It's 3:58 a.m. and I wake in a startled state.
Did I forget the day? How could I let this slip?
I'm not thinking clearly at this ungodly hour so I begin to track back. He died in February, toward the end of the month. I count the days on my fingers until I land on this day, February 20.
I am so relieved because I have not missed the day my first husband, Brett, died. It's February 21, which is the eight-year anniversary.
Something has shifted for me this year; the day of his death is far less meaningful now than the scope of his life.
Still, in years past the date itself has loomed like a predator, evoking anxious feelings the entire month. I tend to stare at my children more intensely during this time, focusing on the way Casey's cowlicks and slender feet resemble his dad's, and the likeness of Rebecca's skin tone and beauty mark on her cheek. We make a point of looking at old photos and videos, and I tell them funny stories so that they have a sense of their father. Not even three years old when Brett died, they have no real memories, only those that are shared with them.
Like this one, which I recently learned from Brett's closest friend, George, while doing some reporting for my memoir. "We used to call him crazy legs," George tells me, reliving glory days of playing intramural football freshmen year at the University of Maryland. This would have been 1982. "Brett was all legs on the field, running everywhere, always laughing." George is revved up. "But we weren't such knuckleheads after all, because we won the championship!"
It turns out that the school held a banquet in the team's honor where everyone was given silver turtle charms inspired by Testudo, the university mascot.
I had no idea that when we buried Brett in 2004, George brought the charm and tossed it into his gravesite of earth and casket. "From the way he ran, he deserved two charms."
I share this story for many reasons.
There's no moratorium on the life of a story. See how this one was told to me eight years after the fact?
Today, Brett's memory is like particles of dust in the air. He's with us in the most minute ways even when we aren't consciously remembering him. And that's true for all lost loved ones. We can trust that they breathe inside us as memories.
I honored Brett by baking a key lime pie (his favorite), and together with my current husband, Steve, and the twins, we tasted life. Here's the recipe, courtesy of allrecipes.com:
1 (9-inch) prepared graham cracker crust
3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup key lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice and lime rind. Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust.
Bake in preheated oven for five to eight minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of the pie. DO NOT BROWN! Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with lime slices and whipped cream if desired.
Tell your stories. It's never too late.
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