Mine eyes are spent with weeping. —Lamentations 2:11

     When Henry died, I stopped going to the movies. I couldn't see the point. If someone dies, that someone is Henry.  If no one dies, then what is it to me? Also, I stopped answering the phone after 11 PM or opening emails marked urgent.  If they have to find you, they'll find you.

     I don’t go to museums after noon anymore.  I want to be long gone when the loudspeaker erupts—a bomb exploding in a safe house—reminding us all that the end is near. Et in Arcadia ego. I hate that voice. It is the gate clanging shut, the repo man at the door, the last train out before Paris falls.

     Before Henry, I loved to walk the city late at night, a proud burgher surveying her demesne, up and down deserted avenues, past knots of drunken teenagers congregating on the corners, homeless sleeping in doorways and cardboard lean-tos pitched against the building walls. Complacent fool that I was, I would think to myself, there is hope even here. Now, all I see around me is death: the museum shut up like a grandee’s tomb, its entrance bathed in ghastly footlights; the park thrumming with murderous thoughts; restaurants padlocked and dark save the green glow of the Emergency Exit sign, with its droll promise of salvation. Don’t tell me everyone will be back in the morning. Sometimes they won’t.

     When I detect the telltale signs of a store in trouble, I stop going. I don’t want to be there when the Everything Must Go! sign is taped across the front window, its hysterical imperative reminding us all of what we already know. I don’t want to see the scuffed-up walls stripped bare, clothes tossed in bins, light fixtures ripped from the ceiling like eyeballs harvested from the dead. I don’t want to worry about the people who used to work there, whether they miss each other, whether they found new jobs, whether they feel like someone they love has died. I want to be able to tell myself that maybe I was wrong, maybe it survived after all.  

     The day Henry died, I ripped the peonies out of my garden, the bloodroots and sweet peas too. Such profligacy, such a great expense for a moment’s beauty, flowers blown almost as soon as they are burst. My garden now is made of rock and sow thistle, toad rush and milkweed. It is the color of concrete, the feel of barbed wire and the cool stone monastery floor. It lives on whatever it finds—air, the sound of sirens, yesterday’s news. It will still be here in a hundred years, long after we have ceased to haunt anyone’s dreams.  

     And when I see a ten-year-old boy crossing the street, I turn away. If at that moment a driver should lean over to change the radio station, or glance up at the darkening sky, at least I will not be there to witness to it.  At least it will not have happened to me.

 

 

 

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After Henry

BARBARA FRIED