It finally happened. I thought I saw Dale standing in front of me. It was just a quick second, but it is now burned in my memory forever.
For those of you who may not have read my earlier blogs, Dale was my first husband who took his own life a little more than 3 years ago. Our three kids were 16, 12 and 7 when it happened. My then-12 year-old is now on the very edge of turning 16. He is only about an inch shorter than his dad was, and he already wears a shoe two sizes bigger than his dad wore. Sometimes, it's difficult to look at my children and see characteristics that are specifically mine or their dad's. I usually see this beautiful mix of the two of us and even other family members. People tell me and my oldest daughter all the time that she looks just like me. It's true that she has my eyes. She is the only one of my children with my brown eyes. It is also true that she is short, like me. We both barely tip 5'2". But the rest of her, in my eyes and hers, is very much like her dad. My youngest daughter, when I look at just her eyes, I see her dad. She has the exact same shape of eye and even the same eyebrows. The only difference is that hers sort of morph between green and blue and gray. His were bright blue. Otherwise, she looks like me and probably is the most like me in personality (Lord help me now!). Our son has those same bright blue eyes like his dad, but they are shaped more like my eyes. He is built like his dad, body-wise. He is, at almost 16, a little over 5'7" and weighs 142 pounds. There are times when the resemblance between the two of them strikes me, but none so much as that brief moment last week.
Rich and I were sitting at our computer desks, and in comes Jelly (my son, so called because he's the "jelly" in the sibling sister sandwich, the older sister is "Peanut" and the younger sister is "Peanut Butter"). I don't even recall now what the subject of conversation was, nothing unusual. I recall that Rich compared two things and then Jelly's words were "kind of," and he went on talking. But at that moment when he spoke the words, "kind of," he made a certain gesture with his head and hands along with a particular facial expression sort of like he was granting you the point, a "touche" expression. I had to turn away. In that moment, he looked so eerily like his dad that it was like Dale himself was standing in front of me, and that's exactly what I saw.
I remember turning my head away from him and toward my computer screen, shaking my head at the image but it wouldn't go away. He and Rich continued the conversation, but I waited to turn around to make sure I wasn't going to start to cry because I could feel it in my throat. I really didn't talk much after that, just smiled and listened and then he was gone, off to do his own thing again. Several times since then, when my mind goes back and I imagine my son standing there, I see his dad instead. There are times I really hate him for leaving, for giving up, for letting the darkness win. It's those moments that I described that I especially hate him. I know. Hate is an awful strong word, and I don't like to use it. And I don't really hate him. But I hate how what he chose to do has affected the rest of our lives. I should be tickled with pride at seeing my son looking so like his father, not wistful and weepy.
Now, it's certainly not the first time I've imagined seeing Dale, but this was the first time it really looked like him standing right there in front of me, live and in person. We still live in the same house where we lived when Dale died. I'm sure a lot of people probably questioned my choice to stay there, but to me, the kids had just been put through something completely life-changing. I did not want to uproot them even further by moving them out of a house that we all loved and that held good memories for them. I can still see the coffee stains on the stairs from when he'd slosh his cup as he came down. His fake height (because he always wanted to be taller) is still marked on the wall where we measure the kids. (One day when I was measuring one of the kids, he stretched his arm up and put a mark way up on the wall and wrote "Dad". I wrote, "yeah, right" underneath it. It still makes us chuckle.) When I am in my kitchen, I really feel like I'm in his space. He liked the kitchen. He kept the kitchen clean even if the rest of the house was a tornado afterthought. He cooked several of the meals because of our work schedules. He liked things kept a certain way. Still, to this day, when I clean the kitchen, I imagine him looking it over, inspecting it to make sure I had done it "right". Not that he did that when he was alive, but I imagine him watching over me now, making sure I'm doing things the way he would want me to. I still try to make him proud, even though he pisses me off to no end. In the words of Pink: "Why do I do that?" I don't know. Maybe to make it up to him. "It?" Yes, it. Making up for the fact that I wasn't there, I guess, because I firmly believe that if I had come home that day when he asked me to, he would still be alive. Somehow, I'm sure that I could have made a difference. Well there I go again putting on my cape and boots and saving the world. Stop me now.
So I know I have to live with him, the "ghost" of him or whatever you want to call it. But this is a whole new phase. My son will look like his father, and there's nothing I can do about it or would want to do about it. I just need to learn that I'm going to have to get used to seeing a more real version from time to time and learn how to change those wistful feelings to ones of joy, ones of rejoicing in the fact that I still have a part of him living with me in those lives we created together, and ones of gratitude that I knew such a kind, sweet person who taught me loads about love. It's all in how you look at it, yes?