March is a tough month for me. It’s filled with days that mattered to Richard and me, days that have become sad milestones since…well, since March 16th, 2005. The day he stopped breathing while I was looking at wedding pictures from March 5th. Our eleven days we got to say “husband” and “wife.” Only eleven days of that privilege after Just four short years together. We met on March 6, 2001, or “Alternator Day” as we called it because if it weren’t for the crapped out alternator in my Ford Escort, he never would have stopped to help me on the side of the highway on that blustery March day. March will always be the month when we said hello for the first time and the month when we said goodbye for the last time.
March is spring break, too. These days, spring break is about keeping the kids occupied and edified. When I find myself in the screaming pit of LEGOLand or trying to explain why a tomahawk might not be the best souvenir for a 6 year old, it’s hard not to pine for the days when spring break meant exploring Roman ruins in Germany, or scootering around Bermuda, or searching for Icelandic food in Prague. Comparisons are odious, but chicken nuggets and french fries for every freaking meal are too.
March is when the azaleas bloom. The ones we planted. This year, they bloomed while we were away on spring break, then the late freeze got them all. I missed them.
March is about missing.
Last Friday, my department went on a retreat to an indoor skydiving place in Marietta. Before we talked about goals and expectations and team building, we sat around the conference table for breakfast. Max laughed about his fear of jumping into the wind tunnel. I started to tell the story of that time that Richard and I went skydiving.
When I was done with the part that I do tell, I bit into a catering strawberry and remembered the part I don’t tell. The part where Richard and I went back to my house with all that adrenaline and we sat on the floor in the kitchen and drank a bottle of tepid champagne while I giggled over my first freefall. He had leapt from planes with the Army, but never done freefall from 15,000 feet, so we both did some giggling. We lay in my backyard hammock under the dappled shade of oak trees and when I said I was hungry, he returned from the house with a silver footed bowl filled with strawberries. I laughed at the ridiculous pomp of that bowl and he said he had seen it on top of the refrigerator and thought it suited the day. It’s been years since I’ve thought of those strawberries. That day was in May, strawberry weather. We spent the whole afternoon in that hammock, eating strawberries and being more alive than we had been the day before.
Last week, I sat in the conference room and my mind went back through the pictures of that day. As is my habit when I summon up those images, I look for Richard and I think about how much I miss him now that he is gone.
But something shifted that morning. When I summoned up the picture of us standing in the hangar, suiting up, my mind’s eye drifted from him…to me. My bold and smiling self. Me wearing lipstick because I had paid extra for the in-air video. Me walking towards the plane on legs that wobbled with fear. Me checking Dan’s wrist altimeter and the pro skydivers laughing that I thought 1000 feet was high enough.
I saw that woman in my memory, my boldest self, and I blurted to her, “I miss you so much.”
I miss being the kind of person who can live out of a backpack for two weeks. I miss eating strawberries out of a silver bowl. I miss riding trains and ferries and buses. I miss eating at restaurants that serve foods I can’t pronounce. I miss cathedrals and kayaks and funiculars and Korean barbecue. I miss lipstick.
Yes, I miss Richard, especially in March. But I have fallen into the habit of looking at my memories of adventure and only seeing him, that part of the picture that can never be again. I miss him, but I miss her, too.
Maybe I miss her even more than I miss him.
She’s still here, still living a life filled with chances to giggle and be astonished, but she’s spending hours sitting on the couch playing Scrabble on a phone. There are Ethiopian restaurants and glamping yurts and jazz combos within 20 miles of my bedroom. There’s a kayak in the basement and a river in the backyard. There’s a university down the street and I can skip out of work an hour early to go hear Nikki Giovanni read poems about falling in love. There is grace and there is love and in a few weeks there will be strawberries.
I miss her so much. Tell her I’ll be there as soon as I get my lipstick on.