My Ocean

part 7

Teddy got sick in the winter of ’97. The doctors didn’t know what it was at first, they couldn’t explain why he was so weak all the time. It wasn’t until February of the next year that they finally figured out it was cancer. Teddy took it surprisingly well.

“I’m not going to die yet, Del,” he told me, patting my hand. It was wrinkled and spotted, just like the rest of him, but it was still strong.

I put my hand over his. “You better not,” I told him. Teddy smiled at me. I’d gotten dentures a few years back but Teddy was lucky. He still had all his real teeth, besides one or two in the back that had had to be pulled.

The doctors said that chemotherapy was our best bet since any type of surgery would be too risky. So Teddy got to come home with us but he had to go back to the hospital for his chemo. They gave it to him for a few days and then he had a break. But the first round of chemo weakened him tremendously. He couldn’t walk for long periods of time and he slept a lot. His appetite was down and whenever he did eat, it just came back up a few hours later. Evie stayed with us a lot. She’d had two more kids after Will, who had turned 30 last July: Lacey Michelle, who was now 22, and Peter Martin, who had just turned 18. They were great kids. And they all had red hair.

Will had gotten married and his wife was expecting their second child. Lacey was in college in California and Peter was with a girl he’d accidentally gotten pregnant.

“Like father, like son,” Evie had said dryly when she’d called to tell me. And like his father, Peter wanted to stay with the girl and help with the baby. “She’ll fit right in with this family.” And she did. Her name was Virginia but she went by Ginny.

Teddy had been right, though. He didn’t die just yet. No, he held out all the way until 2007. The cancer had gone away and then come back and gone away again. But it came back, just like the doctors had told us it would. And this time, Teddy had no more strength to fight it. As soon as the doctors told us, Teddy and I said our goodbyes.

I hadn’t left his bedside in days except to go to the bathroom. Evie was pretty much living with us by then. She’d bring food up for me and I’d take a bite and bring it back downstairs. I was becoming just as skinny as Teddy.

“I’m not lasting much longer,” Teddy told me one morning. It was a beautiful, beautiful morning in early June. Birds chirped outside and out his window, you could see all the flowers overflowing with color and life. It should have been a good, happy day. But instead it was marked by the bittersweet taste of goodbyes.

“I know,” I said.

“You can’t drink yourself stupid like I did when my dad died,” he said sternly. “I mean it, Del.”

I smiled at him. “I won’t.” And I wouldn’t. I’d never developed a taste for alcohol of any kind.

“No drugs, either,” he said. “I know how popular that stuff has gotten again and I will haunt you if pick something like that up.”

“Haunt me, Teddy,” I said. “Please haunt me.” Tears formed in my eyes. “You can’t leave me yet, Teddy. You just can’t, okay?” I pressed my lips together.

Teddy reached up and wiped my tears away with a wrinkled finger. “You’ve always been the rock, Del,” he said. “Ever since I can remember. But now you’ve got to let yourself feel. Let Evie be the rock for a while. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, just like you.”

I crawled up on the bed and nestled myself against him. He stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me and how grateful he was that he’d got to spend his life with me. “We’ve made a good life,” he said. “Now I’m going to go up to heaven and make life good for when you join me, okay? You have to stick around and make sure the life we got down here doesn’t fall apart.” I nodded, even though I didn’t know how well I’d be able to do that.

“I love you, Teddy,” I whispered. His arms tightened around me. We lay like that for a long time. Teddy never got back up. I sobbed. It was my crying that alerted Evie. All I felt was anger, anger at Teddy for leaving me like this, and this hard lump of sadness that had settled deep into my core because Teddy was gone. My Teddy, my husband and best friend, he was gone. And I didn’t know how to handle that. So I did what I’d never done before: I lost it. I screamed at Evie and then at Reed and even at Will and Lacey and Peter. I yelled at them all and sobbed and I didn’t leave that room. Even after they’d taken Teddy, I still didn’t leave. After all the screaming and the yelling was done, I lay in the bed day after day. I didn’t eat. I didn’t feel the hunger pains in my stomach and I didn’t drink anything so I didn’t have to go to the bathroom.

Finally, Evie had had enough.

“Get up, Mom,” she said.

“No,” I told her.

She put her hands on hips. “Get up now,” she demanded. “You’re acting like a child.” I didn’t reply. “You can’t just lay in here and waste away. Dad wouldn’t have wanted that.”

“How would you know what Dad wanted?” I snapped. Then I felt guilty. But Evie was, just like Teddy had predicted, a good rock. And she came and pulled my sorry self out of that bed and to the table where Reed had cooked some food. Evie made me sit at the table and eat everything on my plate and then she made me eat dessert. I started crying halfway through the meal and begged Evie to let me go back to bed but she held fast. She made me eat every bit of that food and then when I was done, she came over and she wrapped her arms around me and we cried.

It seems to me that when you’re grieving, everyone comes to stay. Over the next few months, I was never alone. Evie was there and when she wasn’t, Will was or Lacey or Peter and Ginny. They brought my great-grandkids. They made me laugh. But despite the happiness that my family brought me, I still felt hollow. A big piece of me was gone and I had no idea what to do.

My parents had died years ago and left me their house. That tiny house that had been in my family for generation after generation. And I did what I’d sworn to myself I’d never do: I moved back into it. I left the house that had my baby James in the backyard. The house that my husband had died in. The house that held so many memories inside its walls. And I went back to the house that started it all.

Teddy had asked to be cremated so he came, too, in beautiful wooden box that Will, who was an amazing woodworker, had created. It was carved with birds and on the top, there was a young girl with a flowing skirt in the arms of a man underneath a tree. Will told me that Teddy had told him that that was where we’d met, under a tree. And that was where we got to know each other.

I grieved for Teddy for a long, long time. But then one morning, I woke up to the sunlight streaming in through my window. My house is quiet. Evie will be coming over later today with Reed and Peter and Ginny, who is due any day now. After feeling like a weight has been crushing me down for so long, I feel lightened. So I dress in a long skirt and grab Teddy’s box and start for the hill. The wheat is golden, just how I like it. Will, Lacey, and Peter have gotten together and every year, they come and plant the wheat for me. Then they come back at harvest to chop it all down and sell it. I don’t working anymore and I made sure that the money goes to them to do with what they pleased. I have plenty of money. Teddy’s parents had left him their fortune and in turn, he’d left it to me.

I wade through the long stalks, feeling all the ripples around me, the tips tickling my ankles like small kisses. The box is heavy but I’ve gotten my strength back. I carry it up to the hill and stare out at the only ocean I know.

Teddy used to tell me about the actual ocean. He said it was an amazing sight but it was one I never got. I don’t feel like I was missing out on it, though. This is more than enough ocean for me. This ocean is made from gold. There is no other ocean or body of water that can compare to this. There are waves that rise and shine in the sunlight. Creatures fly beneath the surface. You can lose yourself in this ocean but it won’t kill you. Losing yourself here is freeing. You see the gold around you for miles and it fills you with this sense of belonging. I close my eyes. The sun is warm on my face and wind streams passed me, lifting my hair and making it dance, pressing my skirt back against my legs.

I open the box that I have in my hands and I throw the ashes from it. I watch the cloud assemble, the stark gray against the shimmering gold and bright blue. I watch how it swirls in the air, showing off in that way Teddy used to. And then it’s gone. It’s flying away, riding the wind forever and ever. Maybe it’ll take him to the real ocean. Teddy would like that, I think. He loved the water. This ocean was never enough for him. But I was enough for him and he was enough for me.

This is my ocean. The place behind me is my house. Evie and Will and Peter and Lacey and their kids are my family. But Teddy. Teddy was my home.
♠ ♠ ♠
the end.