My husband and I got into an argument while driving on Interstate 8 from San Diego to our old house in Tucson.
Funny that we’d be driving home that day.
Funny that we’d been living in San Diego for three months and on that day of all days were driving to Tucson on the anniversary of his late wife’s death.
Not so funny though that we’d have an argument on that lonely, vacant stretch of highway between the hills of Yuma and the ridiculous “We have fenced areas for your dogs while you shop,” Dateland Truck Stop
“You have to learn how to let go of things.” he was saying.
Actually. He wasn’t saying it. He was yelling it. He was yelling that I got wound up over stuff that I didn’t need to get wound up over. That I took things too seriously. That I let things get to me.
“You just have to learn to let go!” he yelled again.
I’m driving. I’m thinking. I’m wondering what to say and where the hell this anger was coming from. I’m cautious about not wanting to lose my temper and drive us off the road and that’s when I remembered the thing about it being his late wife’s anniversary.
I looked at the ugly, sandy highway in front of me and in my mind’s eye I saw our old house in Tucson.
It was empty now that the tenants we had rented it to had moved out but somehow, it was also not empty.
In the bedroom I see “M” there on the bed in her last moments the way I always see her and I see him sitting on his stool beside the bed the way I always see him.
“A stool was the only thing I could sit on to keep from falling asleep,” He’d told me.
In the split second it took me to see M dying yet again, with him holding vigil beside her yet again, I turned to look at his face, still red from having yelled at me and I have a thought.
“When he says, ‘You have to learn to let go!’ he’s not talking to you.”
I don’t mention any of this though. I don’t mention the scene I’d had before my eyes that I have seen so many times and I don’t mention that maybe his anger isn’t so much at me as it is at someone—something — else.
Later, after we change drivers at Dateland and after the elephant in the car has gotten so big I can’t stand it anymore, is when I bring it up.
Grief. It reaches through the years and takes hold of you. Just when you’re sure it’s controllable, settled down, tamed. Just when you think that you’re free of its capriciousness, it pulls you under.
You think there’s nothing ahead of you but a straight, flat highway leading to someplace predictable called “Dateland” but grief’s not like that. Something happens—somebody says something or does something that sounds a tiny bit familiar to you and suddenly, instead of sitting in the passenger seat of your new Subaru with your new, very much alive wife, you’re sitting on a stool next to a bed in which the woman you had loved and lived with for 48 years is dying.
I’m grateful though. I’m grateful to him. He allows me to tell him what I’m thinking and even allows as how maybe I’m right.
In fact, a few more miles down the road he actually goes further.
“You are right,” he says.
He apologizes and tells me that sometimes, even though he is aware of the anniversary, it gives him an ache that he didn’t realize he had.
This I know about him. I know he aches. Truth is if it were told and if I can say such a selfish thing, I’d want him to ache for me too.
About an hour and a half later, the air in the car cleared of elephants, we pull into our old driveway. He unloads some stuff out of the back, comes around to my side and opens the door.
“Come on, honey,” he says, putting out his hand, “Let’s go in and decide if we want to sell this place or not.”
In the end, we do sell it.
We leave Tucson — where I had lived for almost 50 years and he had lived for almost 20 years — and several weeks later, having just heard from the realtor in Tucson, we talk.
We’re sitting on the patio of our little cottage in San Diego and he gives me a knowing look.
“It’s good that we moved.” he says quietly. “I feel different here.”
“Tell me more.” I respond, pouring another few ounces of wine into his glass.
“I feel like the road to San Diego has put distance between me and Tucson in more ways than one.”
“Me too,” I tell him, understanding what he means. “Me too.”
I glance out over the small canyon abutting our patio. On the other side of it, I see a car on the quiet road that winds its way through the neighborhood.
Carmelene began writing for publication on her 73rd birthday in 2015. She writes stories and vignettes about life and how life itself gives us the lessons, hopes and directions we need to put our feet on higher ground. You can find her writing at https://www.facebook.com/StoryBelly