes that Jeep is just another example of crazy awesome Trey doing something outlandish, and of how I’m such a good and supporting wife for indulging him.
Those trips? Those spontaneous trips? Trey didn’t know there was a replica of Stonehenge in northern Oregon. He didn’t know about the pirate landing. Or the sandcastle competition. I pushed these trips through when neither of us felt like doing anything, and we were the better for it.
Why would I move back to Oklahoma? I have no family of my own there. It is true I moved us back to Oklahoma when I was pregnant and my parents lived there. I panicked and needed comfort. I also moved us out of there as soon as I was ready to work again. I moved us. I found a job on the west coast, packed us up and moved us. I never wanted to raise our kids there. I grew up yearning for bigger places with more opportunities and the possibility of greater experiences. I wasn’t going to live my adulthood and my kids’ childhood in the place I always wanted to leave.
I wasn’t indulging or silently supporting my powerhouse of a husband. We were partners. I commanded the driver’s seat as often as he did, and actively navigated as a passenger.
It is true that he managed our social life. At events, he took the spotlight while I watched cozy from the background. He ensured we knew our neighbors and the other kids’ parents. He was the life of the party, the gracious host, the fun one. And he was welcome to it. That shit exhausts me.
As the years went by, however, he grew more reluctant to fill that role. He was content to binge watch Netflix and order takeout. It took quite a bit of coaxing to get him out of the house to do anything. He talked about his big regret – that he did not take me dancing anymore when we were younger.
-You could take me dancing now.
-No, we’re old and I’m too fat. It’s embarrassing. Let me get into better shape and then we’ll go.
Well, I guess that day never came. It would have been nice to go dancing. I don’t get embarrassed anymore.
That isn’t entirely accurate.
I don’t let embarrassment stop me from doing something that could make me happy. I got over that shit years ago. With Trey by my side it was easier to be spontaneous, to do mildly embarrassing things. Even if I had to push him. Even if he didn’t join in but would laugh at/with me. He would smile at my dorkiness and reinforce my belief that it is okay to be embarrassing.
He was my world. But he wasn’t the whole world.
I still exist. I am not a phantom. I am not useless, or plain, or dull. I am broken without my partner, yet I remain a whole person. I will remain in Washington, and will perhaps move to Florida later. I drive Herman and I walk the dog and I take the kids on trips to book signings and to watch a movie with a bunch of cats. I dance. I dance in my living room, and I also dance at the supermarket. I skin my knee trying to ride a bike. I meet the neighbors for game night.
And I cry. I cry and scream and beat the steering wheel and throw my phone. I’m lonely and forlorn and desperate and furious.
But I am not nothing, and it’s time I stop thinking of myself as nothing.
As I write this, the day changes and it is now Mother’s Day.
Fuck that. I do not want to deal with THAT.
This makes no sense. My mom is amazing, and she lives near me. She has been an astounding source of support for my whole life, and so much more now since Trey’s death. My own kids are alive and well and awesome. So why does Mother’s Day feel so painful?
It’s been suggested to me that it may just be a matter of it being a holiday, so soon after his death. We never did make a big deal out of the holiday, however, so I will not be missing him especially hard.
I thought it might have something to do with our infertility. For six years we struggled to have children. During those six years, Mother’s Day was salt in my heart. Then we got pregnant. For the following six years, Mother’s Day was a low-key but joyous event. I never got though the MD season without remembering those difficult six years, all of those Mother’s Days that I wondered if motherhood would happen for me. It feels wrong that our celebration for conquering infertility should happen without him by my side.
The real reason, however, I believe is due to me feeling less of. When Trey died, I lost my role as wife. This was a huge part of who I was, and it was gone. I am lessened. I am less of a person, much less of a woman, and less of a parent. We were a parenting team. Sure we were a team that constantly fought about the rules of the game, but we were a team nonetheless.
One of the well-meaning phrases I can live without is, “You’re both the mom and the dad now.”
What? Shut up. That’s not accurate at all. I was a parent, and I am still a parent. I used to be a part of a parenting team, a dynamic duo, a squad. I lost half my team, and am much less of a parent without him. Without his ‘dadness’ to contrast with and compliment my ‘momness’ I’m less of a mom.
I couldn’t protect my kids from seeing their father dead. I can’t protect them from that memory. I can’t give them enough comfort, and I do not know how best to support them through this.
I’m not 2x the parent. I’m less. Less of a mom, less of a person.
I have been hearing this from my boys for months now. May 5th. The opening of GOTG 2. It was big news in our house.
The movie is rated PG-13, and my kids are both seven. I realize it is a grown-up movie and my kids are kids. I therefore refused to bring them opening weekend. My kids and I are a hurricane blasting through wherever we go. I try to be respectful where I can, however, and one thing I can do is keep the littles out of the theater when it is filled with fans who went out of their way to see it opening weekend.
The movie has been open for a week now, today is Friday, and the kids have the day off school.
So we went.
And I wept.
If you have not seen this movie, I will not spoil anything but will say that some of the themes in the movie are a bit on-the-nose. (You will remember from the first movie that he grew up without a dad and that his mom died when he was young.) This, however, isn’t why the movie wrecked me. I have found that spouses/dads dying in movies does not evoke a huge emotional response from me. You would think that watching someone lose her husband or father would bring back my own memories and situation. It doesn’t. The truth is that losing him is so big — so fucking huge — it just has absolutely nothing to do with whatever is happening to a character in a movie. I could watch movies depicting parents and spouses dying all day long and it would not affect me.
THIS movie, though. This one. Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2. This movie wrecked me.
This movie — the one we had been planning to see as a family.
The one that is rated PG-13 but I can’t say no to the kids because Trey would have brought them.
The one for which Trey taught my kids to remember the opening date.
The one that has Kurt Russel. Kurt fucking Russell why did Kurt Motherfucking Russel make it into this movie? Trey had an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Russel. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve seen Overboard? We’re not talking about Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China. Every time Overboard comes on, we’re watching it. This is true of the other movies as well, but they don’t come on as much. Trey loved Kurt Russel. On his birthday this year I requested that friends and family post pictures of Kurt on Trey’s Facebook wall. Two months before he died.
Our family of four is now a family of three. Plans we made will never be fulfilled. We will not attend graduation together, or give girlfriends a hard time. We will never make the holiday Leavenworth trip a family tradition.
We will not see Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
My weeping began during the previews. Today previews were featured for the new Star Wars movie, Wonder Woman and Thor. All movies we knew were coming and we were planning to see.
The four of us.
Then the movie starts, and it is so amazing and he would have loved it. The kids are loving it and would have loved sharing it with him. And then Kurt Fucking Russel appears onscreen.
It was all over for me.
I laughed at the movie, and cheered and loved it. Through it all, though, I wept for all the dumb little plans we made that we will never fulfill.
Sometimes the reality of him being gone, it just smothers me. I fall into a routine and everything seems relatively normal.
Until the permanence hits me. Once again I remember is not out of town, at the dentist or at work. He is not coming home. This routine is forever. This alone routine. And I weep.
There are other times, however, when something random or minor will set me off. Over the past week, here are some of the specific instances that cut me deeply enough to scar.
“Runaway Train” sang through my radio, reducing me to a blubbery mess in my car. Why? Was it ‘our song?’ Certainly not. Was it a favorite of his? Nope. There is no reason this song should have pulled such a response from my heart.
A character on The Last Man on Earth gave birth.
I said that Chris Pratt was nice looking, and K instructed me to NOT MARRY Chris Pratt. I almost died laughing,, glowing with the K’s adoration that he would even see that as a possibility. He continued, “Don’t marry anyone else ever, OK mom? I don’t want another dad. I had a dad and he was the best dad in the world and I don’t want a replacement.”
Shadow on American Gods packed up his dead wife’s belongings.
I saw an ad for The Gunslinger. I loved those books, and waited for years to share them with my non-reading husband. This would have been amazing.
I realized we kept meaning to go to a Supernatural convention.
I found a stack of papers with his handwriting on them. One had his signature.
I revised my will.
I took my child to an Occupational Therapist. Alone.
I took my kids to a pro baseball game. With my parents. The other kids there all had dads with them.
I realized Mother’s Day was coming up.
I saw the Anne Hathaway episode of Lip Sync Battle. Again, no reason for this to spark pain. I have no idea why her lip syncing to “Wrecking Ball” would make me cry.
I saw someone smoking.
I watched the second episode of American Gods. I laughed and applauded at this stunning adaptation of one of the few books we both read and loved. I cannot say enough about this show. Trey would have loved it. We would have watched every episode together multiple times. I cried my way through the entire episode, through the laughter and applause, the tears and sobs.
I thought about getting rid of that horrible Scarface poster above our bed. I hated that thing from the moment he brought it home. This is the kind of thing that happens when your husband arrives at your new apartment a week before you get there with the rest of your stuff. He buys a ginormous Scarface poster and hangs it in the living room. Throughout the years I’ve managed to get it shuffled off into the bedroom. I could now get rid of it. But now I won’t do that. I’ve gotten rid of acres of his things, but not that thing.
A couple of months before Trey died, I bought new toilet seats for all three bathrooms in our house. I placed a box containing a new seat in each of the bathrooms, where we were sure to trip on them and fight with them every time we opened the bathroom doors.
I asked my husband to take care of changing them out. Weeks went by with no action on the matter and company was coming, so I proceeded to change out the seat in the guest bath. I’m no helpless female — I can change a toilet seat, after all.
“Did you change the toilet seats?”
“Just the one.”
“Babe, I’m supposed to do that. I’ll do the others. You don’t have to fuck around with changing out toilet seats. Don’t change the other two, all right? Let me.”
Another couple of weeks passed with plenty of stubbed toes and curses from the well-placed boxes. No action on the matter was taken.
Then he died. Without ever changing out the toilet seats.
After Trey’s death, I continued to leave those two toilet seats in their boxes, instrusively located on the bathroom floors. Company came, and more company, and family and friends came for the funeral, stayed in my home and used the bathrooms. Still the boxes with the new seats remained sealed, stubbing toes and eliciting curses.
He had told me to wait for him. He told me he would do it. I was still waiting for him. I was waiting. To let him do it. Like he said.
This week, it became too much of a pain in the butt. Literally. The seat in the master bath was cracked, and it pinched my butt cheek every time I used it. So I changed out the seats. Now we have new seats on the toilets.
The world didn’t end. I didn’t even cry.
It’s just one of many items on his honey-do list that I will now be handling.
It’s been two months, which seems crazy both because it somehow feels like I’ve aged a lifetime and also because I am still always surprised and saddened to not find him here when I get home. Two months feels like it can’t be right because it simultaneously feels much longer and much shorter than that.
I remember that the second house we bought together- our house in Tulsa – we bought without him ever seeing. I had fallen in love with the house, and that was all he needed to kno