Today I need to go to the grocery store because the carrots I added to my cart fourteen days ago as I wandered the aisles of Target with my husband, who was on the phone with a detective, who was trying to gain access to his mother's house to see if she was still alive, have gone bad.
I need carrots to make a salad because ten-plus days of tiny towns filled with churches and trailer homes, Dollar Generals and Subways, junkyards and faded dreams still hurts on my insides and even though I picked out the velvety, buttery lettuce leaves that were still good, the cucumber was mushy and the olives were shriveled in the can. And I want an avocado this time, a good one, perfectly ripe and sprinkled with pepper, because I know that with a delicious, creamy bite of green my cells will start to perk up like the trailing leaves of my Senecio radicans which went too long without water as I sat in a motel for days and sobbed with the drizzly sky.
Outside my room-with-a-view, a Taco Bell sign insisted on glowing purple and white through the rain, through the ice, through the sleet and snow, through the whipping wild winds, through the curtains I kept pulling tight around my window as we slept because our bodies make us, sometimes; they shut us down when we'd rather just keep trudging our labyrinths of grief.
Bodies are an intriguing thing. I swear the fifteen new gray strands of hair above my husband's right ear were not there fourteen days ago. That our eyes themselves have seen the purple / gray / black bruise of death and how can our clear blues hold it? So we tuck all we have seen into plum-colored pockets beneath our lower lashes, that spot made hollow just for this. And the heart trudges on, collapsing and filling just like lungs do when all of the sudden it's too much and you can't breathe and the body makes you gulp air because you are still alive and of course you must do this. You must, if only for all the ones who cannot.
There is nothing deeper than the intimacy of grief—it is more intimate than sex, even, that sultry pressing of salt-soaked bodies thrumming and panting, wet with hunger, and alive. There is nothing more intimate than witnessing the shiva of penance, the way the body tangles itself into knots tucked into the curve of the neck or hidden like a golf-ball beneath the shoulder-blade. The way the body stoops and sags and falls, yet still carries on in rhythm and shock, going through motions required of you when the voice on the other end of the line says the word autopsy and it just might break the spell. Almost, because really? Each day's helping of mundane and surreal, endlessly unfolding like a packet of tissues that are all wrapped around each other ... how do you escape the spell of that?
Here, just hold the bag, I'll empty the fridge.
Replacing a burned-out lightbulb above the garage door.
Selecting an urn from Amazon Prime to ensure next-day-delivery to the middle of nowhere.
Calling to re-connect the electricity which had been disconnected for non-payment because, well, how can you pay your bills when you're dead?
Calling to have the guy who shut off the water, because the woman who lay dead on her floor in her house at the top of the hill couldn't make a payment on time, to come turn it back on so we could then clean up the house at the top of the hill ...
And then, the wake of rage—mine—towards someone who would go and do this, leave life and leave life with us, the remains of it, tucked into bags and boxes and closets stuffed with papers and stupid shit that all reeks of Sonomas and air-fresheners and clings to my hair, my body, the inside of my car and my man; towards this woman, who once told me she hadn't drank water in seventeen years, who birthed my love and left him with piles of clutter, the hardest decisions, and growing gray-headed loss.
Ten days ago, he gathered up the pink towel the detective or coroner or someone grabbed off the door of her bathroom shower and placed down to soak up the carpet where she lay for two months, in another state alone, like no mother should ever have to do.
And he stuffed it into a big black garbage bag like no son should ever have to do.
Today he writes the obituary for his mother and sends it to me—any ideas on this?
Today I write a list. Candles. Get pictures for the service. We need body-wash. I will get him the lavender plant he wanted from Trader Joe's and will walk the aisles in a labyrinth of rage, and tenderness, and grief, like after we watched the funeral director slip her death-bruised body into a healing womb of fire and sat beside her for a little while, outside the room, as she burned. And then we walked the aisles of Lowe's in Northern Arkansas and men in red vests asked, “Finding everything okay?” in helpful tones, with smiles, while we waited for her ashes to cool and looked for a mantle to hold her.
Today, I will make a salad filled with every color—rich velvet kale green, carrots the shade of a warm evening sun, sweet butter lettuce and avocados the color of spring. Crisp purple slices of cabbage. Nuts the color of earth. On the side I will add some juicy raspberries because they are my favorite—and blueberries, for him. I will taste life. I will feed my husband life.
What else is there?
Note...I am re-publishing this on the one-year date of that first moment, of that phone call in Target. It's hard to believe it's been a year. And it feels like a thousand lifetimes ago.