Sometimes falling feels like flying, for a little while.
The funeral was scheduled for the weekend after Labour Day, I didn’t want to interfere with people’s holiday. All the arrangements had been made. The three-week wait was a blur – I had spent a week in Markham comforting Shannon, and a week at Alison’s cottage, enjoying the little boys; in the third week I had little to do but work on my eulogy. I hadn’t seen or heard from Emily since the week before Marlene died.
I found myself at the kitchen table that Wednesday, Emily’s usual day, in front of my computer, glazed-eyed, studying the birdfeeders. Emily greeted me quietly when she arrived, her mood affected by the pallor of the moment. I lifted my head from my computer; I rose from my seat and walked around the table to her and without a word spoken I took her into my arms. She clung to me and we cried and sobbed together.
Emily did not come to the wake but she did come to the funeral the next day. I picked her up at her apartment and drove her with my family members to the funeral home. I had told her I wanted her to be with the family for the funeral. She had protested but I had assured her she was as much a part of my family now as anyone. As I struggled through my eulogy I gazed glass-eyed at the assembled audience. I looked into the family pews and finally found Emily there. She gave me an encouraging smile, though she herself was in tears.
Daughter Shannon had arranged for an evening of cocktails and dinner at a fine local restaurant for a gathering of forty family members and close friends. Emily was invited as my special guest. She protested, but not much. While I mingled with the guests my friends made sure Emily was taken care of, chatting with her and refilling her wine glass. The party later repaired to the dining room. Emily sat opposite me; it dawned on I that this would have been Marlene’s seat at any other such event.
I spent the following two weeks with daughter Shannon, first in Ottawa, and then Markham, returning by train. At the Kingston station I noticed a young couple greeting each other with an excited kiss on the platform. I smiled at this public display of affection and then a dull yearning began in my chest. I suddenly had an impulse to text Emily. Was she available to have dinner with me that evening when I got back?
‘Yes,’ she responded, ‘but something simple, takeout. It’s a beautiful warm evening, we can have it on your backyard dining table.’
We sat opposite each other at the table, completely at ease with one another and talked about all that had happened over the last several weeks. She told me again how grateful she was for being invited to the ‘Celebration of Marlene’s Life’ dinner and how much she appreciated how I handled myself, and treated her. She could see how my friends and colleagues admired and respected me, and wanted to support me. She saw the professional man in my new grey suit and Queen’s bow tie, confident, articulate and in charge of myself. She told me she fell in love with me that night.
Over the ensuing weeks the two of us found many opportunities to see each other: I took her to the movies; we went to diners and pubs and McDonalds; we went weekly to tend to the little garden I had built at Marlene’s grave; I escorted her to Bayshore Mall even though I loathed that huge shopping plaza with its fluorescent lighting and one direction escalators. When we returned from these excursions Emily had me drive the car into the garage and then close the power doors before she got out of the car. She didn’t want the neighbours to see her.
Emily seemed completely at home, and in many ways, she was home. She had been in that house for eight years. Marlene’s pictures were now everywhere in the house, three in my bedroom. Emily was unperturbed. She flitted round my bedroom in her cute little matching bra and panties. She would say to those pictures, not disrespectfully, ‘Hi Marlene.’ Marlene’s ‘presence’ was not an issue. In some ways I felt she would actually approve. She had loved Emily, and she knew that I would need a new partner to stave off loneliness and give me the love and affection I needed. In the months before she died Marlene often suggested the name of someone, consider this woman, but not that one. Emily may have been an unspoken prospect.
After a few weeks of my feverish discovery of her, I began to have second thoughts. I told her that I wanted to stop this emerging love affair.
‘You have a boyfriend Emily. I am interfering in your life.’
‘I don’t want to think about that,’ she said. And I let it pass.
But conflict was constant in me. In the beginning we may have regarded this as an illicit affair. I may not have felt guilty about being with Emily in Marlene’s ‘presence’, but I wondered about all the other members of the family, and family friends, who would have a hard time understanding this ‘special relationship’. And I wondered what she felt, cheating on her boyfriend.
Ever since that disturbing moment at the Hospice when Emily told me she had a boyfriend, my jealousy and confusion preyed on my mind. I had realized I was in love with Emily and it was not in my emotional wiring to share her. I knew this was a problem I had to resolve one way or another. But what I really meant was that I didn’t want Emily to see her boyfriend anymore.
By November I knew I was losing control (Did I have any control?). I reminded her that I was interfering with her life and I should just let her go. She said, ‘don’t think of it like that. He is more like a buddy than a boyfriend. We spend the evenings sitting at opposite ends of his couch watching a movie and we both fall asleep. His 16-year old daughter comes every second weekend, but she doesn’t like me, so I only visit him on the alternate weekends.’
And then she said, ‘I have never been more excited and fulfilled in my life than when I am with you. I love you. I want to be with you.’
And with that she took me by the hand and lead me upstairs to my bedroom. I didn’t quite know what to make of this, but I let it go. When you are falling in love you just keep falling.
Fallin’ & Flyin’, Turner Stephen Bruton & Gary Nicholson.
From the film, Crazy Heart