What’s Missing

I’m out for an evening walk. Still plenty of daylight left, but the shadows are long. I look 30 feet tall in the replica of me made by the sun. The woods around me are nestled in the quiet gray that comes before twilight. The treetops 70 feet above are golden with the last rays of the day.

The coolness in the air and the stillness of my surroundings are soothing. No sound of an engine running. No TV droning. Only a few birds making their presence known through song. I wish I could identify them just by listening. I know every leaf around me, but the bird songs are a mystery to me. Their language is as strange and lovely as hearing Italian spoken in a nearby restaurant booth.

It won’t be long, and the heat and humidity will make an old man want to stay inside in the evening. Once I retire, I think my walks will be better in the morning at first light. I’ll enjoy the evening now while I can.

This used to be our walk. The time of day after the dishes are done that Beth and I would get out for a stroll and explore the conversations that came to us. Our ramble out the long driveway was as slow and aimless as the subjects we wandered over.

We were never power walkers. Power walkers are out for the cardio. We were out for the peace of mind.

Walking gave us a way to focus on each other, to share a story, to discuss plans, to make decisions about a trip, to reminisce about the past, to rediscover family history. We solved all of our kids’ struggles on those walks without ever meddling in their lives unless they asked us for advice. But if they did ask, we were ready.

I have adjusted well to widowhood, but of all the things I miss, I miss those walks together the most. In a way, I still talk with her as I walk along, but if I’m honest, I know I’m just talking to myself with her on my mind. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have those conversations.

I’ll say this, I’m not all that interesting when I talk to myself. If I were not walking, I’d probably fall asleep on me. I have been known to dose off in mid conversation, even with her.

“Are you listening to me?” she’d say.

I’d stir back to life. “You might want to repeat that for me.”

These were the conversations late in the evening on the couch. After 43 years together, you’d think she’d know better than to try and discuss anything with me after 9pm. Which is one of the reasons we started these walks in the first place. My participation in our marital future depended on it.

I still have conversations with people. I have plenty of friends. Close friends. I talk to my kids. My son is still with me, and we have supper together almost every evening. So, I’m not alone in that sense. I’ve not become a hermit.

But the talk is not the same. What’s missing is the intimacy.

I’m not talking about anything physical, though that is part of it. The hugs. The kisses. Holding hands on a long walk. That element is gone.

More than that, though, I miss the intimacy of our conversations. And by that I mean that no one knows me better than she did. There is no one that I know better than I knew her.

We could pick up a conversation that had started decades ago and we knew exactly where we were on the subject. There was no explanation necessary. Any word was a starting point. Every story was familiar. Every assumption was a given. Almost nothing could be said that wasn’t already understood at some level.

If she was talking about her family, there was automatically 40 years of familiarity on my side of the conversation. I understood the background behind everything she said. I could see the kitchen she grew up in. I knew exactly where her dad’s desk sat in his office. I remembered the day her mother died. I understood why certain things made her cry and other things made her laugh.

“The two shall become one flesh.” Which is why when a spouse dies, the other feels like a part of him is missing. He becomes half of who he used to be. For a while, it feels like she’s still there. An amputee will tell you that he can’t see his leg, but he feels it and wants to scratch it even though it’s not there. The adjustment is slow.

Part of the reason I still take walks is to remain connected to that part of who I am. To feel a part of who I used to be, even though it’s no longer there. That, and because Max needs “to go.” He, unfortunately, is not much of a companion. He’s more focused on sniffing every trail and marking every tree he can find.

Before I head back, my neighbor’s son comes along. He rolls down his window and I can hear his little boy, Isaac, frantically calling my name from his car seat in the back.

“Hey, Mr. Paul. Hey, Mr. Paul.” He’s a bundle of blonde hair and cuteness if I ever saw it.

Before he pulls away, his dad pulls up close to his back bumper. The first truck leaves and my neighbor rolls forward. His window is down. I feel like I’m the outside attendant at Chic-fil-A.

“I’m next in line,” he says.

“Do you want fries with that order?” I ask.

By the time our chat is over, the sun is gone, and twilight is fast losing its last bit of light. The silence moves back in around me. Max is nowhere in sight.

I am not miserable. Not by a long shot. I am not unhappy. I don’t mean to throw all this on you like a wet blanket. I am merely contemplative and, at times, keenly aware of how widowhood has changed my life.

I sometimes see other couples at a restaurant, maybe 40-something, and they are sitting across from each other staring at their food and cell phones and not saying a word to each other. I want to walk over and pull out a chair and tell them they don’t know how lucky they are. They don’t know how quickly the opportunity can all be gone. Don’t waste it away in silence.

But it’s not my place.

I have not talked with you about these things in a long while. And, for good reason. No one wants to hang out with someone who always drones on about what used to be. Blue, though it is my favorite color, is not my favorite mood. I am upbeat by nature and have learned to be grateful for all the good that is in my life.

It was an especially good walk tonight. A long stroll is medicine for the soul. Especially when you have someone to talk to.

Thanks for listening.

2 thoughts on “What’s Missing

  1. Outstanding Paul. I have come to describe this life I now experience daily as “weird.” Like you I have great kids determined to take care of Dad and are very attentive. I have great colleagues and friends. But when I wake up every morning a reach over to kiss Vicki on the forehead – I’m reminded that a part of me is no longer here. And the only word I know to describe it is “weird.” Not hopeless. Not even lonely. It’s just that something is missing.

    Thanks for your post.

    By the way, a year or so I downloaded an app called Merlin Bird ID. Early yesterday I was outside and used it and it identified seven different bird calls going on!


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