Some time ago, I started building a house and I filled it with the very best of us, the things that I couldn’t bear the thought of forgetting.
Like the way, once, when it was drizzling and he was taking me out for Japanese food for the first time in my life, he wordlessly ducked inside and grabbed an umbrella for me as I had just started to lift my scarf over my head to keep my hair from getting wet, and how he nestled up close to me to cover me with it. Or how his body moved when he flipped eggs for our breakfast and how he would wake me 20 minutes after the coffee was brewed and poured, so I could gulp my coffee as soon as I woke up and not have it scald my tongue. Or how carefully he shaved with his homemade soap, with his old-fashioned razor and bristly little brush that the cats that he adopted liked to play with, the morning ritual that made him smell intoxicating and like sandalwood. Or how he always let all the neighborhood kids come in to play in summer and kept the freezer buried in Popsicles. Or how patient he was with his daughter and how he would lift the couch with her on it just to make her laugh. Or how when he would come to bed late at night and find me festooned in my own blankets, he would always find my arm and hold me. And in my half-dream state, I would feel comforted and safe.
Or how, in the deep dark hours after spending our first Christmas together, I draped my feet across his lap as we watched It’s A Wonderful Life and he smiled knowingly at me from across the couch as Jimmy Stewart said he’d lasso the moon and I knew. I knew that I could spend all the rest of my Christmases with him. I could spend the rest of my life with him. I knew it in the marrow of my bones.
It was then that I started filling the house that I was building with dreams. And, oh. They were so fragile at first. Transparent and nebulous and I was so afraid that if I looked at them straight on the force of my hope that they would become real would shatter them. But, over time, they became more solid. And I got more comfortable with them. And they started expanding and they filled up the empty spaces and so I built new rooms to hold them and, oh. It was a happy place.
I pictured myself in the vintage dress I’d found, the white one with butterflies fluttering about on the hem, and walking toward him slowly. I pictured helping his daughter getting ready for school and taking her to the library and bandaging her up when she fell. I pictured me chopping vegetables in the kitchen and his arms circling my waist, him humming in my ear. I pictured a cradle.
He held me, last September, as I laid in bed and wept. He held me as I suffered what we very highly suspected was a miscarriage. He held me as I lost our baby, and I hurt so much that the world broke and I tried to muffle my gasping sobs so I wouldn’t scare the children playing the next room. He held me and murmured “just breathe” because there wasn’t anything else that could be done.
It was then that the house that I was building started filling with ghosts.
I wanted to try again. He didn’t.
And then, suddenly, I had an empty house.
I have wandered these rooms so often in the past year, being regifted the sunflower that he plucked for me on our first anniversary because he knew that they were my favorite, or the conversation in which he asked for Poland for his birthday and how he crumpled into the fridge, laughing, when I unpacked the boxes a month later and presented him with everything I could find that came from Poland that I thought he’d enjoy. I remembered old jokes and I relived the whispered, almost shy way that he said “I love you” for the first time and the solemn hush that followed.
I have lived here as penance for the mistakes that I made. I have lived here because entrenching myself in grief was easier than healing.
But if I stay here any longer it won’t be a house that I will have built. It will be a mausoleum that I have bricked up around me. That is no place for the living.
It is good to remember. It is good to learn. It is good to know that I am worth love and worth loving well and purely and for myself with all my scars.
But it is not good to dwell in this place, this place of ghosts and echoes and almost.
And so, today, it burns. I will burn it and scatter the ashes to the wind and ask that the wraiths not follow me.
I do not live here anymore. I do not live here anymore.
Someone hand me a match.