Three weeks ago, walking to my office, I saw a woman coming up the sidewalk pushing an old man in a wheelchair. I don’t remember what either of the old man or the woman looked like. My attention had been sucked inside my head where I saw myself pushing my husband, who died almost two years ago. He was not confined to the wheelchair, but he lacked the breath to walk very far. Our wheelchair was a perky bright red folding number, I had picked it out at the medical supply store, where it sat among the commodes, the beds, the ramps, and medical supplies. We used it to help him traverse the space between the car and the doctors’ offices, but in the final months, we often used it inside the house. The wheelchair was a focus of tension inside his increasing difficulty breathing, the shrinking world of a dying man. I pushed the chair matter of factly but inside, I was anxious, frustrated, and shadowed by dread. Yet in that walk to my office, I yearned to be pushing my husband in the wheelchair again. I’m dumbfounded. I argue with the yearning. You just wanted it to be over. He hated it. You hated it. Nevertheless, some part of me missed pushing my husband in that shiny red wheelchair.
Two weeks ago, standing in the transfer bus door at Newark Airport, I mentally walked into my old house in New Jersey, home from a trip. I saw the green marble top on our island, the center of our kitchen. To my left at the round table, my husband sat in the green swivel chair, in a plaid flannel shirt, khaki pants, and leather slippers, fingering a Combivent bronchodilator. I had gone home the old way, out the Newark Airport exit to a taxi to my driveway, in through the garage to the kitchen, where my husband waited. Part of me still hadn’t moved, was retracing the route to my old home. My face sagged. I have to go to my new home, from the terminal to the AirTrain, to the New Jersey Transit train, to the 1,2,3 subway, up 72nd Street to apartment 909. As I wheeled my suitcase across terminal C to the AirTrain, I roamed around in the New Jersey house, and I wondered how I would feel wheeling my suitcase up 72nd Street. This is the first time since I moved that I forgot where I was going, even momentarily in a bus doorway. I’ve taken at least four flights from Newark Airport since I moved into Manhattan. But today I went home to my husband who used to sit behind his desk in the study but now waited in the kitchen, not just for me, but also for death.
My friend texted me last week, “I’m wearing your husband’s socks!” “Which ones? “ I asked. “The polka-dotted ones. “ She sent me a picture of the socks draped across her shoes, swept with multi-colored polka-dots on a tan background with orange toes and heels. My friend is tall, with feet and legs long enough to use the fancy socks that were left neatly stacked, unopened in their clear plastic wrapping, in his drawer. I handed them over, grateful for the solution, but I cried when I saw the picture. My husband was tall, slender, with graceful long legs. He loved to buy clothes—suits, ties, pocket silks, brightly patterned summer shirts like the one that an art gallery owner in Taos wanted to hang on his wall. One of his favorite catalogs carried multi-colored socks, and he would study the catalog, absorbed in the choices. The polka-dotted socks were among those he bought. The photo was insouciant but I was sad.
It occurs to me that this last image, sent by my zany friend, is progress—two years along in this getting on with life. No one is dying in this image. Those socks are a lark ascending on the joy of being alive.