Trying to express how the last few weeks have felt has been an overwhelming task. How do I possibly explain what it’s like to watch your life get washed away with a coat of paint?
I’m sitting at a Starbucks now when it hit me. I watched a wife hand her husband her orange juice to open, and I well up with tears.
Who will open my juice?
It’s the best way to explain my loneliness.
When we found out we were pregnant, Joe and I walked around on little bouncy clouds for months. Even despite the cancer diagnosis, we stay focused on that little blueberry growing in my belly. We spent all of our time pouring our hearts into the planning and decorating. The most beautiful distraction from what was lurking in the shadows of our future.
We spent day after day, painting this tree on her wall. I’d come home from work and there Joe would be with a fanny pack of chemo hanging around his waist and paint splattered across his shorts. He’d add a little something every day. An extra sparkle of paint. A new animal to keep our baby company.
This week I took on the project of saving what I could of what was left of that dream standing still in every paint stroke on those walls. A contractor came in and saved what he could. A little cricket and a butterfly that will now be framed and go with us wherever this next stage of life takes us. Two little characters created in Mira’s daddy’s mind to watch her grow up.
I stayed strong to thank the men who worked all day to put the room back together but fell to the floor as I shut the door behind them.
My baby’s room is gone. The dream of our little family is gone. I sobbed for the first time since I lost Joe. I cried so hard I worried the neighbors would call the cops. All I could say over and over is, How did this happen, Joe? How in the world did this happen to us?
I’ve gotten really good and not feeling things. I think it started with reporting the news. You’d be on the scene of a fire where children had died but you could not allow yourself to cry, to feel. You were there to do a job. So you focus on the details of telling the story. Get the interview. Shoot the video. Write the story in your head. You can almost start to believe that none of it is real.
I’ve done this same coping mechanism throughout our cancer journey. I’d search for the story line while sitting in the chemo rooms. I’d focus on a key moment to write about. It’s been survival. So, I’ve taken the same approach as I’ve tackled the toughest days. I stopped to snap pictures as I cleaned out Joe’s drawers, writing the play by play, line by line as if I was writing a scene for a movie.
I made it through the socks and old basketball shorts. I felt a tiny sting as I noticed tags on clothes we’d bought when he lost weight and envisioned we’d have more time for him to wear them. I barreled through seperating everything into piles. Some for his brother, some for his mom, some for Mira and a bin for me. I checked each drawer off my list and was feeling confident I was almost done and had survived without even a tear. But it was of all things, a basket full of boxers that pulled me out of the fantasy I was writing in my head and into reality.
The man kept every piece of underwear he ever owned. The valentine’s boxers I bought him, the blue shorts with the little yellow dogs I picked him up from Wrigley one Christmas. I suddenly flashed to the checkout line at GAP where I’d start grabbing the patterned shorts to bring him home from a shopping trip. It seems silly now and I wonder if he thought it was weird I was always picking him up boxers wherever I went. So, there I sat in a pile on the floor surrounded by a man’s underwear and I felt like the floor could have dropped out right from under me and it would have actually felt better.
I was just about done when I dumped out his pajama drawer. My heart couldn’t take much more so I was hustling through the end. When I unfolded a pair of pants to find one little pink baby sock that had snuck inside. It kind of stopped me in my tracks because I know I hadn’t done his laundry in several months. But I felt Joe standing behind me for a minute as I picked up the sock, not just any sock but a little baby sock with an owl on it. Our special symbol for Mira. A “wink” from Joe. I’ll take it.