Happy Birthday Wendy

The loveliest smile I’ve ever known

Today is Wendy’s birthday. She would have been 33. I met her when she was 23. Blow out a candle and wish her happy birthday.


The Hole in the Middle of Me That Every Happy Thing Falls Into

I went to the Mariners’ opening game yesterday. It was another first without Wendy. We’ve been invited each of the last few years by Maki and Rich, and this time I brought Hendrik with me.

During the 8th inning, though, they played Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” over the loudspeakers, and it opened up a trap door of grief for me. You see, that was Wendy’s theme song. It was something that I could play when she was feeling really down about herself to boost her back up again. It’s the lyrics, the exuberance of the tune that would reconnect her to her own internal confidence.

In my psychologically compromised state, I’m inclined to believe that she’s taken over the P.A. controls to play that song to let me know she was there. This feeling was compounded by the very next song, “Mambo No. 5.” We went on a roadtrip for our honeymoon, and when we weren’t listening to the Rushmore soundtrack, “Mambo No. 5” would invariably come on the radio. I’m always going to remember when that song was charting: Fall of 1999.

So, I say it opened a trap door of grief for me, because that’s what it’s become: A portal I can often choose to not go through. Grieving under those circumstances are horrible. My friends will want to comfort me, which is an impossible feat. I was able to put the brakes on it, wipe away the few tears that seeped out from my clenched eyes, and carry on. Later, when I was safely home, that black river came up behind me. I was half waiting for it.

I’m tired of grieving. I am tired of giving into it each time it comes. I am tired of contemplating my own mortality and the world’s doom. I’m trying to move towards positive thinking. I’m listening to less news and more music. I’m trying not to think of either of my two futures–the planned future that violently disassembled in November and the ambiguous future that has taken its place. Both make me nauseous…sewer pipe nauseous.

One more thing: I just started reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which has sucked me in faster than any novel in a long time. It’s mostly about a young, precocious boy coming to grips with his father’s death on September 11. Regarding his father’s final answering machine message, which he has kept secret from his mother and grandmother, he says, “That secret is the hole in the middle of me that every happy thing falls into.”

For me, that hole is the look in Wendy’s eyes the last time I saw her alive.


The Impossibility of It All

I met my wife nine years ago yesterday. I always expect these little anniversaries to hit me like a ton of bricks, but they always come and make me numb. Numb is good. Numb is putting one foot in front of the other, in succession, until you get somewhere. Not-numb is standing with your feet side-by-side and wondering which foot should go first.

It’s hard for me to believe that the totality of my experience of Wendy was less than a decade. She gave me so much of a future. I was counting on us growing old together. I used to tell her that when her hair went white, I would want her to grow it out long. I would have a long white beard.

And there goes away the numbness. On a good day, it’s a border I can cross easily back and forth. I can always move myself into sadness, but I often get delayed there, waiting for my return visa.


It’s Like the Sky

I started working back on maggie’s farm this last week. It was weird to be back. I feel like my name has attained a sort of grim celebrity. People kept professing to how glad there were to see me.

The hardest part was coming home from the job and not having Wendy at the ferry waiting for me. When I came around the corner, I looked to “the spot.” The spot is where she would wait for me. Often, on the ferry coming in, she would call my cell phone and tell me she was in the spot. I wanted to find her there. It hurt, but I guess it’s good that I did it anyway. Each time is bound to hurt less. I am looking at her photo now, with Luke. It’s up on my refridgerator, along with other photos of us together. I only knew her for eight years. It seemed like a lifetime. I expected it would be a lifetime. we were so happy together.

I’ve been reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. I was reading it while waiting the other day for the work shuttle to take me to another building to get some paperwork done. It was almost too much to read it then. Lewis, too, had only a brief time with his wife. He writes about his love for his “J” and I know just how he felt. Wendy was the only other human on this planet that I never grew tired of. Lewis says, “Her absence is like the sky. It covers everything.”


Rabbit Rabbit

Kuschel & Flausch GmbH & Co. KG by Jirjen

When Wendy and I started living together, she insisted that we should say “rabbit rabbit” to each other as soon as we wake up on the first day of each month. She said doing so would bring us a month’s worth of good luck. I never thought, until just now, to look it up on Wikipedia. Of course, when we started this, wikipedia didn’t exist.

Like so many things in our life together, the ritual became a fun little game we’d enjoy playing. I had heard somewhere that in order to fully receive the luck, you had to say “hare hare” on the last night of the month. We made it so that one could not speak between saying “hare hare” as we went to bed and “rabbit rabbit” in the morning. I used to like to trick her into saying “hare hare” before me, because then I could taunt her, say anything I wanted, and she wouldn’t be able to respond without risking the loss of a month’s good luck.

death Wendy

Each Death an Opportunity

Here’s a hand-addressed personal letter I received last week:

Dear Mr. Hall

First, let me take a moment to offer my condolences on the passing of your loved one; Wendy Hall. While I know this can be a very emotionally sensitive period, I also understand you may be facing some serious decisions with which I might be able to assist you. The reason I am contacting you is often time real estate property must be sold in order to pay taxes, pay any outstanding liabilities and to pay the legitimate heirs.

Often, I buy real estate and other personal property found in estates. It is my understanding that you may have property available to purchase in the near future. If it is, I am interested in buying proerty in this area and would be interested in making you an offer. I’m sure at this time selling this property probably is not a priority for your family, but if in the future the heirs decide to sell, please call and I’ll be happy to make an offer.

While I do not know your particular situation, I am prepared to do what is best for you and the estate. Some of the advantages I may be able to offer are: 1. I can buy the property in…[blah blah blah]

Life goes on. The guy is performing a necessary service that I’m sure some people are thankful for. But is he really prepared to do what’s best for me and the estate?

That’s what turns my stomach about this letter. He’s prepared to do what’s best for him, his kids, and his dinner table.


Spiritual Beings

Yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that I really liked: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” That’s what I want to believe.

In the last week, I’ve had some perceived connections to my late wife. Sometimes it’s just a feeling of a presence, and yesterday, I feel like she told me where I had misplaced some documents. When these visitations come to me, it’s not at all spooky or eerie. It’s relieving. It’s like seeing the sun after weeks of darkness.

Since she died, I’ve had family and friends try to fill my craw with dime-store spirituality about the wonders of God and Universe. I can’t find the point in resisting it, but I can’t just buy into it, either. It’s too pretty to believe, like a happy Hollywood ending.

Yeah. So? Even if it is a crock of shit, it’s a crock of shit that can comfort me. Why mail myself in a box when I can travel business class for just a few dollars more?

There are no answers. I will never know on this earth whether the voice on the other line really is Wendy or the perturbations of my own troubled mind. So, it comes down to a decision. You’re either on the bus, or you’re not on the bus, as Ken Kesey said.

A friend recommended a book called The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. The author talks in the first few pages about how depression sufferers often feel relieved to know the chemical basis for their depression, that they feel absolved of the responsibility of their feelings. But, he says, everything inside us is chemical. “Thousands of chemical reactions are involved in deciding to read this book, picking it up with your hands, looking at the shapes of the letters on the page, extracting meaning from those shapes, and having intellectual and emotional responses to what they convey.”

Faith, then, is believing that spirit moves chemicals.

P.S. to Wendy: Rabbit rabbit


Why It Hurts So Much

Now She Is Gone

Saturday was great, but Sunday was bad. I woke up feeling shattered, like some hand had moved my game piece back to start on the game board. I went for a five-mile walk since that usually helps, but it didn’t this time. I talked to people on the phone, I went into the hot tub.

I went for another walk, this time with my dog. We walked at sunset around our neighborhood and didn’t see a single other soul walking and only one car. Everyone, it seems, was locked inside watching the Seahawks play. When I got back, I had sort of a breakthrough (or what felt like a breakthrough at the time). I could concisely describe how I was feeling in these two sentences:

I lived with a woman who knew me as well as I know myself–in some ways better than I knew myself–and she chose to love me each day. Now she is gone.

I found it a little bit relieving to be able to form this inchoate feeling into words. Now she is gone.

Lots of people tell me that her love is still there, but that’s not the same.


The Black River of Anguish

Water's Edge
The Water’s Edge

My wife’s death, in many ways, has put me on a different side of life. It’s profoundly changed my perspective on everything and I expect that during the next several months, it will make me a much different person than I’ve ever been.

I have no idea where I am right now or where I’m going. I’ve described it to some people as being like a ghost. I often feel like I’m only half way there, like I’m permeable. It makes sense when you realize that “my better half” is dead.

I’ve described my grief to people as a big black river. I’m following a path that winds sometimes far from the river, where it can’t even be seen, and sometimes to its banks, and sometimes right into the opaque water.

A man in my position gets a lot of unsolicited spirituality, from quoted scripture to new age tropes. People urgently want to tell me that I will see or be with Wendy again. Their zeal indicates their own desperate desire for that to be true for themselves and their loved ones.

Do I believe in a God or some creative force in the universe? Yes. It just doesn’t seem likely that this universe was created for us. Do skin cells go to heaven when they die? I think that we’re cogs in the machine. I don’t want that to be so. I want heaven to exist! I want to see Wendy again. In fact, if I was convinced that I would be reunited with her after death, there would be no keeping me here.

Alas, this is probably all we have. It’s certainly all we can rely on. To be convinced otherwise is to be convinced that the sun turns around the earth. Hope is good, though. Let us all be hopeful.


Magical Thinking

I’ve been having only a few magical thoughts the last few weeks. On Christmas morning, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I didn’t want anyone to open their presents because that would somehow stop my temporal slide away from Wendy and our life together.

On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight when I was popping champagne at a friend’s house, it occurred to me that it was now the first calendar year without her, and that she died “last year.” That made me feel like something had punctured the universe, and I could see limitless black goo beyond.

And yesterday, when I was walking Cinder in the rain, at dusk, at Battle Point Park, and no one was around, and it grew so dark that I could only see the borders of the path ahead and the darkening sky above, I was crying my eyes out and moaning and trying not to scream. I cried out loud, “Show me a sign!” At that moment a flock of ducks on my left, which I hadn’t seen in the dark, jumped up together and flew 10 or 20 feet over my head and landed in the pond on my right. It seems to me that there were about 80 of them, which means there were probably only 30. As I listened to their quacks and beeps, I thought about Wendy’s love of rubber duckies, and I thought of the wood rubber duckie that I carved for her as an anniversary present in October. And by then, I was no longer crying.