The Kids Are Alright

I awake in the middle of the night to find Susan in bed next to me.

I stay silent, because I somehow know that if I say anything she will dissolve into the darkness, and so I simply snuggle up to her. I can spoon her because she can lie on her side again, no bags or tubes to get in the way, forcing her to sleep on her back. I drift back to sleep burrowed in the scent of her hair.

It’s a recurring dream that returns to me a few times a month. The circumstances and settings differ, but each time she wasn’t there, and then suddenly she is. In the previous Suddenly Susan dream I was on a train platform (I know, Freudians would have a field day with this one), when I turned and there she was. Again, we never speak, but I wrap my arms around her and hold her tightly, knowing that when that train pulls away she’ll be on it and I won’t.

Now here’s the interesting bit, and the reason I’m telling you this at all. These dreams don’t devastate me. They don’t even make me particularly sad or leave me longing to have her back. They leave me, well, not “resigned” exactly, and not “reconciled” either. But something very near both of those words. Before I started having them if you’d asked me to predict my reaction to these dreams I would have imagined myself fetally clutching my knees in the empty bed, a rocking, weeping wreck of desolation.

But that’s not the case at all. I awake from these dreams kind of oddly comforted. Soothed and consoled in a way. It’s been four and a half months since Susan died, and the original, visceral pain has abated. It’s no longer omnipresent and unyielding. If the first weeks and months were a raging river of grief, now there’s just a gentle stream of sadness that flows through my daily life. It’s not necessarily unpleasant, this stream; it’s clear and cool and flecked with shreds of sunlight.

Not that we’re no longer subject to the weepies. At G’s last football match he was clutching his chest, winded and wheezy and clearly suffering. In the last 10 minutes he had to pulled out and replaced. I suspected that the problem was at least as emotional as physical.

While he was home taking a shower after the match, I heard a thin “Daaaddyyy” issuing from the bathroom. I went in to check on him, and found him standing under the stream of the shower, sobbing uncontrollably. I pulled him out, wrapped a towel around his shaking body, carried him to my bed, and just held him for the 10 or so minutes it took for the weeping to subside to whimpering. I asked him if he’d been crying because he’d been thinking about his mom. He was. He was thinking about how much he wanted her to be able to watch him playing. So I told him about the last time I’d cried thinking about Susan.

It was at his previous football (soccer) match. Watching him play I got a little misty-eyed, and suddenly knew one thing for certain: If he scored, I was going to cry. There was no real logic to this, but it was like propositional calculus. If he scores I will be emotional. If I’m emotional I will cry. Therefore, if he scores, I will cry. And, of course, the little bastard did. And then I did.

So I told him about this. And we had a little cry together, agreeing that one of the hardest aspects of all of this was recognizing all of the things that Susan would miss. The things she was missing at that very moment. The improbable mid-air kick that sent the ball into the back of the net. The spring sunlight, the celebration, the sea crashing on the shore behind the stadium. She is no longer around to experience any of this, and that, to us, is inexpressibly sad.

But the weepies are increasingly rare around here. I still will think “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Susan…” from time to time, but the thought brings on a rueful grin rather than a stab of regret.

And now a confession: I have no idea how to end this, or even what I want to say. Generally when I write something I like to wrap it up with a nice little bow. Make it poignant and pretty. Maybe bring it back round to the beginning to provide some satisfying sense of closure. But I don’t know where to go from here.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that we’re okay. I can shop at our local supermarket without breaking down in the household cleaning aisle. The store manager doesn’t have to come over the intercom to announce, “Cleanup, we’ve got a weeper in aisle 3.” I can even, as I just did this morning, admire the calla lillies blooming outside our agrobotiga, recall that they were Susan’s favorites and that our home in Mexico was often decorated with them, and feel gratefully nostalgic instead of achingly hollow.

Perhaps uncertainty is appropriate when talking about the vagaries of my sleeping subconconscious. I never know where or when Susan is going to show up, maybe in our bed, or on a train platform, or in a field of poppies. So honey, maybe I’ll see you tonight. I hope so. And even if we don’t talk in these dreams, I just want you to know, the kids and I, well, we’re all right.


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