The last time I saw you, we were sitting on my couch eating hors d'œuvres. I'd spent a week agonizing over what to make because we hadn't seen a lot of each other and you had just come back from Sloan-Kettering Memorial with Karl and we were toasting him because his latest labs were so good.
Both of you had little time so we knew it was just a drive-by party and I wanted to make the best of it and I kept playing with your bracelet as you regaled me with stories of growing up in Cuba and how stylish your socialite mom was and how much you loved your nanny and you didn't want to talk about your own lab results so we didn't.
It was late, because you arrived late, which was expected and welcomed with delight like a fancy sparkling midnight snack and we drained the bottle and you kept eating the kalamata olives and one other thing I made but I can't recall and it's making me a little tearful because I want to brand this memory on my heart of hearing your laugh and seeing your bright smile and the way you gazed at Karl and he at you and everything you'd been through together and meant to each other and now I'm standing next to the same couch listening to Spouse play back the message from Karl that you died last night and for some reason I keep thinking, 'Why does Karl keep insisting on calling our business phone in the closet when he knows our cell numbers' and my hands are shaking and my heart is pounding and the rain is pouring down the skylights and filling up the driveway and I look at him and no words come out.
Today is our 9th wedding anniversary which we haven't celebrated in at least four years although we've agreed to go to dinner tomorrow at my favorite restaurant because at the very least we can tolerate each other over good food, the last thing we will ever agree on as long as I don't hug him or touch him or brush against him or complain about what a cheap tipper he is and go back and throw more money on the table but at least we're friend and not mortal combatants and I find my voice and he speaks up and asks me if he should call Karl and I said, 'No. Go over there right now, please. You're a man. He's surrounded by women. Just sit with him. Talk about nothing. Just sit with him.' and he says okay and puts on his jacket and steps out into the rain, closing the door behind him. And now I'm alone with you if only in my thoughts, like a prayer of wistfulness.
You always had a kind of quiet dignity and innate graciousness that I could never hope to accomplish because I'm so much like a big fluffy pedigreed puppy running around in circles, quite entertaining and nice to look at, and smart too (she does tricks!) but at the end of the day exhausting and demanding and your presence was like a tuning fork where my mind would just stop racing and sit politely with my hands in my lap and just listen, just listen and I'm reminded that Beth said she didn't quite understand you and how did I get along with you and I said I didn't see what she meant, no maybe Melinda wasn't the most open person and took everyone in small doses but she had her reasons and we all have reasons don't we, so Beth changed the subject and I remember the last thing Beth said to me was, 'I'll see you at the funeral' which angered me a little even though it was true and the last time I was in that church was because Beth's dog had died and she asked me to go with her because it was Lenten season and she was part of the altar group so she HAD to go but didn't want to talk about the dog to everyone so needed me to be a buffer or distractor of sorts and I thought for sure when I stepped into a church again I'd be struck by lightening or at least smoke would swirl around my feet and she said to stop being so silly and now I have to go again and have no excuse because this time it's not about a dead poodle, but a next-door neighbor and friend and friend's wife so my attendance is required.
I remember when we were having our first annual cook-out and there was a freak thunderstorm and you called and asked if it was still on and I said, 'Oh yes! Rain or shine', and you said you had a problem and was embarrassed and didn't know how to say it and I to just say it and you said you locked yourself into your bedroom and the doorknob came off in your hand and you were literally locked alone in your house and was a little scared and panicky and I said, 'Is your back door unlocked?" and you said it was so I called Spouse and he was angry because he'd just stepped out of the shower and said, 'Why can't she just call the fire department?' and I said, 'Put on some goddamn clothes and get the toolbox and stop being such an ass. Do unto others...Jesus God what the hell is wrong with you.' and he stomped off but did it and eventually had to kick in your door and you were able to make it to the party after all and no one had to know that you were scared and you told everyone that Spouse saved your life and you and Karl did something nice for us and I said, 'See! This is why we look out for our neighbors' and he still sulked but I didn't care.
Then there was the freak blizzard and my car got stuck on the hill and a new neighbor reluctantly drove me to my driveway and I slipped on the ice under the snow just as he pulled away not even bothering to check if I made it to my front door and I couldn't get up no matter how much I tried to get traction and I was crying and screaming in the dark and my fingers were turning blue and Karl came out of nowhere and went into the garage and got a piece of cardboard and helped me up and after a few hours under a blanket, by the fire I was fine and I was able to say YOUR husband saved my life and we'd joke about it whenever we'd get together.
You loved my chili and eggplant parm. I loved your green bean casserole and fruit cake. We could hear each other laughing from our decks and I was thankful that yours was the only house I could see through tree cover because you laughed as much as I did and would climb up the little incline between our back woods to say hello and slap mosquitoes and also talk about one day making a path between houses and now I'm sitting here and I can't type anymore because one more person I love is gone and my eyes are filled and I can't see nor do I want to.
I'll see you at the funeral and I love you.