I’m driving my minivan down the street, my three fatherless daughters buckled in their seats. We are almost home and the DVD they were watching is over. I switch to the radio and Unchained Melody is playing. B has been dead for over two months. Suddenly I feel as if I am in seventh grade again at the dollar theater eating Milk Duds and seeing Ghost for the tenth time. However, the casting is different. B is playing Patrick Swayze’s role and I, though a bit thicker in the waistline, am playing Demi Moore’s role. Oh, that deep-kissing-clay-smearing kind of love. That hunger and feeding and then hunger.
The fantasy remake of Ghost is cancelled when I pull into my driveway and one of the twins says, “Can I unbuckle myself?” I look in the rear view mirror. Chocolate is smeared across their little faces. It usually is when I pick them up from my mother’s house. All three of them have B’s wild blue eyes. When I was mad at him, I’d call his eyes serial killer blue. “Mommy, can I unbuckle myself?” This time, the question is asked in unison by Kathryn and Evelyn. It creeps me out when they do this. They are oblivious to my lake of tears. Before I can answer them, Gwynnie adds, “Unbuckle me, Mommy. Mommy, unbuckle me.” I hear the word mommy no less than a thousand times a day.
“Sure, honey,” I say, referring to the twins. What I want to say but cannot is that I will never touch B again. What if I forget his smell? He had the tiniest ears I’ve ever seen. I reach around and undo Gwynnie. How do I take the key out of the ignition or open the car door? I feel paralyzed. This must be the bargaining stage of grief because I swear I would happily make out with Whoopi Goldberg if she were B. I’d fast for a month for one more kiss. I’d have both legs amputated just to sleep next to him for a night.
Staying stuck is not an option when you are the single mother of three. Before I can finish trying to make a deal in my head with God about all of the things I would sacrifice for more time, my daughters are partaking in another Wrestlemania event in the van. Tonight it is a job to get them inside the house, wash their faces, help them brush their teeth, and get on their nightgowns.
Thinking about B will have to be put on hold. The girls and I gather in my room for story time and I pick something short to read. It does not work though, because they are their father’s children and those blue eyes con me into reading two more books and then telling them a story. They always want a spooky story and even as a writer, nothing I come up with is ever scary enough. I’m not feeling creative so I resort to Hansel and Gretel. I add a dog to layer the story, something I learned in a fiction workshop in grad school.
“That’s not long enough,” Gwynnie says. I missed a spot of chocolate on the tip of her nose.
I ignore her because I know this is just her way of avoiding bed, “Okay ladies, into your rooms so I can tuck you in.” Slowly, in annoying toddler time, they start to get up.
“That’s not spooky enough, Mommy,” Evelyn says. She is thoroughly disappointed, her hands are on her hips. The amount of personality compacted in this five-year-old is remarkable.
“Girls, I just told you a story about little kids and a dog almost getting cooked in an oven. I don’t think it gets much spookier than that.” They climb into their beds and I kiss them goodnight. If cannibalism is not scary, I give up. I shut their doors and head back to my own bedroom. It used to be B’s room too. I grab some dirty yoga pants from a basket in my closet. His clothes are still hanging. I should unload the dishwasher. There is laundry to do, but it is close to ten and I’m exhausted.
I pick up a book and collapse on my bed. Edith jumps up and walks to my pillow, drops to her side, and presses her paws against my face. It is impossible to read with a pug in your face, so I rub her belly and tell her how much that I love her. The night is still and Unchained Melody starts playing in my head. I hung some of B’s paintings on the wall. I say out loud, “I can still feel you, Brandon.” Tears start dropping on my blanket. Then I remember that Demi Moore says that exact line in the movie. A medley of crying and laughter forces me to sit up in bed. I don’t want to whittle love down to some Hollywood bullshit.
The bargaining starts again, this time in prayer. “God, I would have cut a piece of my sobriety out and given it to him. If only…”
“Mommy!” The scream of a three-year-old interrupts my nightly should haves and would haves. “I have to go potty.”
“Okay,”I say. This happens every night. Gwynnie knows that she does not have to tell me when she needs to use the bathroom, but she is passionate about talking. She wants my reassurance and that is the job I have been gifted as a parent. When she finishes, I hear the toilet flush three times while she is running the water to wash her hands. A minute later she opens my door, sprints across the carpet, and jumps into my bed. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m holding her or she is holding me.
I think of my friend who lost her husband two years ago to an overdose. She tells me that all I have to do is keep doggy paddling. It can’t be coincidental that tonight Gwynnie is wearing a Finding Dory nightgown. I must keep swimming and swimming. “Kiss my tootsies, Mommy,” she says and I do.