But not anymore. Since the sudden death of my husband 2 years ago one week from tomorrow, holidays have gone from joyful to painful. Thrilling to torturous. Peaceful to dreadful. Christmas, which was always my favorite day of the year, has become a constant stabbing pain as I'm forced to watch families laughing and opening gifts under the tree, with their beautiful and happy children. Children that my husband and I will never get to have, because he died first. Looking at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the sight of my husband's marriage proposal to me, sends me into waves of anxiety and deep hurt, at the thought of what was, and what never will be. Every celebration feels like a lie. Family gatherings leave me feeling crazy, as if I'm the only person who even notices that someone is always missing, and nothing ever fits.
Today was the 4th of July. In my old life, the one where I was happily married to my very best friend in this universe, we used to walk across the street, invite a bunch of friends over, and watch the best fireworks display that there was. We lived in New Jersey, right on the Hudson River, just 10 minutes outside NYC. On New Years Eve and the 4th of July, our street offered the best view for fireworks, which often took place on a barge in the Hudson. Thousands of people came to our street to watch, and they would close off our road to traffic. All we had to do was walk across the street and look up. Instant holiday.
But that was my old life. In my new life, the one that I didn't ask for where my husband is randomly gone, this day carries with it a lot of anxiety, sadness, and guilt. Oh, that goddamn guilt. My husband died on July 13, 2011. His death was completely sudden, so of course, the days and weeks before his death held no special significance to us, at that time. Neither of us knew that every single thing we were doing, would be the last time we would ever be doing it. Every single one of those days was so ordinary, so blah. And although I try like hell and I scream at my brain cells to please remember something - ANYTHING!!! - I cannot recall one single memory from the weeks leading up to his death. Nothing. What makes this worse for me is that my husband was collapsing and dying, while I was sleeping. About an hour after he left for work that morning, I was jarred awake by my phone ringing over and over again. It was the hospital, telling me to get down there immediately. They would not say why - only that: "We have your husband." As I woke up on that July 13th morning, my husband was already dead. Massive heart-attack. No symptoms. No warning.
I have no last words with my husband. No goodbyes. No good morning. No goodnight. We both sort of fell asleep the night before, I think, and I cannot recall anything that was said to one another. The next day, I woke up, and he was gone from the apartment, and gone from this earth. Sometimes it still doesn't feel real. How can someone just disappear like that? And why the hell can't I remember anything about the days and weeks leading up to his death? Was our life really that dull in those weeks that I cant chalk up one happy memory?
I do remember one thing, and it haunts me. It feeds me with guilt and sorrow, and I hate it for having that hold on me. It was the 4th of July. We had two invitations to hang out with friends that night. Our neighbors down the street, a married couple, asked us to come to their apartment, have drinks, and hang out on their high-rise balcony and watch the fireworks. My best friend Sarah and her husband Julio also invited us over to their Long Island home for a night BBQ and fireworks from their neighborhood park. Or, we could just stay home, and walk across the street together and see the fireworks by ourselves.
Don did not want to do any of those things. On that night, he seemed really tired, kind of bored, and had a lack of energy to do much of anything. He was working his normal job as a paramedic, and had also picked up a second job stocking dog and cat food, as well as helping with pet adoptions, at our local Petsmart. He was exhausted:
Me: Boo, let's go to Sarah's place, it will be fun.
Him: You go, Boo. I'm really tired and I just don't feel like going out.
Me: But it's the 4th of July, I wanna spend it with you. Let's go to the neighbors, they have an awesome view from up there.
Him: Nah. I just don't care about fireworks really.
Me: Okay, well you and I can just walk across the street and see them then, by ourselves.
Him: Nah. You go. I just want to stay in tonight, play some guitar, relax.
Me: But it's right across the street. You're saying you won't walk across the street with me to see fireworks?
Him: I'm saying I don't care about fireworks.
Me: But they are right here. All we have to do is look up. You are refusing to look up?
Him: It'll be hard to look up when Im taking a nap. Go to Sarah's house. Have fun, Boo. I'm fine.
Me: Okay. I guess I will then.
I did go to Sarah's house that night, and I felt really sad about it. Don and I almost never fought, and this wasn't even really a fight either, but it made me sad that he didn't want to spend time with me like I wanted to spend time with him. And that he wouldn't walk across the street, simply because I wanted to. But now, since his death, I feed myself with guilt and ask: Why didn't I stay home with him that night? Why did I leave him? I should have stayed home. The poor guy was tired. He was working two jobs. Why did I make him feel BAD that he didn't want to watch fireworks? Why was watching fireworks more important to me than hanging out with my husband? These questions loop inside my heart, over and over, relentlessly.
And it bothers me that THIS is the LAST thing I remember about our life. This stupid, silly conversation about fireworks and being tired. After this night, everything else turns to fog.
And now, today, and every 4th of July, even when the fireworks are right outside my window, I refuse to look up and see them. I don't want to see them. Not without him. Not without my husband. It sounds incredibly stupid, but watching fireworks on the 4th of July feels like I'm betraying him. Like I'm leaving him to go hang out with my friends and look into the night sky without him.
It feels wrong, and I feel crazy, but sometimes crazy is my best friend, because my real best friend disappeared into the night, that night. Gone on the 4th of July.
Pictures: Our street in West New York, New Jersey. Don grilling at our friend's house on a typical 4th of July.