I am two people.
Within days after May 8th of this year when my wife died, I began thinking of moving on to a new life. I needed to leave this house where we had lived so long together. I needed to leave this placid suburb, one of America’s favorite towns. No matter if it looked to others as if I was forgetting my wife and running away, I needed to leave. Within days I had spoken to several realtors about selling our home and to my attorney about simplifying my will.
I started planning several photography trips for the near future and began looking for a place to live temporarily in upper New York, near my daughter and son-in-law. With city living in mind, instead of reading the NYTimes opinion pages online, I prowled streeteasy.com looking at apartments in Murray Hill or Gramercy Park.
My days were used trying to bring some order to a house that has fallen into disorder during the last two years of her illness. I used my evenings to sift through the boxes and drawers that my wife had filled with every piece of paper that had ever come into our home. Tax records going back to 1982, documents about buying houses that we had bought in 1986 and sold 15 years later. In the end I had to find a commercial shredding service for the 14 cartons of paper that told the inside scoop on our financial life, that would condemn me to sleepless nights if they went into recycling as is. There were another ten cartons of more benign paper that could just be recycled.
I began gathering and sorting her clothes, none of which were ever thrown away but were carefully kept. Some went to a friend’s daughter to be sold as vintage clothing, most went to Goodwill.
For weeks (six, in fact), every day, I worked at emptying closets and drawers, discarding that enormous tail of ‘stuff’ that we had been accumulating f0r 36 years together.
Today I am close to the end, the house is almost ready to be turned over to the realtors. The painting and carpeting is done, the garage is full of cartons of stuff to be carried with me or given away.
All that is left is some furniture to be arranged, some pictures to be hung, the last few cartons to be carried to the garage and the floors to be vacuumed or swept.
I have trips planned before February to San Francisco, Barcelona-Morocco, Thailand, Laos and Cuba. I will spend the winter with my daughter and son-in-law and then will get an apartment in New York City.
I am taking with me only some of my clothing, camera gear, one dresser that has sentimental value and carton after carton of my pictures and family snaps that I will sort during the first winter.
Everything else will be given away.
I am two people.
One is moving on, making a life out of whatever is left.
The other person, knowing he can’t go back in time, wants to stay where he is.
He wishes time could stay still so he could spend the days looking at pictures of his beloved now-dead wife, holding onto the memories, willingly feeling the grief as just payment for the time they had together.
In the morning, when I am fresh from sleep, I am energetic and run from task to task, energized by seeing the end to all the work and the possibility of a future.
In the evenings, when I am exhausted from the day, too tired even to read, it is the second person who takes over and who thinks until I sleep.