I‘m still alive, so it’s not over.
It is the 15th anniversary of my husband’s death.
Throughout our life together, he received a poem from me for his birthday, Valentine’s Day, and our wedding day. I honor him on his death day with the habit of a poem.
Now, like everything else, since he died, it’s less, it’s fewer, it’s not the same. It’s just the one on the date he died. And this is one I made no copy of.
I write it, sit by the river, whatever river is available, read it, torch it, launch it. Then I drink the entire bottle of champagne – the first time, a gift for the occasion from my neighbor, and eventually my own prop. For years, the river was the Raccoon outside Jefferson, Iowa, where he and I grew up. Then it was the tributary to the Peace River, Alligator Creek, in front of my Florida house. This 15th memorial is on the Truckee River in downtown Reno, Nevada, today.
This is the first time I am accompanied; my son and daughter-in-law come with me, and so it is an entirely new experience from my usual private and continuing love affair. We park near and walk down three layers of steps where the homeless are readying for their night by the river after a very warm summer day. We cross a plaza and find steps right to the flow of the truly beautiful Truckee.
I read the poem aloud as usual. My audience cries. I do not, although because our son is with me, I think I am out of breath with emotion. I slide the little poem into the paper boat and torch it off. I give it a soft launch into the stream.
Immediately, the poem falls out and dives to the bottom of the Truckee. We all laugh. Only about four feet down, rock bottom, it settles. The fire goes out on the abandoned boat as it swirls stupidly in an eddie, as if confused because it lost its cargo. My son leans out over the rocky river, reaching for the boat, as my daughter in law holds his other arm as he nudges the water-logged vessel into the mainstream. We follow it about half a block till it sinks in 6 feet, where it will drift along helplessly over the rocks and sand, disintegrating long before it reaches the Truckee’s destination in Pyramid Lake, 40 miles away.
As champagne now gives me a headache, we leave for the Irish pub, Ceol, down the street, for whiskey, a shot of Tullamore Dew in honor of the dead.
As I write this in bed, I am smiling, and happy for the gift of family honoring their dad with me. I hope I can do this each year from now on rather than alone. People tell me I’m alone too much, but what’s a woman to do?
Over the years, I made a copy of some of the poems before I went off to the Viking-inspired watery ritual; many times, I forgot to replicate the masterpiece, so many poems are truly gone with the current. One that I wrote soon after he died was a diatribe against him rather than the more appropriate ones missing him, lauding him. I was at the angry stage of my grieving, at his leaving me, at my having to deal with the bank and the insurance and the automotive garage who saw me comin’ every time.
Here is the anger poem I wrote so my beloved could be sorry he left me:
A drive in the country
She drives fast.
Tears dribble off her chin annoyingly.
And she curses: goddamnsonofabitchbloodyasshole.
She clenches her teeth.
She two-wheels it around the corner onto the gravel road.
Small rocks spitting out behind her, echoes of her cusswords.
She misses Wanda Zim’s government mail truck, floors the accelerator.
Speeding up to 65 through the high-corn intersection of County Road 10.
She bores down on his unbelievably darling face.
Wishing he were jay-walking in front of her.
She smiles as she bounces him off her hood.
Then cries again, a sheeting rain that blinds her.
Soaks her bosom, racks her from inside out.
She stops the car,
hunching over the wheel near Hardin Creek, about a mile from town.
The opposite of love is not hate, like above: that was a true passion. Indifference is the opposite of love.
In all these years of lacking an important person in my life, I have never been indifferent to him. I still love him and hate him as of old, when we were young, when we were middle-aged, obviously when he died. It makes me laugh now, reading that old poem. He would have loved it and asked me once again why women were so devious, loving my answer, “Because we have to deal with men.”
There is no room in life for him now. He would hate the once-President who drives his golf cart on the greens. He would grouse around because he couldn’t drink 24 cups of coffee a day. He would say about once a month, “Hey, let’s leave it all. Let’s go on the road.” He will have forgotten that we did.
I’m on the road to him now. Always. We’ll be meeting at the OId and Ancient; he waiting with a cup of coffee for himself, and a beer for me. It’s a plan. It’s a goal. Indifference never entered the relationship between him and me, in life or in death.