For the first time in six weeks, I'm back in our home.
I walked into our house in the middle of the night last night after an eighteen hour cross-country drive. The last time I drove that length towards Colorado was when I was moving in with you just over a year ago. But this time, when I pulled down the snowy driveway, I knew you were no longer inside the house.
The reality of your death has more or less sunk in (I think). When I go about my day, I no longer think you might pop out of nowhere and surprise me, telling me this was all just an elaborate joke. I know you're gone. At least I do most of the time.
I walked into our house. I took a deep breath in and I smelled the scent that only this house has. The aroma unique to this place, these floors, these walls, this furniture, these people, these pets, these memories – it's a bouquet that's distinctive because it belongs to just our home. The house smelled the same when I walked in this time as it had all the other times, even though I knew the main component was missing – you. I didn't expect you to pop out of the pantry, or be practicing drums in your studio, or be lying in the bed this time. I knew you were gone from this place. But I can still smell you.
I walked upstairs immediately. It was very late and I wanted to climb into our bed without getting wrapped up in the overwhelming emotions of being back in this house. I went into our bathroom. All of your toiletries still sit on your countertop. While I can't see you, I see what was yours. Your electric razor is blinking on its charging station, it's ready to trim your beard. Your mouthwash is here wondering why you haven't been swishing twice daily. The little display of knicknacks in your windowsill – a rubber duck, a paper crane, a few heart-shaped ornaments, and some special crystals – they're all still sitting precisely where you arranged them, a little altar commemorating what once was. I brushed my teeth with your toothbrush and kept my eyes down. Reminders of happy times can brutally hit like a baseball bat to my jaw, but even in the pain – it's comfort.
I climbed into our bed and realized I was freezing. Our thin duvet was fine when we were curled up together, but alone in this big bed I was cold. I went and got my favorite blanket. It too, still smells like you. The sheets are still unwashed since you last slept in them. I nestled in, curling up in a ball and settling in like a rodent burrowing into its hole. The warmth and the familiar scent helped me drift off to sleep. My dreams were distorted. I was confused about where I was, where I was supposed to be, and who was there. Dream, or reality?
When I awoke, I was met with a sense of peace. I was happy to be home and to be in our bed. I knew you weren't there, but I still felt close to you. Through air, I can smell you. Through objects, I can see you. I felt protected for the first time in many weeks. I got out of bed and opened the blinds. I gasped at the view out of window. My absence and my pain had distracted me from the sublime beauty of the mountains and nature living just on the other side of the window pane, our view. The scene is no longer Midwestern grey or international but unfamiliar. The same view that was ours just months ago, that we shared, it is unchanged. While so much in my life has changed, the view out the window reminded me that much is still the same. I felt grateful.
I walked into my closet. In order to get there, I walk through yours. All of your clothes still remain hung. Your socks are still matched into pairs of fun colors and patterns, wool socks, athletic socks, gig socks, dress socks. Your boxers are folded on the top shelf, they're all clean. I reached out and ran my fingers across your t-shirts, hoping to somehow touch you and feel you. I felt nothing except fruitless cotton. Once in my closet, I dress slowly. I pull on corduroys and a cardigan sweater. It's the same sweater I bought to wear on our first visit together. It has hearts on it. On that trip, a girlfriend said at the end of the night, "I just noticed your sweater has hearts in the design!" You cut in, "I didn't. I noticed them right away." You said it with a slight blush and a happy smile. I buttoned the sweater deliberately this morning, recalling that first time I'd worn it with you and how carefully you'd unbuttoned it later that night.
I walked downstairs and found Beats. I pet her for a long time until she clawed at me to let her go. I gave her treats and made myself coffee. I opened the refrigerator. I started to clean out what was old and no longer good. In vain, I tried not to think about all of the products we'd bought together, the conversations we'd had in the aisles of the grocery store, the recipes we had planned to make, or the game of credit card roulette we'd played to see who would pay for the groceries. I cleared out the fridge and filled it with fresh food – food that I'd tried to buy for one, but couldn't. I still shopped for you too.
I wandered around the house in awe of its magnificence. I realized how caught up I'd been in all the work we were about to do to the house that I'd completely lost sight of how incredible it is. I walked through each room and admired our castle. I tried not to think of what would become of it, of the questions that fill my mind about the future, about the empty dreams that sit on shelves and rot in the bedrooms. I saw the house for its beauty and its comfort. A home is more than just walls around us. Its walls contain the love we created. Our home makes our love ours. It safeguards it with walls, a roof, and a place to house memories. I love this house.
I spent a lot of time moving through our home today with no real direction. I admired what we created here. I smelled the memories of you. I leafed through books you loved or ones I've since been given. I saw you in the their stories. I looked at the objects we'd chosen to fill shelves with – candles, vases, flowers, statues, rocks, music, photos, plants, and art. I read the words on a framed drawing you'd given me on my first trip to the house. It said, "Feels like some kind of ride, but it turns out it's just life going absolutely perfectly." I wished I could teleport back to those moments, just months ago, when life was going perfectly.
The term "out of sight, out of mind" dates back to at least 1562. I don't think John Heywood had dealt with the loss of his soulmate when he wrote it. You are just as ever-present in my mind here as you have been every moment of the past six weeks that I've been gone. There isn't a minute that goes by where my heart isn't heavy, my spirit isn't dwindled, and my body isn't exhausted from all the grieving and all the missing. I am learning to mourn with more sense of reality, but that doesn't make it even a tiny bit easier. Your absence leaves a black hole where my heart once was. I know you aren't physically here, but I won't call off the search party anytime soon.