f you missed it, catch part I here before reading on.
As I said last week: once he moved in, I didn’t give my new tenant much more thought for quite some time. He paid his rent and was really very quiet, considering, and that’s all that mattered. But sometimes, as the weeks and months wore on, I found myself waiting until I heard his car pull in those late nights after his gigs; until I heard his china clattering downstairs and the television news go on, until I fell asleep, somehow strangely comforted by this person living just a few feet away.
He told me later he felt compelled to move in immediately after hearing my story of new widowhood, feeling oddly drawn by the feeling that he had somehow been called to help and provide some sort of security and reliability for me. But that he also walked on eggshells, keeping especially quiet and respectful of the sad landlady upstairs, who he knew spent her afternoons and evenings by herself drinking wine on the porch, and watching television, never seeming to leave the house.
So one day we bumped into each other downstairs where the laundry is and he said, hello, asked how I was, and asked, quietly and respectfully, that if I’d like, we could go out and share a beer together some evening, if I ever felt up to it.
I wasn’t. The thought of it at first created a feeling of almost revulsion – not of this man in particular, but of the idea of ever being with anyone else but Mike. Under no circumstances did I ever want to go anywhere on anything even resembling a date ever again. Mike was going to be my one and only, and that’s all there was to it. I was too old to consider anything else. Not to mention it felt more than a little awkward, as this person already lived in my house and I meant to keep it professional and business-like.
In July, I traveled back to the mainland to visit my parents. My stepdaughter stayed in my upstairs for me, looking after the dogs while I was gone. And it was a terrible, achingly lonely and difficult trip. As nice as it was to see my family, the empty hole where Mike should have been was gargantuan and dark and horrible. I cried almost the entire time. Sobbed, really. It was awful. My friend Margaret still remembers all the hundreds of late night texts we shared that month, miserable as we both were. But what was more awful was coming back to my little house by myself, with nothing at all in my life to look forward to. So when the musician asked yet again after my return, hey how about that beer, I thought, hell. Ok. Let’s do it. Why not. Mike is clearly not coming back and my life sucks.
The first time we went out in public together – mind you, we were still practically strangers to each other, it wasn’t only platonic it was very, very new even for a friendship – I was still intensely sensitive to watching eyes, in our small town. I was uncomfortable being seen with anyone other than Mike. And sure enough I ran into someone I knew right away, quickly introducing her to him as my tenant, as she hugged me and told me how sorry she was about my loss. Remember, at this point it hadn’t even yet been six months since Mike died. I felt strongly like I was cheating on him, my grief was still intense (I know now it was never go away, but I didn’t know that then) and I felt pre-judged by anyone who knew me and Mike.
But, perhaps not surprisingly as the musician is, as I said, quite a character in his own right, I had fun with him. He made me laugh as I hadn’t laughed in a very long time.
The next week my phone rang and it was him, saying he had another night off, would I be interested in joining him for a bite to eat. I found myself actually looking forward to it. And it was another lovely evening chatting with this new friend, I will admit, though of course Mike’s ghost seemed all around me, all the time, and I had a hard time shaking it…except to think back on the way Mike was, that he always said he wanted me to be happy, and always loved having fun himself…and yes I hated to admit it, but I knew he would be happy I was laughing and sharing smiles. In my deepest heart, I knew he would have approved. But that didn’t make it easy.
It felt a bit awkward, saying goodbye at the end of the evening, him simply walking into his place downstairs, me walking upstairs, wondering about this person who was now blurring the lines between tenant and new friend. Honest to God, I truly did not think of him as a love interest. But I did find myself looking forward to spending time with him. Hardly anyone else was inviting me out anywhere like he was. Most of my friends had gone back to their own lives, and the poor, now single widow probably didn’t seem like much fun to be around.
So this happened a couple of more times, during those last weeks of July. On the 30th, my dear step-granddaughter Katherine was born. The one who Mike’s daughter was pregnant with when we learned he was gone. The one he would never see. Never know. This one was now in the world and I felt…happiness, yes, that mother and daughter were safe and healthy, but utterly devastated that he would never know this beautiful legacy he would have taken such immense joy in.
I cried happy-sad tears all evening after we heard the good news. I wondered whether I would ever find a way to be happy again – I truly thought that day that I would never be able to experience true happiness or joy again.
I was wrong about that. But on that day, the musician did not even enter my head as my grief tumbled me even farther down into that dark, bleak hole.
Tune in next week for part III.