When Shawn was alive, we reconnected most nights in the kitchen after the kids went to sleep. They were all so young back then, and went to bed by 8 pm, always. We treasured the few hours together that we got without them. (Oh how he would hate Claire’s new bedtime of 9 pm!)
Anyway, each night we’d both come down to the kitchen, and usually he’d re-heat food I made earlier in the evening or put something else in the oven. I’d sit at the counter and we’d talk about our days. I often had some drama from school (the staff meeting went way too long, or some student was freaking out over her first C paper) and I’d revel him with the details. “Listen,” he might say, “if the meeting is stupid, just stand up and say, ‘I have to go.’ You don’t have to sit through something like that. Your time is too valuable to be wasted.”
I always appreciated his ideas, but mostly, I just needed someone to tell about my day. And I loved hearing about his, even though he usually made it sound like he worked at some mundane office. One time, when he was working at the White House, I told him to tell me something exciting about his day. “Oh, Marjorie,” he said, “most of the drama is actually about why the printer still doesn’t work. It’s just like working in any other place.”
I loved that.
We spent most evenings chatting about life, bantering back and forth about the people we knew and the issues we faced at work. We talked about the kids, obviously, and we laughed about cute things they’d done that day. I never thought of those evenings as particularly special. Mostly, we were tired and ended up watching mindless TV after we touched base in the kitchen.
But now that I don’t have it, I’m realizing how important that time was.
Every once in a while before Shawn got sick, I’d have something come up at work or with a friend or with the kids that really bothered me. I’d come home, wait through the painful bedtime hours with the kids and then start talking a mile a minute when we reconvened in the kitchen. Shawn always listened to the entire story before he said anything (he was one of those people who almost never interrupted a story, but he also didn’t do the “uh-huh, yes, okay” interjections that many people do, which took a long time to get used to.) After I told him the whole story, he’d clarify the issue, and then lay out what he thought my options were. Almost every single time after we talked, I felt like things would be okay.
Now, when I have a big problem at work, I can call a friend. I can talk to my dad or I can write in my journal.
But it is not the same.
In my new life when I feel stress, I retain a sense of unease throughout the evening and usually into the next day. Shawn’s not at home to say, “Marjorie, this is going to be okay and here’s why” and while I might get someone else to say that to me (my friends are great at that), it doesn’t have the same effect. With Shawn, I felt calm after we talked. Now, I can’t seem to find that calm.
What this means in practice is that I often overreact to situations that I used to be able to handle. I’ll stay up late thinking about a conversation I had with someone, stressing that I didn’t say the right thing. Yes, I did this before. But now it’s so much worse, because there’s not someone in the kitchen saying to me, “Marjorie, this is okay.”
Okay, that’s not true. There are dozens of people saying that to me.
But none of them are Shawn. None of them can hear me at 11 pm when I’m tossing and turning. None of them know me like he did, and can tell when things are off even when I’m not saying it out loud.
There’s no one waiting for me at the kitchen counter anymore.
And even if there was, it wouldn’t be him.