Chapter 5: How To Love A Single Mom: Remember Joy Is Beside You.

Writer’s Note:

Two years after the tragic death of her husband and father of her children, Leah, a 35 year old single mother of two young daughters continues to struggle with her loss. Follow Leah as she begins to heal, find purpose again, discover her passion and find love in the process. 

How To Love A Single Mom is a love story about life, self discovery, transformation and the relationships we create along the way. 

Chapter Five

Within the first 20 minutes of our design meeting, the conversation shifted from light fixtures and coffee tables to loss. In the middle of comparing wood stains, I blurted it out, “My husband died two years ago.”

He didn’t wince or shift in his seat. Instead, he hugged me with his eyes like he did yesterday when I met him.

Unlacing his hands, he leaned in, elbows on the table. “A coffee table can wait. Talk to me.”

“It will be two years on May 9th. I relive that day everyday, but I haven’t shared it out loud in a while.”  I took a big breath in through my nose, closed my eyes. I rubbed my hands together as I do when I get nervous. My thumb reaching across my palm to my ring finger, anxiously turning my wedding band back and forth.

“He always woke before we did. He had a routine. I know because the sound of him brushing his teeth always woke me. I never let on it would wake me up because I enjoyed hearing him and I didn’t want him to change anything for me. I loved the whine of the shower knob as he turned it from cold to hot and the vigor with which he dried his hair with his towel. He always put his socks on before any other piece of clothing. I wonder if he had any idea that would be the last time he would put his socks on.

Since he died I’ve had this obsessive thought—whether people have a sense they’re going to die or it sneaks up on them like a predator in the night. I won’t know for sure until it’s my turn to die, I guess.

Anyway, he kissed me on the cheek as he did every morning. I kept my eyes closed. I wish I wouldn’t have; I regret that.

He was a trader, so he always went to work before most people woke, he never minded it. He enjoyed being awake before the sun came up and he loved his job, the adrenaline and the pressure of it; some people thrive in that environment.

We met in college, in the library. I was working on a research project for class and I couldn’t get the microfiche projector to work.

He was at the station right next to me, so I asked him for help. He didn’t hesitate, that made an impression on me, how he stopped what he was doing to help me without question. We both went back to work, side by side and then he asked me out. He was so confident in a manly way, not an egotistical way. We went for coffee and that was it. We were one of those couples, inseparable from the very beginning. We grew up together in a sense, we were both 19 when we met. The longest period of time we’d ever spent apart was for two weeks when he had to go for training in New York.

We had a good life, it was quiet with a few painful moments; an early miscarriage before I became pregnant with my eldest, my grandfather passing, his grandmother passing. A life free of anguish, until I lost him. I’m sorry I realize I’m jumping all over the place, I’m probably not making any sense.”

He reached out, palm open, the gold from his ring clinking on the table, “Leah, please never apologize. I’m listening.”

My hand hesitantly reached for his, he pulled his fingers over mine, squeezing tightly before letting go.

“But, you’re just a stranger and here I am making a fool of myself, dumping my sob story on you when you came here to buy furniture. I feel like I’m sabotaging your day.”

“I believed in strangers too until the day I broke down at the grocery store and a woman passing by offered her arms to me. We are only strangers until we meet, and then we become what we want to be, what we need to be for the other person, a support, a friend, a confidant. I’m here to listen to you now.”

I cleared my throat still fondling my wedding band, pulling it on and off my finger slowly. “I got a call from the paramedic on his phone a little after 12PM. He told me there had been an accident and they were taking Jake to the hospital. I was in the middle of folding laundry.

I don’t know how I got there, I just did. I remember I couldn’t hear anything, not even the silence. It was so loud—the fear, the panic. I don’t remember where I parked, I didn’t see my car after that for about a week, my father took care it.

The woman at the desk of urgent care told me to sit down in the waiting room. I guess I had called my mother while I was in the car. She arrived shortly after I did. She didn’t say anything, she held me, I cried, a scared cry, a not knowing what was happening cry. I remember the feel of her blouse on my cheek and the smell of her lotion, she’s worn the same lotion since I was young. As I rested in the crook of her arm as I had done so often as a girl, I wished I could travel back to childhood, to safety because in that moment I was not safe, not even in my mother’s arms.

I saw the doctor walking towards us, that’s when I stopped crying. I felt like I knew the answer; Jake had already died but he was here to say it just so I had permission to scream, because that’s what I felt like doing. Just like in the movies when something terrible happens, the character on screen lets out a blood curdling scream and crashes into a pile on the floor. I knew if I screamed, it would distract reality or at least interrupt it for a moment. 

As the doctor approached I wanted to run away and swat at him like a bee on a mission to sting, but I knew this was a sting I couldn’t escape or squash. I sat up as he sat down next to me. 

“Are you the relatives of Jake Kearny?” 

My mother spoke on my behalf, “Yes, this is his wife, Leah and I’m her mother.”

He looked clean, no blood on his scrubs. I thought I’d see blood but there wasn’t any; maybe just maybe that was a good sign. He spoke for a while but I only made out certain words, like I do when I overhear someone speaking Spanish—trauma, impact, loss of consciousness, internal bleeding, irreversible damage, cardiac arrest. I didn’t hear him say dead, he didn’t say dead.

“Is he breathing? Is he alive?”

“I’m sorry Leah. I am so sorry to tell you your husband is not breathing. We did everything we could, but he died fifteen minutes ago.”

Nothing. I just sat there. I don’t know for how long. I didn’t scream. I didn’t cry. I didn’t fall to the floor, I just sat there.

“Who’s going to get the girls, Mom? What time is it? What will they eat for dinner?”

“Don’t worry, I’ve taken care of it. Dad is going to get them. I called him, he will take them back to our house.”

“Did you call Cindy? Did you?”

I could tell my mom was battling her own tears, her voice was cracking, yet she knew what she had to do, she had to be strong for me. “Yes, I finally got in touch with her.”

Cindy walked in. My mom rose from her seat as did the doctor.

“What’s going on? What happened? What’s happened to Jake?”

“Cindy, please sit down.”

“No, just tell me, what happened?” I could hear the terror in her voice. 

I stared straight ahead at the chairs in front of me as the doctor recounted the story, that’s what it is to him, just a story; to me, to us, it’s a story we can’t close the cover to, we have to live in it and die in it, while he gets to walk away and tell another story and walk away from that one too. I hated him for that.

I heard her sobbing and felt her collapse in the chair beside me, but I stayed focused on the chairs across from me. Someone had left a magazine on the seat, Entertainment Weekly. No one would be reading Entertainment Weekly in the ER unless they knew for certain the person they brought there was going to walk out to them when they were done being cared for. It was probably a girl waiting for her roommate to get stitches because the knife slipped while they were cutting carrots for their double date dinner party.

I would do anything to be reading that magazine. I’ve never wished to trade lives with someone else until then.

I found out later, he had left the office for lunch. He loved lunch, his favorite meal. He had three places he went—the sandwich place, the taco stand and the coffee shop (when he felt like breakfast for lunch). He stepped into the crosswalk when the light turned red, as a man on his phone sped through the light and hit him. The report said his heart stopped beating in the ambulance. They tried to bring him back, but they weren’t able to.”

We sat there in silence. I tucked my hair behind my ears and lifted my eyes to his.

“Oh Leah, I’m so sorry.”  Ben’s voice heavy with sadness, his eye lashes damp with tears.

This was the first time I had told the story without crying, I wanted to stop here for today, I had said enough. There was more, but it could wait. He sensed it.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s sudden or slow, when death arrives it’s shocking. I don’t think it’s a shock that ever completely goes away, we will always be haunted by the loss, it just becomes more of a shadow than a foggy cloud.”

I nodded. “Thank you for listening to me. I hope I’m not…” He shook his head, an empathetic grin stretching his lips, “If I didn’t want to sit here and listen to you, I wouldn’t.”  I appreciated his honesty, it was refreshing.

“Have you ever read The Prophet?”

I shook my head, “No, I haven’t.”

“I will bring you my copy on Monday. There’s a section in the book about joy and sorrow. He says, “Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

They are inseparable, you see? The pain, the sadness you feel right now is grief over the joy you’ve known and now lost. People are in our lives to remind us of everything we hold inside but sometimes forget about. Our children remind us of  our own innocence and purity. When we meet with an old friend, we are reminded of our youth and carefree existence and when we fall in love with the person who becomes our partner, we are reminded of the abundance of love we have to give and receive. Our partner (if we are lucky) also reminds us we are safe to explore and be who we are because they are there to catch us if we need to be caught and offer us protection if we need to be protected. This knowing brings joy and when we lose our reminder, our joy is replaced with sorrow, but not forever you see? Because life is our ultimate partner and she will never leave us unprotected or unsafe, we are always protected even if we don’t know it.”

He paused, he wanted to make sure I heard him, “Leah, let me be your reminder, you are safe.”

He wasn’t asking, he was declaring his place in my life.

“Okay.”  It was all I wanted or needed to say.

Ben glanced at his watch, “I love when I lose track of time. I’m off to meet my son for lunch now. May I give you my number? If you need to talk you can always call me, besides I still need to furnish the new condo, it certainly needs a woman’s touch.”

“Of course, I would like that. After yoga on Monday, would you like to come back here and we can find you some pieces?”

“That sounds like a plan.”

We rose from the table and hugged. I wrapped my arms around his waist as he placed one hand on my back and the other across my head, pulling me tight. I felt protected, like a father to a daughter.

I walked him to the front of the store, he opened the door and turned around, “Don’t forget, they are inseparable. Remember, joy is right beside you.”

“I know.”  I did know, I could feel it.

****************

“Mom!”  The girls approach the car, walk/running as they always do when they see me on Tuesday afternoons. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting in the parking lot waiting for them, long enough to reminisce over my conversation with Ben.

“I missed you! Did you have fun?”  The scent of childhood filling the car, a mixture of sweet and pungent only a child could make.

“We did. We made cookies with Grandma and we started working on a new art project.”  Brooke panting from her gallop to the car.

“Yeah and I got to use the new brushes she got last week.”  Sasha added.

“I’m so glad girls. What do you say we go to the beach for a little while? I could pick up some food on the way there?”

“Yay! Yay!”  Hopping up and down in their seats, clearly joy is inside of them today.

*****************

I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t live near the water. I always have, I don’t know any different. I could sit all day and stare with nothing to do but watch and listen. Besides the people in my life who have supported me, so too has the water. The days I couldn’t bear to do anything, I still brought the girls.

Although the landscape of our lives has changed, the beach remains the same, even though I’ve never seen the same ocean twice. I trust the unpredictability of the sea, maybe one day I’ll trust it in my own life too.

This is the one place the girls don’t need me, they don’t cling to me unless they are hungry or need a sip of water. Today, they take turns burying each other and playing chase with the tide.

The smell of Chinese food mixing with the salty air smells homey and familiar. I feel safe.

I reach in my purse and pull out the mole skin journal Bonnie gave me on my birthday last year. I carry it with me everywhere. I have a predilection for journals; I have ten of them in my desk drawer, some gifted to me, some I’ve bought. I’ve written in all of them but I’ve never finished one, cover to cover. I swore to myself I would complete this one. I’m almost through it, I’m proud of myself for that.

I don’t feel like writing right now, but I do feel like reading. I haven’t re-read any of this since I wrote it. Pure sorrow, I don’t recognize this person but I do remember her and the pain. It’s all still here, but it’s not blinding me as it once did. Ben is right, the grief shrinks from a cloud to a shadow over time. Enough for today. I close my journal and watch the sun dip her feet into water, pink rippling across the water.

“Girls! Do you want to go get some ice cream?”  Ice cream is the food of joy, at least I think so.

To be continued…

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