It’s the little things that hurt the most. As we gear up for our yearly celebration of the one holiday dedicated to romantic love, it has been relatively easy for me to ignore all the hearts and valentines on display. My wonderful daughter Jennifer has promised to go out to dinner with me on Tuesday night so I don’t have to feel the vast emptiness that would be left by eating at home.
Nevertheless, I just got back from an overnight trip to send Jeremy off on a college visit (his flight left from Austin, a 2-hour drive from here, at 8:04 this morning), and I’m feeling overwhelmed with painful reminders. This was the first time I had taken the kids on an overnight trip without Barbara. The first time I had checked into a hotel with them and without her. The first time I had driven past those familiar landmarks (“Got Dirty Birds?”) with only the kids in the car.
As we drove past BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Temple, I was curious about the menu, since a new one is going up in Waco. Jennifer pulled it up on her phone, and it was full of things Barbara would have loved — and I will now never have the chance to hear her gentle exhalation of delight upon finding them there herself. I will never witness her pleasure in trying out the Creole Tilapia or the Maui Glazed Pork Chop, or in sampling the specialty handcrafted beers.
Strangely enough, a stop at a gas station on the drive back cut to the quick. Walking into the convenience store to go to the bathroom after filling up the car reminded me that she was not lingering inside the ladies’ room, as she had so many times in the past. Our paths would simply not cross, and the question of whether the soda fountain sold Diet Dr. Pepper was now a matter of profound indifference to me. I didn’t even bother to look.
Jennifer and I returned in time for lunch, and the ache in my heart only grew as I realized there was nothing much to eat at home, and no place to go out that would not remind me of the many times I had gone there with Barbara: the menu choices we had made, the tables where we had sat together.
It is hard to escape from a pain that is so woven into the fabric of your everyday life that no pleasure, no diversion, no escape fails to remind you of the person who has shared it with you in the past. I sit now at the computer in my living room and look at the empty spot on the couch where she used to sit reading on afternoons like this. It is only the eighth Sunday that I have missed her presence there. It is only the eighth Sunday of my new existence, which twists and snakes through the future in unknown arcs to which I can’t yet provide the color that would make them things of beauty. Instead, the familiar shapes of daily life continue to grate at every turn, and they hurt far more than those pink hearts that now litter the horizon.