March 7th, 2018

March 7, 2018

“Was writing your memoir a way to keep Rudy closer after he died?” a friend asks.

“That might be true,” I say. “I know for sure it was a way to fill the spaces in my head, to get some control over what was getting stored up there.”

After Rudy’s death five years ago, I was in a race—could I fill the few remaining empty spaces of my mind before they got taken up like all the others? The other spaces, the filled spaces, appeared late every night, early morning, usually around two o’clock. They brought vivid pictures of my spouse’s last illness and of his death. Images of the difficult days played as if on a movie screen.

I realized that there may be no escaping these memories, but that the real problem was that they were crowding out the good times, pushing out thirty years of exploration and connection and joy. Memories of an ICU had taken the place of memories of Paris and Bali and Provence.

One early dark morning as the unwanted pictures began to play again, I forced myself from bed, made a cup of jasmine tea and began a conversation with my wiser self. Working as a psychologist in schools, I had many times taught little ones beset with nightmares how to fashion an escape craft and fly above the threats of the night. I just hadn’t remembered that I knew how to do that.

Which would you like, Andy? An air balloon or maybe a helicopter? Or…? When those pictures come that you don’t like, you just hang on to that balloon or grab the line from the copter and off you go to some happy place..…let’s close our eyes and practice…”

Like the little ones, I needed a sense of control over the dreams, something good to think about, and maybe a hot air balloon.

I left a small notebook and pen by my bed—and gradually got used to turning toward them in the two o’clock hour, jotting down phrases that could bring memories of the good years, the years of travel. They were usually short notes, evoking optimistic, happy times with the intrepid traveler, the one who could find a kind stranger in any mishap. Often the notes were indecipherable, but I didn’t care—not if they had put me back to sleep smiling.

It was true: writing of the good times did keep him near. Best, it kept near the vigorous, healthy Rudy and kept at a distance the memories of the weakened Rudy. I began to almost welcome the two a.m. hour. I liked waking to realize I had been dreaming about the Thai woman who offered us her bed behind the Ko Samui bar or the Bukk Mountain ladies who followed our car, waving goodbye, down the dusty road.

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