Collage: Goldfish Memoir, April 6, 2015

Til Death Did Us Part

I just awoke from this horrible dream that David Hartwell, my husband, had fallen down the stairs and died. And now that I am fully awake, it is still true, and I am still a widow.

It is something that cannot be true. It is as though one of the seasons, or one of the directions, up or down, has died. It lacks grammatical sense. Winter cannot die. Up cannot die. David cannot die. He just is.

A few days ago, I was sitting where I am sitting now and I heard a big crash and I ran down the hall yelling “David, are you OK?” And he said yes, he was OK, and the big scary noise was just that he had dropped one of the of Globe Werneke barrister bookcase sections that he was carrying up the stairs from the basement. He added that though he had dropped it, the glass of the door didn’t break. I went back to my book and coffee.

That day, or the next, he noticed that on Facebook he could no longer see my new posts. I spent an hour or so trying to troubleshoot this without success. It was really bothering him. I assured him that I had not blocked him or put him on some kind of restricted list.


The idiom to “lose” one’s husband has in the past seemed to me so euphemistic, but I feel it’s reality right now. It’s like I’ve lost my car keys or my wallet. He’s here somewhere, if I just look for him. He’s got to be here.

Fourteen years ago when Peleg, our favorite cat, had stroke and died abruptly on the basement floor when David and our (then) young son Peter were out running errands, our other cat (who had seen the corpse) spent all day frantically searching for him. I feel like that now.

His car is in my driveway. His books are in my basement. His jacket is over one of my dining room chairs. His glasses and cell phone are on my coffee table. There is a paper bag from the wine store next to the mail on the table containing the ginger brandy he just bought for our trip down to the city to take Liz see the Night Vale live show this weekend. The brandy is a bribe for me so I will sit and talk with him.

He’s here. He’s got to be here.

There are arcing skid marks from his hiking boots on the wood-panelled wall of my staircase. His blood is on the steps. There is a brown stain on the blue carpet at the bottom of the steps. There are unfamiliar bits of debris—velcro things—left behind by the EMTs. He is not here. He will never be here again. This is impossible. It makes no sense.

Tuesday, I had taken Peter to an appointment in Plattsburgh and afterwards we had stopped at Tractor Supply to buy chicken supplies for my baby chicks, and then we had stopped in at Michael’s, the art supply store, to get a few things for Peter to take back to college for his second semester.

My cell phone rang. My daughter said, “Daddy fell down the stars. He’s hurt. A book case fell on him.” I told her to call 911. She said the EMTs were already there. She put my friend Shira, one of the EMTs, on the phone. Shira said, “I need to ask you a question. Does David have a DNR order in place?”

“NO!” I said in a voice that was much too loud.

My friend Heather texted me moments later that she had heard about an accident at my house over the police scanner. Should she go there? Yes, I texted back. Please go take care of Elizabeth. I’m 45 minutes away.

David and I had been working on what’s called a collaborative divorce for about four years, and had worked a lot of things out. (We are still married.) I was expecting to be able to live down the street from my good friend David—at just the right distance—for the next twenty years. His house is in the center of town overlooking the lake. Mine is at the orchard with a view of the Adirondacks.

And instead he has had the audacity to die.

Tuesday, at 3:53 PM, he texted me Now at Orchard with Liz.Moving some bookcase units.

Liz was making herself lunch. She heard a horrible crash. David had lost his balance and fallen down the stairs backwards from the top step. He was sprawled on the steps snoring and bleeding out one of his ears. There was a Globe Wernike section on top of him.

An artery in his brain had blown out, causing a massive brain bleed. He never regained consciousness. The glass of the door didn’t break.

While I was at the hospital yesterday signing dreadful papers, Heather and her husband Jason and the kids took down the Christmas tree. Heather washed all the dishes.

David, the living room is all clean and vacuumed. You can come home now. Please.

Come home. We miss you.