Layers peel off an onion until there’s nothing left. I wonder how long this process of peeling layers off our life together will last, and I worry if there will be anything left when it’s completed.
The house closed yesterday. It’s gone, and my feelings are so mixed. This was your house; never mine, never ours. We dated 2 months before you brought me over there. I remember how nervous you were about it, explaining that you were, as you put it, a “bachelor housekeeper”. Despite the nervousness in showing it to me, there was also pride in your place. Clearly, you loved that house. We spent a long time deciding which of our places would be the right one to share as an “us”. You made the decision, not me, to live at my place. It was smaller, easier to maintain. We only needed one car. “I’ve really grown to like it here” you told me. “There are too many ghosts at my place” you said.
I’ve found so many pictures of parties at your house, events that took place years before we met. Pictures of you looking younger, stronger, more vibrant. People I met through you, and some I never met. Different women draped on your arm, by your side.
I wish I had met you years earlier. It would be me at your side in those pictures. I think it would have been better, for both of us. With me there by you, I think your life would been more stable, better managed. I would have been happier, too. Those years when you were having parties and looking fit, firm, healthy; those were my hard, lonely years. Wondering if I’d ever find anyone. Sitting home, alone, a lot.
So much of what I’ve done over the last 7 weeks has been focused on getting your house ready. Slogging through box after box at your house, sorting into piles; garbage to be tossed, items for your family, for archiving, for selling, and finally those I want to keep for me, as memories of you. I’m befuddled by choices. Here’s a picture of you and a group of friends. I know most of the people in the picture, but I know them as being 10 years older. Do I keep this picture of a party I wasn’t invited to? I feel guilty throwing things out; no new pictures of you will ever be taken, nothing more will ever be saved. Everything I choose to throw away is one less item proving you were here, in this world. I don’t like this power.
The you I’ve been dealing with is not the you I knew. I feel like a voyeur. Here’s your divorce decree from your first marriage, there are all the invoices from a business you ran over 20 years ago. A manila envelope contains a bunch of souvenirs from a trip you took in the late 1980s. Tablet after tablet contains notes in your handwriting; old shopping lists, ideas jotted down as they came to mind, phone numbers. I keep the legal stuff, dump the rest, and have residual pangs of remorse after I do so. Your handwriting looks the same; I miss seeing it and feel bad tossing any scrap of paper decorated with that familiar scrawl.
I don’t like doing this job. It’s not good for me. I should be able to focus on the life you and I had, not on a part of your life that never contained me, that was never part of the “us” that I miss so badly. I’m starting to doubt our life together ever happened as I spend day after day going through these layers of your life that have no connection to me, to us. I should put these boxes away, move them all to our storage locker, close them up and not look at them for a year; but I don’t.
It feels safer to peel back the layers of this part of your life than to start working on what was our life. As hard as this is, I know the worst will be doing the same to what we had together. That last load of laundry I did the day before you went to the hospital is still sitting on your dresser. I touch your shirt every time I walk past. Your shoes sit in the closet, and the book you were reading sits on shelf by your side of the bed, right where you left it. I can’t yet face the job of going through your personal things, your clothes, the work documents in your office; I can’t even delete your email drafts.
I’m afraid of peeling back too many layers, of erasing you from this world.