Call it a love-letter, if you will
Call it a night to share a secret or two. Some things are better left not unsaid.
My thoughts about Rustina (see 'No Antecedent Necessary') have put a different spin on thoughts I deal with every year—the death of my grandfather. But, in this case, not so much about the death itself, but about the reinforcement of life that came with it.
Bitter though it was, it was my grandfather's death that showed me exactly who Jeff was. I won't mourn my grandfather actively until the end of my days, but at the same time, my life will never quite be the same without him. My grandfather's death changed everything—not the least of which was a thoroughly-new relationship with some fellow named Jeff.Call it a love-letter, if you will, a love-letter born out of grief and isolation and all shades of angry hurt in between. Call it a love-letter from a girl I once was, to someone who correctly assumed I wouldn't be that way forever.
There are always days in which one wonders why they love the spouse they have. It is easy to forget in the day-to-day what was so extraordinary that made you sign the contracts to create this day-to-day routine.
Lucky me. I remember what was extraordinary.
May, 1996. I had finished washing clothes at Susan's apartment. My dorm room was in the building closest to the library. At the time, I worked in the computer lab located in the bottom floor of the library. While there, I received a phone call. My sister had somehow gotten the number of the computer lab, and her message was simple: "Come home. Now. Drop whatever you're doing. It's your grandfather."
Which is exactly what I did.
I came home and found—chaos. My grandfather, comatose after a stroke. A stillwatch. My mother, trying to comfort her mother. My sister, nine months pregnant and due any day.
I called Jeff, this person far away, this person newly in a relationship with me, and blurted out everything. It was the heavy black 1950s phone, heavy enough to clunk burglars with; it took both hands to hold. I cradled it in my hands and said, "Please come. I need you here."
He came. No questions asked, no argument. Seven hours of driving, into a family he didn't know, a girl he probably didn't know as well as he should have, and for a grandfather whom he had only met once. He nominally stayed in my sister's bedroom, but truthfully spent most of the time in mine. Comforting. Talking. Letting me talk.
My grandfather died in the late morning hours a couple of days later. Jeff called and made arrangements with his employer to stay in Arkansas for a day or two longer, so that he could stay with me for the funeral. The night of the funeral, we lay in bed, both of us on top of the covers, and I sobbed. There are many times in my life that I have cried, but few in which I've actually been distraught enough to lose all shreds of dignity and sob. I said to Jeff, "I never got the chance to tell him I loved him, and now I'll never have that chance again."
He used the pad of his thumb to brush away the most fat and offending tears, and said, "He knew. He knows."
Five years later, it sounds silly and melodramatic, doesn't it? Amazing, sometimes, how life echoes campy melodrama, makes the imaginable absurd and the absurd easily imaginable.
A month or two after the funeral, my mother hugged me and thanked me for being there for her during the entire ordeal. She, hesitating, brought up the subject of Jeff. She was quiet for a few moments and then said, "I don't know what he did while he was here. All I know is that he gave you the strength to be there for me when I know you needed comfort as much as I did. All I ever ask is that he love you and take care of you, and be there for you when you need someone in your life. Keep him."
Jeff's classes are over. He begins finals in a day or two. We had friends over tonight, and tonight he lounged on the couch and relaxed with us. It was a glimpse—tantalizing, brief, promising—of the loving and thoughtful person I married.
I remember what was extraordinary about you, Jeff, as surely as I know you are reading this. Tonight I remembered what it was about you that caused me to love you in the first place. You, of the big laugh and soft scratchy beard and dry wit and perceptive eyes. You, better than any other person, know why I am so determined to make sure that the people I love know that I love them.
You, better than any other person.
Welcome home. I have missed you so very, very much.