Chapter 1: Since I Last Saw You
“And it’s going to be a day. There is really no way to say ‘no’ to the morning.”
~ Dan Fogelberg
February 13, 2012
Ali was slow to wake this morning. The clock claimed it was 7:13 a.m., but the room was still dark. Why, she wondered, were the shades drawn? She always left them open when she went to bed so she would wake with the morning sun. Isaac had long ago acquiesced to her preference for morning light, even though he preferred to delay his own waking as long as possible.
Isaac. Zoe. For those first few merciful moments after waking, she had forgotten that Isaac and Zoe were gone. Forgotten that her life was irrevocably changed. Forgotten that the future she and Isaac had so carefully planned was now an unattainable wish.
How, she wondered, could we both have taken for granted how fragile life is? A wave of physical and emotional pain enveloped her, sending her back under the down comforter, where she gratefully fell back to sleep.
An hour later, as she slowly reawakened to her new reality, it seemed to Ali as if every emotion she had ever felt and every experience she had ever had, had become like colored shards of memory forming a kaleidoscope in her brain. The pieces, though vivid in her mind, collided and changed so rapidly that she wasn’t able to make sense of the patterns they formed. She felt dizzy, off-balance, and nauseous.
Reluctantly, Ali sat up, pulled back the covers and set her feet on the floor. Looking across the room, she saw her reflection in the vanity mirror. The beguiling, Cheshire grin that was Ali’s hallmark, was nowhere to be found, but her dark, thick mane brushed her shoulders as usual. She was glad to see that her bangs camouflaged the creases that seemed to have appeared on her forehead overnight. I guess this is what a forty-two year old widow looks like, she thought to herself. Then she burrowed back down under her comforter, praying that it would live up to its name.
She wondered again about who had drawn the bedroom curtains. Hearing the familiar rattle of teacups coming from her kitchen, Ali knew she wasn’t alone. Several friends and relatives had offered to stay and keep her company in this home she no longer shared with anyone, but who had actually spent the night? Ali tried to remember the previous evening, but she couldn’t think clearly.
A moment later, she heard a light knock on the bedroom door. “Come in,” she responded, more out of habit than any real desire to see anyone.
“I didn’t wake you, did I? I thought I heard you stirring.” Of course it was Gwen who spent the night. How could Ali not have guessed that?
“Would you like some coffee or something to eat?”
Ali’s stomach convulsed at the thought of eating, but she was also conscious of feeling weakened by a lack food. Eating had not been a priority, or even a desire, since the accident three days earlier.
Had it really been just three days? Hadn’t Isaac and Zoe already been gone for a lifetime?
“Thanks, Gwen, but I don’t want anything just now. I’ll eat something after I shower and get dressed.” If I shower and get dressed, she thought to herself.
Gwen entered the room, sat on the edge of the bed, and took Ali’s hand in her own. “How are you feeling this morning? I know that’s kind of a lame question, but I don’t know what else to say. I guess that’s pretty ironic since I write greeting cards for a living.”
Ali didn’t answer right away. She was grateful that Gwen was the kind of friend who could tolerate silence, because answers to even the simplest of questions didn’t come quickly or easily now.
How are you feeling? How many times had she already been asked that question since the accident, by well-meaning friends and family, not to mention medical personnel and police officers? Gwen was right to ask it, Ali thought. It is the requisite question at times like this, and although probably less perfunctory than when asked during the course of an ordinary day, she always felt unable to come up with an accurately descriptive answer. And today was no exception.
“I’m fine. I’m okay.” Those answers weren’t exactly lies, but they weren’t exactly the truth either—at least, not the whole truth. It seemed strange to Ali that it should take so much effort to answer a simple question, especially when the answer didn’t really matter. I am how I am, she thought.
“I feel . . .” she began slowly, “I feel as if I am drifting through time and space, like the pictures you see of astronauts floating around their spaceships in zero gravity.”
It’s true, she thought to herself, the law of gravity no longer applies to me. Isaac and Zoe kept me grounded. Without them, I expect that I may just float away.
“Is that a good feeling or a bad feeling?” Gwen asked.
“I’m not sure,” Ali confessed. “More good than bad, I guess. It’s like the out-of-body experiences people describe when they die on the operating table. Like I’m watching myself, but I can’t really feel anything.”
Ali fell silent again for a minute, before continuing. “Numb. I guess ‘numb’ is the best way to describe how I feel. Does numb count as a feeling? I mean, isn’t it the antithesis of a feeling?”
“It counts,” Gwen affirmed, “but I don’t know how long it will last. I hate to state the obvious, my friend, but there is a lot of pain ahead of you, and once it hits, I suspect you’ll wish you could feel numb again.”
Gwen’s prediction was devastatingly accurate. In the days and weeks that followed, Ali suffered one painful emotion after another—sadness, anger, confusion, disbelief, and despair. Sometimes a single feeling lingered for days, until she knew it intimately. More often, several different facets of pain combined, forming an emotional cyclone that gathered strength and speed until she was mercifully thrown clear for a while. Sometimes, the respite came from activity—physically putting herself in motion as Isaac had so often done. More often, it came in the form of sleep. She was grateful that sleep had always been her mind and body’s natural coping mechanism during times of stress.
How awful it would be, she thought, to have insomnia when all you want to do is escape from your own thoughts.
Naps, Ali contended, are wasted on the young. She remembered how she used to hate them as a child. When her sister and brother were both old enough to go to school, and it was just Ali and her mother left at home during the day, Ali insisted that she was “too old” for naps. However, by midafternoon each day, it was obvious that she was not.
Mom allowed her youngest daughter to save face by declaring 1 p.m. to be “story hour.” Every Monday morning, the two of them made a trip to the library and brought home a week’s worth of books. Every afternoon, Ali would choose one of the books and climb onto her mom’s lap, where she would inevitably fall asleep during the story telling.
Ali carried on the tradition with her own daughter, Zoe, and now was so grateful that she had. Oh, what she wouldn’t give for the solace of feeling Zoe curled up in her lap once again—or to curl up in her own mother’s lap today.
Ali realized how fortunate she was to have so many caring friends and family volunteering their help. “If there’s anything you need . . .” was a genuine, if vague, offer she had heard many, many times since the accident. It was the same offer she had often made to countless friends in similar unhappy circumstances. Rarely did anyone take her up on it, even though she had also been sincere. Now she understood why.
Opening the drawer of her bedside table, Ali pulled out her leather-bound journal and pen, and began to write.
13 February 2012
Everyone keeps asking me if I need anything. What I need is for someone to tell me what I need. I can’t focus long enough to figure out what I ought to be doing. I’m sure there are all kinds of things to take care of, but I can’t seem to think of what they are. Isaac used to tease me about the endless lists I make to keep myself organized and feeling in control. Now, I can’t even come up with a list, let alone check things off. Being organized just doesn’t seem important anymore. And being in control . . . well, that was always an illusion, wasn’t it?
Ali had purchased this particular journal more than a year earlier. Until recently, it contained only a smattering of innocuous entries. Now, over half the pages were filled with rants, ramblings, questions, and grievances. More than a few pages were stained by her tears.
Just then, the doorbell rang, bringing her out of her reverie and back to the present. Am I expecting someone? She couldn’t remember. She peeked out through the etched-glass side window to see her mother standing on the front porch. Shaking her head in an attempt to clear the fog that so often enveloped her mind these days, she chastised herself, how could I have forgotten that Mom was coming over?
Ali’s entire body relaxed at the sight of her mother, knowing that the only thing separating her from sheer comfort and affection was a few inches of wood.
To purchase and download a digital version of Since I Last Saw You, go to: www.SinceILastSawYou.com
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Posted by Alice Kuder, December 28, 2013