TKOApparently, my university does not support the mail program I have been using. After enough harassment by the tech folks, I resigned myself to the new-to-me program that the rest of the world was using. By some evil twist of fate, this new account shows me ancient messages left on the campus server from umpty-ump years ago, when I was first teaching here as a part-timer (except I was full time. But I was temporary. Whatever.) Among some random emails to and from students in my first-ever, second-ever, and third-ever classes were those daily emails that constitute so much of contemporary relationships: the "Hi Babe, how's your day?" and "Can you be sure to get home in time to let the dog out?" and "Have they fixed your direct phone line?" and "What kind of take-out shall we get for dinner?" and "The car is making X noise; should I worry?" And there were some emotional doozies--queries about our adoption dossier. Wedding planning. But most of all, there were multitudes single-line messages: "Love you." "Love you much." "Hasta tonight." "Call me." The kind that testify to the deep, wonderful, everyday quality of our love for each other and our life together.
Everyone says grief comes in "waves." They're right: it overwhelms you, surprises you, pulls your legs out from under you, suffocates you, and rolls you around on the gritty ocean floor. It takes your breath away, panics you, and confronts you with what it really means to cease to exist.
How? I asked myself. How do I get up every day? How do I manage to do anything, without him? How have I continued to breathe, teach, shop for groceries, walk the dog, and drive? How?
Because I have forgotten what it was like to be happy. And I was happy, in a way I thought I was incapable of--optimistic, relatively easy-going (please, it wasn't a lobotomy), and occasionally unobsessed with my personal failings and inadequacies. What KO'd me, opening those messages, was less the sense of what I had lost than the visceral remembrance of what I used to have. In that moment, I had a clear, immediate sense of how diminished I am by his loss--how inferior my existence is, and how much less I have to give to the world.
I've saved the messages, of course. But next time, I'll approach them in the way I have learned to approach almost every other memory I encounter--carefully, gingerly, and without the urgent shock of surprise.