Turning the Key

If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If a really cool thing happens in my life, and nobody is there to share it, does it still make a difference?

I had a really good week. I had the kind of week where lots of little things happened that could turn into bigger things, and that move me forward in my goals and dreams and aspirations. I became a contributing writer for Modern Widows Magazine, where I will write a monthly, humorous grief column. I landed two really cool performance stand-up comedy gigs, both coming up soon. Some of my former stand-up comedy students started a monthly Comedy Meetup, and we had our first meeting Sunday. The blogpiece I wrote about Camp Widow was featured as a link in The Huffington Post, thanks to my widowed friend Tanya Villanueva Tepper, who was kind enough to reference me and my blog inside her own article. All this, and I’m just 3-weeks away from performing at Camp Widow West in San Diego.

It was the kind of week where I should have been happy, where I should have felt excited. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The reason for this is simple, yet heartbreaking. Happy things don’t feel so happy anymore when you don’t have your partner to share them with. When you cannot rush home and run through the door and yell: “Boo! Guess what happened? Guess!!!”, and await the delight and proud gleam in his eyes when you tell him. When there is nobody on the other end of the phone who says: “Oh honey, I’m so proud of you. I know how much this meant to you, and now it’s happening!” When there is nobody to lie in bed with, giggling wildly and holding hands, dreaming about your tomorrows. The biggest things feel like nothing, when there is nobody sitting at home who gives a damn.

Hubby and friends hang out and give me flowers after one of my shows

Hubby and my dad stand in support as our cast takes pics after my Adelphi cabaret.

Now, this is the part where you tell me that I have my family, and my friends, and that I have lots of people who care about me. I know this. I’m thankful for this. I cherish this, and I cherish them. But none of them are the first person I want to tell everything to. None of them put me first every second of everyday, no matter what. I am no longer Number One to anybody. I am no longer somebody’s first priority. My husband was my best friend, my number one fan, my biggest supporter in life. Whenever I accomplished something or began to see a dream realized, my favorite part of that happening was sharing it with him and seeing his reaction. Seeing his whole face light up as he watched me perform onstage, or create a script, or write a funny scene for a show. Listening to him tell his friends over the phone about the latest thing his crazy wife was up to in NYC. Running through the crowd outside and into his arms, after doing stand-up, and hearing him whisper into my ear: “You were the best one.”

Today, after his death, when something really good happens, it’s always the same. In the midst of the good thing happening, I’m on a high and feeling great. Then, that high very soon becomes a very depressing low, as I eventually have to face going home alone from wherever I just was. There is nobody waiting to greet me. There are no flowers or cards or shouts of: “Lets go get pancakes and celebrate!” There is only me and my latest accomplishment, which suddenly feels incredibly pointless.

This past Monday, I went to my private grief-counseling session, like always. Now, anyone that follows my writing on a regular basis knows that I have made it no secret how much I love my counselor, Caitlin, and how much these sessions have helped me and continue to help me. That is still true. Im actually the only person on planet earth who loves Mondays.

But lately, I feel a bit like a broken record everytime I go in there. Like an annoying parrot that only knows how to say 3 or 4 things, over and over again: “SQUAWK! I miss Don! SQUAWK! Why does this still hurt so much? SQUAWK! When will the pain start to ease up a bit?” I feel bad for her, having to sit there and listen to my repetitive drivel. It’s like my heart is the needle on that record, and it just keeps skipping. I’m moving forward in my life – in accomplishments and doing things and making changes – but my heart refuses to catch up with the reality that he is really, actually gone forever. It’s just an old record, skipping over that same part of that old, sad song.

Something weird happens somewhere after the first year mark or so from the death. People no longer know what to say to you. They don’t understand why you are still sad, why you’re not over it by now, and they get annoyed and frustrated and nonchalant – and they begin to pretend that everything is normal and that nobody ever died at all. They start to view you with confused and quizzical eyes, like my counselor did on Monday, as if to say: I don’t know how to help you. And when that happens, like it did during my session, or like I imagined it did, I just keep talking nervously – repeating my same stupid pain, over and over again. But while I was doing that, something weird happened. Something that seemed like nothing, but it took me by surprise and held me down like a wave in the ocean, until I could barely breathe or swim or speak. I was blindsided.  

She was right in the middle of a sentence, asking me if I had seen the interview with British actress Maggie Smith on last week’s 60 Minutes. Maggie lost her husband of 25 years to heart-disease, in 2008. I hadn’t seen the interview, so when I got home, I looked up the text. Maggie was talking about what Im talking about right now – the feeling of no longer being somebody’s number one. She very casually, correctly, and matter-of-factly stated, that “everything seems a bit pointless” in her life now, because she no longer had her partner to share it with, no longer had someone to come home to at the end of the day.

Caitlin expressed that she was struck by the use of the word ‘pointless”, and I expressed that it was the perfect word to use, and that it didnt surprise me one bit. It is pointless. If I finally ever finish this damn book one day and see it published, or win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Comedy Actress in a Sitcom – what good is it If I have to come home to an empty house and stare at my Award in silence? What the hell good is that? And just as Im reaching the dramatic crescendo in my speech about being alone for the rest of my life, there was a noise. It was a noise I faintly remembered, somewhere deep inside my heart, from a life that was lived long ago. It was the simplest and saddest noise I have ever heard.

A key was turning. A husband was coming home to his wife, who happens to be a counselor, sitting with her pain in the ass client who always goes over her alloted session time that is so graciously offered in her counselor’s home. My eyes shifted fearfully over to that door, and I saw that lock turning, as the door started to open. And as my counselor ran to the door, telling her husband to please give her a few more minutes with this insepid, monotonous widow – my heart went straight to my life and my marriage and my love. Suddenly, her door was my door, and her husband’s keys were my husband’s keys, and he was coming inside from work, like he always did. Suddenly, I was in our bedroom in our New Jersey apartment, and I was typing at our computer desk, and the sound of that key being turned and that doorknob opening, meant that my husband was home and safe. Suddenly, I saw our 2 kitties leap off the bed and run charging to that door, forgetting all about me and attacking every square inch of my husband’s body with affection. Everytime that key turned in that door, I would smile, because it meant that my teammate was home, and everything mattered again.

She came back and sat down, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so hard, so deep, right there in the middle of her living room. My whole body was shaking, and I felt like I was underwater and tied up. Something about that noise – that key – the sound of marriage, the sound of comfort, the sound of safety. It tore me up and it ate me alive from the inside out. And there I was, sitting in the one place where I should be crying and getting out emotions and making hard discoveries and shaking and being blindsided by keys turning, and for some reason, I just held it in.

 I didnt want to make her feel bad just for being married. I didnt want her to feel uneasy in her own home. And besides, I didnt think she would or could possibly understand why the hell a key going into a door would send me into convulsions. Hell, I didnt even really understand it. So instead of crying, I started making jokes and lighthearted comments, saying how I felt badly that she pretty much kicked her husband out of his own home. I talked nervously again, until I ran out of words and could get up and exit with some form of dignity.

There are so many unexpected triggers, that bring on unexpected emotions. They can happen anywhere, anytime, even while sitting in the safe-zone that is your counselor’s couch.

I wish that I had let myself break down. I wish that more people could understand my pain, so that I wouldnt feel weird or strange breaking down. I wish that my counselor could know what it’s like, to feel like everything you do is pointless, so that she might tell me that it’s okay to break down.

But those things are all impossible. You cant understand losing your husband, until you lose your husband. I do not wish that on anyone.

I wish my husband could turn that key, just one more time, and come home to me forever.