(This flash fiction is a memorial piece to my wife. TW: Grief and loss.)
Stories are fragile things. Family stories even more so. They change in the retelling, our embellishments becoming fact, and the characters become caricatures. But in a way, through our stories we tell others our truth.
When it came to my wife, stories were her bread and butter. They were an olive branch, a handshake, a ‘how do you do,’ the way she connected with others, and she was good at it.
Her passing wasn’t her Oscar performance, her manifesto, what she was born to be known for. As much as the stories she told, were the stories we created together, some strange mishmash of beauty and absurdity.
Our wedding alone was no bride-in-white fairytale. For one, she wore black, I wore pants. We rented a car that had no cruise control, no navigation. We drove 19 hours- after getting lost once- with my knees screaming the whole way, before making it to the cheap hotel in the dead of night.
She had just started on a new medication that knocked her out, so the morning of our wedding she fell asleep in the shower and I had to bang on the door to get her out. After Google Maps tried to drive us into the ocean, we made it late to the lighthouse, where it was too cold and windy for how we were dressed.
We had no photographer. We had only talked to the officiator online- for all we knew, it could have been a scam. When we went to get our marriage license, the day before they had changed the rules so that you needed to have your social security card on you to get a license. The social security card that was back in Michigan. We tried to spend our ‘honeymoon’ taking the nearby train to New York, but missed it as we got lost finding our stop.
But God, it was perfect.
We ran into a photographer for the newspaper at the shore- he’d just been taking photos for fun, but seeing us in the middle of fall getting married under the lighthouse piqued his interest. He took some photos for us. We ended up on the front page of the local paper for an article on same-sex marriage in Connecticut. The clerk cut us some slack and allowed us our marriage license. The officator was in fact not a scammer, but a lovely lady who gave us tips on where to go around town after the ceremony.
We never did find the train station, so instead of a day in New York, we spent our honeymoon exploring the area, taking bad photos of whatever vegan food we could find- something that was later noted at our post-elopement party, “was this a wedding or a restaurant tour?”
“Both,” we answered.
I remember being so exhausted and in so much pain on the drive back, that despite her not being on the rental agreement I acquiesced and let her drive when my leg refused to straighten anymore.
I remember waking up hours later, seeing the Ohio expressway moving past as we circled around and around, her navigating to our exit accordingly while practically screaming out loud the lyrics to the CD we’d bought on our trip down- the lyrics she now knew by heart. She always said singing helped her feel less anxious driving. It’s one of those strangely vivid memories I will always cherish.
I remember her mother coming to bail us out when we realized we didn’t have the funds to pay for the mileage on the rental car- a ‘wedding gift’ she said. And that’s when I realized this was for real- we were married. Together.
These are the moments that were so… us. Broken, messy, imperfectly perfect. Months after she passed, while I’m curled up in bed, my mom says- “I was talking to your sister, and she said that she balanced you.”
Yes. She was the whirlwind, the sunshine, sometimes the only reason I could get up in the morning. When life handed us lemons, she said ‘screw you’, and returned them for a goddamn cake. It may have been a clearance cake, but when you’re broken and struggling even a cake off the clearance rack is delicious.
This was not her closing act, or the climax of our story. Her story began with her kicking and screaming, fighting against anyone who would tell her that she’d never make it. For every life she touched, she held out all she was in the stories she told and no one was unchanged for it. She made others realize they’re stronger than they thought they were.
Her passing wasn’t her defining moment. But I am tasked with taking her tenacious, unquenchable spirit. What I have left is to share her loss, yes. Because while a part of her still remains, the part of her that held me close is gone. But it is my choice to bring her forward with me.