Up First

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The sun is coming up the road, the furniture on the deck wet with dew.  I’m wearing Eric’s jacket, which I coveted when he was alive, cherished in my grief, and still use as my extra layer on chilly mornings.  I’m up first, David still asleep after staying up late writing to the community of friends and family who were connected to the process of his wife Laura’s death through online updates.  Yesterday was two years.  We climbed Mt. Moosilauke with friends and David scattered ashes at the top and ashes in the wind cruising the tops of the dwarf spruce trees.

I’m alone with the sun slanting through the trees on the short horizon of the yard, casting shadows across the grass, illuminating the copper heron statue in the garden.  Eric comes to me in herons and stands between my garden boxes all year.  On Saturday I passed a heron as I ran over an abandoned turnpike causeway that cuts across a marsh.  The heron looked over its shoulder, seemed to shrug, then lifted off from the water, a fish in its beak.  Later in the day, kayaking in Portsmouth Harbor, stroking our way back to the car in sunset light, David and I passed a heron at the tip of a small island.  It watched us as we moved closer, then walked up the rocky beach into scrub pine and bushes.

One morning on vacation I got up first and let David sleep, and later he asked me to wake him up on mornings when I get up before him.  Our mornings drinking cappuccino on the deck are sweet, and ours alone.  Eric and I didn’t do this, because we didn’t have this eastern facing deck when he was alive.  Sam and friends built it a year after Eric died.  At that point, I was still bursting into tears most mornings when I first walked into the kitchen, seeing the sun rising above the trees, realizing it was another beautiful day that Eric was missing.  “It can be my crying deck,” I said to Sam.

David doesn’t want to miss too many of our mornings together on the deck, and neither do I, because we both know we don’t have that much time.  We both watched spouses die very quickly of untreatable cancer, we both know some trapdoor of life could open at any moment and one of us, or someone one of us, or both of us, loves immensely could go crashing through.  We hike, we kayak, we swim, we walk and talk and wring everything we can out of every day because we’ve both lived right next to numbered days and know the number can be small.

But this morning David needs the sleep and I need the solitude.  Last night over dinner we talked about the black hole of grief, how it never goes away but it shifts.  At first the black hole is enormous on your page of life, it’s all you can see, but as time goes by the inexorable scribblings of life begin to fill in the margins of the page, and then the page gets bigger as more and more scribblings fill in.  The hole never goes away, and in fact never gets smaller, but so much life fills in around the circumference your perspective of it shifts.  The black hole where Eric used to be now has four years and four months of sunrises and sunsets, hikes and kayaks and triathlons and runs, new love and lost friends, weddings and funerals and birthdays and parties spilling into every margin of my life.  And mornings on the deck. 

I hear the shade going up in the window above me.  David is awake, the sun has cleared the trees, the day is moving on.

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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