37

I wanted to buy cookies for his birthday.
I wanted to deliver them to his office,
to his colleagues, officemates, friends.
I wanted someone to celebrate him.
It seemed wise to call before I just drop in.
I googled his office, finding the phone number.
“Hello, can I help you?”
And that’s when I realize I will seem crazy.
“Well, I think so.  I hope so.  My husband used to work in that office.  I’m looking for anyone who knew him.”
I tell her his name.  She says she didn’t know him.
I toss out a few names of the people I remember
from his professional circle.
Could I speak with Tanya?  Sheila?  Chris?  Matt?
She explains that I have called a private insurance office.
So I haven’t called the larger corporate office where he spent his days.
She puts me on the phone with her boss.
He tells me he didn’t know my husband.
(Please, I don’t want anyone else to tell me that today.)
They give me the number to the second floor in the mirrored building,
but by then I can’t bring myself to navigate the labyrinth of “please press one”
and “please hold”
and “I didn’t know your husband.”
Forget the cookies.
I’ll buy one for myself.
Or I won’t.

I’ll go rollerblading instead.
I pull out the rollerblades from the basement,
the Mrs. pair of the His and Hers.
I haven’t bladed in more than ten years.
Not since Robb fell in the parking lot of our apartment complex, badly injured his hip, and needed prednisone shots for weeks.
We put the rollerblades away after that.
But I always loved rollerblading.
Today is the day.
Today is my day.  On his day.
I’ll gear up,
helmet, knee pads, elbow pads,
and I’ll rollerblade like it’s 1998.
I only fell three times.
Once on the sidewalk.
Once on the street.
Once on dry grass.
Sticks, really.
I pretty much chose the double black diamond of rollerblading paths.
There was some backward bending motion
when my top half hit the ground by my feet kept moving.
But I have been so crazy-ass tough today.
I didn’t even notice until I got home that my right leg was scratched and tattered.
Even as I type, I realize I have a splinter in my thumb from that spill in particular.
I’m pretty sure Robb wouldn’t recognize the girl
who got up and kept going,
one fall after another.
Pink sang her angsty melodies in my earbuds,
a most excellent Pandora choice
for a day of angry liberation.
Just as I find my legs again,
just as I find my groove and learn how to stay vertical,
Kelly Clarkson is pounding her rhythm in my ear:
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
I soar down the sidewalk,
pounding my fists in the air,
letting the rhythm beat louder than my heart.
I have forgotten about the exhiliration
of the post-exercise high.
God knows I’m not a runner anymore.
Maybe rollerblading is my new thing.
Or maybe I’m just angry again.

Over lunch,
I have a telephone conference with my editor.
He is kind, gracious, gentle, encouraging,
and a remarried widower.
He told me I could send him my manuscript
anytime I want,
anytime I’m ready,
anytime I’m confident.
He promises to recognize it as infantile,
and he will neither decide that it’s horrible
nor nominate me for a Pulitzer.
I am encouraged by both promises.
I’ll send it soon… I promise.
He asks me how I’m doing on this day,
Robb’s birthday.
“How old would he be?”
“37.”
“Ah.  You know, I know words don’t help on a day like this, so I won’t say very much.  But I want to tell you this: the grief changes.  You carry it with you, and it becomes a sadness you’re aware of, but the gutting ache of it recedes.”
I listen as he prays for me,
for my writing,
for my grieving,
for my celebrating.
He invites me to take the day off from writing.
“You’re allowed, you know.”
I tell him I intend to,
but I don’t really know how.

I spend the afternoon feeling numb,
with emotions just under my frozen surface.
I write a little,
I drive some,
I stare at nothing a lot.

I pick the boys up from school.
They are gentle and calm.
They play on the playground for an hour,
until Tucker is so thirsty he begins to cry.
I suspect his tears have nothing to do with wanting water, but I will get that sweet boy a drink.

I take them to dinner at our favorite pizza place,
the one whose decor is comprised of doodled napkins
in simple frames.
We have a napkin on the wall.

“I should save some of these garlic knots and take them to heaven.

They were Daddy’s favorite.”

~ Tyler

Robb Williford, 1975 – 2010

Its frame hangs near the cash register.
They seat us at a corner table;
we ate there for at least 36 weeks weeks
of my pregnancy with Tyler.
I can see the table
where we celebrated Tyler’s first birthday,
and table after table
where we had family dates with friends.
I order a medium pepperoni pizza;
we won’t need a large anymore.
As we wait for the food,
the boys play on iPods,
and I read a book
and sense judging glances.
The family seated next to us
is familiar to the staff,
on a first-name basis,
ordering their ‘usual.’
And I very nearly hate them
for thinking that will last forever.

The pizza comes,
and I serve a piece to each of the boys.
I decide life is too short
to work my way clockwise around the pizza,
and I choose the piece I want from the middle of the opposite half:
the piece with the big, puffy crust.
Robb always served me that piece first.
I serve myself, pretending he holds the spatula.
And I hear myself say, “Thanks, babe.”

We eat in silence.
I pretend like this birthday
isn’t tearing me apart.
I pay the bill,
and the young server brings me my receipts.
Surely, in all of my days,
someone has accidentally or mistakenly
called me “Miss” Williford,
but his mistake crushes me.

The boys want to visit Daddy’s napkin before we leave.
We look in the usual spot;
it’s not there.
Tucker assigns each of us
a row of frames to inspect for the napkin
that is the closest thing we have to a tombstone.
It’s not there.

“What are you guys looking for?” a server asks.
Our napkin.
We had a napkin on the wall.
“Oh, it’s probably around here somewhere.  We move ’em around now and then before we take ’em down and replace ’em.  If you want, if you can’t find it, you can ‘real quick’ make a new one and I’ll throw it into a frame.  If you want.”
I don’t want.

I don’t want one more person to tell me
they don’t remember,
they’ve lost his space,
they’ve taken what I have.
I really don’t think Robb would recognize this girl
who keeps getting up again,
one fall after another.

He’s Looking At Me.

Look at this picture.

A friend captured this during a dinner party at my parents’ house.

My favorite detail: he’s watching me.

I was telling a story or acting silly, and he was taking his sideline approach.  Watching, listening, incredulously taking in my antics.

His eyes.  That smirk.

“She’s my girl.”

A Day for Root Beer Floats

“Guys, do you know what today is?  It’s Daddy’s birthday.”

“Yes!!  That means we can have root beer floats today!  Remember that, Mommy?  You said we always could on Daddy’s birthday, because it’s Daddy’s birthday and it’s his favorite drink, and that’s today.”

“I did say that.  And yep.  You can.”

“Mommy, we can’t give him presents, though.  So maybe God will.”

“God loves to give good gifts, Tuck.  I bet God has something special planned for Daddy’s day.”

“Maybe we could mail him something?” Tyler asks.

“I wish we could, buddy.  The mailman doesn’t deliver to–”

“– to dead people.”

That’s not what I was going to say.  But also true.

He continues, with help from Tuck.  “Plus, dead people don’t have eyes.  He couldn’t even see what we wrote to him.”

“Guys, Daddy is alive in heaven.  And he has eyes.  He can see everything – things we can’t even see.”

“I wish he had super long arms and he could reach all the way down here and help me when I need him.”

“That would be great, buddy.  I agree.”

“I think we should sing to him, Mommy.”

And so, one block from the elementary school on our Monday morning drive, we sang Happy Birthday, Dear Daddy, Happy Birthday to you.

 

Three root beer floats. . . coming up.

Demanding Optimism, Sunshine.

I feel like sunshine is demanding.

It calls to me,
like a dinner bell
or a melodic and friendly “yoo-hoooo!”
in all it’s cheerfulness,
it’s gentle waiting.

Like I’m missing out by not wanting what it can give me today.

Like when my grandma used tease to me, about a dish I was unwilling to try, “You don’t know what you’re missing, kid.”

And I watched her delight in her cooking, and I grappled inside my eight-year-old mind, torn between the truth and the elusive offering –

I didn’t want to taste fried okra or the peaches doused in milk, I didn’t like them the last time I tasted them, but maybe something is different this time, and am I really missing out?

I’m ready for autumn. For dropping temperatures, cable-knit sweaters, pashminas, and permission to be guiltlessly indoors.

To enjoy sunshine from inside the glass is perfectly acceptable in autumn and winter.

Sunshine, thank you for your gracious offering today.
I just can’t sit near you.

You’re like the girl in study hall who draws hearts to dot her i’s.
Your optimism wears me down.

Maybe I’ll like you tomorrow.

A Choosing

On any given morning, I might not be able to list for you the facts I know about God.  But I can tell you what I wish to commit myself to, what I want for the foundation of my life, how I want to see.  When I stand with the faithful… and declare that we believe in one God … I am saying, Let this be my scaffolding.  Let this be the place I work, struggle, play, rest.  I commit myself to this.

~ Lauren f. Winner, Still

More than a choice, it’s a choosing.
It’s ongoing, not a one-time gig.
It’s not just that it happened; it’s a daily happening.
It’s the –ing suffix.

It’s my choosing.
And in my choosing, let these words be mine.