The unfinished business of losing a loved one

Sometimes I forget Janice died. I sleep in our bed, and I see the same pictures on the walls and the same miscellaneous stuff in the driveway, and I forget that she’s not here; I’m getting so used to what is. She’s never here; that’s the default. And then something reminds me that she used to be right here with me, and it can take my breath away.

When I was about 11, Louis and Neal and I were walking down State Street going home for lunch, and Louis began twirling around while he walked with his arms stretched out—a goddamn helicopter. As he got near me, he made a fist and hit me in my solar plexus or thereabouts, doubling me over and emptying my lungs. I’d been chestized.

For a few seconds I felt clearly that I might have breathed my last, which wasn’t so bad except that I didn’t get a chance to get ready for it, to get set with my feet planted and my attention focused. Not, “The next one will be your last breath, so make the most of it.” More like, “Oh, that last breath was your last one. I hope you weren’t multitasking.” That’s how I feel: empty for good.

I know she’s dead; I watched her go. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, though, or looking for the end of the sentence. It feels like a song that’s cut off just as it gets to a good part.

Here’s another example. You know how when you stop a car there’s a point when motion ceases and the car and everything in it rebounds slightly in the opposite direction? Sudden stops cause the most extreme reactions. Once as a teenager I was driving and Big Bob was riding shotgun, although we didn’t call it that then. On a whim, as I came up to a light that was turning red, I slowed down as gradually and smoothly as I could, such that we drifted to a stop so gently that there was no detectable point when our motion ended. We felt the same as a few seconds before when we were moving, and we were stock still.

Big Bob went nuts. He could hardly speak and he didn’t have to, because I knew what he was on about since I was nuts myself. I released the brake so the car moved a couple of feet, and then I jammed on the brake for that satisfying jerk to confirm that we had stopped. I want that jerk.