This is an essay I wrote last summer for my Leukemia/Lymphoma Society website. It’s been stomach bug weekend at our house…so not much time for writing. Today, Carlos got stuck under the side table in the living room and started yelling “Tuck! Tuck!” I thought he was saying “stuck” but he was trying to get this truck. He loves that toy, probably because it has old fashioned rusty metal and sharp corners. Enjoy!
“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”
That’s the question Richard asked me, one snowy day in the end of February 2005. We were sitting by the window of his room in the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Outside, the low gray sky was filled with huge snowflakes, cartoonish in their size and pure white color. The kind of snow that makes a Georgia girl stare. Richard was writing his last will and testament. His mother was there, relaying changes to the lawyer, and I was trying to stay out of it. But he looked up at me and asked, “Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?” I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t find words.
Of course I had thought about what I wanted to do with the house. We had made lots of plans. I wanted to see the azaleas that we had planted spring back from that severe pruning he had given them in May. I wanted to find a rug that fit the dining room because the one we bought at that auction was two inches too long. I wanted to take out that cherry tree that was crowding the hemlock, even though it bothered my heart to cut down a cherry tree. I wanted to sit on the deck together, covered in sweat and dirt and contentment and look out over what we had made of this house. I wanted to get rid of that fruit wallpaper in the kitchen. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.
I had spent nine months watching leukemia take Richard from me—cell by cell, ounce by ounce. He was leaving. Now it wanted my home, too? Did I want to keep our house and rattle around in the memories? Did I want to sell it and start over somewhere else? Did I want to decide now with him or decide later…alone?
He waited for my answer. I fluttered my hands around and made a choking kind of sound when I tried to say all the words and none of the words. I don’t even remember if I made a sentence. He understood what I meant. I’m not sure I knew what I meant, but he got it.
Richard and I stood on that too-big Persian rug with its Tree of Life motif when we married in the backyard of our home. The azaleas bloomed a few weeks after he died. He had been right—the pruning made them flourish. Months later, my brother cut down the cherry tree while I hid inside the house and the hemlock thrives now that it has more room to grow. I sit on the deck sometimes and remember and it is sweet.
Now the wallpaper has fallen! G and I have spent a couple of weeks working on the kitchen—stripping the walls, patching, spackling, scrubbing. The other day, some magic people arrived in a big truck and swapped out the countertops, put in a sleek cook top and installed a sink that gleams. After they left, that question popped into my head and has been dogging me for days—“Have you thought about what you want to do with the house?”
I certainly never thought, on that snowy and empty day, that I would do THIS with the house. I hadn’t thought that every bedroom would be filled with sleeping kids. I hadn’t thought that the living room would look like a Fisher Price showroom after an attack by Godzilla. I hadn’t thought about how the downstairs is perfect for a teenager suite. I hadn’t thought about a gingko for the backyard, but G gave me one for my 40th birthday. I hadn’t thought I would have a son born on a silent, snowy morning.
Richard gave me many gifts, but the dearest one is my home. It was our home, then it was my home, now it is my family’s home. His picture is in the living room. Shells he picked up on the beach in Panama when he was a boy line the bathroom window. G found a gizmo when we were working in the kitchen and we figured out that it was a wonton dumpling press and it must have belonged to Richard, who could make a mean pot sticker. Carlos has discovered Richard’s old Tonka fire truck. He flips it upside down and spins the wheels around and around. Around and around and around.