Ghost Between Moments
by Kate Aton-Osias
The alarm clock rings. It’s 6:00 in the morning, three weeks after your funeral. I get up from bed and wash my face. Still in my pajamas, I pad down the staircase thinking about trivial things, like the laundry, like how I hope the shower heater works, like what I’ll wear for work today.
When I get to the kitchen, I find you seated in your usual chair, expressionless, as if you, too, have just woken up. I move past you mumbling a good morning and start preparing breakfast: scrambled eggs with mushrooms, slices of toasted bread. I’m already cracking the third egg into the bowl so that I can scramble it the way we both like it when I remember you don’t eat anymore.
I pause to take a deep breath.
I throw the cracked shells into the trash can and return the unused eggs to the fridge, all the while telling myself I should clear it out some time during the weekend or else the food will spoil. I start whisking the eggs, adding a little salt, and then the mushrooms, and then the garlic you loved so much.
I stop again. I look behind me and see you staring out the window, the growing morning sun piercing through whatever it is that makes you visible. I put the bowl down and close the curtains. You don’t react. You don’t even blink. You just continue to stare at the window, seemingly impervious to the dimmed light in the kitchen.
I heat up the frying pan, pour a little oil and then the eggs with mushrooms and garlic onto it, flick the solidifying mass several times before putting our usual breakfast on a plate. It smells exactly like how breakfasts with you should smell and I feel like I’m about to lose my appetite again.
I take another deep breath. I set the plate aside to cool before putting some slices of bread into the toaster. For a few moments, I have nothing to do. Putting on an overly bright smile, I turn to face you.
“How are we today?” I ask. “Pretty cold this morning, isn’t it? I think autumn will come sooner than we expect.”
I pause, standing awkwardly within arm’s reach of you, as if listening to your reply.
“I know. I’ll have to remember to bring a jacket to work today.”
It’s a game we play. I start by asking something inconsequential, you stare, my mind fills in the gaps — pretty much the same way I’ve seen parents talk to infants and old people babble to their plants. Most of the time, I feel crazy talking to you and imagining responses in my head. And yet it’s a far better alternative than being trapped by long silences where you stare at something mundane (a window, a chair, some pieces of paper) and I stare at you, trying to recall how it felt when you smiled.
“You remember Ginny? Well, she came by yesterday to drop off some jam she made. Now, wasn’t that nice of her?”
The toaster bell dings and I’m grateful for something to do. I place the toasted slices of bread on my plate and sit across from you.
“Do you want some, Mark?”
I stand up again, get another plate, put half the scrambled eggs and a piece of toast on it before pushing the dish toward you. I fight the urge to beg you to eat. “Well, here’s some just in case.”
In the past three weeks, I have tried to cook all of your favorite dishes to get you to consume something — spiced salmon, oven baked herb chicken, extra sweet chocolate cake — none of which you touched, maybe because they weren’t good enough, maybe because you can’t.
After each futile attempt, I promise myself I will not try again, will not go through all the effort to entice you with the food that I prepare, as if that would change anything. And still, I find myself doing exactly that. You used to say you loved my cooking.
I continue with our game until I have exhausted every inconsequential topic I can think of. I have barely touched my breakfast, and you, not surprisingly, have not touched yours. I should leave now. I should clean up, walk out of the kitchen, dress up for work and do the things I should do. But I find myself hesitating, as I have hesitated every morning since we started this unusual breakfast routine. And in that moment of hesitation, the silence expands, resonates, deepens.
It isn’t the kind of silence that trapped us for most of our adult life, the type that thrived because there was nothing important to say, no need to say things already known. It’s not the kind of silence that was our usual companion when we would eat together after a long day at work, where our need to communicate had been depleted by the demands of our careers.
Neither is it the silence that haunted me after the policeman said you were dead, because I had no words then, no feeling, no emotion that needed to be expressed and all the sympathetic gestures of family and friends were lost on me, as I had turned void inside.
Instead, it is the kind of silence that we’ve experienced at critical points of our life, when so much needed to be said and expressed and we only had a moment to say it all. When we were sixteen, it was the silence after you had professed your undying love for me and I, young, foolish and susceptible to such stammered saccharine confessions, was so overwhelmed by so many emotions all wanting to be voiced out that I found myself paralyzed and unable to speak.
When we were twenty-two, it was the silence after we said our tear-stained goodbye, because I was lost and you were lost and we both needed to find our own way in the exciting, terrifying new world we found ourselves thrust into.
When we were twenty-seven, it was the silence when we found ourselves together again, full of overwhelming desire, and the depth and breadth of suppressed emotion in all those years when we were apart seemingly culminating, racing and funneling into one crucial moment.
When we were thirty-three, it was the silence after the doctor told us that what was incredibly easy for others was impossible for us, and our unasked questions and elusive fragmented dreams hung loosely in the air, as invisible as grief, as tangible as tears.
It is the silence where every heartbeat, every drawn breath, every part of my existence wants to say I love you over and over again and that I’m sorry for everything, for ever being lost and for not appreciating enough what we had, and how I wish I hadn’t nagged you about the mortgage payments instead of telling you how important all these years have been to me that day when you didn’t come back, and the extent of what I’d give to have you close enough to touch, close enough to hold because without you, I’m never truly home.
But all these things remain unsaid.
I remember that day at the funeral. I remember seeing your coffin, made of ebony, cedar and ivory, so beautiful and so cold. I remember hearing the priest talk about moving on and letting go. I believed it then. I believed I could do it. And so I cried.
I cried out words, phrases, entire sentences, whole paragraphs that said everything I wanted to say, needed to say as if I could expend the language of my grief through tears. But I knew it was not enough. It could never be enough.
After everyone had left and the house was quiet again, that was when I saw you, seated in your chair. My first instinct was to run to you and hug you and scold you for pretending to be dead because incredibly, illogically, for a moment I thought you were alive. But there was nothing but coldness where warmth should have been. That was when I knew. I knew that you had come back to give me my last chance to say the words I had not said, to give me closure even if I don’t deserve it.
But you have to understand, Mark, I can’t. I can’t do it.
Every day I try and every day I become even more afraid of losing what little of you remains. It seems lonelier there, that place where the priest said I should go, and where family and friends say I will eventually get to, where things are less painful and I shed fewer tears, where I can start moving forward again in my life.
And I know, if I say these words that are begging to be said, I will make that journey, and we’ll both move on to that better place where you can no longer haunt me and I can no longer hold on to you. But I don’t want to, Mark. Not yet. I’m not ready to let you go.
I start eating again. The sound of my chewing somehow makes the silence less quiet and it is only for this reason that I finish my breakfast. In front of me, you are still staring into space. I try not to wonder what you are thinking about. I try to think of something else to say. I try to ignore the fact that, every day since you died, I find myself tasting nothing but my sorrow.
Copyright © 2008 by Kate Aton-Osias