Distance of Closeness

Some endings borrow everything—toothpaste, socks, dreams. Some endings are birds in winter, eating their body weight in seed every day. Some endings are frozen lakes you walk across, never reaching the other side.

Other endings live in your fingertips, objects you can touch—spaceship, periscope, clay mask. Dad, come see what I made. His voice falls through you.

At first that’s the hardest part, everything reminding you. Freckles or a dimpled smile, ears that stick out, a boy smell, sweat and flannel.

Anything flannel.

You live through it all again. A wound you don’t want to heal. Then you get tired. Pure fatigue. Your mind’s a thicket and thoughts won’t climb through, his absence cut from winter ice, blue veined, water pockets underneath, your body no longer tethered to the future. Time unwound, unwinding, wrapped around days and meanings that made you feel whole.

Never again.

Without him, our life together appeared to stop. Marriage is all about demands and expectations, and maybe that was what we had left to lose, the right to need each other. Grief is a taut song, pulling north and south, crescendoed climb, edges multiplying beyond ourselves. Not stoic tears, blinked and swallowed, but muscles of water, cheeks an altar.

My wife started going there after the funeral.

“Why Texas, middle of nowhere,” I asked that first time. “When there’s a yoga studio on every corner here?”

“It isn’t Core Power. We meditate. Sit in silence. More like therapy.”

“What if it’s a cult?”

“Oldest Hindu ashram in the United States?” The calm voice that didn’t seem like her real voice. I didn’t trust that voice.

She flew from Minneapolis four times a year, staying three weeks each time to study this particular lineage of yoga and meditation with this particular teacher. She arrived home a little softer, a little less angry.

“Maybe I should come with you next time.” I’d been afraid to ask, afraid she might say no.

“Why? The flights are expensive, and you don’t meditate.” She was folding laundry, making neat piles, his and hers, opposite sides of the bed. “Let me think about it. Some things can’t be shared.”

That pissed me off. We’d been through the worst. I didn’t get how she could grow up in Minnesota, full of Protestant and Catholic grief, and want a whole different philosophy to lead her forward. She bought a prayer shawl and special beads, sat in the sunroom with the doors closed, chanting first, then sitting silent, a meditation app ringing bells every five minutes.

To me it felt desperate.

After the funeral, she never once spoke his name. I wanted to yell at her, “Just say his name.”

“Let me miss him my way,” she told me.

The next day I came home late from the university. Thursdays I taught a graduate seminar in the education department: Social Media: The New Frontier. That afternoon I’d talked about neurological impacts of screen time on children. Flashing through the PowerPoint, I summarized recent studies. “More than two hours of cumulative screen time, and that means television, computer, iPad, and cell phone use combined, studies show children are much more prone to depression and anxiety.” I paused to let them study the graphs and take notes before I continued. “We know screen use changes neuronal connections, but we need more research on type of screen use, Snapchat versus researching penguin migration.” I looked up and smiled when a few of them laughed. “But the newer studies are conclusive. Brain changes are relative to the amount of screen use, and the impact is not only physiological but also psychological.”

Anxiety was palpable in the room. Many of my students were parents, hands shooting up with the same question. “How do we control it? Even if we don’t buy our kids phones, their friends have them.”

“We do our best,” I told them, words that couldn’t land because my best hadn’t been enough. They knew it. My son’s accident had been in all the papers.

The room turned quiet.

I shuffled notes. “Two generations of digital natives, and, as you’ve seen, impacts in higher suicide rates, social isolation, mood disorders, obesity, and screen addictions.”

Two hours later, I turned into the driveway, rain illuminated in streetlights, huge puddle at the bottom of the hill. Craftsman bungalow, the realtor told us when we bought the house. We didn’t know architecture. It was our first home. We wanted to stay in the city. Louise was pregnant, and we both had debts from graduate school. Two bedrooms, two baths, fenced-in backyard, the selling point its location near Burrough, where Louise taught. The realtor, Janice, was the parent of one of Louise’s students. “The family before you only moved out because they outgrew the house,” she told us. “You probably had the Anderson kids in your class? They stayed in this neighborhood because of the schools.”

After the funeral, Louise took a leave of absence from teaching.

“Everything I love enlarges my grief.”

“Me?”

She nodded. “I’m not sure we can stay in this house. It’s full of echoes, just more and more of ourselves.”

The grief therapist said time would help.

The kitchen light was yellow this time of day, and I could see Louise inside the window, stirring a pot at the stove. She stood with her back to the window, white curls leaning into the steam. She had just turned forty, but she looked like an old woman, the angle of her head, narrow shoulders.

When I stepped inside, she held out the ladle for me to taste. “More coconut milk?”

I tasted it. “Maybe more salt.”

“You can come.” She salted the soup and kept stirring. “But I don’t want you to criticize it. And no jokes.” She gave me a stern glance. “I don’t want you to make fun of people.” She turned down the heat to simmer. “You won’t get it at first. No one does. But if you’re open, you can sometimes get beyond yourself.”

“Do you think I need to get beyond myself?” I stopped reading the newspaper headlines and looked at her. “What does that even mean?”

“I know this sounds woo-woo.” She turned back to the stove. “But sometimes when I meditate, I feel my awareness expand until it’s all connected, and it’s not about how long he was here or why he was taken from us.” Her eyes grew watery and she wiped them with her sleeve. “For a few seconds, at least, I feel free.”

“Free of what?” My voice rose. “Of me? His death?” I felt she’d got it all wrong.

She turned to rinse the spoon in the sink.

I looked out the window, not sure why I felt so enraged. Streetlights made the rain look like a curtain, like the sky wasn’t far away. I have always been skeptical of people devoted to spiritual matters, but I was trying not to doubt everything I didn’t understand.

“Silence can be difficult, and we’re silent the whole time,” she said, as if to discourage me from coming with her. “I just want you to know what to expect.”

“Even at meals?”

She nodded. “Except to ask questions at the end of lectures.” Setting two steaming bowls of soup on the table, she glanced at the window, rain coming down harder now. “That’s good. The trees need it.”

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