I thought about you the other day. Actually, it’s every day. Even though I am past most of the gut-wrenching grief. Even though I am no longer lost in the silence of my emptiness. Even though there are days when it feels like important details are slipping away.
I remember you standing in front of that little round mirror that lights up and makes your skin pores look the size of craters on the moon. God forbid you should ever find a microscopic chin hair. You’re only going to the grocery store. I don’t think the lady at the check out counter is going to be inspecting your chin.
I remember you standing at the stove. Steak and gravy in the pan. The way you would hold the saltshaker so high over the pan that I thought you might bust the light bulb under the exhaust hood. A little salt made it into the pan. Most of it spattered all over the stovetop and the counter. “Why,” I asked for over forty years. “Because the steam clogs up the shaker,” you’d say. Silly girl.
I remember you sitting on the couch by the lamp. This is where you would read books about the American frontier, the English monarchy, detective mysteries and Goodnight Moon to our babies. The place where you filed your fingernails, sorted recipes, and yelled at the TV news anchors. You sat there and talked on the phone with your sister and laughed at my terrible jokes.
I remember you walking down our driveway in the shadows of the evening. Lacing up your shoes and making a vow to get back in shape. Stopping to catch your breath halfway up the first hill. Smiling on the day you made it to the bridge and back without stopping.
I remember you asking for a pressure washer for your birthday. I was so proud. You washed the porches. You blasted our porch furniture. You got me up on the ladder to do the high stuff. You washed your car. I asked if I could buy you more tools and you said one was enough.
I remember you standing in your old living room on the last day we ever stepped inside that little three-bedroom house at 107 Vaughan Memorial Drive. Not a stitch of furniture anywhere. The place where I gave you a ring in 1977. The place where your Dad sat in his chair wearing his boxers and a wife-beater T. The place where your mother smeared Estee Lauder Envy red lipstick on my cheek every time I walked in the door. I remember your tears when we closed the door and drove away.
I remember you on the basketball court. No one ever suspected that you played any kind of serious basketball, but you did. It was small college ball, but it was the big time for a small-town girl. I saw you drive your shoulder into girl so hard that she stumbled backwards. I saw you twist your kneecap out of place on the court in Knoxville. I saw you wince every time it slipped out of place over the next 40 years. I still have your MVP trophy on the shelf.
I remember you standing outside my apartment in Athens. Bell-bottom jeans. Tight at the hips and long enough to drag the ground. Your bare feet peeking out from under the ragged threads. Your blue shirt that matched my Chevelle in the background. Your hair was auburn and thick as a horse’s tail. Your description, not mine. True, I have the photograph to prove it, but the memory is mine even without the picture.
I remember you lying in the maternity ward for most of the night. The epidural wore off about the time things got serious. You asked for another shot of courage, but the doc said it would slow down the contractions. “You’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way,” he said. There were moans and screams that made my knees go weak. I still have bruises where you squeezed my hand. You over-reacted just a little bit when you grabbed me by the shirt with both hands and yanked me up close to your face and said in the most tender voice, “MAKE IT STOP!”
I remember you sitting at our kitchen table after the dishes were cleared. Piles of papers spread out around you in every direction. File folders. Scissors. Stapler. Markers. The infamous red pen. You had 32 fourth grade students that year. You graded every homework assignment. Every test. You responded to every note from every concerned parent who blamed you for their child’s poor grades.
I remember you standing in the doorway when I got home from work one day. You had a black eye, and your lip was bruised. A distraught parent had delivered her concerns in person, right in front of a classroom full of little wide-eyed children. You didn’t want to press charges, but the principal stood up for you. He had that hussy hog-tied and thrown in jail. I wanted to shake his hand. I cried for you.
I remember you strapped into a seat harness about 2,000 feet off the ground. You drug me to Six Flags and talked me into getting on this ride with you. I begged. You pleaded. “It’ll be fun,” you said. “I might die,” I said. The metal clanked, gears squealed, and we slid forward over the edge of the abyss. Dangling like two spiders over a fiery pit. They turned us loose and we dropped into oblivion. My stomach has never been the same. You grinned big as Texas and said, “Let’s do it again.”
I remember you on the phone late at night. From the hallway, I would drag the cord under my bedroom door. My parents long since asleep. We would talk in whispers about everything two lovesick kids could think of. “What’chu doing?” “Nothing.” What’chu doing?” “Oh, nothing.” “Can’t wait til summer is over.” “Yeah, me too.” “What’chu doing tomorrow?” “Nothing much.” It was riveting.
Truth is, I remember you in a thousand ways, in some of the most unexpected moments. I remember you holding my hand while we rode together in the car. I remember you pouting when you burned the meringue on the lemon pie. I remember you giving Max treats when you thought I wasn’t looking. I remember you bringing home piles of treasures from the library. I remember you blowing your hair out of your face when your arms were full of laundry.
My memories are like a collage of all the tiny details that filled our years together. I have to stare hard sometimes to separate the images because they all run together. Some days the memories come at me like a firehose on full throttle. Some days they appear dim in my mind like a photo in candlelight. Some days I’m afraid I will lose them altogether.
Our anniversary is in two weeks. I won’t be able to write this then, so I’m writing it all down now. Because I need you to know that I have not forgotten.
I still remember you.