I have just returned from my first solo travel to visit Aunt Ginette. It was long overdue and she can’t travel well, so she really couldn’t make it to Keith’s bed side in the hospital or to the memorial service This “first” surprised me. I felt accomplished, joyous, celebratory – especially at that moment when I managed to cross the Gothos bridge. I always hated that bridge, even as a passenger. Jersey walls squeeze in tight on narrow lanes with all the trucks blocking any hope of a view to the end of the bridge. But I made it through and remembered each road and turn until I was sitting on Ginette’s doorstep in Flushings. It was late so she was already in bed. Henry let me in and I watched “The Bodyguard” with him and his girlfriend, Sylviane. She only speaks French so Henry translated everything to her as we watched. She calls home the Caribbean which makes their romance amazing in terms of the sheer distance between them. Cow came out so he could get his photo op and let everyone know on Facebook that I had arrived safely. I demonstrated Cow’s vocal talents to her and she fell in love with the little guy. Such a charmer.
After the movie, I climbed into the spare bed. This bed is two twin beds pressed together and whenever Keith and I spent the night, we always got stuck in the space between them. We never minded being that close because we were snugglers, but we always reached a point where it was time to roll away from each other. Needless to say, we couldn’t. We would constantly shift and move until the wee hours of the morning, when I would realize I could lay across the two beds instead to avoid the space. Come morning, I usually made my way to the foot of the bed with my pillows bunched up against Keith’s feet. Of course, he was always up first and as soon as he’d leave the bed, I’d spin around and assume the proper alignment. With no Keith on this night, I actually got a good night’s rest. I almost felt guilty – almost.
Ginette and I got a great visit in the morning and she served me up cheese and a bagel. I brewed the coffee which was something Keith always did. Henry was telling me about a friend of his that belonged to the red hat society. Reaching deep into the recesses of my high school french class data bank, I took my best stab at speaking french by pointing at my head and asking if that was “tete rouge”. Sylviane nodded her head in agreement and Henry said that oh yes, that does mean red head. Oops – red head, red hat. “No, no Henry – red hat” I repeated. OH! he tells me that is chapeau. I was missing Keith at that moment, he always translated for me when everyone started speaking French.
Henry and Sylviane invited me to go to the mall with them. I joined in and Henry drove. One thing you have to know about Henry’s driving is that he used to be a New York cab driver. The other thing you need to know is that he still drives like one. I am probably the only person that loves riding with him. My thrill seeking, roller coaster riding nature gets a kick out of it. I’ll never forget the time he picked Brandon and I up at Penn Station several years back. He had all the windows open and drove like a banshee out of the city, slamming on the brakes, weaving between cars, accelerating right up to a bumper only to dodge around a split second before he would have to stop. Keith on the other hand, could never take a normal driver’s quirks. In a vehicle with Henry, he’d have a death grip on the Oh-My-God handle, the whole while making commentary about how Henry was driving.
So the first thing Henry did when we got in the car was a spot-on imitation of Keith as his passenger. “Don’t stop so close, why aren’t you turning here, don’t let that guy in, watch what your doing, you should have taken the parkway, look out, slow it down, you trying to get us killed . . . ” Poor Sylviane looked over at Henry, perplexed by this animated rant. He saw the look and immediately repeated it in French. No doubt about it, Henry imitating passenger Keith in French had me in stitches. One of the best laughs I’ve had in a while.
Later that day, I traveled to Oakdale to visit with Billy, Leslie – long standing school mates of Keith – and MaryAnn, his first wife. Billy shared the story of how Keith had helped him move into an apartment in a less than favorable section of Manhattan. As Billy and Keith stood on the balcony of Billy’s new abode, Keith questioned the choice to move to such unsavory and unsafe quarters. A homeless man had chosen to relieve his bowels on the street right in front of them at this very moment, giving Keith the golden opportunity to point to the man for further proof of Billy’s poor judgement. After Billy shared the story, he just shook his head and questioned the odds of that ever happening again. Another one of the best laughs I’ve had in a while.
MaryAnn was wearing this beautiful heart necklace that her grandmother made using the stone from MaryAnn’s old wedding ring from Keith. Leslie shared with me some of her experiences with the lose of her ex-husband when her daughter was only eight. Often that day, I thought of Melissa, Keith’s niece, who lost her fiance to cancer just a few months ago. I carried Ginette’s words with me too. She tells me frequently – take care of yourself. Before anything else, it is so important to take care of yourself. No one can do that for you.
This widow world is strange. It transcends age and time and marital status. We all speak the same language that no one understands but us. It is a language we did not choose. I look to those that have spoken the language for longer – Ginette, Leslie – for guidance. I reach out to Melissa as we move through this on the same time line. Even widows I have never met speak this language to me and I understand it. My college mate, Chuck, died in an accident in October of 2010. I had friended his widow Sheila on Facebook a while back. Shorty after Keith died, she sent me a message. It included her phone number and she told me to call her any time. We share this language. There is no one that can translate. There are no tense, clauses, conjunctions. It is spoken in stories and song and tears and reflection. Simple phrases like “I know” or “I understand” carry with them a complex meaning that even we who speak it can’t explain. Most importantly, it is in our moments of silence that we speak it fluently.