By fall, I had grown accustomed to the word “widow” and to the fact of widowhood. I found myself referring to Howard as “my late husband,” a term I was sure would make him double over in laughter on the other side. In his best Jack Benny imitation, his left hand cupping his jaw and his right hand supporting his left elbow, I imagined him saying, “Well!” in mock frustration, then arguing that his timing had always been impeccable.
I missed “my late husband” in many ways, and not the least of them was his goofy humor. He didn’t pull out the Jack Benny often. More often it was his East Indian guru—an irreverent imitation of Deepak Chopra—or his Transylvanian vampire version of the song, “You Do Something to Me.” I may or may not have had the power to mystify him, but he had the power to make me laugh every time, without fail, with his Transylvanian vampire rendition of that song. He’d done a little standup comedy in his youth and he not only chose to look at life with humor, he chose to take the events and happenings of our everyday lives and use them as material. My job was to roll my eyes and fight to keep from cracking a smile. A tiny drawing of an egret would be accompanied by “Egrets? I’ve had a few.” He was willing to do slapstick but preferred taking the ordinary and putting a little twist on it. If all else failed, his answer to practically everything was, “Let’s all get naked.”
I missed our conversations. He was erudite, smart, and philosophical. We agreed on many things and disagreed on many others, but we never lacked for interesting talk. His head for facts and my head for concepts gave us one nicely balanced mind between us, and he was one of the few men I’d ever been close to who could keep up with me intellectually. The fact that I didn’t want to talk politics and he didn’t want to talk metaphysics didn’t hamper us. There was always something to ponder aloud and roll around so we could get a good look at its many sides. And we were always as happy talking about the birds at the feeder or the flowers coming up in the garden as we were talking about the meaning of life. In fact, it could be argued that we viewed the birds and flowers as inherently meaningful components of life.
I missed having a companion who was at much at home at the opera as at a Rockies game. I missed dinners on the lower deck, under the flowering crab. I missed trips with him to bookstores and antiques stores, and I missed having a beer or glass of mead with him at Wynkoop Brewing Company.
I missed his unique stride, which was just a tiny bit bow-legged and always taken with the kind of casual confidence that made him look as if he owned the turf on which he tread.
I missed our morning ritual. As I put on makeup and styled my hair, he would stop outside the bathroom or dressing room door and wait until I paused what I was doing to turn to him. Then he would say, “You’re gonna look pretty today, aren’t you?” or “Are you putting on your fascinators?”
I missed his calling me “Little One,” sometimes emphasizing the word “One,” as if to say, “Forget the first three wives, you’ve always been the one.”
I missed that particular brand of loyalty and integrity he shared with a few other remarkable men I’d known, a commitment to what was right and true, with no apologies for loving America or staying true to his friends or being just a tad bit conservative. Well, okay, maybe more than a tad bit conservative.
I missed the fact that he knew as many lyrics as me and I even missed his annoying habit of playing fast and loose with lyrics, changing them at will if he couldn’t quite remember all of them or if he just wanted to be perverse.
I missed his native view of the world, a way of seeing things so different from mine that it was sometimes startling to me.
Often, something would flit by on the screen of my consciousness, something that caught my attention because of its absence, or caught my attention because it called up a fond memory, or caught my attention because a sight or sound or smell or internal sensation reminded me of that particular uniqueness that was him . . . and was gone.
That the particular uniqueness of any human cannot be replaced became something I came to understand in the same way we come to understand the uniqueness of a sunset or a spring day. That uniqueness is there and then it is gone. Nothing can replace it. It, and everything else, is fleeting and gorgeous and just a little sad . . . because it is fleeting and gorgeous.
Copyright 2012 by Melanie Mulhall