It is 5:40am and I am making my bed. If you knew how I have lived these past six decades you would find this remarkable. That a man with no responsibility to another human being in his house would bother to do this. I am, in general, casual in my approach to life. I am not OCD. The pillow does not have to be perfectly straight, but I do attempt to smooth out the wrinkles.
The process is simple. I pull the mattress sheet tight every morning. I pull up the top sheet on my side, tuck and fold the light bed cover under the edge. Then I walk around to the other side and pull everything taught, tuck and fold. The pillows lean against the headboard. The blanket is draped neatly at the foot. For me, this is an accomplishment.
It is remarkable because I have never been a bed maker. And, especially now, because I have no idea why I have become one. Beth and I lived comfortably within our acceptance of an unmade bed for 43 years. Bed making wasn’t a necessary part of our living. Not that it was never made, but neat and orderly was not our routine.
Beth passed away a little over six months ago. The first morning I rose out of bed in my new life without her, the first I did was to make the bed. I have no clue why I did it. Maybe it was out of respect. Maybe it was to prove to myself that I would be okay. Maybe it was the only thing I could think of to do that gave some order to my day. A subconscious attempt at beginning a new me.
I’m telling you this because it recently occurred to me that I have not missed even one day at this small task since I began. I hardly recognize myself.
I am different. Life is different. People will often ask me how I’m doing? They can sense that I’m okay, I hope. I am adjusting quite well. But they can tell that things have changed. I have come to answer that question by saying, “Well, I’m fine. Really. But my life is sure different.”
Take coffee, for example. I make the coffee stronger now than I did when Beth was here. She preferred a milder form of caffeine. Folgers Breakfast Blend. She added cream and sugar. We were never coffee snobs. No lattés or cappuccinos at our house. A good old fashioned Mr. Coffee Maker was enough for us. Two small scoops and push the button. We drank warm dark water.
I have now switched to Folgers Dark Roast. Two and a half heaping scoops on a slow drip. I drink mine black and savor every sip. So, even my coffee is different.
I think that “different” is inevitable, which seems a little ridiculous even to point out. You get used to doing life a certain way in marriage. Once a widow, all the routine is blown out the window at 80 mph. Nothing can be the same as it was. Even if I try to keep some things in place, there is too much change. Everything feels different even if it is the same.
Think about grocery shopping. Same task. New methodology. The big difference is that I am the one doing the shopping. Historically, I have been a terrible shopper. I could handle picking up bread and milk after work, but that’s not really shopping.
On the few occasions when I volunteered to make the trip for major food purchases, I was always given a list. A very detailed list of everything we’d need for the next 30 days. There were notes on which brand to buy. Verbal instructions not to veer from the list unless it was for chocolate.
She’d say, “This should be about $287.43 with coupons.” She calculated everything. “Don’t get too far off the list or we’ll blow our budget.” Then she’d smile. “But if you see something you’ve just gotta have, get it. We’ll be fine.”
I only ever heard that last part. I never stuck to the list. Which is why my shopping privileges would be revoked for six months before she would trust me to go again.
These days I go to the grocery store about twice a month to get the majority of stuff I need. But I also stop by the Super Value in town almost everyday after work to buy something specific for supper that night. I don’t buy chicken and pork chops and roast or ground beef or fish when I shop big. That would mean I’d have to put things in the freezer. And that means I would forget to get anything out of the freezer. Which means that I would go hungry most evenings.
This change has not gone unnoticed. I have a new routine. When I walk into the store around 5pm each evening, the lady at the cash register has learned to ask me, “So, what’s for supper tonight?”
“I don’t know. How does fresh pork chops baked and sautéed in mushroom gravy sound?”
So, I pick up pork chops and two Irish potatoes for baking. I already have the cream of mushroom soup in the pantry.
My evenings are especially different. In our post-children days, we turned to eating supper in front of the TV. We had always been a family big on sitting at the table, but that faded away when it became just the two of us. The TV was on when I got home. We ate country fried steak watching Fox News while Beth berated the politics of the day.
Evenings were defined by what was on the tube. We segued into Family Feud followed by some other show and then another show I can’t remember. Somewhere around 10 o’clock we’d both wake up. I went to bed, and she was energized to read for two hours.
These days the TV is not on much. I eat at the table the majority of the time. After the kitchen is cleaned up, I find other ways to occupy my time. I’m not saying I’m being productive. I’m not painting the bedroom. I might just be fiddling around with some music. Washing a load of jeans. Piddling in my shop. Come 8:00, Max is ready for his walk. Around 9:00 I’ll turn on the TV and by 10 I’m in bed.
Six months and I am still trying to figure out what my life is going to be like. Still trying to adjust to a different way of living. A different way of feeling.
Because you ask, I really am fine.
But, you want to know something strange? I used to dream about us all the time. Silly dreams. Crazy and nonsensical dreams. Funny dreams. You know how it goes. So, I am oddly surprised that I have not dreamed of her, not one time since she passed away. I have tried. I have wished for it. To see us as we used to be.
But nothing ever comes.
I guess I know why that is. Life is just different.