“You, the most organized human in the world, is making one mess after another.”
“I know, Stanley, I just can’t seem to help it.”
“Look at this room! And look at that basement!”
“It’s terrible, just terrible. Sometimes I get so mad at Bernie when I think of how often I asked him to clean up his stuff. Don’t leave it to me to do, I used to tell him, but did he listen, Stan?”
“No way. The Man wasn’t going to clean up if he could help it.”
“Well, now I’m doing that cleaning for him, the sorting of what stays (very little) and what goes (a lot). And in the process dismantling much of our life together. Not all, but some.”
“But what are you doing with your own life?”
“What I’m doing is my life, Stanley. Dismantling and recreating.”
Still, you feel like you should get your life together again. Around you people are doing beautiful things. You were once one of those people. You go to Rapid City to help plan the Native American retreat and spend time with people you love, people you have a history with. You go out to meals, make jokes about the under-zero degree weather. You do everything they do, talk and banter like they do.
If someone asks, you admit things are heavy, but you don’t make too much of it because everyone has their life, and you sense that folks are on a different trajectory from yours. It’s not that they don’t care—they care a lot—but they’re on a different wave length and you’re not sure, in fact you’re quite certain, that it’s difficult for them to understand why, four months after your husband died, you still can’t find the ground under your feet. Why you try to do the things you always loved to do, only they now seem distant, even meaningless, as if the Great Plains have come between you and them.
“You must think about him a lot,” people say. Actually no, you don’t think much about him at all. You don’t spend time recalling intimate scenes or talks, although when you watch TV you still look over to the right to where the wheelchair once stood, at the edge of the futon, to ask what he thought of the movie. You’re surrounded by absence. And that often feels like a lack of purpose, as if everything you do is followed by a question mark: What is this? I know I’m planning this retreat and that program, editing this book, but why? For what reason?
You don’t understand any of this. After all, you lived on your own for years in between marriages, you never needed a husband to have purpose and meaning, you were excited about life and knew how to live alone.
It doesn’t help that you’re constantly getting hijacked. You’re in the motel room in Rapid City, getting ready to go grab coffee and an English muffin on the way to your final meeting, when you find Bernie suddenly staring up at you from the desk. Instantly—and I mean instantly—you know that it’s a photo of him after his stroke. Not because of the red blotch on his hand and not even the red thing peeking out of the shirt pocket that everyone else thinks is his red clown nose but that you know is the red rubber roller he’d use to exercise his paralyzed right hand. No, you know from the expression on his face: sweet, vulnerable, childlike.
Who are you, you ask for the umpteenth time. How much you changed after that stroke! And what are you doing here in a motel room in Rapid City? And then you realize the photo is part of a Greyston write-up about Open Hiring, on the other side of the paper of the Delta ticket you printed before you left, the ticket taking you out of Rapid City later and, slowly in the snowstorm, returning you to New England.
Your eyes get warm. Somehow an hour goes by and you come late to the meeting. Where were you, people wonder. You don’t know. You haven’t a clue where you went.