Wednesday night my sister Angela called and asked if I had plans for Good Friday, Saturday, or Easter. “I might be filling a dumpster,” I answered, and I’m sure she wondered if I had gone over the edge. Yesterday after the dumpster was delivered, I pulled the old carpeting off the porch and threw it in, then grabbed some wood from a desk my son had destroyed. I relished the sound of the heavy boards hitting the bottom of the metal dumpster and threw the next ones in harder, practically slamming them into the trash receptacle. I began crying, then laughing, as I imagined the curtains of nearby houses being pulled back and the residents of our neighborhood whispering to each other about the crazy widow down the street. Widow, widow, widow, the word taunted me. I opened the garage door, looking for more things to throw away. I wanted glass, or mirrors to shatter. Tears poured down my cheeks as I surveyed the garage; the cluttered shelves, the empty flower pots my husband had collected. I thought back to David’s last three weeks before his heart attack, when he’d spent several hours out there; a radio playing. “I got a lot done today,” he’d announced one afternoon. Surveying the garage yesterday, I wondered, where? Where had he gotten cleaning done? The state of the basement and the garage had been the bane of his existence. It had become overwhelming. There had to be four coffee pots in the basement that barely dripped, and yet David saved them “in case.” I tried not to nag him in any way after his cancer treatment, but the build-up of junk did bother me. He knew that. So I was glad it was his idea when on the way home from the hospital he’d said, “Let’s get a dumpster soon and clean up. I won’t be able to do much, though.” He smiled when I told him he could sit on the porch and order us around.
This morning started out as one of the Good Days. Before the children were even awake, I’d printed out a speech to work on, revised an essay I’d begun while David was in the hospital, and started my Sunday column. I’m writing! I’m writing! was the joyful refrain inside my head.
Then I went to Wal-Mart with the girls. Standing in the Easter aisle, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t care less about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. “Hi, how are you doing?” a woman I’d once interviewed approached. A woman who had been married over 50 years. A woman who still had her husband.
“Not very good,” I replied carefully. What is the proper protocol for these situations? Was I just supposed to answer “fine?”
“What’s wrong?” she asked, and when I told her my husband had passed away, she was genuinely sympathetic. The rest of the shopping trip was a blur. I know I sobbed in the car afterwards and Emily ran into the grocery store for the eggs because I couldn’t seem to stop the flow of tears.
I decided to use my sadness as an impetus to clean the basement. The first two or three trips out to the dumpster were easy; an old office chair, some broken plastic tote lids, a torn rug that had gone through the flooding in the basement. When I entered the corner room of the basement, I suddenly wanted to turn back. This was David’s domain, and surprisingly well-organized; lined up on the shelves were rusty-lidded cans of paint, a dozen spray cleaners that he’d confiscated when they were thrown out at work, and empty water bottles I’d discarded that he’d evidently plucked from the garbage. I was overwhelmed with sorrow at how my thrifty husband held onto things I would so easily toss. My eyes lit on the glass jars in a corner. When the sanitation company informed Manchester residents they would no longer take glass in the recycling, I’d casually dropped my jars into our kitchen trash. I’d recently caught David removing a pickle jar and asked him what he was doing. “I’m going to take them somewhere,” he’d mumbled.
Evidently, the basement was “somewhere.” I filled a box with the jars and headed up the stairs to the garage. My feet felt leaden as I walked towards the dumpster outside. With a grunt, I hurled them over the side, and was heartened when I heard the shattering, and saw sharp pieces of glass hit the sides of the container. I was surprised at the anger that assailed me. Who was I angry at? Certainly not my gentle husband who would not have chosen to leave me or the children. Not God, who had blessed me with those bonus five years after David’s cancer. Was I angry at myself? I’d sometimes teased David about his frugal ways, removed his precious pie tins when I knew he was saving them for something. I didn’t always understand his penchant for saving everything, even as he didn’t understand all my idiosyncracies. Had I hurt his feelings at times? I suddenly couldn’t stand to have hurt him in any way. I should have loved him more, treated him better! I railed at the skies, even as I knew I couldn’t have loved him any more than I had, and he had known how much I cherished him. One thing we could thank the cancer for was that each of us had learned to treat the other in the best way we knew how, short of kissing each other’s feet, and we’d even been known to do that on occasion.
The anger dissipated as quickly as it had come.
I went into the house to make a cup of tea, with a fresh sense of loss. David had made 75% of the cups of tea in our house for the last year or two.
I’ll get back to the garage and the basement, but not alone.
And here I’d thought it would be the clothing that would be so difficult.