As bad as being buried alive is, digging yourself out is worse.
I come to kneeling on the grass, the full moon overhead. For a moment, all I can concentrate on is spitting the mud out of my mouth and not gagging.
There’s still some grit in my teeth, but when I’ve got it all out, I sit back and look around.
I’m in a cemetery. Why? Where? What am I doing here?
I stand slowly, because my head is spinning and I’m weak and shaky. I feel empty, wrung out, and everything hurts like I have a fever, but my fingers to my forehead tell me I’m cool.
I can’t remember why I’m here or where I’ve been or what I was doing. I must’ve suffered a knock to the head of some kind.
The thought makes me shiver, nauseous, but I don’t know why. What I do know, is I need to get home. To my wife. I have to get home. I have to get to Maisie.
I pick the direction that feels right and stumble my way along. Maybe I’ll see something I recognize, something I remember. But I walk in a daze where my thoughts won’t connect. Only one thought seems clear: Home. Maisie.
After what seems like hours and yet no time at all, I’m standing in the street in front of our house, bright moonlight shining in my face. It’s almost too bright, and all the windows are dark. What time is it?
It has to be very late. I’d have to get in without scaring Maisie.
I pat my chest to check my pockets for my keys, but there is only a folded handkerchief. My pants pocket were empty. No keys, no cell phone, no wallet. And why was I wearing a suit? A dirty one at that.
I would have to ring the doorbell, wake Maisie, maybe scare her. Lord knows that I was getting a little scared myself at the fact that I couldn’t remember anything of the last few hours, couldn’t grasp my fly-away thoughts.
I stand there, indecisive, our neighbor’s dog barking at me. It would wake Maisie up if it kept going. That yapping little bark that had disturbed more than one good night of sleep.
Barking, barking, barking. Non-stop.
I put my hands over my sensitive ears, but it’s all I can seem to hear, all I can focus on. The incessant, high-pitched bark ping-ponging around inside my head.
It was making me crazy. I drop my hands and stride to the fence, growling. The dog barks louder, more urgently, as it takes a few mincing steps back. But it’s still close enough…just close enough.
Darkness closes in as I vault over the fence.
I wake from my dream, a foreign smile on my face that fades quickly.
I’d been cooking at the stove when I’d felt his hands on my hips, the weight and warmth of them, as he pressed his lips against my hair. I’d smiled, his strong arms and his scent enveloping me. The same scent that was fading out of the shirt I wore as pajamas.
I lift the collar to my nose anyway, inhaling his scent, tears soaking the edge. His unique smell was more memory than scent now after all these weeks. But I could smell him, feel his presence in the air.
It was both comforting, and painful.
It was like he’d just left the room and would be right back. Or maybe like he was standing right outside the bedroom door. I could feel him nearby.
I wanted this reality I’d woken to, to be the dream. A nightmare. I wanted to wake up and be back at the stove with my husband.
Please let me wake up.
But after six and a half weeks, I know this is not a bad dream. I am not going to wake up from this.
I roll on to my back, wide awake. Moonlight filters in through the curtains, making the room a little too bright for decent sleep. Or maybe it was the neighbor’s dog barking that woke me.
Or maybe it was because the bed was way too big, too empty, and I’d only just started sleeping in my own bedroom again.
My bedroom. It is, but it isn’t. It’s still our bedroom, our bed, and he’s still in here with me.
I roll over and face the vacant side of the bed. All I can do is stare at it, because there should have been someone sleeping there. Grady should have been there, one arm up over his head, snoring softly. He should be there.
But he isn’t. Grady is gone.
I lay my palm against the sheet as more tears leak out. I’d cried so many that I should be empty of them, but there were more. Always more.
Everyone experiences loss I knew, but here, in the middle of it, it felt like it hurt me worse than it’s ever hurt anyone else in existence.
There were thousands, millions maybe, of women like me. And yet I still felt utterly alone. No one missed anyone as bad as I missed Grady. No woman could ever love their husband as much as I loved mine.
I’ve lost my other half. I’m a soul without a mate, the tether between us severed. It’s as if he was savagely torn from my body, and I’m bleeding out.
Some days I can’t get out of bed. Some days I don’t care one way or the other if I do. When you can’t eat, can’t sleep, and find no joy in living, why would you? There was nothing to look forward to except endless days and nights of misery so profound I can hardly breathe around the pain. A real, physical ache where my heart was, that hurts even when I’m asleep.
If it wasn’t for my sister-in-law, checking up on me, bringing me food, making me eat and shower, I wouldn’t have made it through the last few weeks. The poor woman was grieving too, the lost of her brother, but I just had nothing to give her in the way of support. Or anyone. I could barely keep myself alive. I almost died of a broken heart.
Now I was glad I hadn’t. Now I made sure to eat regularly, even if it was just a few bites. Made sure to drink lots of water and take my vitamins. Tried really, really hard not to wallow too long in sorrow in case it caused too much stress.
For the baby.
Grady would have made a great father, I was certain of it. That he would never have the chance to be one was as great a tragedy as his death.
So much was taken from him. So much was taken from me. It was both a curse and a blessing that I had this little piece of him keeping me alive.
She was about the size of a peanut right now. She could be a he, but my instincts said ‘girl’.
I rest my hand on my still-flat stomach, one still palm-down on his side of the bed, trying to bridge the emotional gap and be ecstatic about the baby the way I should be.
But all I can manage to feel is tired. I’m so tired.
Maybe tired enough to go back to sleep without medication? I would try, but that stupid dog had to shut up first.
Heaving myself up, I go to the window to see what is agitating it. Sometimes skunks wondered by and the dogs end up getting sprayed—
I pull the curtain back and then instantly shut it again, heart pounding. Someone is standing in the street, staring at the house. I’d only had a split-second glimpse of a dark form standing immobile. Was someone casing the house? Should I call the police?
Slowly, my breath unnaturally loud, I pull back the curtain a millimeter at a time until there is a tiny sliver I can see through.
And the street is empty.
Nothing moves, not even trees. Even the dog is silent now.
I close the curtain and sit on the edge of the bed. His side. I pop right back up, feeling almost like I’d sat on him. Crazy, right?
But grief made you crazy.
I was not the same woman anymore. The Maisie with Grady as her husband was not the same as the Maisie without a husband.
Maisie-without-a-husband couldn’t make decisions, every thought shaky and uncertain. She had weird dreams and nightmares. She didn’t want to eat, or drink, or laugh, because he couldn’t do any of those things anymore. She couldn’t even sit on her husband’s side of the bed, in his chair at the table, or his favorite spot on the couch, without feeling like she was killing him all over again.
And, sometimes she heard and saw things that weren’t really there.
Making sure, I pull the curtain back one last time, but the street is just as empty as it was last time. Just as empty as it should be.
With a deep breath, I go back to bed.
I find myself at my front door.
No idea how, or what happened, or how long I’ve been standing here. The last thing I remember is the dog barking…
But the yard next door is empty. The moon is higher, it’s much later at night. Or earlier in the day? Maybe the sun is coming up soon, I can’t tell.
I look back at the door. Should I knock?
I glance down at myself, and then back down the porch steps in shock. There’s a lot of blood. Everywhere.
My hands travel over my face, my arms, my stomach. But I don’t seem to be injured anywhere. In fact, I feel better than before. More awake, more coherent. Less achy. But there’s sticky blood soaking my shirt, and it’s the middle of the night, and I have no memory of what I’ve done or where I’ve been before I woke up spitting out dirt. I can’t wake my wife up like this, it’ll scare the life out of her.
But I have nowhere else to go, and if I didn’t come home from work last night, she has to be worried.
Work. I put a hand to my head. I remember being at work. I remember clocking in, and putting on my hardhat. I remember snow. Snow, and a bone-aching cold that seemed to last forever. But when was that? Yesterday? Two days ago? There was no snow left on the sidewalks or the grass.
I needed to find out, and she needed to know I was safe, I was home.
The key. They had a spare key in a fake rock in the flower bed.
I kneel in it, dirty hands scrabbling over the plants and rocks until I find the one I need. Kissing the key, I stand.
But there is still the matter of my bloody shirt. I don’t know how it got bloody or where the blood came from, but I know I can’t wear this inside.
I go to the trash can next to the garage and lift the lid. I rip off my jacket and shirt and hold them in my hands, confused. Both had a long slit up the back, stopping right before the collar.
I shake my head and toss the shirt in the can, and close the lid. Wearing just a suit coat was better than wearing that horror show.
I’m putting the key in the lock when a lamp turns on in the living room. I freeze, but I don’t know why. I’m so ready to see Maisie again, to hold her, to reassure her.
The last thing I want to do is scare her.
“Maisie.” My voice sounds gravelly, unrecognizable, even to my own ears. I try again. “Maisie, it’s me, Grady. I’m coming in—”
The door flies open and I see her beautiful, shocked face for just a moment before it slams shut again and the screaming starts.
Before she can turn the lock, I open the door a crack and push my shoulder against it, trying to keep her from shutting me out.
Maybe she can’t tell it was me in the dark, and thinks a stranger is trying to push their way into the house. I stop pushing against her for a second.
“Maisie, please. Stop screaming and let me in. It’s Grady, baby. You’re going to wake up the neighbors. I’m coming in.”
I don’t know if we’re arguing, or why she tried to lock me out, or why she won’t stop screaming. But I know from our past arguments that if we just talk, we can work things out.
The pressure on the other side of the door releases and I open just in time to see Maisie running for the garage door, blond hair flying out behind her. She snatches the keys off the wall and throws open the door, running into the garage.
I don’t run after her, I go slowly, comforting, pleading. I hear the garage door go up, and run the last few steps.
The headlights blind me as I stand in the doorway to the garage, and I throw a hand up to cover my eyes. But she’s backing out of the driveway. I get one quick glimpse of her terrified face as she peels out.
“Maisie!” I yell. Why is my wife running from me?