I go places with ana, to flea markets and malls, restaurants and cafés. I’ve even started to let her invite other people. people I haven’t seen for ages. people who only met Ben a few times. they grab my hand and say they’re sorry over brunch. they say they wish they could have known him better. I tell them, “Me too.” But they never know what I mean.

But when I’m alone, I sit on the floor of the closet and smell his clothes. I still don’t sleep in the middle of the bed. His side of the room is untouched. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think two people lived in my apartment.

I haven’t moved his playstation. there is food in the refrigerator that he bought, food I will never eat, food that is rotting. But I can’t throw it out. If I look in that refrigerator and there are no hot dogs, it will just reinforce that I am alone, that he is gone, that the world I knew is over. I’m not ready for that. I’d rather see rotting hot dogs than no hot dogs, so they stay.

Ana is very understanding. she’s the only person that can really get a glimpse of this new life I lead. she stays at her place now, with an open invitation for me to come over anytime I can’t sleep. I don’t go over. I don’t want her to know how often I can’t sleep.

If I can’t have Ben, I can have being Ben’s widow, and I have found a modicum of peace in this new identity. I wear my wedding ring, even though I no longer insist people call me by my married name. I am elsie porter. elsie ross only existed for a couple weeks, at most. she was barely on this earth longer than a miniseries.

I still have not received the marriage certificate, and I haven’t told anyone. every day I rush home from work, expecting it to be waiting for me in the mailbox, and every day, I am disappointed to find a series of credit card offers and coupons. no one alerted the national banks that Ben is dead. If I didn’t have other things to be miserable about, I’m pretty sure this would set me off. Imagine being the kind of woman that gets over her dead husband only to find his name in her mailbox every day. luckily, Ben never leaves the forefront of my mind, so I can’t be provoked into remembering him. I am always remembering him.

I read somewhere to watch out for “triggers,” things that will remind you of your loss right out of the blue. For instance, if Ben loved root beer and had this whole thing about root beer, then I should stay away from soda aisles. But what if I went into a candy store and saw, unexpectedly, that they had root beer and I started crying right there in the store? that would be a trigger. the reason why this is completely irrelevant to me is that root beer doesn’t remind me of Ben. everything reminds me of Ben. Floors, walls, ceilings, white, black, brown, blue, elephants, cartwheels, grass, marbles, yahtzee. everything. My life is trigger after trigger. I have reached a critical mass of grief. so, no, I don’t need to avoid any triggers.

The point, though, is that I am functional. I can get through each day without feeling like I’m not sure I’ll make it to midnight. I know when I wake up that today will be just like the day before, devoid of honest laughter and a genuine smile, but manageable.

Which is why when I hear my own doorbell at 11:00 a.m. on a saturday and I look through my peephole, I think, God dammit. Why can’t everyone just leave well enough alone?”

She’s standing outside my door in black leggings, a black shirt, and a gray, oversize, knit vesty-sweater thing. she’s over sixty f**king years old. Why does she always look so much better than I do?

I open the door.

“Hi, susan,” I say, trying hard to sound like I’m not pissed she’s here.

“Hi.” although, just from the way she greets me, I feel like this is a different woman than the one I met almost two months ago. “May I come in?”

I open the door fully and invite her in with my arm. I stand by the door. I don’t know how long she plans on staying, but I don’t want to imply she should stay longer than she wanted. “Could we talk for a minute?” she asks.

I lead us into the living room.

As she sits, I realize I should offer her something to drink. Is this a custom in all countries? or just here? Because it’s stupid. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask if you’d like to go to lunch,” she says. lunch? “But first, I wanted to bring you something.”

She pulls her purse from over her shoulder onto her lap and sorts through it, pulling out a wallet. It’s not a wallet. I know that wallet; its leather worn down in places by my husband’s fingers and molded around his butt. she hands it over to me, losing her balance slightly as she leans so far forward. I take it from her softly. It might as well be a van Gogh, that’s how delicately I am approaching it.

“I owe you an apology, elsie. I hope you can forgive me. I offer no excuses for my behavior.the way I spoke to you, there is no excuse for being so cold and, truthfully, cruel. I treated you so poorly that I . . . I’m embarrassed about my actions.” I look at her and she keeps talking. “I am incredibly disappointed in myself. If someone treated my child the way I treated you, I would have killed them. I had no right. I just . . . I hope you can understand that I was grieving. the pain in front of me felt so insurmountable, and to learn that my only child didn’t feel comfortable telling me about you . . . I couldn’t face that too. not at that time. I told myself you were crazy, or lying, or . . . I blamed you. you were right when you said I hated you because you were the only one around to hate. you were right. and I knew it then, that’s why I tried so hard to . . . I wanted to make it better, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me to be a kind person.” she stops for a minute and then corrects herself. “even a decent person.”

She looks at me with tears in her eyes, a look of somber and grave regret across her face. this sucks. now I can’t even hate her.

“It’s awful to say, but I just . . . I wanted you as far away from me and as far away from Ben as possible. I think I thought if you’d just go away, then I could deal with the loss of my son and I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I lost a part of him a long time before he died.”

She looks down at her own knees and shakes her head. “that’s not . . . that’s not what I came here to talk about. never mind. anyway, I wanted you to have his wallet and this.”

She pulls his wedding ring out of her purse.

I was wrong.

I do have triggers.

I start crying. I put that wedding ring on him myself, my hand shaking while his was steady as a rock. I remember seeing it on him the next day thinking that I never knew how sexy a wedding ring was on a man until it was my ring, until I put it there.

She comes over to me on the couch and holds me. she takes my left hand and she puts the ring into it, balling my fingers up into a fist as she holds me.

“Shh,” she says. “It’s okay.” she puts her head on top of mine. My head is buried in her chest. she smells like a sweet, flowery, expensive perfume. she smells like she’s worn the same perfume for forty years, like it’s molded to her. like it’s hers. she is warm and soft, her sweater absorbing my tears, whisking them away from my face and onto her. I can’t stop crying and I don’t know if I ever will. I feel the ring in my hand, my palm sweating around it. My fist is so tight that my fingers start to ache. I let my muscles go, falling into her. I can hear myself blubbering. I am wailing loudly; the noises coming out of me feel like blisters. once I have calmed, once my eyes have gotten control of themselves again, I stay there. she doesn’t let go.

“He loved you, elsie. I know that now. My son wasn’t a very romantic person, but I doubt you ever knew that. Because he was clearly very romantic with you.”

“I loved him, susan,” I say, still stationary, inert. “I loved him so much.”

“I know you did,” she says.

“He kept a copy of his proposal in his wallet. did you know that?”

I perk up. she hands the paper to me, and I read it.

“Elsie, let’s spend our lives together. let’s have children together and buy a house together. I want you there when I get the promotion I’ve been shooting for, when I get turned down for something I’ve always hoped for, when I fall and when I stand back up. I want to see every day of your life unfold. I want to be yours and to have you as my own. Will you marry me? Marry me.”