April 20, 2017: Props

On April 20, 2017, I texted Matt a question in the middle of his work day: How would you feel about a real tea kettle versus the electric kind. (Really riveting material today.) It’s not particularly relevant to our story, which I’ll get to, but it’s interesting to read in light of today, the one week anniversary of going public with this blog.

Because a year ago today, I didn’t want to choose a tea kettle without talking to Matt first. You could blame it on social dynamics or ingrained traditional gender roles, but anyone who knew Matt and knows me would understand. Matt was the researcher. He’d read reviews and compare products, be meticulous and thorough; it would take two hours and all my patience. But we’d have a good tea kettle. Left to my own devices, it wouldn’t occur to me to read a review until after I got home, used the tea kettle, and realized I’d bought…something less than quality.

So it’s not so surprising that grief hits me hardest when it’s time to make a decision. Any decision, small (should I let H get a pet lizard) or large (should I let the entire world in on our story). It’s in those moments, pen in hand hovering over a paper waiting for my signature, when the tears sting the backs of my eyes and I just want to stop time and reassess reality. Because it’s been 76 days and I still feel like somebody made a mistake. Not in a the-world-is-so-unfair-way, although that, too, but in a way I can’t articulate yet because it cannot be understood without experiencing everything that came before.

So, back to April, to a date which felt scary and stressful and heavy at the time.

On April 20, 2017, Matt left work at a reasonable 5:30 and took a walk around the neighborhood, staying active just like the doctor ordered. Following doctor’s orders—checking in with the clinical trial nurse, taking medicine exactly on time—was all we could do while the days were snowballing. The subtle slips and mishaps I’d noticed the day before and the day before that were becoming more frequent and more obvious, especially at night. Screenshots of text messages can only capture the typos, not the moments sitting at the top of the stairs listening to Matt struggle with words in a picture book he was reading to the kids, wanting to step in but not wanting to hurt his feelings, or the difficulty of trying to make a decision with someone who couldn’t quite follow the threads of the conversation. Those moments are ingrained in my memory alone.

I have a post-it note on my computer that I put there as a reminder for when I write. It’s in all caps and says: don’t forget to use settings and props. It was a tip I’d read somewhere and the purpose, I think, is to anchor the reader in the reality you, as the writer, are creating. Looking back, that’s what the tea kettle text was meant to do. A prop for our story, an anchor to stabilize us in a reality that was spinning out of control, a way to cling to hope.

Author’s note: I did choose our tea kettle (without reading reviews…it works fine), and I also chose our dishwasher (overcompensated by reading too many reviews and then got talked into buying something else anyway), and I did start this blog, obviously (but not without a fair amount of panic that Matt wasn’t there to tell me if it was the right thing to do).

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