WHAT’S BIG AND WHAT’S SMALL?

“Do you love me?”

“Yeah-I-love-you.”

“It’s fall here again, so beautiful, can you see it?”

“You-know-I’m-color-blind.”

“Who’re you talking to, Boss?”

“I’m talking to Bernie, Aussie.”

“Does he answer?”

“You heard him.”

“I hear you.”

“Well, Auss, Bernie wasn’t much for personal communication even when he was alive, so I have to make this easier for him.”

This morning I said hi to Miss Compassion in the back and noticed she wore a green earring. I wonder if the caterpillar plans to stay there, attached to Kwan-Yin’s earlobe as it spins its chrysalis. Not the worst place in the world for a metamorphosis.

Bernie couldn’t talk. He loved, but couldn’t express it directly. Things were fine as long as I worked with him and joined his efforts. The minute I stepped out into my own work, he couldn’t find the bridge to me. We either talked about work, or else we didn’t talk.

Much of my private life with him I felt lonely and even invisible. When it came to appreciation, I got used to a radical diet. Even after his stroke, which turned both of our lives upside-down (differently for each of us), I didn’t hear anything like “What would I do without you?” (Answer: not much.).

After his death people told me that he talked to them a lot about me and what I did for him, and how he wouldn’t be alive if not for me. His caregiver told me that if she cooked something good for him he asked if there was enough for me, too, when I came home. But he couldn’t say those things to me directly. He thought them, but couldn’t speak them.

We had a small blowup about this once. I turned from the kitchen counter, looked him straight in the eye and asked, “Why can’t you say something to me?”

He looked back at me, bewildered, and said, “I don’t know.”

My father grew up in a shtetl where his father, the local rabbi, enforced a Method of Silence used by certain religious Jews to raise children, where nothing was expressed to children except for the most practical things (Eat your breakfast, go to sleep, etc.). When he finally left my mother after over 40 years of marriage, it wasn’t because his new wife was younger, as my mother thought, but because she was far more emotionally giving, even effusive, as my mother couldn’t be.

We want to be loved. Independent Aussie comes to me and leans her head against my leg, not for food or even a walk (it’s raining), but for attention.

I knew I was loved by my husband, but I didn’t feel loved. There’s a big difference. I know the stories—his mother died, his father and stepmother were uncaring—but those stories don’t nourish. You want to feel loved—not as a student, but as a wife.

A friend of mine, thinking of her husband after he died and their life together, said to me: “We invested a lot in our private life, so it was very beautiful. But we didn’t invest much in helping the world. You guys did. You led a big life.”

What’s big and what’s small?

I talk to Bernie quite a bit now, 11+ months after he’s dead. And since I know he wasn’t much for loving communication, I don’t hesitate to answer for him, using his tone and the slow pause between each word due to the aphasia he suffered from the stroke.

“Do you love me?”

“Of-course-I-do. And-I-miss-you.”