Preface

 

When Kim and I were preparing to get married we met separately with a priest and a rabbi.

The rabbi asked how we would handle the difficulties in our life.

Kim said she would talk to friends and maybe go for therapy.

I said, I would talk to friends, read books, and probably write.

We thought he was talking about ordinary difficulties.

You know, the problems that married couples go through.

Money. Time. Arguments. The waning and waxing of love and affection. Kids acting up or not doing well in school.

We had no idea.

Thirteen years ago today, our youngest daughter died suddenly.

I don’t know how we survived that.

I know I couldn’t have survived it without Kim.

Also, I wrote.

It helped me.

It turned out it helped others as well.

Two years later I thought I would publish some of the blog posts that I’d posted in that time and I wrote the introduction that you’ll find next.

I wasn’t ready to share it yet, though. Not in a book.

I know that’s odd as I’d already shared it as a blog – but a book felt different.

Two years may feel like a long time after a death.

Most everyone else has moved on.

I can tell you today, thirteen years after Elena died, that two years isn’t as long as you’d think.

Two and a half years ago tomorrow, Kim died.

I don’t know how I’ve survived that.

I don’t know how I possibly survived that without Kim.

A lot of it is the support I’ve gotten from friends, family, colleagues, and strangers.

Also, I wrote.

It helped me.

I’d stopped writing about Elena because it was unfair to Maggie to not be able to live her life without me writing about it.

When Kim died I wrote a little bit more,

I can truthfully say that with the exception of those two days, I’ve been lucky and life has been pretty great.

Anyway.

Seven years after Elena died, I published these first blog posts in an eBook but didn’t really tell anyone.

This time I’m cleaning things up a bit and publishing it both digitally and as a paperback.

Why now?

I don’t know that it matters, but on March 3, 2019, Elena would have turned twenty.

Twenty.

She never even turned seven.

I’m releasing the book on her twentieth birthday.

I can’t give her a gift.

I thought I’d give her as a gift to you.

Published in: on February 22, 2019 at 8:15 am  Comments (5)  

And also

I met a friend for coffee Monday.

She and her husband were like my aunt and uncle growing up.

Even later, my second teaching job was thanks to him recruiting me into the school where he taught.

He’s the one who told me that the ideas that I had as a young man would be better received when I was older.

Same ideas. Same audience. Same messenger. I just needed to be older for them to listen.

I thought of that recently when I connected Maggie to one of our colleagues at that school. Maggie is the same age I was when I started teaching at Laurel School for Girls.

Anyway, Monday I was having coffee with his wife.

His widow.

A couple years ago I gave a keynote at a bunch of conferences where I talked about him and his memorial service.

At one point during our meeting over coffee I mentioned that I felt cheated.

She nodded.

She knew exactly what I meant.

“We both had good marriages,” she said, “with good people.”

I nodded.

She then told a story of being out with friends soon after her husband died. Everywhere she looked there seemed to be older couples walking together – enjoying the day together.

She felt cheated.

That’s the future she and her husband should have had.

I nodded.

I knew exactly what she meant.

But this isn’t a story about that.

Not exactly.

I proposed to Kim twenty-six years ago today.

I almost chose another day because Valentine’s Day is such a cheesy day to choose. But Kim is so bad with dates, I wanted to choose a date she’d remember.

Spoiler alert.

She said “yes”.

We never really celebrated Valentine’s Day after that.

You’d think we would.

It’s the anniversary of the date we got engaged.

But Kim had known long before I proposed that we would get married and I’d known for a while.

Also, there are so many days during the year that you can celebrate. You don’t have to wait for the day you’re supposed to.

We’d exchange cards and sometimes exchange gifts – but we didn’t want to restrict it to just Valentine’s Day.

There are so many days to celebrate.

Our first date.

The first time we cooked a meal together.

Our first late night conversation that neither of us wanted to end.

The first time we walked over during our lunch break to walk around Wade Oval and visit the art museum.

Our first real kiss.

The first time we were intimate. And the last time.

The day we met Maggie. The day we met Elena.

As the first anniversary of Elena’s death approached how February became our month of eating cookies.

Some time around Valentine’s Day, Kim came home and asked, “did you see it?”

“What?”

“The tree in Jan and Elena’s garden,” she said.

I shook my head.

“It’s full of valentine hearts,” she said.

We walked down to see it.

One of Elena’s classmates and his mother had made hearts and hung them on the trees.

I had also bought Kim yellow roses with a touch of orange. The same roses I’d bought her when she had just given birth to Elena.

It didn’t mean that we were now celebrating Valentine’s Day.

But sometimes you need a nudge from a tradition to start celebrating again even when you’re not much in the mood to celebrate.

Kim and I still bought each other things on non-official days, but we took a break halfway through our month of eating cookies for Valentine’s Day.

A couple of days away from cookies.

A couple of days for chalky, stale, candy hearts.

Sometimes we’d get each other a gift.

Sometimes not.

Mostly, she’d look forward to a trip we were going to take together and suggest that that be our gift to each other.

But our last Valentine’s Day she bought us something special.

She bought us something to say she still loved our time together and valued the physical part of our relationship as well.

When you’re married more than twenty years, it’s really nice to know that.

First thing each day I would reach out to touch her when I would pass her in the kitchen in the morning.

She’d roll her eyes at me.

I’d do it throughout the day. A hand on her shoulder as she read the paper. A palm on her hip as I moved around her to put a pot on the stove. A hand that might slip to where it didn’t belong while we stood in the kitchen talking about the day.

She’d roll her eyes at me.

But she’d smile.

I told her she’d be upset if I ever stopped reaching for her.

“Try me,” she said. But she didn’t mean it.

As we aged, added wrinkles, and pounds, some of my favorite memories were of her hand on my back as she came up behind me as I cooked dinner.

And as we aged our bodies changed.

She hated the way her skin was beginning to change.

She thought it was beginning to look and feel like old lady skin.

It didn’t matter. It was Kimmy’s skin. I would reach over and put my fingers on her cheek as we lay in bed facing each other. She’d smile and then she’d turn back to her book and I’d roll over and go to sleep.

That last Valentine’s Day. That was her gift for us. Something that would help us enjoy moments of intimacy as our bodies changed and aged.

I cried when she gave it to me.

I knew what it must have taken for someone as private as she was to go into the store and buy it.

I knew what it said about how she wanted to live out her days with me.

Who knew we’d have just six months and a week left.

Cheated?

Yes cheated.

We would never be one of those old couples walking together – enjoying the day together.

And also…

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)