By now, all I have as evidence of how much Ben loved me is how quickly he knew he wanted to marry me. I honestly think that if ana says kevin has already started talking about marriage I will lose the only piece of life I have left in me. “no.” she shakes her head. “that’s not it.”
“Then what is it, ana? Why are you doing this to me?” “What am I doing to you?” she finally explodes. “I haven’t done anything to you. all I did was meet someone I like and try to share it with you. Just like you did months ago to me and I was happy for you!”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t widowed at the time.”
“You know what, elsie? you don’t have to be a widow every second of every day of your life.”
“Yes, ana, I do.”
“No, you don’t. and you think you can just tell me to f**k off because you think I don’t know anything, but I know you better than anyone. I know you sit here at home alone and think about what you’ve lost. I know it consumes you. I know that you keep his things around like they are a f**king medal for how tortured you are.”
“You know what—” I start, but she interrupts me. “no, elsie. I’ll tell you what. everyone may tiptoe around you, myself included, but at some point someone needs to remind you that you lost something you only had for six months.
Six months. and I’m not saying this isn’t hard, but it’s not like you’re ninety and you lost your life partner here.you need to start living your life and letting other people live theirs. I have the right to be happy. I didn’t lose that right just because your husband died.”
It’s quiet for a moment, as I look at her with my mouth wide open in shock.
“And neither did you,” she adds, and she walks out the door. I stand there for a few minutes after she leaves, frozen.then I reanimate. I walk into the back closet and find the pillow I stuffed in a trash bag right after he died, the pillow that smells like him. I just stand there, smelling it through the open hole at the top of the bag, until I can’t smell anything anymore.
Ana calls me over and over again during the week, leaving messages that she’s sorry. that she should never have said those things. she leaves text messages saying much the same. I don’t answer them, I don’t answer her. I don’t know what to say to her because I’m not mad at her. I’m embarrassed. I’m lost.
I did only know Ben for six months. I didn’t even celebrate a birthday with him. I only spent January to June with him. How well can you really love someone if you haven’t seen him through an august or an autumn? this is what I was afraid of. I was afraid that because I hadn’t known Ben long, I hadn’t known him well. I think I needed someone to say it to me before I could really think about it. and after thinking about it, over the course of the week I avoid ana, I decide that that theory is wrong. It doesn’t matter how long I knew him. I loved him. I still love him.
Then I think that maybe it is time to start putting his things away, because if I did love him, if our love was real, and it did matter, then what is the harm in putting some of his things in boxes? right? I’ll be okay, right?
I don’t call ana to help me. I’m not sure I could look her in the eye. Instead, I call susan. When she answers the phone, she immediately asks about the marriage certificate, and I have to admit that I have not called the county yet. I tell her that I didn’t have enough time, but that is a lie. I did have the time. I just know that if they tell me they do not have a record of our marriage, I will not be able to move his things into storage. I know it will make me hold on tighter to his old clothes and toothbrush. I need to believe the government knows we were married. otherwise, I’ll have to prove it to myself in arbitrary and pathetic ways. I am trying to move forward. I am trying to make arbitrary and pathetic things of the past.
ben was sweaty. It was a hot spring day. I had all of the windows open in the apartment; the door had been open for the past few hours as we hauled things up the front stairs. there was no point in turning on the air conditioner. all the cold air would have just flown right out the front door. I threw Ben a bottle of water as he headed down the stairs for another round of boxes.
“Thanks,” he said to me as he hit the sidewalk.
“Almost done!” I said.
“Yeah, but then I have to unpack everything!”
“Well, sure, but we can do that slowly, you know? over the course of a few days if you want.”
Ben made his way to the moving truck and started pushing boxes toward the back edge. I played with a few of them to see which one was lightest, and then I took that one. I knew that the proper way to face a challenge was head-on, and in that spirit, I should have taken the heavy ones first, but my arms had started to quiver and my legs were feeling unreliable. It had been a full day of unpacking and unloading, after a full night of packing and loading. I was starting to phone it in, and I was all right with that.
With the lightest box, a box that was still rather heavy, in my hands, I made my way up the stairs. as I got to the door, Ben called to me. “What did you do?” he asked. “take the lightest box you could find?”
“It’s not all that light, you know! you should pack better next time!”
“I’m hoping there won’t be a next time,” he yelled up at me. I was inside, setting the lightest heavy box down on the floor. I was trying to bend from the knees or whatever, but I finally just plopped it down on top of the others using what muscles I had left in my back.
“I just mean if we move someplace together.” I was waiting at the door, holding the screen open for him. He walked up the stairs, straight past me, and put down his box. We started to walk out together. We were both out of breath, albeit me more so than him.
“This hasn’t taught you anything about the perils of moving?” he asked, as he rushed ahead.
“No, you’re right,” I said. “We should stay here forever. I don’t ever want to move another thing.”
The sun started to set as we brought in the last of it. this was the beginning of something. We could both feel it. It was us against the world.
“Do you think you’ll be able to handle my dirty dishes?” he asked with his arm around me, kissing my head.
“I think so,” I replied. “do you think you can handle the fact that I always want it to be ninety degrees in the house?”
“No,” he said. “But I will learn.”
I kissed his neck because it was as far as I could reach. My calves didn’t have the power to get me any higher. Ben moaned. It made me feel powerful to elicit that type of reaction without even meaning to. It made me feel like one of those women that oozes sex appeal in even the simplest of tasks. I felt like the Cleopatra of my apartment.
I rubbed my nose further into his neck. “stop it,” he said falsely, as if I was doing something tawdry. “I have to return the truck by seven.”
“I wasn’t trying anything!” I said.
“Yes, you were! I’m too tired!”
“I wasn’t trying anything, really. I’m tired too.”
“Okay! Fine!” he said, grabbing me and pulling me toward my bedroom. our bedroom. It was now filled with his stuff on the floor and resting against the walls.
“No, really. I’m so tired.”
And just like that the tides shifted. “Fine! I’ll do all the work,” he said. He laid me on the bed and lowered himself on top of me. “I love you,” he said, kissing my cheeks and my neck. “I love you so much. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
“I love you too,” I said back to him, but I don’t know if he heard me. He had started to focus on other things.
Thirty minutes later, I was naked and leaning over him, resting his head on a pillow and asking if he wanted me to take him to the hospital.
“No! no,” he said. “I think I just threw out my back.” “Isn’t that what old men do?” I teased him.
“look at how much crap I lifted today!” He winced in pain.
“Can you get me my underwear?”
I got up and gave it to him.then I put on my own. I wrapped my bra around me and threw on a t-shirt.