Tommy was ignoring me, and was instead stepping up to a teed ball.
“I don’t know how it happened,” I continued. “I wrote August 24 in ink on my paper calendar, and entered the date on my Apple and Google calendars. But when it arrived – maybe because it was a Saturday – your birthday simply slipped away.”
This attempt at an earth-to-heaven conversation was taking place in bed, when upon awakening the August lapse hit me. For this supplication, I was propped up on pillows, where on one side were views of morning light edging up my windows, and on the other, framed photographs of my husband.
With guilt covering me like the nearby blanket, I chose not to focus on his portrait, but on the scene I was conjuring in my head. So far, it was not going as anticipated.
Still ignoring me, my husband – who died November 2 – raised his club and as I’ve seen him do hundred of times, slammed the golf ball, then returned to his stance to watch it sail across the green.
“Gorgeous!” I said, hoping my praise would swing his attention to me.
I chose a golf course for my apology scene because that’s where Tommy spent so many happy hours. I figured in that setting, he’d be in a mood to forgive his wife.
Maybe he’s snubbing me, I thought, because birthdays were never a big deal to him. In our 14 years of marriage, my husband refused offers of parties, preferring dinners out with close friends.
And when I’d plead for clues for his present, he’d shrug and say, “You don’t have to get me anything.” Of course, I’d ignore that response, and along with a chocolate cake awaiting his awakening on his birthday morning, there’d be a wrapped mystery novel, or a dozen golf balls, or a dressy shirt I’d have to remind him to wear.
Lacking a reaction, I continued pressing my regrets because the incident frightened me. It wasn’t that I worried about frays in my memory; it was the nag that if I forgot Tommy’s birthday, did that mean I was forgetting him?
I had been certain my nightly routine would seal my husband in my brain. Every night before I go to sleep, I say, “Love you, Tommy” to the pillow I use as his stand-in. And I hear back, clear as if he were at my left instead of his surrogate, “Love you, too!”
We also have frequent conversations where I include his response in my imaginary clip. “You’ll be happy to hear I did 30 minutes on the bike,” I’ll tell him. “Good, girl!” he’ll say from the fancy gym I place him in.
Like the golf course, I frequently set Tommy in a tableau I know he’ll enjoy. I visualize my three-times-a-week YMCA athlete now ensconced in a work out area favored by world-class athletes. I see Babe Ruth, Johnny Weissmuller, Walter Payton, and Bobby Jones mingling with my guy.
In this setting, he’s happy to see me. I wait until my strongman finishes bench pressing and wipes down the equipment with a paper towel. I watch wistfully as his body, shiny with sweat, takes a drink from his favorite water bottle.
But in this morning’s heart-to-heart, it appears I haven’t yet convinced my husband of my repentance. So, I try a more spiritual tack. Although he wasn’t Jewish, Tommy was the one who encouraged me to light Sabbath candles. “Shabbat shalom,” he’d energetically respond when I completed the ritual every Friday night.
“You know Friday night is the beginning of Yom Kippur,” I said. “Before that day, I must seek reconciliation for the wrongs committed against others. You’re at the top of my list.
“And, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I’ve got a reminder set on the 2014 Jewish calendar. There, honey, your Hebrew birthday is August 22. Like you’ve seen me do with my parents’, I’ll light a Yahrzeit candle in your memory. That’ll give me two days before your actual birthday to catch the date. Will you forgive me now?”
Finally, Tommy paused at the next hole. He leaned over to place a golf ball on a tee, then stood straight up and faced me. He was smiling, with his brown eyes as sunny as I remembered them. “Of course I forgive you, Sweetheart,” he said, “you know I could never stay mad at you. Now scram; you’re holding up the foursome behind us.”