Chapter one: 365 days
It’s been a year, Marcus. It has been a whole year without you. Three hundred and sixty five long days without you around. God, I still miss you the same. I miss you exactly as much as I did on the first day you were gone. But I am getting better, I swear. I am truly getting better. After all, I had a whole year to get better and get used to your absence. I said I’m used to it, that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I will never enjoy it.
So here I am, three hundred and sixty five days later, wondering if I should celebrate this day, you know, like a sort of birthday. Well, I guess I should be calling it a ‘death day’ then. No, truthfully, I don’t feel like celebrating anything. I’ll probably call your mother later on to see how she is doing. I have to be honest with you, I haven’t called her as much as I wish I had. I’d used my grief as an excuse, selfishly ignoring hers, and I let her make all the effort of calling more often. I even think that her situation is worse than mine actually. Poor her, if the last year has been terrible for me, I can’t imagine how it might have been for her. I’ve lost my husband, but she lost a son, her young son of only thirty three. You were gone too young for it to be easier on her. For me, no matter what age that would have happened, it would have been just as hard.
So that’s my plan, Marcus. Calling her and probably trying to enjoy a glass of red on my own while watching TV. No, I know what you are thinking, and this is not self-pity. For a goddamn year, I have worked hard to keep my head up and look fine, and forced myself to do fine. So today, I am allowed to feel a little miserable without you. I’ll probably go to the store too and get a bottle of that expensive wine you always liked. I’ve never been really fond of it, but hey, I have the palate of a hobo as you always said. But today is your day, your death day, so I’ll make it special for you and I’ll get that wine, just for you, baby. I’m glad that it’s Sunday tomorrow. I will even be able to drink the whole bottle by myself without feeling guilty. Argh, Frodo is sending me one of his disapproving look from the other side of the bed. I think he knows I am up to something. Hang on, baby, my phone is ringing.
I jump out of bed and caress the head of the blond Cocker Spaniel on my way out of the room. With haste, I run down the stairs to get my mobile before one of my rare interlocutors decides to hang up on me. I can hear Frodo’s necklace jiggling behind me. Wherever I go, he goes.
“Hello?” I answer the phone rapidly.
“Abby. How are you, sweetheart?”
“Hi Mom. I’m doing alright, just waking up now.” I tell her.
I hear her sigh loudly on the other side of the line. “It’s nearly noon, darling!” she says, and I can even hear the exasperation in her voice.
“It’s the weekend, Mom. I am allowed to sleep in as long as I want.” I answer on the same tone. Can you believe her, Marcus? I’m not ten anymore!
“Are you sure it has nothing to do with today’s date?”
It is my turn to sigh loudly. “Of course it has to do with today’s date, Mom.”
“Well, go shower and get ready, I’m coming over. I think it would be a bad idea for you to stay alone today.”
We both know she is right. “Okay. I’ll get ready.”
“See you in a bit, darling.”
I hang up and look at Frodo, seated at my feet, his fluffy tail waving at me with hope. “Yeah, I’ll get your food. Come on.”
I watch the dog digging his nose into the gluey food as I dig into mine, a bowl of cereals. I remember when he was still a puppy and used to put his front paws into the bowl to eat. I think he misses you too, you know. His eyes are often sad and he has not has much energy as he used to have when you were around. I don’t think that is related to his age, he is only three, and that’s like twenty one for us, the age we peak. But I also don’t take the time to play with him as much as you did. I’m making him lose his youthful spirit. A knock on my door startles me. Damn it, she will kill me. I walk to the door and open it with conviction.
“I know, I am not ready yet. I had to take care of my kid!”
Mom walks in without complaining about me still being in my pajamas. “It’s a dog, you know?”
“Oh, I didn’t notice.” I give her a cheeky smile before climbing back up for a shower, “Feel free to take your grand-son for a walk instead of waiting for me.” I shout at her.
“My God, Abby, look at this mess! I’d rather take this moment to do some cleaning around the house. I’m letting Frodo out. He can walk himself,” She says from downstairs.
I can’t deny that the house had been quite messy in the last week. I always hated cleaning. You were the one always doing most of it anyway. And when you didn’t want to, at least you were pushing me to do it. Now, on my own, I have nobody to motivate me.
I try the best I can to get ready faster. I didn’t want Mom to have to take care of my things like that. She had done so much for me in the past year that I can’t let her keep on doing it.
“How can you let your house get dirty like that? It just needs a little organization. You drink from a cup, you put the cup back into the sink when you are done. Look at this lot of glasses next to the couch,” I hear her say as I get back into the living room.
“Marcus always used to clean after me.”
“But Marcus is not here anymore, so you’ll have to change your habits.”
I know that. I’m telling that to myself I don’t know how many times per day. But it still lands heavy on my heart every time someone else says it.
I think Mom reads the vivid struggle on my face as hers softens. “I’m sorry, Abby, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just worried that you are not getting over this after a whole year.”
“But I am getting over this. Slowly but surely,” I tell her firmly. “Tomorrow I am packing up his stuff.”
I regret it as soon as I say it. I wasn’t really planning on doing it yet, it was just a small idea trotting in the back of my mind, but I had to give her something to make her believe I was doing better. God, now she’s gonna be on my back all the time to make sure that I do pack your stuff away.
“That is fantastic news! It will be easier for you when you won’t be seeing his things around all day long.” Mom says with a shy smile.
Come to think of it, I don’t find that to be such a bad idea after all. Having your stuff around the house or not won’t change the fact that I will still think of you constantly. I think it could be a good way to let myself know that I am ready to move on now. I kept things as they were for one year, but tomorrow another year will start and maybe another ‘me’ could start too. I need to get my life back on track again, and I need to do it now. I’ll be thirty next year, so I am still young enough to start over, don’t you think? But don’t worry, baby, you’ll always be with me. It’s just your stuff that I will be packing. I think this could be a good time to give them away, to the poor or something like that. It is such a shame to see all of this not being used at all when they could help someone else out there.
“You’ll need help?”
I jump at Mom’s voice. I had forgotten for a moment that she was here.
“No. I’ll be fine. This is something I’ll need to do alone.”
She has an empathetic smile. She knows how much crying that will involve, and she knows that there is nothing she can do about that.
Instead, she changes the subject. “Lunch?”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the past year has been hard on me. Just after the funeral I literally stayed in bed for a month. Mom was constantly there and she did her best to force me into a shower or feed me. But there was a hole inside of me that no food could fill. She did a good job in keeping me alive though, because in all honesty, I think that without her I would have simply let myself die slowly, tangled in those dirty sheets that still had a bit of your smell. You remember when she nearly choked me with that soup I didn’t want to eat, but she still forced it into my mouth? I certainly remember it. But today I am grateful for her hard work, and I also appreciate her taking care of Frodo when I couldn’t even look back at the poor dog - another great reminder of you.
People always say that time heals, and when I got oh-so-many of that stupid sentence at the funerals, I just wanted to slap them all in the face. But now, a year after, I realized that it is indeed true. Time does mend what is broken and heals even the deepest wounds. A little at least.
When I could finally get out of bed, I spent another month at home, but at least then I was able to move around the house, clean a little, take care of myself and of the dog. But every time I ran into something that belonged to Marcus, tears would overcome me again, like a flood, and my only ‘safe place’ was under the covers. But one day I woke up, and a heavy fog had simply been lifted off my head overnight. I woke up and, strangely enough, I was okay. That’s when I started to talk to you again, I think. That’s when I realized that I could always have you around if I wanted to. So I went back to work, Mom and Cameron stopped coming constantly, and slowly but surely I got back on my feet. Of course, it was still hard, but at least I was aware that life had to go on and that I should stop surviving and start living again.
I used to have a lot of people asking about how I was doing, eager to do things with me, to get me out of the house. But now, nobody really asks anymore. Probably too tired by my constant refusals, they have all moved on with their life, and they must think that I have moved on with mine too. Which is partially true. I guess that big clean up might as well be my last step of grief. I surely hope it is.
“Two coffees and two brunch platters, please.” Mom asks the waiter, and gets me out of my reverie. She turns back her attention toward me, “So, what will you do with his things?”
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t thought it through.” I decide to speak the truth, “It was just an idea. I’ll probably donate most of his things to charity, and maybe some stuff back to his family.”
“Yes, it’s a good idea to give back some souvenirs to his family.”
“Honestly, I want to keep most of the things for myself. I hate the idea that I have to get rid of it.”
Mom sends her hand across the table to reach mine. “Honey, it will be good for you, trust me. You don’t have to give everything away. But you need to make some room for yourself now.”
I sigh, and she knows I know that she’s right.
As soon as I can, I leave Mom and the vintage diner to go into town. The streets are covered in a green palette once more, and spring is finally here. I can even smell the perfume of the lilies brought by the wind from the town square. It’s a good time to start over, don’t you think?
At the corner of St Patrick’s Street and Abbey Road, I smile at the homeless man sitting there. I know that if you were here, you would have dropped a dollar or two in his hat and exchanged a few words with the old man. You were always fond of this guy. Never knew why.
The liquor store with its red bricks seems to be waving at me and inviting me in. Of course, as soon as I get into the shop, a few people stop their shopping to glance at me for a moment. They must all be wondering how I am holding on. It’s a small town, a lot of people know what happened, people I don’t even know myself. I got used to walking around those glances by now.
After wandering a bit through the aisles, ignoring the best I can the sympathetic smiles that some old ladies are sending me, I finally find Marcus’ wine. I wish I could just grab more than one bottle, but I refrain from it. This is a special wine, for only special occasions. If I start to drink it often, it won’t be special anymore, right?
As soon as I have the bottle in hand, I go for the cashier. The young blond girl behind her computer looks at me intensely. She recognizes me too, I suppose, and I feel like she wants to say something but doesn’t, probably out of shyness.
“Cash or card?” she finally asks.
She starts pressing a few buttons on her screen before she speaks again. “It’s been a long time since we last saw you in here.”
I chuckle in my throat. “Oh really, cause I never drank as much as I recently have,” I said frankly, my words carrying a bit of bitterness in them.
Her shy smile fades, probably intimidated by my honest tone or my pathetic life.
“I’m not an alcoholic if that’s what you think.” I tell her in a softer voice, “Yet,” I smirk at her.
“I work in the only liquor store in town, so I know who’s an alcoholic and who is not.” She giggles, “You are far from being one of them.”
I send reply to her smile as I grab my bottle. “I wish you a good day and I hope that I don’t see you again soon. Not because I don’t want to see you, I just hope I’ll stay away from this shop and its products in the future.”
She keeps her grin and waves shyly as I leave the store.
If Mom finds out what I am planning for tonight, she will kill me. As I walk back to the car, I grab a few quarters I had in the pocket of my jeans and drop them into the hat of the homeless guy. He mumbles a faint “God bless you!” behind me.
I make a quick run to the home depot to get myself a large pack of unfolded cardboard boxes. I’m sorry but I have to stick to my plan, Marcus. I get the twenty boxes lot that has different sizes in it. It should fit my needs. I’ll get more boxes if I need to, in the future, but that will be enough for a start.
As soon as I enter the driveway, I can see Frodo’s head appearing at the window. Apart from Cameron, he is probably the only friend that still cares about me now. I am grateful that you wanted to get a dog. You know how I wasn’t thrilled about the idea at first. Thankfully, that little ball of fur rapidly grew on me, and I am also grateful that he was around when you aren’t anymore. How would that last year have been if I had stayed completely alone in the house? Frodo has been an extraordinary companion on my lonely nights.
Night falls gently over the calm neighborhood and a chill wind comes in from the window. Outside, the street is sleeping under a black velvet sky where a few stars start to twinkle shyly. It was a beautiful day today. You had a lovely death day! You see, even the world paid you a tribute on this special day. The world knows how much you are missed and what an extraordinary man you were. With my first glass of wine in hand, I go to Marcus’ vintage turntable and put on his Lou Reed vinyl. ‘Perfect Day’ starts to play and I take a first sip. Perfect song, don’t you think? After untying the tight ponytail that had been imprisoning my long curly auburn hair all day, I start to sway on my feet; holding my body with one arm, I keep my eyes closed to savor the taste of alcohol invading my mouth. That’s the first song we listened and danced to on our first night in this house. It’s been six years already since we bought it, can you imagine? That was a perfect day, too. We were young and full of dreams. Young married couple crazy in love with each other. This was our first investment together, though you paid for most of it. Well, you always made more money than I did, it seemed natural. I continue swinging on my feet, keeping my eyes closed for a moment, as ‘Take a walk on the wild side’ starts and brings a smile to my lips. Still dancing on my own, I start to sing along with Lou. Probably his best song, you would have said. If I close my eyes hard enough, it feels like you are here. I can almost feel your fingers brushing my back and your breath lingering on my neck. When I open my eyes again, Frodo is watching me from the couch. He must be wondering what kind of idiot I am.
My phone rings in the kitchen. It’s Martha. Again, she’s been the one calling first. Shit. I wish I could be a great daughter-in-law to her. I just don’t always know how to. I answer.
“Hi, Martha. Strange thing, I was just about to call you.” I tell her, wincing at my lie on my side of the line.
“How are you, my dear?” her soft voice warms me instantly. You got that from her.
“Strangely, today wasn’t such a terrible day, after all. I always thought it would have been a tough one, but you know what, it felt like he was here again today. What about you? How are you holding on?”
I hear her inhale deeply. “It was a good day too. Carrie and her family came home and we spent the day sharing good memories of Marcus. Yes, it was a good day.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” I said candidly.
I talk a little more with her, telling her about my plan of giving away his things. She approves my idea and encourages me. I miss Martha, she has always accepted me with open arms in their family. The woman is kind-hearted and full of only love. It is clear that you have been raised by great people. You definitely had her heart, but you had the determination of your father, apparently. I can’t confirm that part. I never got the chance to meet him. When I am done receiving news about the whole family, I end the conversation, promising to call soon. I really hope that this time I will keep my promise.
I eat in front of a turned-off TV screen, Lou Reed still playing in the background, and I start to arrange my thoughts about this big clean up. I don’t think I’ll drink all of the bottle tonight, Marcus. I think it would be good for me to start the packing tomorrow. And I need to remain fresh for it, so I’ll just stop after my second glass and head to bed. Pussy! Yeah, that’s what you would have said to me. I grin on my own.
Feeling a little lightheaded, I finally climb into bed, followed by Frodo who wants to sleep next to my feet. As I turn off the light on the bedside table and close my eyes, a lonely tear that I didn’t expect makes its way on my cheek. God, how I miss you, Marcus.