A Communion

You’re probably wondering why I’m here today. It’s the middle of October—a time of year that holds no significance for us—and the air is cool enough to keep most people inside. This morning began like any other, but before the turn for school I decided I needed to be with you for a while, so I called in sick and kept driving. Eric doesn’t know I’m here. It’s just you and me under this overcast sky, with all these trees changing from green to gold.

I’m still doing alright. School keeps me busy enough, and you would love the students I have right now. They get more precocious every year. When I walked into the classroom the other day, a seventh grade boy told me I looked like a minx. I don’t think he knew what the word means—he probably heard it somewhere and liked the way it sounds—but I laughed regardless. I fancy that in my old age I continue to exude a little something. When I think about what you would look like today I can picture you exactly. You would be fully gray, of course, but not balding. The wrinkles around your eyes would give you an air of refinement. You’d be one of those men who look better with age. You’d look more relaxed.

I don’t see your parents much anymore. I feel bad, but you know it’s difficult. Your mom’s husband makes me uncomfortable with his Republican rants. It’s like being forced to listen to Bill O’Reilly. But at least he takes care of your mom, who sometimes calls early in the morning to tell me about a dream she had about you. She gets so upset, and I can’t let myself join her in that desolation.

The last time I saw your dad I wish I hadn’t. I hate that residential community where he lives. They all spend so much time alone. Nobody touches anybody else, and there are no animals. I hope one of the kids will take me in when I’m that old. Selfish, I know.

Ashley’s driving makes me more nervous than I thought it would. I was determined to not be my mother but I couldn’t stop myself from grabbing the oh-shit handle and slamming an imaginary brake on the passenger side while she discovered the nuances of driving a standard. She was so excited when she passed the exam at the DMV that she actually squealed. I was more serious than I wanted to be when I told her I was sorry, but I had wanted her to fail so she could still be my baby girl for a while. She just scowled. But boy was she proud when they printed her license. I had to blink when she showed me the picture, because there you were. When my eyes got watery she knew what I was thinking. She said she wished you were there, too.

She had a genealogy project at school a few months ago, so we spent an entire Saturday going through pictures of you, your brothers, your parents, and the absurd number of Australian Sheperds your family had when you were a kid. She remembers sitting on your lap while you made the lawn mower go as fast as it could. She remembers me yelling at you from the porch, too, of course. She had never seen pictures of your dogs before, and she asked if we could get an Aussie puppy. I said maybe, and now she takes every opportunity to list all the reasons a dog would enhance our lifestyle.

We had a surprise party for Lucas’s twelfth birthday last week. A bunch of his friends came over, and even though it was unseasonably warm outside, they ended up playing video games in the basement for hours. I hollered down that they needed some vitamin D, and they hollered back that vitamin D was overrated and could I please bring them more Doritos. Eric has become a good father to him. When Lucas becomes quiet and grumpy, which occurs frequently enough now that puberty is here, Eric tells ridiculous knock-knock jokes. When Eric starts the joke, Lucas usually refuses to answer, so Eric responds to himself—Whos there?—and whatever comes after is usually so bad that Lucas can’t help but laugh.

When we talk about you, Lucas’s eyebrows come together. He struggles to feel connected to you, but he tries. He asked me one night when I peeked in his room if I would tell him again about when you taught him how to clap. I explained how you would sing Neil Young songs in your best Neil Young voice—I tried to recreate the experience for him but failed—and how eventually he learned to applaud after you moved his hands together at the end of each performance. I told him you were a ham at heart. He said he likes when I tell him stories about you because they make him feel like he can actually remember.

It is difficult to believe Eric and I have been married for five years now. I still justify our marriage by reminding myself he is somebody you would like. But more than that, you would most appreciate that he has helped bring me back to life. I feel human again. There are still moments, though, when Eric will catch me in a reverie, like when I stare out the window for several minutes after finishing the dishes. He will ask me where I am, and I don’t like doing it, but I’ll lie and tell him I’m just tired or thinking about work. I know he knows, though, because he will lower his eyes and leave me alone for a while.

His ex-wife’s affair ended what he thought was a happy fifteen-year marriage, so you would think he has trust issues, but he says he has faith in me because I understand devastation, and I’m not the kind of person who would intentionally hurt someone else. We need each other in order to be okay. When I was with you, I remember feeling like I was independent and strong.

But now I think that being independent and strong isn’t the point, that maybe all relationships are about lifting each other off the ground, with both the lifter and the lifted understanding that these roles can and will be reversed.

You know I never believed in an afterlife. Even after you died, in all my grief, I tried so hard just to be thankful I had known you, and you had loved me, and you had given me two children. But since your death, each new experience brings some new question, some mystery, and now it’s not so hard to believe that everything lost can actually be found. I don’t know anything beyond that.

Last time I came here was summertime, and the kids came, too. It was nice, of course, but I didn’t feel comfortable speaking like this. I guess I need to be alone with you, and these moments are becoming increasingly rare. That’s probably why I’m here now. There’s so much going on in my life—with school, with the kids, with Eric—and I feel awful when I realize I’ve gone several hours, or even half a day, without thinking about you once. I feel I owe it you to be here. Maybe I owe it to myself.

When I was a child, I used to play and dance with friends in a small cemetery down the road from our house. As I got older, I began to believe like most people that cemeteries are sad and lonely places. And for several years after we buried you this was an unhappy place for me. But these days, especially today, I can feel your presence here more than anywhere else. Maybe because it’s quiet, or maybe because this rolling breeze is like a touch and gives me a chill. Either way, I can feel you.