When I got home that night, I noticed the smiling jack-o-lantern in my front yard was crushed.
How fitting, I thought to myself. This jack-o-lantern was, after all, the last thing that she and I did together. How fitting that it would greet me looking so much like I felt, as I carried the box of her belongings that the hospital sent home with me. The box held the clothes that she was wearing when they admitted her, when it seemed like this was just another few weeks of tests and doctors’ visits.
There was the pair of jeans with the hole right in the middle of the left front pocket. She was wearing them the very first time I saw her, and the hole was virtually the same exact size. I used to stare at it every time she wore them, wondering how it had stood the test of time. Come to think of it, that hole was probably designed into the jeans to begin with.
There was the Selby Tigers shirt that she had stolen form a previous boyfriend. The story surrounding that caper — and the exceedingly long aftermath — make me laugh to the point of tears every time she told it. Neither of us had even ever heard a song by the Selby Tigers. It still has an almost perfectly placed brush-stroke of light green paint — the same color as the accent wall of the house, which we painted 3 months ago.
There was the phone, which still somehow has the voicemail that I left her after our first date — the one where I didn’t even wait to get home before I called her to suggest that we go see the third Matrix movie as our second date. Somehow, I found a way to work the word “verisimilitude” into the message. Somehow, she said “yes” to a second date with a guy who casually threw “verisimilitude” into a call in which he offered up a sci-fi action flick as a second date.
The trash mags — three of them: OK!, InTouch Weekly, and US Weekly. I grudgingly walked out through the cold drizzle to the Walgreen’s down the street from the hospital to buy them for her. My purchase consisted of those three magazines, a Dr. Pepper (which had to be from as far back in the row of bottles as possible, to ensure it was super cold), and Mamba fruit chews. She drank a few sips of the Dr. Pepper, and had one of the Mambas. I knew that was the best we could hope for, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that when she asked me, teary-eyed, for those creature comforts that used to decorate our normal days together.
I kept one hand on the box as I drove home, as if by holding it I could somehow have one last ride home with her. My hand dipped into the box as I took corners more recklessly than usual, my eyes welling up each time my mind tricked me into feeling warm legs beneath the folded denim that my fingers were caressing. I never really put my hand on her legs while we were driving before. That made this all the more desperate a gesture.
On a normal day, in any other context, I could not have cared less about a broken hollowed-out squash on my front lawn. I would have smirked at it, and tossed out some quasi-Buddhist quip about impermanence, along with a rally cry for pie tins and whipped cream to make the best of the situation. I may not have even noticed it, to be quite honest, especially since I was carrying something into the house. On that particular night, however — nursing this particular fathoms-deep brand of loss, I didn’t so much notice the broken Halloween decoration, as it speared me through the stomach with a physical pain that can only be appreciated by someone who has been enveloped by a certain bitter, arresting aroma of loss. I also wasn’t just carrying something, I was carrying a box of her things, a box I would probably not have the strength to open again for years to come.
That night, there was the weight of all of these years slamming headlong into me as I carried her things. That night, there was that biting, howling wind. That night, there was that broken jack-o-lantern. And even though the sound of a flatline, a doctor’s solemn monologue, and the smell of her perfume fading as fast as she had, didn’t break me up to that pointt — I slumped to my knees in front of the brutalized jack-o-lantern, dropped her box in front of it, and sobbed into the stiff, lonely wind.