I won my husband with a beach cruiser. Whenever I was nervous about something—teaching a new class, a presentation at work, and really all the things ever—Jim would say with total confidence, “You can do anything. You built a bike.” The bike’s what did it. I ordered a beach cruiser and put it together myself with things like ratchets and swearing, and that’s really all it took for Jim’s heart to belong to me. He thought capable was hot.
Wait, also my butt. That man loved my butt. He fell for my competence and my butt.
He loved lemon anything. Lemon cake. Lemon bars. He loved acidic food. When we were wandering around the Lake Michigan area back in May we found a shop that sold tea and fancy vinegars. He tasted the Meyer lemon-infused white balsamic and put it on the counter while I was paying for tea. “Get that too,” he told me. “It gave me lockjaw, so it’s good.” I could get him to eat anything so long as I drenched it in vinegar. Anything but broccoli and arugula.
He liked those weird, giant Smartie’s lollipops. He would put one down on the kitchen island and then smash it with a saute pan so he could eat the shards.
Thinking of him smashing the Smartie’s lollipops reminds me of a time shortly after his divorce that Jim made chocolate chip cookies. The recipe called for softened butter and he hadn’t set any out ahead of time. So he got a cube of butter from the fridge and a meat tenderizing mallet, put them in front of seven-year-old Ben, and said, “Here, soften this.”
When I was doing the pharma thing meetings made me travel, and he always, always had a surprise waiting in the hotel room when I got there or something delivered later. Flowers. Pie. Snacks. Shoes. When I didn’t tell him ahead of time what hotel—often I didn't even check myself until landing at whatever airport they'd sent me to—he’d ask coworkers where we’d be. There was one trip where nothing came until the day before I left to go home, and I thought, “Okay, this is the time he forgot. That’s alright. He can’t be all-the-way perfect.” Actually he could. The hotel made a mistake and since I hadn’t thanked him for the flowers yet, he had to call the hotel and be like, “So you screwed up, right?” Yup. Habits are helpful. It was his habit to send me stuff when I traveled. It was my habit to thank him when I received it. Since I didn’t execute my habit, he knew something was off.
He liked that he was habitual and predictable. I pointed out that he always stood the same in the shower, and he got a kick out of that. I love that he liked himself.
Whenever Jim was proud of himself he got the same facial expression. His “proud face” I called it. That expression would be indistinguishable from the everyday to people who didn’t study his face like a wife would, but small though it might have been, that tiny shift charmed me.
When we flew places he would lean forward on the tray table and fall asleep. But first he’d take off his glasses and tuck them into the seat pocket. Then he’d take down the tray table, put up his elbows and his forehead in his hands, and fall asleep. I used that as my cue to tickle his back and his head. And when I reached around and touched his earlobe I loved looking to his face to watch the crinkles around his eyes deepen as he smiled. It happened every time.
Since he died one of the things that people tell me they liked about Jim was that he didn’t have an ego. He was humble though he had plenty of reasons not to be. I liked it though when he'd show the rare flash of ego. It was cute. I’d point it out, and he’d like that about himself too.
I feel so bad for my dogs. I wasn’t the best dog owner before he died. Now I’m horrid. I haven’t walked Gus since we lost Jim. And when I’m home it’s not like I’m playing with them. I’m on the couch or in bed. I’m grateful they’re old, that they aren’t puppies and require a ton of attention. I couldn’t pull off a puppy right now.
The rooms in the house that don’t have pictures of Jim bug me. Or even freak me out. I get all frantic and have to go find a picture and tack it up. I don’t like sitting in the spots in the house where I can’t see him. He should be all over the place. I wish he’d haunt me.
Lately the bargaining part of this shitty process looks a lot like wishing that I could just tell him stuff and know for sure he heard it. That’s all I need. I’ll stop being sad and mopey and start looking people in the face again if I can just tell him things I know he’d find interesting or would make him laugh. I don’t even need to see or hear his reaction. I can imagine it perfectly.
Being happy was fun. I have the best memories of my husband. He loved me so much and I'm grateful that I know I made him happy. I smile when I think of him and our memories. I cry when his absence is too big. It’s always there, but sometimes it's just too huge for mere gloom.