In the next few minutes, she lays out for me a horror story about her boyfriend surfing on a stormy day, with surging waves and tricky currents. He collided with another surfer in a freak accident when a wave that seemed to have a mind of its own crossed to the side, crushing the two surfers together. The other fellow was hurt but managed to get to the sand; Ted, apparently unconscious, went under and was…lost.
“I didn’t find out about it for two days. We weren’t married and no one thought to contact me. When he didn’t call, I got worried and contacted a mutual friend, a good buddy of his, and he told me on the phone. I think I trashed my apartment.”
“Meredith, I’m so sorry. That’s terrible–and the way you found out.”
“It happened over a year ago, and I’m still not over it. Ted was rare, in many ways a genius, but volatile and often unpredictable, maybe, in the long run, not right for me, but it felt right, and I felt devastated.”
Now, what do I do with this? Some hidden part of me feels a sense of relief that this amazing woman is not connected to some other man, yet her grief is a blanket over everything in her life. I have seen her mood, been repelled by her distance, and it would be foolhardy to presume anything about her and me.
She continues. “Isn’t there supposed to be a time-limit on mourning? I mean after a year or so, aren’t we supposed to get on with our lives?”
“I don’t know of any guidelines on getting over grief. For some people it can be months, for others, years, and probably with some, never. They spend the rest of their days in sorrow.”
For the first time in this entire exchange, she looks at me, intensely, as if searching for the essence of my last words. I’m aware of a man and a woman in a small skiff navigating the waters near the Jerseyshore, laughing playfully, a vivid contrast with the mood on our little bench.
Meredith says, “That’s sick, isn’t it, to carry on for over a year or more? Ted is gone. I know that, so why can’t I put him away?”
I hate sounding like the wise old man, but I say, “Grief is personal. There is no yardstick. You’ll be over it when you’re over it.”
Her hand is on her mouth as she stares out across the river. At last she nods and says in a soft voice, “You’re very sweet. I do appreciate you.”
It hits me in that moment that, along with the loss of her Theodore, she also has just suffered the loss of her dear grandmother, possibly as a result of treachery. Those burdens must be tremendous.
The carefree couple in the boat (who knows if they are truly care- free?) have cruised around the slight bend in the river and are out of sight. Damn, but it is so true that all relationships carry burdens, un-known from a distance, and sometimes unknown even up close!
“Dear Meredith,” I say, looking intensely back at her, “I love who you are, with all your history and baggage and pain. Nobody knows how long a heart will beat or lungs dole out oxygen. For me, it means to live it up. Enjoy moments. Cherish all this: the river, the November chill, the sapphire sky. I hope you find your own kind of peace, and soon.”
Joy, ecstasy, bliss! She leans over and kisses me, only on the cheek, true, then reaches around and hugs me, hard and long.
If you’re enjoying CHARLOTTE and would like to blog about book two in the series, ACCIDENT, please contact my publisher who will hook you up with a free copy!