The cheese plate is beautiful. Centered around a small crystal bowl of capers are neatly stacked squares of havariti, a pad of mild brie, and large triangles of a wine-soaked cheddar. Scattered around the edges are slices of ripe red apple, more for color than anything else.
As she sets it down on the glass coffee table, collecting empty cups and discarded napkins as she goes, she knows this beautiful cheese plate is the only thing she has gotten right all week. Over the past few days, she burnt the toast for the cucumber sandwiches, spilt wine on Great Aunt Marie, put banana flavor into the lemon cake (which already had salt instead of sugar), and only noticed the white cat fur covering the bottom two inches of her black dress right before it was her turn to to speak in front of everyone at the service.
And then, of course, the service proved not good enough anyway for the elder Mrs. Lindbogen, which should have been expected. She wailed loudly about the lack of burial even though there had been specific instructions for cremation and an urn already picked out over a year ago when the diagnosis came. But what did a man’s dying instructions mean to his poor, grieving mother? Nothing. Not at such a “drab” funeral anyway. The flowers? Atrocious. The music? Too casual. The eulogies? Tacky. Even the poor rabbi didn’t stand a chance, because Mrs. Lindbogen had wanted hers from Wisconsin flown in to perform, but no one volunteered to cover the cost.
Liza couldn’t help but see the irony in such a weighted, drawn-out event for a man that had weighed next to nothing at his death, and hated any social gathering requiring a suit. This got her in trouble too, though, because the little smile that escaped onto her cheeks was misinterpreted by her mother-in-law to be “callous and unrighteous. ”
And now she’s been caught slipping on Pete’s loafers to walk Snowball and Raisin through the yard.
Pete’s sister Sarah stood before her, hands on rounded hips, eyes darting between the shoes and Liza’s large, caught-deer eyes, “Mother will have to know. She’ll want to speak to you about this.”
“No no,” Liza stutters, “she doesn’t. Snowball had to go, and Raisin had to come too, you know. Your mom doesn’t want to leave her spot to take them out so I just grabbed the first pair of shoes I saw and-”
“Leather shoes. Do the rules of Shivah mean nothing to you?”
“Well, of course they do, but they’re Pete’s and-”
“The leather shoes belonging to a dead Jew makes it worse, not better, Liza.”
A dead Jew? My dead HUSBAND. Pete doesn’t give a shit what shoes I wear to take his mother’s rotweilers out. He didn’t like them anyway. But you wouldn’t know he’s a cat person, would you, bitch?
When they had first moved to Georgia, there had been no fewer than three parties thrown for them by complete strangers. The neighborhood had a Welcome Cook Out, the teachers at Pete’s school had the couple join them for a Sunday brunch, and even Liza’s new boss at the firm had taken them out to dinner with his wife and a few of the higher-ups. Had their new friends not all been so sweet and so funny, the macaroni casseroles and peach pie served at each event would have won Liza and Pete over anyway. They felt like they’d found paradise off route 516.
Liza had been determined to join the ranks of Perfect Hostess that all their neighbors appeared to be inducted within.
“We’re Northern, love. You’re not supposed to know how to bake anything without apples. Just make your mom’s loaf again, they’ll love it.”
“No Pete, these are pie people! And I can’t keep showing up to things with apple strudel, they’ll get tired of it, and then they’ll get tired of us, and then we won’t have any couple friends and we’ll just be by ourselves and then YOU’ll get tired of my apple strudel and you’ll leave me.”
“Okay okay okay-” He took the whisk out of her hands, immediately throwing it in the sink as he discovered the whole handle was covered in sticky batter, “first of all, I will never get tired of the world’s best cinnamon apple strudel. Second-
“SECOND,” He turned his flour-covered wife from the counter and tucked her into his chest, “if you really want to learn to bake other things, we’ll get you a cookbook. Maybe some lessons. And we’ll invite Betsy over to help. But for now, how about just adding a caramel drizzle to change things up so your head can stop calculating how many strudels it’ll take to pay for a divorce attorney.”
“Curnweatshleashgtafnseedtcrt?” She asked into his shirt.
“Yes, yes, we’ll get a fancy drink cart before Friday night, I promise. Now lets throw all this out and order Chinese. I’ll get apples for you after work tomorrow.”
She eyed him suspiciously, “caramel drizzle?”
“Caramel drizzle, chocolate drizzle, flavored whipped creams- we have lots to work with before they try to evict us.”
A Perfect Hostess would be calm in this situation. Betsy would smile and handle this until she could complain to me about her horrid guests over a spiked ice tea.
“Well, now I know about the shoes. Won’t make the mistake again, terribly sorry.”
“We’ll see.” Sarah huffs away back to the living room.
Liza kicks off the offending loafers and throws the neon green doggy bag in the bin. She pretends to tidy the mud room while she cools down, moves the piles of laundry around a bit to let herself think she’s accomplishing things.
Run back to mommy in MY living room, where your fat butt has sat for six days on MY couch eating MY food pretending to mourn MY husband just to please YOUR mother who has no idea her son hasn’t been practicing in nine years. But SURE, we’ll see.
Her eyes land on the loafers again. She peaks around the doorframe, and seeing the coast is clear, slides her feet back into them. Her toes reach to just the bottom of the imprints his left behind, and she curls them to feel the smooth canyons.
He wore them to work every day. She had bought them for him for Chrismahannakwanza, as they called it after the big move, and he fell in love with them.
“They make me feel like a college professor instead of a middle school teacher! Professor Lindbogen! Coming to my class today, young lady?” He’d say when he put them on, pretending to fix a monocle to his face. It made Liza laugh every time, even if they were running late.
“Yes sir, professor!” She’d call back.
It was just a little part of their routine. He’d make her giggle, she’d kiss his cheek. He would make her coffee while she made his lunch, and they’d pull out of the garage with his car’s stereo starting up NPR while her’s loaded Michael Buble’.
“Yes sir, professor,” she whispers to the loafers.
He’d tell them to go to the hell they didn’t believe in. He’d tell them to get out of our house so his wife could mourn properly. He’d tell them we’d moved south just to get away from all of this.
“It’s going to upset our moms.” Liza had said at the kitchen table, soaking in the warmth of her coffee, hoping it would make the small apartment feel less chilly.
“Good, that’s half the reason we’re doing this,” Pete smiled back, stirring honey into his tea. “No more fights on Sundays and holidays, no more random drop ins-” He walked over and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, “and warm. So warm, Love.”
“I like warm,” she leaned back into his chest.
“I like warm too.” He kissed her forehead and turned to check a pot of oatmeal on the stove.
“How are we going to tell them?”
“Well, we’ll have your parents over for dinner this week.”
“Alright, red wine to loosen them up.”
“And steak to make your Dad happy. We’ll need to pull that huge gold crucifix out of the closet.”
“Good good, and that weird bowl they brought us from Rome, too.”
“Of course. Maybe we should put communion crackers in it?”
Liza laughed, “Too far! Calibrate, remember!” Pete responded by putting the paper towel roll on his head and demanding that Pope Pete be given more respect. He laughed at his own joke until the oatmeal was burnt.
“And your mom? How do we tell her that disappointing daughter-in-law is stealing her only son and trapping him below the Mason Dixon line?”
Pete straightened. “Hmmm… I say we call her from the airport.” And then he put his paper-towel-Mitre back on and stomped around the kitchen.
She was warm. She could do this. She’d done so much more over the past year. Of course, this thought always makes her feel guilty and selfish. Yes, there had been many late nights in uncomfortable hospital chairs, more meetings with doctors than she could count. When his diet changed, her diet changed, because who had time to cook two meals? Yes, it had been hard to concentrate on work, console well-wishers, and do all of the house chores by herself. But he was the one dying.
“This will be the easy part,” he whispered to her. “No more doctors appointments, no more meds, no more conference calls from a hospital room. You won’t have to worry about me anymore, I’ll be okay.”
She’d screamed at him right there in hospital room 402A. How dare he think this was the easy part? She was losing her best friend, she would be alone. He was the one that got to stop hurting, her pain was just about to begin.
“I’m your wife! I’ll take a thousands more nights in this chair if if means I get to keep you!”
He watched her yell for several minutes. This only further inflamed her, as it was damn rude to be so calm when she was furious. Then he reached for her from the bed, and without hesitation, she went to him. Even as all his strength left him, he kept her in one piece. “I don’t know where I’m going, love. But I know I’m not leaving you.”
And he didn’t. He is right there in his leather professor shoes. He is standing at the stove adding honey to his tea, and singing in their shower, using up all the hot water. He hadn’t left, not really, because he loves her.
And she loves him. She loves him enough to keep his family in her house for the next few days too.
Somewhere in the living room, she hears the deep voice of Pete’s favorite nephew and Snowball’s whine for a burnt cucumber sandwich. She smiles, hiccups, wipes away the tears she hadn’t felt fall, and walks into the kitchen to refill cups of tea and glasses of wine, and also probably to be scolded.
She keeps the loafers on.
Carry (verb): 1. Support and move someone or something from one place to another. 2. Support the weight of.
It is the first day of the new year, and “carry” just felt right. It’s easy to focus on New Year resolutions and all the opportunities that a fresh start brings. However, I have been thinking a lot on what we bring with us into those fresh stars. Whenever we enter into something, we are carrying all our experiences, our burdens, our worries, our everything really, with us. Often, we’re doing that whether we mean to or not. It’s like moving into a new house, and throwing all your stuff up in the same spot it was in the old house, then wondering why it looks the same.
I want to carry only the good things with me into 2019. I want to make this New Years not just about the new things I’m excited about (new workouts/races, new friends, new adventures with the boyfriend, THIS BLOG), but about letting go of the weight of things that do not bring joy to myself, and those I love. I suppose that’s what brought Liza’s little path together today in my head (and across the bathroom mirror last night in dry erase marker). I wanted to talk about the difference between a burden and a weight. She has to choose which things to carry with her after her husbands death: the sorrow of losing him? The difficult family dynamics left behind? Or rather, how he made her laugh when she didn’t want to, and how much he loved her even when she screamed at him.
Like most things, it’s easier said than done. But I am going to be setting a few things down in 2019, and not carrying them any further.
Cheers to the new year! May the weight of what you choose to carry with you onward only make you stronger!