After forty-six years of marriage, I find myself in The Container Store™ in Gulfstream Park. He wanted to be cremated. He didn’t want his ashes to stay in Florida. In fact, he hadn’t wanted his body to be in Florida either; “God’s Waiting Room.”
He would look around the swimming pool, disparaging our new neighbors, “Look at all these old people.” It didn’t occur to him that he was the oldest one there. And so arrived the inevitable day when his heart and diabetes claimed their malevolent victory over his conviction that he was immortal.
I have scheduled a memorial service in New York at St. John The Divine, an ecumenical refuge for non-practicing Jews. Taking all the ashes on a plane seems complicated, so my older son and I are now wandering up and down the aisles looking for appropriate vials. My children and I will each have one and find some very New York spot to bring a token of this New Yorker back to his city. From dust unto…the dust of Central Park near the ball field. I think it’s illegal – but such a tiny amount is not more than a flick from one of his omnipresent cigarettes, a symbolic gesture that would have amused him had he not been the direct object of the sentence, the life sentence.
Shelf after shelf, glass, plastic, pottery…a salt shaker? Zip lock bags? I don’t think so... At last we find clear little glass vials with black screw-on tops. I catch my breath. Is it the realization of my loss or the absurdity of the moment? The naked vials seem inappropriate, even crass. What would add a note of solemnity?
I spot a few small black velvet drawstring bags with red or purple satin linings. That’s more fitting, but I need five. There are only three here.
“Excuse me, Miss. Do you have any more of these velvet bags? …What do I need them for?” Well, how do I put this? I just lost my husband and want to take him back to New York…
The Container Store™ just found a new market. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs were mummified and buried with jewelry, furniture and other valuables. Today’s container search is minimalism to the nth degree, an amazing, complicated, celebrated life gone with a “wham bam thank you ma’am!” No more funerals, burials, gravestones, I was here, will you visit me? The ephemeral nature of life in an age of disbelief.
It’s now over ten years. It’s the first time I’ve lived alone, responsible for no one else, free to think my own thoughts. Last weekend I moved the bulk of his ashes, housed in a polished mahogany box provided by the Neptune Society, from the front closet to a prominent place on a bookcase, along with the containers of a dog we had adored and a cat who tolerated us because we watered and fed her.
There is no container big enough for the life we shared. As our lives intertwined over for-six years, his stories became my stories. Simultneously, I skated over the thin ice of my evolution from wife of successful attorney and mother of three, to the sense of fulfillment that literally came into focus when I picked up a camera.
Married to Paul, I have always felt I had a dual personality. On one hand, out would come an understated but chic outfit – my lawyer’s wife persona. Then I’d go to my photo studio in the penthouse of a garment factory building wearing black jeans, black turtleneck and a wide brimmed felt fedora – my ‘hip photographer’ look. Torn between the two, I always felt like a bit of a fake either way.
It's taken me all this time to understand that my conflict wasn’t unique to me. Most women of my generation and many who follow, wrestle daily with their prioities. How many of us women were never empowered to escape the societal limitations stamped indelibly on our collective psyches?
When I try to visualize the significant moments of my life, I keep seeing a double helix, two spirals, interlocking around the same axis, connected by magnetic lines. My inner self is imprisoned in the center of these two spirals, which are going in opposite directions. I am pulled first one way, then the other. One spiral with a very powerful force field is my husband, my life partner. The other, spiraling in the opposite direction, is my creative life, affirming, fulfilling.
In the middle are magnetic lines pulling the forces together, apart, together, then apart. These are my children. They are my core, the links bridging, connecting the spirals of my life.
Forty-six years of joy, sorrow, anger, humor, adventures…kings and cabbages, harsh words and gestures, foot rubs, sex, no sex, the brightest of light and darkest of shadows, being apart together.
Can I be me without you? Are you there? Are you watching or leaving me alone to mourn, to breathe – do I have any original thoughts or are they all a product of the mind/life games we played?
You haunt me.