The Never I've Never Really Known
“It’s that right there.”
I looked up to see a man pointing at the coffee mug before me. A Trickle of Agave Nectar Slipping from the Ceramic.
“Excuse me?” I responded.
He went on. “I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”
It was then that I realized: he was tying into the book cupped between my hands. Thoughts on Grief. A wadded 400-pages of excavated sadness. You know, just casual morning reading that leaves me light-hearted and ready to banter with interns all day.
If you want to know the truth: I’m sitting in too tiny Westport cafes these days, wearing black tights and black sweaters (because you can’t read tragic books when wearing yellow sundresses and polka-dotted wellies) while swallowing spoons full of sugar and realizing that nothing, nothing, makes grief go down easier. It don’t slide down yo’ throat like medicine, so back off Mary Poppins.
I’m writing a book. My character needs to know grief. Not because she wants to know grief but because in her 25th year she really has no choice. Grief pummels her in the way that Sallie Mae pummels all undergraduates. I wince having to put her through it and so I am learning all that I can about grief before 9am so I can heal her when I get back to my computer at 9pm.
But back to the man who stood before me… Here, I’ll rewind and tell you his words again because I think we may have lost the moment.
“.ti rebmemer ot gnideen ton fo sraey 82 retfa eeffoc ym ekat I woh gninraeler llits m’I”
“I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”
You can swallow words and paragraphs all day, especially when they are about paperwork and marketing, but a sentence like that should probably leave you as road kill. Just the mere picture of that man standing at his kitchen counter, relearning the steps of making coffee, is enough. Saying upward, “Marilyn, did I like it with milk or cream? Was I a two-sugar kind of guy?”
You pick the sound effect that followed in after his reply, as his words came to tear me down like the barbarians of biblical times. Was it: a) SLAM b)WHOOSH c) BOOM d) CRUSSHHHH.
None of the above. None Of The Above.
His words fell down on me in a calm way. Like the first snow that waits in the wings for the streetlights to come on. In a way that made me realize, I can find someone in this lifetime who will let me help them make their coffee. What a beautiful blessing that might be, to have the intricacies of yourself get lost in details that another keeps. To have a partner in this life who carries your love for agave nectar and half & half deep in their suit pockets and brown leather bags.
In a way that made me wonder, what would it be like to have that ripped away?
I pictured him standing there by the kitchen counter, waiting for her car to roll into the driveway. Waiting for the day he’d get all tangled up in Christmas lights for her again because she wanted them on the roof the day after Thanksgiving. Waiting for the day when Never became real. And it hit him with a thud, “you’ve got to carry this word, buddy.”
Learn to carry Never as if it were a watering jug. Like the first time your momma showed you how to carry a baby and the Blaring Fragility of It All.
Sucked dry as juice from crazy straws and left holding this word Never. In place of a voice he adored hearing. In place of name he loved seeing on the caller ID.
And it makes you wonder if one day soon he’ll start screaming at the very word, “Please, Never! Please! Let me lob off the N from your EVER and place a FOR there instead. Let me unscrew the N from your EVER and latch YDAY onto the end of you.” Because I need some kind FOREVER today. I need some kind of EVERYDAY with her. More than I ever needed a Never."
But then maybe he’d sit, and cry a bit… get silent. Real Silent. Saying to the Little Word, furled up in a ball at his feet, “Never, you are such a pretty little word. Makes me wish you stood for something else. That your name meant flower. Or your name meant, “specks of fallen gold on window panes” instead of “yes, that’s right, I won’t see her any longer.”
Sitting, petting Never as it curled up around his ankles.
That man, he walked away from with all the Never in his arms and left me there, in a too tiny Westport café, holding a scrap from his paper snowflake, one he had been cutting ever since the day he lost her.
I watched him get into his car and pull away. I'm wondering now when Never will stop howling and crying in the night. When he’ll roll over and not see Never sitting next to him in bed. When Never won’t share a space on the couch or the passenger seat of his SUV.
I might Never know when Never will leave his arms. Sometimes we can Never know those kinds of things.
Never, you are such a pretty little word. Too bad you can’t mean something else, like “specks of fallen gold on window panes.”