How Jerry Survives His Wife’s Death

1. He doesn’t think much. That helps. But he doesn’t try to dull his senses either. He loses his desire for everything that matters: food, sex, beer, friendship. The messages on his machine start off terse (“Jesus, Jerry, come out with us for a drink”) but when days go by the tone changes. They get longer and more imploring, the red LED counter now showing 47. When it’s still early in the morning he can hear the phone ring or the doorbell or even the knocking, but late at night when there are tones of worry, anger, pleading in the voices of friends at his door—then Jerry can’t hear anything anyway. He sits in his rocker, stripped to his underwear and a T-shirt, sits sipping water from a mug.

And a memory washes over him: whenever he used to see her drinking anything other than hot liquid from a mug, he’d say “Are the glasses all dirty?” And she’d say no, or she didn’t know—she’d remind him that it was just another container for some liquid or other. Mugs could hold cold stuff, glasses could hold hot.

2. He tries to reduce her possessions, former possessions, to as close to zero as possible. Mostly he gets rid of the things that prying siblings or her father or some reporter wouldn’t understand: the nineteen porn videos (including Traci Lords’ teenage first); the family Bible, one published in 1899, in which she’d drawn stick figures to replace the original beatific illustrations; the hotel towels.

It all fits into three plastic trash bags, which he loads into the car. He drives to the dump, sets it on fire, and watches it burn, the acrid smoke bringing tears to his eyes.

3. He finally organizes their photographs into albums, incidentally reviewing their life as a couple. He feels a mess of emotions for her, lust at the sway of her breasts, her calmness, the way she talked, the way she listened.

There’s a photo of her in his bathrobe. She smiles bashfully at his staring—it was after that walk they’d taken one winter Sunday along the newly frozen canal, Jerry throwing huge rocks into it, which gulped to the bottom, and she zinged small stones along the ice without cracking it, the stones whistling over the surface.

4. By the time he’s reduced her former possessions to a bare few, he’s also lost weight because of his ascetic eating regimen. Everything feels balanced at the fulcrum between success and failure, life and death. Any small addition or removal would tip his life up into a whirling confusion of sensations, or down to a hard empty crash.