|Cardinal (M.A. Reilly, 2011)|
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Before morning arrives, the riotous call of birds wakes me from the first true slumber I can recall knowing in months. There is an odd joy in being able to be wakened. It's been more than 9 months since Rob slept in this bed and yet, I still sleep only on my side, preserving that which cannot be preserved. I listen as the rain falls lightly beyond the wide opened bedroom windows. In these moments between night and day, time is best measured by the rise of darkened shadows against the far bedroom wall as the whole room seems to breathe and gradually lighten. Where are you, Rob? Where are you?
Most nights my sleep is a very muddled affair; interrupted by a restlessness that keeps me company night and day. I am in a constant state of anticipation.
And today will be no different--a day spent with Jane, walking beside her in woods, by ponds, and through gardens where the peonies are already starting to bud. Everything is too early this year. Too brazen. Too bright.
I realize as we walk that the excited flutter I keep feeling is me anticipating Rob returning home as if he has been away for a weekend, or has spent the night before at a hotel he found just off the interstate in Maryland and is now heading North, heading home. These thoughts flash like bits of sharp light--momentarily seen--only to be blinded by the more difficult truth: My husband is never coming home.
"I want him to come home," I blurt out, surprised too by my outburst as Jane turns towards me. And before she can speak, I am recanting.
"No, No, I don't. I don't want him to return to that bed."
Jane nods, confessing how she too hated the hospital bed Rob lived in for the last 21 days of his life--how she hated the way it filled the whole first floor of the house like some cancerous growth.
"Wherever you sat or stood you could see that bed and Rob in it," Jane tells me. And for the first time I see how my husband's illness and death has weighed on her.
After Rob came home to die, he would say to me most mornings, "Okay, help me to stand up so I can get into the bathroom." He would say this as he tried to lift the weight of his body from the mattress as if he might actually sit up on his own.
Each morning I would gently remind him what he wanted to forget: he had lost the capacity to walk two months earlier.
"Just help me up then. Help me to stand," he would say forcibly.
"I can't, Rob. You can't stand up."
He would look confused, baffled and now and then he would say how he must have forgotten.
"I forgot. Imagine that. I forgot."
Much later in the day after Jane and I have returned home, we are drinking wine on the side patio in the too perfect spring dusk. And I feel grateful when the wind picks up and the air chills, sending me inside to retrieve an Irish shawl I can only imagine Rob must have bought for me some years earlier.
Why can't I recall the simplest of things?
And returning to the patio, shawl in hand, Jane and I will laughed as she reminds me of the sheer absurdity of how we sat in her car in the darkened parking lot of a neighborhood Starbucks an hour or so after Rob died, waiting for Devon to return to the car with some water for each of us. I had forgotten all that. I must confess that I have forgotten more than any wife can remember or bear. Even now, I am hearing my brother send us from the house that evening so Devon and I would not be there when the men from the funeral parlor, the men sent to retrieve my husband's body, arrived.
Across from me, across the span of lawn and late day light I watch as a cardinal resettles itself on three separate branches in a thicket of trees that edge our property. I pull the shawl closer. Where are you Rob?
I look for signs as I walk each morning, each evening. I look for signs of my husband as I sit with a glass of wine in hand as if the atoms that made up his corporeal self might now be bits of sky, or leaves, or the sudden movement of a cardinal's wing in flight.