December 22nd 2022. The day my life was robbed of meaning. Robbed of a beloved wife. Robbed of a cherished son. Robbed of light, and love, and happiness. Robbed by a semi with corners cut on its maintenance. Two brilliant lights extinguished for eternity by sixty thousand pounds of out of control metal and cargo.
It wasn’t just me. Josh’s wife, Ava, had been with me. Helping make festive preparations for a celebration that would never happen. It was Ava who had opened the door to the State Troopers. A man and woman looking so sombre that the news they relayed in hushed, overly-controlled, voices was almost superfluous. We knew. Ava and I both knew.
On a gray and cold January day, I stood with Ava on one side, my daughter, Alexis, on the other. My arms round both, tears flowing, as we said goodbye to a mother and her child; a husband and a brother. Alexis had spoken at the service. Neither Ava nor I could bear to. I threw dirt into each of the adjoining holes, scattering it over burnished cherry wood. Then, turning away, left them behind. But turning towards what? Emptiness? Loneliness? Grief?
Ava and I had insisted on closed casket. We had crystalline memories, maybe too crystalline. There was no need to bid adieu to painted mannequins; at most the shells of previously vibrant, luminous beings.
Ava? My sorrow was like two spears, driven deep into my breast. But hers? I couldn’t imagine hers. A few years ago, not long before Josh had met her, she had buried her Mother. The poor woman had been cut down by the plague that shortened so many lives. Then, two months later, her Father was also in the ground. Tragically by his own hand. He couldn’t face life without Ava’s mother. I worried that Ava had inherited that tendency; I worried about that tendency in me as well.
Josh had been Ava’s guide out of grief. Savior was a strong word. Ava was her own person, the youngest Associate Professor at her Research Institute. A rising academic star. But my son had eased her pain. Helped her to smile again, to look positively towards the future. They had married only the previous August. So had just a few brief months together. The promise of a shared life destroyed. Replaced by the potential of a lifetime of heartache and regret. Vanessa and I had shared thirty years. I didn’t know if that was better or worse. There was no ISO unit of loss. No way to quantify and compare pain.Vanessa Ann Anderson : 1972 –2022Joshua David Anderson : 1994 –2022
As we walked away from the remains of our loved ones, Alexis squeezed my hand, kissed my cheek, and diverted to find the arms of her husband. He was holding their baby. Little Sophia. At least Van had got to meet her, to hold her granddaughter. The trip to California had been her last. Alexis’s departure left me and Ava. Alexis and Bob felt more distant than the few feet they were away from us. Maybe Ava felt it too as she slipped her hand into mine; her eyes still fixed on the ground. We walked the sixty feet or so to the waiting limos; raven black and with windows tinted to shield our tears from the world.
Seated now, Ava buried her face in my shoulder and wept disconsolately. Her sorrow spilled into anger and she beat on my chest with her fist.
“Why, Martin? Why were they taken from us?”
I had no answers. The World was a cruel place, our journey through it was essentially random, and life was fragile. All true, none suitable consolation for a twenty-nine year old widow. I let her take it out on me. Alexis leaned, put a hand on Ava’s shoulder, and she collapsed into sobbing again. I put my arms round her and lied that it would all be OK. I knew nothing would be OK. Not ever.- – –
They say that time heals all wounds. That’s bullshit. Some wounds are too deep. Ava had, of course, remained at the house after the funeral. Sending her home alone to her apartment would have be cruel and unusual punishment. And she just sort of stayed.
Alexis and Bob had departed with my granddaughter. I’d promised to visit in the Summer; and to FaceTime. The next day, Ava was sitting in the kitchen, her packed bag beside her. Staring into a cup of coffee.