Nights at the Kitchen Counter
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.
Marjorie – this completely breaks my heart. I’m sitting here crying and sending you all my love. I completely understand the need to talk to that one person about life’s obstacles and anxieties and I feel devastated that that was also taken from you. So much loss – I’m just so sorry.
Oh, my friend, thank you for your sweet comment. And for all the love you’ve always given me. I do feel it. xo
I so wish I didn’t understand where you are coming from..sadly there are a whole tribe of widows I never knew existed before becoming one myself. I now wonder how I could have been so oblivious, skipping merrily thru my life holding my partners hand thinking we would grow old together. Life sure throws us some wicked curve balls when we least expect it.
I went to our local zoo yesterday, something my husband and I loved doing together. This time I went alone. It actually was a good day, saw a beautiful sunset as I rode the sky ride from one side of the park to the other. As I made a last bathroom stop before leaving the park, I dropped my cell phone in the toilet!! Don’t ask me how this happened, I only know that as I went to flush, there it was, totally submerged. Seemed like I as moving in slow motion as I scooped it out, trying frantically to remember what it is you’re supposed to do when your phone gets wet. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was pretty sure “ getting wet” and lying at the bottom of a toilet bowl might be two totally different things, but hey I was still in denial of what my eyes were actually seeing..
Ray would know what to do..Ray would never have put his phone in a position to fall into the toilet in the first place, but he would definitely now have taken charge of the situation coming up with a plan of action..Ray would also be laughing.. in the kind of way that would let me know that things were going to be okay, it was only a phone after all, it can be replaced…. nobody died..
So here I am sharing my story with you, because there is no one waiting at my kitchen counter anymore either.
I love that you shared your story with all of us here. I can TOTALLY imagine doing that myself! And yes – my Shawn was always laughing too.
I understand this very well. My husband and i used to talk after the kids went to bed as well. We would share a tea or a glass of wine and either sit on the couch or outside on the patio. We would talk about our day and sometimes just marvel at the stars during a clear warm night. We would talk about what the future might hold and how far we have come as a couple and as a family. We would talk about current events, music that we discovered or books that we were currently reading. I miss those talks. I can still talk with friend and family or even a date, but it isn’t that same. It takes time to build this kind of intimacy. Sometimes even years or decades… I think it is sometimes difficult for a widowed person to find this type of intimacy and companionship again because we become impatient. We know what this type of relationship feels like and the pure thought of having to go through all of the rebuilding can take the fun out of any new relationship. Sometimes I wonder if I will be alone forever. I miss have my person and just being me around that person. This widow thing really sucks.
EXACTLY. I actually have seen a lot of widows make this mistake – they know what a good, solid relationship looks like and they want to skip just to that, which of course can get VERY tricky. And yes, the widow thing sucks.
This sort of routine of sitting and talking about each other’s day – accompanied by a feeling of “you’ve got my back” – is such an important element of intimacy. This is how Shawn knew you like he did and sensed when something was off (and I’m sure you reciprocated). Kate, you are so right that this cumulates over years and decades. The thought of going through the process of rebuilding this kind of intimacy and companionship is truly daunting – especially if you were married for 50 years, as I was. I don’t think the issue is impatience so much as an inability to comprehend how the new building could be done on a compressed schedule. And the alternative – “to be alone forever” – is itself pretty daunting.
Yes – especially the “you’ve got my back” part!
So much of the ostensibly mundane constitutes the very best. I really liked how The Descendants ended, the father and kids sitting on the couch watching TV and eating ice cream – to me, that really encapsulated “family.”
Beautifully said. The mundane – this is what makes a life so good.