I once read that dust is mostly made up of human skin cells. I wondered if his skin cells were on me then as I watched the brown mist settle on my arms. It had been two weeks since the gunshot that simultaneously oppressed and liberated me. I was sorting through the things my husband left behind in the garage. The garage we built years ago for utilitarian purposes that had somehow morphed into a metaphor for my husband’s declining mental health.
This detached, filthy rectangle had slowly become John’s retreat when, three years ago, he stopped staying in the house after dinner.
Then it became his lover when, two years ago, he stopped sleeping in our bed and preferred the night time company of his ever-growing used car collection and other women.
Then it became his asylum when, six months ago, he stopped sleeping altogether and changed the locks on both doors that lead into his fortress.
In his absence, it was not a retreat, or a lover, or an asylum. It was a dust filled, physical oxymoron. Cluttered but hallow, ancient but modern. Laden with sunbeams, but darkened with shadows. The first time I went in there after his suicide, I sat amongst the things he once touched and I knew with certainty that the phrase “time heals” was bullshit.
Time, makes things real.
Time removes the merciful veil of shock.
Time is the guilt getting heavier.
Time is discovering yet another question that will never be answered.
My eleven-year-old daughter was just outside the back door of the garage that day looking down at her feet while balancing on a large metal beam. It was her first time there too. The long brown waves cascading from her head made it impossible for me to distinguish the look on her face. Not that her face was so easy to read during those early days anyways, but I still wondered what is looked like beneath her hair. She hasn’t spoken of her dad since his funeral. She hasn’t spoken much at all.
What must this be like for her? I thought. What did I need from my mother when I was eleven and mute?
Every eleven-year-old girl needs her mother to bring her cake. I grabbed the leftover cake pops from the lunch I’d packed us and asked her to join me. She nodded her head no. So the cake pop and I went to her, out in the desert heat with its unrelenting rays of sun that seem so disrespectful to the cloud that had settled over our lives.
She was softly crying.
“Did you remind Daddy about me when he told you he was going to kill himself on the phone?” she said while still focusing on her feet.
It was in that moment that I decided I was ready to date. Yes, two weeks after my husband’s suicide I was ready to date. Not because I wanted to get remarried, not because I was healthy and so full of love that I couldn’t wait to share it with someone. No. I decided I was ready to date because
That afternoon I had the conversation with her, my first born, about how nothing anyone said could have talked the gun out of his hand. About how that wasn’t even daddy’s voice on the phone when he died because his brain was so very sick. About how his sick brain thought she’d be better off if he was dead. About how his suicide was no one’s fault. As I said these things to her I knew that I didn’t completely believe them myself, but I said them anyways.
A few days later, I left the kids in the care of my parents, went out of town and met with the man who would become Chapter Four in my memoir, Boys, Booze, and Bathroom Floors. And then every weekend after that I dated a different man. And sometimes the same man. And sometimes four men in a day. I used them and they used me and I am a better person today because of it.
Dating gave me an outlet for my rage, respite from the guilt, and introduced me to my new self. No, I did not meet the next great love of my life out there in the modern social-media infused dating world. No, I did not meet a man that helped piece back together the broken fragments of my once optimistic soul. But I did meet a widowed woman named Michelle who raged until she could finally find the courage to be sad, who withheld the guilt until she was strong enough to absorb it, and who put her own damn soul back together, jaded though it might still be.
Dating can be used for all kinds of purposes, not just an eventual marriage. For me, it has been healing and I get so much criticism for it, but I’m too busy being wined and dined to care. Not everyone’s path to self-discovery and healing after loss is the same, but everyone has one, and they are obligated to their future, healthier self to find it.