Written February 2003
He no longer sleeps in the bed they shared. He did for a little while, which surprised me. I would have thought her absence would have been the most palpable there, but I suppose the imprint on her pillow was the nearest thing he had to a kiss goodbye. Perhaps he saw this impression begin to fade as she had faded in the last few months, and was afraid to lose the feel of her flannel nightgown and the chill from the covers she always pulled off.
-I’ll stay in the guest room while I replaster the closet in here.
Two years later he still hasn’t gone back.
Ghosts are not the dead who wander among the living, ghosts are the minutiae the dead leave behind. He is suffocated by these ghosts. This once belonged to her. She may have loved it. Or maybe she hated it, and only kept it because one of the girls gave it to her. They are his Stonehenge: precious, mysterious, sacred objects of a religion he cannot believe but cannot escape. The house has become a temple of once-familiar belongings that taunt him with the knowledge that they were theirs but never his. They are crashing down on him now.
He is haunted most by us, the three living ghosts. We are not enough like her to replicate her presence, but she possesses each of us in sudden moments that stab him unexpectedly, stealing the air from his lungs. I have seen him gasp like this at me, even though I’m afraid that I’m the least like her. I try to guess the meaning – has she flashed out again from my eyes? Does he wish he could erase her from my face, does he want me to disappear and leave him with unrefracted memory? I know though, with the certainty of blood, that we are all the reason he has left. I ache with the fear that this reason is fading. We have all begun to fade from him.
?He melted his wedding ring with hers and had them made into a new ring, a desperate token to the unity that he cannot release. He’s been obliged to remove the token that tells the rest of the world that he is married, but he can’t remove himself from this last token of her. He wears the ring on a different finger now; he lives his life in symbols that only he understands. I think the new ring is not what he expected it to look like, both small and cumbersome. I have caught him looking at it, surprised to find it on the wrong finger.
In a room that was never theirs, he keeps her ashes by the side of the bed they never shared.
Written November 2004
In a few months, after the construction is completed, he, his new wife and her son will move from her house into ours.
– We decided to stay here for you girls, so you can keep the house you grew up in.
He knows he’s lying when he says it, but he can’t allow himself to recognize his own reasons for staying. He knows that we would rather secure the house to this moment in time, then say goodbye, filing it in the shoebox of photographs that is our memory. Homesickness is a nostalgia that exists in time, not space. It will soon cease to be the house we grew up in.
In the living room there are still two pill-sized holes in the ceiling. It was there that we strung a curtain to partition a make-shift bedroom for my mother in her last few months, when she could no longer walk up the stairs. The curtain is long gone, but there is still a shroud over the room, heavy with the memory of morphine and nurses and tears. Is this why my father can’t leave? Can he not abandon the house which still breathes the loving hauntingness of his first wife?
His new wife will bring her own furniture, and she will eventually replaster the scarred ceiling.
My father has lost fifteen pounds on the South Beach diet. He has bought expensive suits and has relearned how to laugh. He no longer calls at 9 am to ask what the weather is like in New Jersey, and he no longer burdens me with sighs of unquenchable sadness. I have allowed myself to stop worrying about him.
As a living ghost of my mother, I have become less haunting to him, less real. He does not realize that I am also now the ghost of his former self, molded in his stubbornness and sorrow. The apple may not have fallen far from the tree, but the tree has now been replanted.
His wife’s son is now his son, an adorable and much adored toddler. My father is now free to admit that he always wanted a son, and to indulge in buying miniature baseball gloves and toy trucks. He is working to correct the mistakes he made raising us; he tries to yell less and to introduce music at an earlier age. His first family proved to be a bit of a flawed experiment, but his second may be more successful.
He will move back into the master bedroom that has been abandoned for the past three years, but now it will have a new bed, a fresh coat of paint and a new layer of memory.