A couple of months ago on my way home from church, I passed the track of the middle school that's located right near our house. In the fleeting glimpse, all I saw was an old man walking around it. There's a story there I thought. I quickly got ideas about how he had just lost his wife and while walking around, he was thinking back on their life together. The fact that a track being circular (or oval-shaped) would be symbolic. Today, I finally sat down to write it. No notes other than what I just described. Following is part one. We'll see where it goes from there. Thank you for reading.
I always thought I would be the one that went first. Or at least be like one of those couples where when one dies the other follows soon thereafter of a broken heart.
My heart is broken, but I keep waking up. A resentful breath in my lungs. I’ve been taking more naps than usual – on purpose – hoping the ticking of the mounted clock is the last sound I hear on this earth and the simple-framed picture of you the last vision.
You left a month ago today close to this very hour. Company came and went and the fridge is stocked. So much so I’ll have to give it away or toss it down the food disposal that I talked you into getting. “What about my compost pile?” you had said. “We’re alternate days,” I responded to which you rolled your eyes, but smiled anyway. Showing love came so easy for you. Another reason I thought I’d leave first. What’s the point of one more grumpy, old man taking up so much good oxygen?
Since your departure – other than visiting with guests and napping as much as possible – I’ve done nothing but sit around. Something I used to do and manage to still be active about it. Identifying birds out the window, a puzzle or a good book, but none of that now. Not anymore. The doctor even stopped by on his way home because I wouldn’t answer my phone when his office called for a check-up. “I didn’t hear the phone ring, I’m sorry.”
“Well, you’ve always had good hearing, let’s check your ears anyway.”
“I disconnected my phone.”
“Oh, I see. Well, let me plug that back in for you. I’m sure you have people trying to get a hold of you.”
The doctor, who didn’t even look old enough to drive let alone manhandle the duties his profession entails, exhaled sharply signaling some irritation.
“I jammed the chord down the food disposal.”
He sat back down in front of me without saying a word. I swear he was holding back a laugh. Or gas. I’m not sure which.
“Mr. Fawn, I understand you’ve been through a great ordeal. Losing a spouse is very difficult, but you have to understand she wouldn’t want you to spend your days just sitting around.”
I had a smart-aleck response on the tip of my tongue, but with a finger in the air he saw it coming and cut me off.
He rambled on about some stuff. Muscles blah, blah, blah. Heart blah, blah, blah.
When he finally left I looked at your framed picture, closed my eyes and let the ticking lull me to sleep.
That was a week ago. You’d be proud of me. My stubbornness has kicked in to high gear these last few weeks. I wasn’t going to go exercise because some jean-wearing doctor told me to. I was going to do it on my own terms. And by proud of me I mean you would make that tsk-tsk sound with your tongue, roll your eyes and make some quip about already having hot dates lined up once I’m gone.
“That’s fine!” I said continuing the loving banter. We were always good at that. “As long as it’s not lanky Jonathan that always offers to carry your groceries for you. He’d be no good for you.” Which wasn’t true. He’d be perfect.
We had talked about having companions if one of us were to die. We didn’t want each other to be lonely. Those conversations were short on purpose. I didn’t want to picture you with someone else. I think you felt the same.
I fell asleep on the couch last night and stayed there until morning. I don’t sleep in our bed anymore by the way. It hasn’t been touched since you last made it. Or did I make it? Ha! Good one, right? I miss your laugh.
Despite the awkward position I had myself in, I woke up energized. Not too much, but I felt for the first time since you passed that there was a purpose to the new day. I can’t remember my dream, but maybe it was something in my subconscious that spoke to me during the night. When I woke, I stood immediately. No early-morning lag.
I walked from the living room down the hallway to the spare room I usually sleep in at night and opened the closet door. Reaching up above my dress shirts to the shelf that was filled with puzzles and card games, I grabbed a shoe-box.
You had bought me those sneakers three years ago and I hadn’t touched them since. Not because I didn’t want to, but because that teenage doctor insisted I wear “special” shoes. I didn’t want to wear “special” shoes, but you made me anyway. You had a way of making me do things. Either that or I didn’t want to hear about your list of hot dates again.
They still had the new-shoe smell. I always loved lacing up new shoes. Made me feel like running. Today though, I’ll walk.
Remember all that construction? You wouldn’t let me call and complain. “What do you think they’re gonna do? Stop renovations on the entire school because Mr. Fawn doesn’t like the noise?”
You were always good at making your points. They may have induced some growling on my part, but you were so graceful with everything. Even putting me in my place.
The new track looks really nice. And feels even better. How do they make it so spongy? It circles around a new football field with grass that doesn’t grow. All those years wasted trying to get my mower to run and all I had to do was put fake grass in instead. I know, I know. It’s good exercise.
The gray sky didn’t deter anybody from being there. A father and son were riding bike and a group of ladies wearing very tight pants – too tight if you ask me – jogged together with their gossiping floating away in the gentle breeze. Some kids were playing soccer. I remember the first game you came to see me. You didn’t want me to know you were only there to see me, but I knew. Every time I looked up, you were looking right back at me. Remember we went out for ice cream after that? It was so hot and humid we both had black raspberry liquid wrapping around our hands before our third bite.
The track itself looks bigger than I remember tracks being. But I suppose they only come in one size. I don’t think today I’ll be making it around as quickly as I used to. For the most part, I have accepted the slowing down of things. I’ve accepted that mind and body don’t work like they used to. I’ve accepted that I need to head to the bathroom five-minutes before I realize I need to go. But without you here, things are too slow. Slow and empty.
I stepped on the track with my new sneakers feeling slight trepidation. For a second, but only a second, I considered going back home. My comfort zone. Again, it must’ve been something I dreamed last night because that feeling was quickly replaced with a new feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. Ambition. I wanted to walk the oval. I’d even do it barefoot if I had to. I felt different and although it was scary it was the most I’ve felt alive in five weeks.
I started on the first lane mostly because if I fell, I had a better chance of landing on the fake grass which was quite spongy as well. I checked my laces and then looked up at the oval before me. Then I looked down at my wedding ring and slipped it off my finger. Somehow in the years I’ve worn it, it had become misshapen. Once circular, now oval.
With a big number one a half-step in front of me, I began my walk thinking about our first year together.
To be continued