She, who is always here somewhere, isn’t.

She isn’t upstairs ironing, not in any of the three bathrooms, not on the deck or in the living room reading. She’s just not here. What makes “not here” so bad is that she is always here. It’s like a step off the patio. You get used to it. You can do it in the dark. Take it away and you break an ankle. She took my emotional step away, and for 24 hours my ankle has hurt.

She’s only been away from me once, in July 2000, when she took a much needed week vacation to go to L.A. to visit the girls. I didn’t go, because I don’t fly. My favorite destination is Freeport.

That week almost broke me down. I kept myself distracted by ripping the wall paper off of two rooms and the foyer, and then painting them. I have discovered the trick to avoiding terminal loneliness is exhaustion. That week I got a year’s worth of projects completed and spent a lot of our money doing it. So much money, in fact, that she hasn’t gone away since, except for today.

Number One Daughter, the once and forever bride, is in Boston for business, so she wanted her mother to come down for the night — just overnight, mind you — and then she promised to come home. What could I say? No, you can’t go? Why? Because I’m emotionally 9 years old and needy. Maybe I should have joined that monastery in Kentucky, where they make jelly and bourbon, and you have the camaraderie of older guys in cool brown robes; fellow monks who are ALWAYS THERE!

She and I have spent 53 years together building this structure called a perfect marriage, and now she wants to go away again?

“It’s just for one night,” she whines. But I explain that a night away from her isn’t like a regular night, you can’t just say, “It’s just for one night.” That kind of night is like one night in a guard post in Siberia. It’s like a year.

And then there is Jack. For him, it’s even longer. One night in dog years is several months longer than ours. If she and I were dogs, I would kill myself.

Jack is a spoiled 10-year-old English sheep dog. He is emotionally and spiritually attached to her. He sleeps by her side of the bed each night, never mine, always her side. When she gets up to go to the bathroom, he follows her right into the bathroom until she’s finished. When I get up, I seem to hit some sort of doggie trip wire. He just growls softly, sees that it’s only me, and goes back to sleep.

When she is gone, he stays by the front glass doors where he is right now, and stares down the street looking for the red car. The red car is in the garage. I showed him. He isn’t buying it. He keeps jumping up and looking in the windows as if I have her duct taped in the trunk.

I understand him. I miss her too, but I can’t lay by the glass doors looking down the street. In my drinking days, maybe.

Thank God. Finally, it’s 4. The best part of the day is gone. The worst part looms ahead, dinner. I have been cooking every night for 40 years. I don’t want to cook without her. A meal prepared for one person is a waste of time. I don’t know who said that — J.D.Salinger, I think.

So I’ll heat up a healthy Amy’s organic frozen dinner and pour two glasses of wine. I can’t watch anything on television, because we always watch the same shows together. When I put her on the bus, the last thing she said was, “Promise me you won’t watch any of the good shows without me.”

You know what? I think I’ll just have another glass of wine and lay by the glass doors with Jack.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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