Today marks two months since we lost Chrissy. An eternity. An instant.
There's an old narrative trope familiar to anybody who's seen more than one or two horror movies. At some point there will be a character (or characters) just going about their business, happily doing their thing. Maybe they're humming or whistling a cheerful tune. A teen couple laughing as they sneak off to make out. A little girl picking flowers. Whatever it is, the light-hearted scene will draw on just long enough to give the average viewer a sense of peace. And then, inevitably, there will be a subtle shift in lighting. A dissonant note in the scoring. A shadow moving slightly near the edge of the frame. Something to make you, the viewer, say to yourself: "uh oh."
And that's been my experience of grief so far.
It's the night after Chrissy died. I'm in the kitchen. It's been a surprisingly productive day. I've done all the hardest ADHD tasks. I've been to the mall, which I have steadfastly and happily avoided for a decade, because that's where I can quickly get my suit hemmed and taken in. They gave me a claim ticket and a time to pick up the suit, and I've returned at that time with the not-lost claim ticket. I've filled out multiple overdue forms for summer camp. I've helped plan her service. I've hacked into dozens of our shared online accounts to make sure our bills are getting paid. I've sorted through several returns I need to make. I'm proud of myself for what I've been able to accomplish. And there I am in the kitchen, keeping the productivity momentum going. I'm putting up tupperware. (At the edge of the frame there's a little shadow that moves just enough that you're not sure if you actually saw anything.) I have the thought that I'll probably get rid of a lot of our mismatched, seldom used tupperware. (In the background music, a subtle discordant note plays.) I have a thought that I'm going to have to be in charge of cooking the meals now. (The shadow moves again, slowly but less subtly, towards me. No worries, our hero is being so productive, whatever this thing is he can take it down easily.) I get an idea. It's the perfect solution to the meal prep problem. (Our hero sees a door through which he can escape the shadow. It's labeled "family cooking classes." It's a big strong door, and he's got some distance from the shadow. He can easily get to the door in time, get through, and lock it behind him with the shadow on the other side, and he'll be safe and secure.) What a great idea! It'll help practically and I'll be able to involve the kids and teach them useful life skills! I reach for my phone to google local classes. (He reaches out and grabs the knob. He turns it.) I'm so proud of myself. And I know who would absolutely love this idea if she were here... ([click.] The latch disengages, and a writhing horde of shadow monsters bursts through the door from the other side, enveloping him and dragging him to the floor in the fetal positon) THIS IS THE KIND OF SHIT YOU SHOULD BE DOING WITH CHRISSY FOR FUN AS A MOTHERS DAY PRESENT!! NOT OUT OF DESPERATION BECAUSE SHE'S GONE!! ALL THOSE HALF-ASSED BIRTHDAY AND CHRISTMAS PRESENTS YOU GAVE HER WHEN THIS IS THE STUFF YOU SHOULD'VE BEEN DOING TOGETHER ALL ALONG!!
This scene has played out again and again. Different settings, different jump scares, same Shadow, same grief.
The Shadow shows up in different forms. It loves to sneak up on me while I'm mowing the lawn (though I did successfully mow the entire yard today without weeping a single time. Small victories). The Shadow can very often be found in the kitchen, like when I was cleaning out the fridge a few weeks ago and came across some fresh mozzarella that had gone bad. I stood there and sobbed because Chrissy had bought it with the plan of making caprese salad, one of our summertime favorites. Suddenly the moldy cheese became a totem of so many plans we had, now headed for the garbage can.
Last week The Shadow showed up in an automatically generated playlist I was streaming while driving. I'd chosen a southern rock playlist, which is great driving music on a hot summer afternoon driving through rural farmland. Until that playlist gets to Jason Isbell's "If We Were Vampires." That led to an uncontrollable sobbing fit that, according to my fitness tracker, was intense enough to get me into the cardio zone for four minutes:
I know in my head that, over time, sunlight will find its way back into most of our lives, and there will be fewer and fewer hiding places for The Shadow to wait in ambush. But it'll never be completely gone, and we will have to find a way to live with that.
I have tried and failed several times to type an uplifting ending for this post. It's not coming to me. I'm sorry to be a bummer. This is hard. It hurts so badly. That's not to say we are surrendering to this Shadow. We do have hope and we are finding moments of joy, and I know it will get better, eventually. But right now, The Shadow is very much a part of our lives. And that will be the way it is, until it isn't. We'll get there. Eventually.