Fiction - also published on Medium here.
A side street in Auckland ©AB Mambo
How does a wife help her husband grieve the death of the love of his life? That’s the burden your untimely demise has left me. When I watched footage of the Flight 302 crash near Bishoftu that March morning eight months ago, it was from the safe distance of a sympathizer. I couldn’t have guessed you were on that flight or that the evening would bring news that would break my Sanyu and instigate what now looks like irreparable cracks in my marriage. I didn’t know I would feel for you emotions I had never felt when you were alive. I didn’t expect to go from an even-tempered, energetic size 6 to an insomniac whose ballooning anger is stretching the seams in my clothes and stealing laughter from my home. I cannot go on like this. There are things I need to tell you and should’ve said a long time ago. Beginning with the fact that in his eyes, I couldn’t compare to you. I came to understand that over time and accommodated it because I knew you’d made your choice a long time ago and it wasn’t him.
During many sleepless nights since the crash when he either locked himself in the study or went walking until dawn, I replayed the handful of times you and I met, wondering if there were things I should’ve told you. Things you probably didn’t know about us. Like our marriage was happy, strong. That we still had date night once a week, slept nude in the summer, even when I was pregnant, and that for every anniversary, we went back to the little café in downtown Des Moines where we had our first date. We talked about all kinds of things, including you. He was open about you from the beginning. I don’t think he could help it as you poured out of him unrestrained on our first date. I’d asked him out — did he tell you? And it was because of you that I fell in love with him. A man that could love a woman so profoundly was worth my time. And the fact that he’d been so open about it made me trust him, want him. It might seem odd, even illogical to you, but I treasured his candor and the vulnerability with which he spoke about you. I wanted to know what it was like to feel that way, or at least to be loved like that. I didn’t know what that felt like, having only experienced troubled relationships with men, until I met Sanyu.
Being with him was a clear-headed decision I made with all the information I wanted. When I chose to be with him, to accept his marriage proposal, to be the mother of his children and his partner for life, it was with the knowledge of who you were and the place you held in his story. I didn’t choose to be with him out of desperation or fear that my time was somehow running out. I was thirty-one when we got married, an eternity among my people to be sure, but I chose him because I wanted Sanyu, only him.
I’d never met a kinder man when we began hanging out. Being the only two Africans in our small Iowa grad school, we became fast friends. He always shared the eru, bobolo and other homemade delicacies his mother still sent him from Maryland. And when I got pneumonia and couldn’t get out of bed for weeks during the winter of our first year, he came to see me every day, sometimes bringing soup, other times class notes. It was in that haze of illness that I asked him out, although in true Sanyu fashion, he accepted but waited until I was healthy again to ensure that it wasn’t the meds talking. Choosing Sanyu after that was easy.
What I didn’t know then was how much my choice turned on the choice that you had made. How my decision to be with him turned on your decision to not be with him. I know he loves me, but it wasn’t until too late that I realized that my happiness depended on what you, a complete stranger to me, had chosen to do. I was free to accept him and his offer of marriage because you had not. And for most of our twelve years together, I never quite forgot that had you chosen him, he wouldn’t have said yes to that first date. But I could live with that because he loved me in his own way and although I wasn’t you, Lune, I was enough. Until that spring morning when your plane dropped from the sky.
I know how crazy it seems to write to a dead person. And I wonder what he would say if he knew I was locked in the study, a pot of stew likely now burning on the stove, writing to the woman I could never be. But I’m angry because while you may be cold in the ground, you’re alive everywhere in my world. You fill up his empty chair at dinner because since the crash, he hasn’t eaten with us; in fact, he barely eats. You’re the empty space on the left side of my bed, the overgrown grass on our lawn, the missed basketball and soccer practices. You are the hurried hugs to the boys, the quick kiss on my forehead, the grunted “Nothing, I’m fine,” when I ask what’s wrong. You are the absence at the neighborhood lemonade stand on Sundays, the missing #4 baritone in our church choir, and the smell of uneaten cinnamon-sprinkled pancakes wafting through the house for Saturday breakfast. You are the shots of Jameson he gulps between bottles of Heineken on the nights he comes home. You are the added bulge around his middle, and the surrender bearing him down. In your death, you are omnipresent in my life, my home and I don’t know how to fight back.
When you were alive, I knew I was secure in my place because you were secure in yours. You seemed to have it all — an amazing career, a doting, proud husband, beautiful twins, and that laughter that rippled across everything, infecting everything with you. You had yours and I had mine and it worked. In our early years, I often thought about him cheating on me with you and the thought would freeze my heart for a bit. But that feeling began to dissipate after I met you, effectively humanizing the unwieldy, magical enigma I’d created from everything I’d heard about you. I knew you loved him but never in a way that threatened my family or my place as his wife. Even the few times we spoke at your request, I understood those were your attempts to be transparent, to put me at ease and to reassure me that he was mine and you were no threat. I believed you. I’d still believe you if you were alive. But that crash turned your reassurance on its head. With one malfunction, I lost my husband and am now face-to-face with the realization that where I am, I never should’ve been. Some voids defy filling, and you, Lune, are such a void.
Have you ever felt like the echo reverberating through a valley, loud but only an imitation of the original sound? Or like a shadow — tall, imposing even — but always intangible, fleeting, nothing like the person to whom it belongs? I’m your echo, your shadow. My husband is suffering through your loss and I am repulsively angry at him for it. I’m distraught by this harrowing feeling of inadequacy, this irreversible fact that not only am I not you, but I cannot replace you — his sons cannot replace you. Eight months after your death, my life should be back to normal. Instead, I am doused in rage and jealousy and Sanyu suffocates in despair, while you float among the clouds of a pretend after-life that shields you from the tatters in which you’ve left our world. Despairingly, Emmy