For the last 2 months I have had to fall asleep on my couch with the television on. I usually put in a movie – at first Lord of the Rings, but lately Definitely, Maybe. I curl up on my couch under a blanket and I watch the light cast from the television dance across the hardwood floor, and I hear the gentle murmur of the voices and music, and as the Ambien or exhaustion take hold I fall asleep there. Every night I wake up at 3:30 a.m., for some reason that only body or my brain knows, and I go to my bed. By then the DVD has been repeating the title menu soundtrack for a while, and my mind has shut down for the most part. I can usually slip, still clothed, between my sheets and fall asleep fairly quickly. These last 2 weeks, that has not been the case. I wake at 3:30 a.m. and I turn off the TV and I am somehow more aware of it that my house has fallen still. The darkness is around me but it feels distant and cold. The sound of my feet on the floor is loud now and the stillness of my home echoes with the same aching I feel in my chest. We are empty. I climb into bed and I stare at the wall. I remember that last night I spent with Ben, and his feet touching mine, and the smell of his pillow and his neck. I fall asleep with my fists clenched tight, burying my face to hide my hurt from the ascending daylight.
This was the first 4th of July since I was 15 years old that I wasn’t in a relationship. It isn’t really a part of the project because I had my kids with me and so it wasn’t within the scope of the rule (Do It Alone), but I set upon it as such nonetheless. Beers, barbecues and explosions have always been set pretty comfortably by my mind into the “boy” category, like many girls might categorize mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, changing the oil, or killing a spider. I had never dealt with this stuff. If I hadn’t had my kids, I probably would have just put in some earplugs and fallen asleep on the couch as if it were any other day. Having them with me meant I needed to step up to the plate and make it a good day for them, so I put on my game face and braved the unfamiliar terrain.
I’m happy to say I did pretty well. I attended a great barbecue with old friends and lots of other kids. My friends Bryan and Tara were running a fireworks stand so I got an amazing deal and Bryan was happy to walk me down the aisles and point out which fireworks did what, and what was and wasn’t a bang worth the buck. I made a fruit salad. Things went really well, and it was great to laugh with my friends and smell the barbecue and watch the sparklers waving in the dark. It was when the mortars – the big, beautiful fireworks that Bryan and Tara had brought from the stand – came out that I even remembered I was alone. I wasn’t alone, really. I was surrounded by people that love me, and make me laugh, and I had my kids there, and there was life and laughter and music and conversation all around me. But as the fireworks burst in the sky above me, and I lifted my face to see them, I suddenly remembered Ben. My thoughts were painted by the memory of my last 4th of July and the way his handsome face had been illuminated by the lights, the way they shone in his blue eyes like the moon on the ocean. I could hear nothing, I could feel nothing, I just looked down at the ground and shook my head. Wherever he is right now, I thought, whatever he’s doing, he doesn’t feel like this.
When I came home last night, I tucked my babies into bed and I sat on the edge of my couch with my head in my hands. I remembered a line from an Eagles song I once loved, “You never thought you’d be alone this far down the line, and I know what’s been on your mind: You’re afraid it’s all been wasted time.” What am I doing? How am I 32 years old and still growing up?
I went to bed and stared at the wall. I asked myself “What do we do now, self?” and the answer was, “The project, I guess.” I went to sleep and woke up at 3:30 a.m. The house was quiet and still. I thought of Ben.