Carol at work lent my mom her copy of The Lovely Bones. She read it after the death of her nephew, and said that it helped her feel more at peace with his being gone.
Two nights in a row, Mom sat up late in the kitchen reading page after page, forcing herself the first night to put the book down and go to bed. The third day, yesterday, she offered it to me without comment.
Last night, I opened it on my way to bed and read the foreward while I brushed my teeth. Then the first chapter while I emptied my bladder. The second I read standing in the bathroom, and the rest of the book--straight through to the last page--I read last night in bed.
Kirk stirred a few times with the light in the room, turning over twice to put his arms around me. I read on.
I kept thinking on some level of consciousness that I needed to put the book down, to shutout the light, to go to sleep, but I was waiting for a hopeful point in the story. Waiting for it to make me feel less sad. I reached the last page, still looking.
Alice Sebold's Heaven is a very lonely place where Susie Salmon, her main character and the victim of a brutal rape and murder, can have whatever she wants--except the life she left behind and the family she misses terribly and watches closely as they continue through their lives without her. The rest of her family, broken by her death, somehow manage to get through life in a world where, unlike their perspectives, everyone else has returned to "normal" and moved on. Susie watches them for years, desperate to see places in their thoughts that belong to her, where she is avenged, honored, remembered, loved.
I finished the book, shut off the light, and sobbed.
Kirk's light grip on my arm became a full body hug as he lay there and listened to me cry. It was 2:30 in the morning.
The hug eventually turned into something else, just as much a surprise at 2:30 in the morning, and another step in our married life to some semblance of an in-synch rhythm, something we lost months before the wedding.
After David died, I stopped wanting to be touched, especially in front of my mother. It felt extremely wrong to take pleasure in the feeling of another person's skin on mine--even in something so innocent and gentle as a hug, a shoulder squeeze, a kiss on the cheek--when she had lost the one person whose touch she wanted more than anything.
The funny thing, though, is that once you fall out of the practice of being touched, it's very hard to get back in the swing of physical contact. Every time you give in to it feels monumental, like you're making a huge decision by putting yourself out there, and the enormity of it scares you off. This is especially difficult in a new marriage, when everyone around you makes jokes about your not leaving your hotel room on your honeymoon, and about the "private time" you two must be spending together in your new "love nest."
In such a situation, were you to end up pregnant six months into your marriage, you would be able to pinpoint the exact hour you became with child because, let's face it, it's not like there are a lot of hours to choose from. Maybe not any others, even. And it's not that you don't love your husband or don't want to be with him. It's just that you've forgotten how to let that side of you go, and you're afraid to look for it, just in case it's gone forever. Never mind the prospect of adding in a pregnancy and then an infant to that mix. The odds feel very much stacked against you.
Like anything that scares you, though, if it's worth doing, it's worth overcoming the fear involved, and with a little effort and a little luck, eventually every touch isn't a Big Commitment to something that's become even greater than yourself, and eventually, the rhythm you thought you'd lost forever starts to reappear.
Last night was a very easy moment for the two of us, complicated only by the fact that crying makes my nose stuffy, impeding my ability to breathe. By the time I'd returned from a tiptoe trip to the bathroom, I was feeling less fragile, if not less sad.
There are many people that I've loved who are gone out of my life--permanently gone, in a way that no phone call or well-drafted letter could ever repair. The Big Gone. Like the Monopoly shoe in the book. Melissa. Glen. Greg. My dad (round one). My Nana. My Papa. And David. Back to David--the source of my many tears this early, early morning.
Reading the book, I couldn't help but picture what David's heaven would look like, what other people might show up there, what he might do with his days. Does he watch us, seeing that every day he crosses our heads and hearts? Does our palpable missing of him make it harder for him to come to terms with being gone? Am I doing him a disservice, somehow, by wishing things were different? Does our afterlife, whatever it may bring, hold even one tenth of the desperate longing of Susie Salmon's?
I still, three years out, find it hard to believe that I won't ever see him again. That Will will never know his Grampy. That he'll never see my house, or eat another of my chocolate snap cookies, his favorites--the ones I haven't baked since the Christmas just before he died. It's still an impossible concept, his being gone forever. How can that be?
I know that losing him changed me forever. Every day of my life shows that in some way, big or small. And yet, like the rest of the Salmon family in the book, I learn a bit, every day, of how to go on without him in my present and finite life.
The end of the book is meant, I think, to be hopeful. It takes years, but the family finds itself at peace. Happy, even. And Susie, seeing that, finds some sort of peace for herself, moving on the the next level of afterlife. Somewhere, somehow, I hope that for David, and for us.
It's been a long time coming but it's good to be back...