Monday, November 8, 2010

I Am Missing You

"I ain't missing you since you've been gone away
I ain't missing you at all
No matter what my heart might say."
~John Waite

"What's up honey?" I said into my cell phone last night as I joked with our neighbor who was expecting Maya and me for dinner. Miguel was already at their home.

"Was that Mommy?" asked Maya who was finishing up her first dinner with other neighbors. She thought if I said 'honey' it must be Verna.

"No, that was Corinna, wondering where we are," I answered. "But that'd be really cool if we could talk to heaven. But we can't."

Miguel, Maya, and I know Verna is gone from this Earth forever, but that doesn't make the reality any easier to swallow. And I know our devastating sense of loss will eventually evaporate and be replaced by a constant ache in our hearts. For now, though, the sadness and pain I feel is heavy and weighs down everything I do.

Not that I'd want it any other way, but everything seems to remind me of Verna. On Saturday afternoon, as I walked to the neighborhood park, where Maya was waiting for me with yet another neighbor and his two kids, I passed Matt, who was pulling apart the rollers on the bottom of his vacuum cleaner.

"Well, the reason it got stuck, honey," he said to me in mock anger directed at his wife, "is because of your hair."

His comments immediately reminded me how strands of Verna's hair, which was waist long before her initial cancer diagnosis, clogged our vacuum and spilled onto the sink, toilet bowl, and floor of our bathroom.

I wanted to say to him, "At least your wife is still alive so she can shed." But I didn't. Nor should I have gone that far over the edge to hurt a neighbor and friend.

Then late last night, as I was walking our epileptic miniature poodle, another neighbor walked by with tears in his eyes.

"Hey, what's up?" I asked.

"Oh, it's J----," his wife, "she's missing. She and I fought pretty hard a few days ago. She just left tonight, went somewhere without her wallet or driver's license."

He'd repeatedly phoned her cell, but she wasn't answering. He'd also called her first cousin and close friend, but he wasn't picking up either.

Frankly, while I certainly felt sorry for him alone with four kids, ages 5-20, I couldn't really handle the personal drama, nor muster up enough emotional energy to share his pain and truly empathize. I wanted to say, "At least your wife is still alive to run away." But I didn't because even in pain I am not that cruel.

Verna is gone but memories of her are everywhere. When I cross the Golden Gate Bridge, I think of how we biked across it in 1990 when we'd been dating for a couple of weeks. We left San Francisco, Verna on her mountain bike, me on a freebie I'd inherited from a friend whose husband probably should've donated it to a scrap yard.

We breezed into Marin County on a 40-mile bike ride (OK, Verna breezed while I chugged) that Saturday afternoon more than 20 years ago, looped around Paradise Drive and into Tiburon before our ascent through Sausalito and back over the bridge, urban pioneers, exercising our hearts and bodies on two wheels amid the freshness of our nascent relationship.

On Saturday afternoon, I stopped off at the video store for Miguel and me and ran into the director of Miguel's preschool. Just seeing her flooded me with memories. She mentioned how Verna was the best treasurer the school had ever had.

"She was so organized and efficient and dedicated," she said.

"That was Verna," I said, a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

The thing is, I don't want the memories to fade or stop; I just want to feel better and have this deep, dark sense of emotional emptiness, which I know is raw grief, to subside. I happily summon Verna's memories. It's just that I miss her so much, and therefore the memories are also laced with sadness.

But I still punish myself by confronting those memories and testing my ability to handle them. On Saturday night, after Maya and Miguel went to bed, I watched When Harry Met Sally, a movie we'd enjoyed and was in Verna's instant DVD NetFlix queue.

Of course, as I watched Harry and Sally's animosity for one another grow into love, fondness, and deep friendship, as Meg Ryan brought herself to fake orgasm in a diner, and as Rob Reiner featured actual married couples waxing romantic over their long-term unions, I kept thinking, "All of them get a happily ever after except Verna and me."

Not fair. Not fair at all.

Well, tonight I channeled Verna with memories meant to honor her (and sustain our children). I made her pasta with spinach cream sauce, a dish she and the kids renamed green pasta. Miguel and Maya have been asking me to make the recipe for weeks.

It was probably the healthiest dish Verna made, culled from an issue of Vegetarian Times. You prepare the pasta of your choice and top it with a sauce made from cottage cheese, garlic, broccoli, spinach, and milk. You swirl the ingredients in a food processor. I never liked the dish because the broccoli and garlic gave it a overpoweringly pungent aroma. A former boss of mine banned the dish when I brought it in for leftovers. She said the smell permeating the funeral home was not good for the customers.

I was nervous as I poured the broccoli-spinach sauce onto the pasta and began to stir. Would this dish hold up to the high culinary standards established by Verna, who always adored food and cooking?

It certainly was green, and looked just liked Verna's. "How is it?" I asked.

"Good," said Miguel with a smile. He liked it. Miguel liked it.

"Good," said Maya. "Just like Mommy's."

I almost reached over and smeared her face with a garlic green broccoli spinach kiss. But I stopped and just gazed at her smile. It reminded me of Verna.

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