Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Seeing her in an empty house

MONDAY, May 10 – The house is empty. I walk through the rooms, remembering what it was like, two years ago, when we walked through this place together. It was the spot we chose to return to after fourteen years abroad.

The indentations of the furniture on the floor.  Nicks on the wall and spots on the carpet. Above all, I’m aware of Jenn’s presence, walking down the hall, in the bedroom, sitting in the living room, working in the study, busy in the kitchen. Gone.

Empty. Nothing left. Then I catch sight of a tiny object on the dusty baseboard in our bedroom. It’s an earplug. Jenn’s answer to my snoring. I freeze, torn between pain and nostalgia.

I leave it where it is.

Stories about a fabulous Mom

SUNDAY, May 9 – Dear Jennifer, Happy Mother’s Day!

Today your children received a collection entitled Memories, short stories from your many friends, varying from your first days in Kindergarten to the Maryland suburbs, from high school to London, from college to your final days in Amsterdam. Memories of you that will be part of them, until they have children of their own and will be able to tell them about their grandmother.

This morning I’m crying because I miss you so much and because you were – and still are – a good mother. I see you in everything the children do right – and sometimes wrong. Your wisdom, your love, your principles, your annoying habits, and your warmth. But above all, your unconditional maternal love. That is what we celebrate today.

Quietly, in our thoughts, but also exuberantly.

I think of you and recall our discussions on parenthood and raising children, about the way our parents brought up their children, and how we were inspired by them or just the opposite. I remember how you resolved to be there for Sander and Eamonn one hundred percent in those early years. ‘Because this is the period when a child is formed and you can never do it over again.’

I often told you how fabulous you were as a mother. You just laughed and graciously accepted the compliment, but added that you ‘could have done better’. You spoke of the difficult years in Washington DC when, after the birth of Eamonn, you suffered from depressions and got through the days and nights mainly on ‘auto-pilot’.

Dear Jenn, that was the steadfast devotion you never went back on. Even in periods of weakness, you were still unbelievably strong.

I’m smiling this morning, because Eamonn woke me up with the suggestion that ‘today we should pretend that Mom is here’.  So that’s what we do. Sander is on his way back from Switzerland and he’s thinking of you, too – like we do every day.  But this Mother’s Day and there’s no makeshift breakfast, with flowers, cards and various other self-made gifts presented to you in bed.

The ability to cope on your own was part of your parenting principles. A mother does her work well – that goes for the father, too – if she shows her children the way and gives them a shove in the right direction. You abhorred the thought of children not being able to manage on their own. Often you hated that in me, too: the lazybones who didn’t have a clue about housekeeping, nor even, sometimes, parental chores and responsibilities. You’ve done good, girl.

And not just ‘good’. The advantage of this period is that we’re gradually more fully realizing what a fantastic mother you were, and are, and always will be. It is excruciating to think that you won’t be able to see your boys grow up, that they will grow up without the benefit of your light and your shadow, without your precious care, without that security blanket of motherly love.

In all humility, I promise you that they will grow up, thanks to your splendour. I kiss you with all the love I have for you now and will always have. I cling to your words, words that a former neighbor quoted when she wrote an anecdote for the boys in the collection Memories.

“I would not have traded my time spent raising little boys for anything. And I don’t regret it either. It has certainly informed my work now (you better believe those kids at school do not get away with much!). I truly believe my, your, anyone’s children benefit enormously from the experience as well. It is most worthwhile though often thankless.”

Your words. Your wisdom. Your love. I’m eternally grateful to you, dear Jennifer.

Moving on with less ballast

SATURDAY, May 8 – The whole process of moving is now seriously getting on my nerves.  Wanna get it over with. I long for it all to be in the past.  Then, we can sit down and await events to come. I throw away more than I should. On the other hand, it’s liberating to move forward with as little ballast as possible.

What would I do without Eamonn? I asked him to go along to IKEA to pick out some lamps. The kid has impeccable taste – I’m jealous. In less than five minutes he chose lamps for every room in the house. I didn’t even take a second look and cheerfully paid the bill.

My wife in a moving box

FRIDAY, May 7 – Had a rotten night. Woke up a few times, dreaming of Jennifer. Tossed and turned, wishing the move to our new house was over.  Delays due to a snag:  the oil used on the wooden floors was spoiled, leading to white spots. Now they have to sand, oil, varnish, polish and then varnish again. At least I think that’s the right order.

What do I care? By Sunday evening the floor will be perfect. Here’s hoping. The movers are coming early Monday morning and by the end of the day we’ll take possession of our new abode, two streets away. I’m dreading the whole operation, but trying desperately not to lose my cool.  I’m tired. So tired. Even too tired to worry.

Tonight I’ll pack a small box with personal things. In other words: Jenn in da box. Weird… I walk around with the box in my hand. (Do you want me to put you down here, sweetheart?)  Relax. Fucking urn.  Shoved into a cardboard moving box without a single token of respect. The movers better keep their hands off my sweetheart.

Signs of life nor death

THURSDAY, May 6 – Call it a sign of life. After what’s been – for me – an excruciatingly long silence, I finally receive a brief text message: ‘It’s snowing here’.

I reply: ‘Hey, fantastic’.

And we leave it at that. Sander reports on developments in the Swiss Alps and I let him know that we’re thinking of him.  We seldom call. ‘Big guy’ and his old man don’t need to talk every day.  He’ll be back in four days. I miss him, that’s for sure. It’s oddly quiet without him. Eamonn agrees.

I was about to write ‘deathly quiet’, but that’s something else again, as I know only too well. Deathly is the silence that Jenn left behind in October. No more notes, which I sometimes long for. No quick text message to let me know where she is. The scribbled note on the table, with a request. Often an email or just a ‘mental note’:  the realization you’ve been thinking of each other at exactly the same moment.

I think of her so often.  These days my thoughts come with a split-second of terrible anger, because she is not able to think of me. The one-way traffic of a truncated life. Unbearable longing for a sign of life, even a sign of death. Just something I can hear or see or feel. Even that turns out to be asking too much.

Leaving her diary untouched

WEDNESDAY, May 5 – Damn it all, Tim, concentrate!  Not on sorting, packing and getting rid of things. Think about unpacking them and hanging them up. Take the past with you, but try to see it as the future. Damn it, I’m being dragged into deep shit and I mustn’t give in. The move is getting to me. Why do I have to do stuff like this on my own?  Why am I too proud to ask for help?  I’m an asshole.

I think back to Queen’s Day last year. It was shortly afterwards that Jennifer and I had had a number of discussions about our marriage. We talked about being together, living together, doing things alone, living one’s own life, growing apart, the risks involved in separate lives lived under the same roof.

Maybe now was the time to find out what was behind that ominous expression on her face, by reading her diaries covering that period. I decide not to. For now, I deposit that part of our past in a large moving box.

Getting rid of her clothes

TUESDAY, May 4 – The house was quiet and serene when I woke up. Sander in Switzerland, Eamonn staying overnight with a friend in Arnhem. For the first time, a night alone.  It felt good, really good.  Empty house, empty head.  Now I can focus all my energy on moving to our new place later this week.

I mucked out Sander’s room. Then, I collected Jennifer’s clothes from the attic and took them to a church on the other end of the city.  That had always been the plan. Our downstairs neighbor suggested a used clothed store in the neighborhood, but I didn’t want to risk running into someone wearing one of Jenn’s dresses. No way.

When I threw the bags down the stairs, one of them split open and a couple of sweaters fell out. I smelled them. Nope. No Jennifer, no memories. A clothing smell I didn’t recognize. I put them in a new bag and loaded everything into the car. Mustn’t stop now. Just keep going. Think about today. Not about yesterday when she was wearing the clothes, not about tomorrow when someone else might be wearing them.

A shiver went down my spine. Just keep your head cool, I tell myself. This is my chance to get rid of the clothes, once and for all. Gone. At the drop-off point, no questions were asked and I felt no need to elaborate. The bags were added to the existing pile and, as I wrote on her Facebook wall: ‘Some time soon a number of women will be wearing purple.’

23:00 – By that evening I’d already picked up Eamonn from his stay in Arnhem.  A two-night sleepover was a bridge too far. When we got home, all he wanted to do was cuddle – as close to me as possible, and vice versa. Security is the mantra. After taking a shower he grabbed me and said, ‘I want Mom back.’

If only I could make that happen.

‘If only life was a video game,’ he said. ‘Then we could die and come back to life again.’

Contemplating ‘that way out’

MONDAY, May 3 – Eamonn is bored stiff, to the point where he himself decides that even the computer is monotonous.  Nothing on TV, nothing playing at the movies, it’s pouring, so no baseball on the corner lot and the bowling alley is fully booked. As a last resort, I suggest we go to the indoor driving range. I try to pep him up – getting out of the house is the first step. We take a bucket of golf balls up to the top floor, where it’s quiet.

We don’t get any further than ten balls. He’s angry and it looks like he’s ready to bash something, just to blow off steam. He sits down and then he seems to fold.  I sit down next to him and he moves closer. Let’s not do anything for a while. Just talk, he says. Good idea.

We talk about ‘him’, the one we’re angry with. Eamonn hates him.

We talk about ‘her’, the one we want back. Eamonn misses her.

I allow myself to say the word ‘dead’. He says: that’s a horrible word, I don’t want to say that word, or even think about it. And yet, it keeps going through his head and filling his thoughts. We hit the last ball together. Then he leans over the railing and asks me what would happen if he jumped.  You’d break both your legs, and if it was a bad fall, you’d be dead.

I tell it like it is since I’m starting to suspect something. As we gather up the golf clubs, I ask him if he has recently wished that he was dead.  Yes, of course, he says. Was that really what he had wanted. No, not really. When was this?

‘Three months after the accident. I didn’t want to go on living like that,’ Eamonn said simply. When I asked him why he didn’t tell me, he said it was because I hadn’t been home at the time.

At any rate, the feeling did go away and as I go on asking him questions, as carefully as I can, he says that no, that isn’t what he wants. He’s sure about that. But what if thoughts like that enter your mind… ‘Yes, I know, then I’ll come to you.’

Or your brother, okay? Yes, that’s settled. I promise myself again and again that no matter what, I’ll be there for him. Being there – that’s become the key to our life together.

We need a break from life

SUNDAY, May 2 – At eight o’clock this morning I dropped Sander off at his friend’s house.  He’s going to spend a week in Switzerland with the rest of the family. Yesterday we had a bit of a crisis. ‘I don’t want to go, and I’m not going!’

He was dreading the trip. ‘I’ve seen enough of my friend already. And we’re going to a country where I don’t speak the language. What am I supposed to do there?  Stupid mountains. They don’t even have internet. All I need is a break from life.

He has a point there. That’s what we all need, but staying at home is not a good idea. And at this late date, he can’t back out. So, I summoned up the patience of a saint – for me, a true accomplishment – and managed to convince him. Or rather, I bribed him by letting him borrow my camera. If things get really difficult later in the week, I promised to jump in the car and drive to Switzerland.

And I meant it. If necessary, I’d drive the nine hours there and nine hours back in one go. Luckily, Sander’s mood soon changed. The sun came out and continued to shine right up to this morning. But then my eyes started to blur and the tears came. It’ll be the first time since October that he’s slept somewhere else. And for a whole week. Big deal for this Daddy.

I’m going to miss him and I hope he’ll miss me, but that guarantee lasts only until the moment your soon-to-be teenager closes the car door just after eight o’clock and disappears behind the horizon. And that’s as it should be.

Sex in the park (not me)

SATURDAY, May 1, 2010 – A stroll through Beatrixpark at dusk. Elsa the dog leads the way and  opts for a path we usually pass by.  She’s curious and passes a row of shrubs and then a small open field where a couple are fucking shamelessly and with abandon.

She’s sitting on top of her boyfriend and panting, and as she comes she looks up and gives me a friendly nod.

Being together – whether it’s lying in the park or sitting on a bench… That evening I feel engulfed by sadness as I make up my queen-sized bed. I still sleep on the same side, at most appropriating a bit more of the sheet. The selflessness of a recovering widower. The pillow next to me serves as a backrest, when I want to read for a while. The other half is reserved for what might later come my way.

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