Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

“My wife isn’t. She was”

WEDNESDAY, August 4 – ‘Hey, guys, did you brush your teeth?’  Okay, we’re off. A last mental check before we leave the hotel room and head for Niagara Falls.  We’re going to visit this miracle of nature from the Canadian side, so we’ll need more than wallet and car keys.

It’s really hot out, so there’s sunscreen  in the backpack. Also the passports, mine Dutch, theirs American. We’ll be crossing the border only a few hundred yards away. More important yet are the death certificate, birth certificates, and our marriage certificate. I know all the horror stories about the American immigration service, but all our documents are in order. No sweat.

This is the downside of traveling with children who bear their mother’s name. Border guards are extra alert with the risk of kidnapping always in the back of their minds. Entering Canada wasn’t a problem. The woman wanted to know if the children were mine. Yep. And that was that.  ‘Have a nice day, Sir.’ Jennifer loved Canada, the people being so nice.

Getting back into the States, via the famous Rainbow Bridge over the falls, was a bit more complicated. A couple of obvious questions about my tourist visa and the date of our trip back to Holland.  And then the identity of the children: they dutifully answered the questions, stating in turn:  ‘I’m Dutch-American’.

The woman gave all three of us a searching look. ‘I assume that your wife is an American citizen.’

I reply: ‘She was.’

No doubt my eyes tell the whole story. Almost immediately she hands me the passports. ‘And have a nice day.’

Sander takes the passports and says, ‘Good thing you corrected her.’

Combing his hair. Like Mom

TUESDAY, August 3 – My beloved youngest son, you’re looking out the window of our hotel room on the fifth floor and scrunching up your eyes. Not because of the setting sun, behind the modest skyscrapers of downtown Buffalo, but because I’m combing your hair and that always hurts. I do a few strands at a time because I don’t have your mother’s patience.

You screw up your eyes, but you don’t say anything. You know I’m doing my best to get all the snarls out. I’m careful but not nearly as gentle as your mother. She had very long hair as a girl and she knew that it took a while before the comb would glide smoothly through your hair.

The ordeal is over and you open your eyes. Large brown irises, just like your mother. I run the comb through your hair one last time, try to make a part and comb your straight wisps back.  For a second our eyes meet. Your eyes are just like your mother’s. I narrow my eyes and gaze out the window at the buildings in the background. Your familiar gaze brings on my tears.

You don’t see them and indignantly you rumple up your hair, the way boys will do.

Can you still see the ring?

MONDAY, August 2 – Time to put it to the test, since I’m starting to have doubts. ‘Eamonn, can you come here for a minute?’  He swims over to me at a leisurely pace. Sitting on the side of the pool, I hold out both hands and spread my fingers.  ‘On which finger did I wear my wedding ring?’

He looks once, then again, and points to the correct hand but the wrong finger: my forefinger. No go.

I bring my left hand closer, and ask: ‘Can’t you tell that that’s where I used to wear my wedding ring?’

He can’t.

‘Take another look.’

‘Well, maybe.’ He says it without conviction. Am I the only one who can see it?  Later on, to be on the safe side, I check with Sander.  He immediately points to the right finger.  ‘You can still see it,’ he says.

In that same pool we run into former neighbors who ask where Jennifer is. Eamonn starts pulling on my hand when I go into too much detail, but I can’t very well dash by shouting that Jennifer is dead and then do a cannonball into the pool. Although, I’m tempted.

Memories in the suburbs

SUNDAY, August 1, 2010 – Champagne! I was the first to raise my glass. ‘To Jennifer!’  And, then, in a choked voice, ‘To her friends!’ I had intended to say more, but I couldn’t.  There were eight former neighbors who had gathered together for a brunch in honor of the four of us raising their glasses to this toast. Here, Jenn lives on.

Seeing a group of people all at one time is easier than visiting them separately and having to repeat the story over and over. A good solution.  It was a classic pot-luck meal: people brought food, drinks, dessert, or a simple snack. Vegetarian or swimming in fat.

Sitting around the table, the memories came drifting back. They all had their own anecdotes about the woman who had lived here in the Washington suburbs and who had long suffered from depression. Not many people knew that. The quiet lifestyle where women stayed at home to care for the children and men went out to work had crushed Jenn’s creativity.

Yet almost everyone remembered her spontaneity, her friendly gestures, her intelligent observations, and her warmth. Jenn herself would later characterize those six years in Kensington, Maryland as a cold period. After the birth of our second son, she lost herself for a long time. This also marked the beginning of a temporary ice age in our marriage.

By far the most touching story came from N about how Jenn’s death had been a trigger for her, encouraging her to take action. She regretted that she and Jenn had never gone to Italy, had never stayed in that dream castle they’d talked about in their emails. But she had no regrets about going back to school for a new career motivated not by Jenn’s death, but by the way she had lived.

L talked about her own life. It was the first time she had opened up in company. She had lost her own mother when she was only ten and her father had not been able to care for his children, who had to be placed in different families and also how earlier this year she discovered that that old wound had been cruelly torn open. L suggested that perhaps it had something to do with Jennifer’s death, but in a positive rather than in a negative sense. She was at odds with herself and in the end she left her husband. This was a phase in her personal voyage, one that had brought her some happiness.

Again we raised our glasses. In celebration of life. Her life. Our life.

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