How to make loss real

How to make loss real

Picture someone you love. Maybe your wife,
the way she smells when she steps out
of the shower, her hair dripping. Imagine
her scrunching those strands with a towel,
then rubbing lotion onto her thirsty limbs.
See her wrapping that towel around her, tucking
the ends into the towel dress below her armpit.
Watch her as she blows her hot breath on the fogged
mirror, wiping so she can see a Monet of herself.

That wife that you loved so well, the wife
that you held on cold nights when the kids
were tucked into warm beds, the wife you watched
fall asleep time and time again, what if
her breath is hot with fever? What if
she has a cough, so you take her to a hospital
where you can’t go with her?

You hug her as you stand at the entrance,
watch as she walks through automatic doors.
I’ll see you soon, you say.
You don’t know what to do when those doors close,
so you go back to the family van, staring for a few hours
at a building that has her in it, somewhere.

A nurse calls each day after the doctor’s morning
rounds to give you updates. On day ten, she tells you
that treatment isn’t working. It’s not looking good, she says.
Would you like to say anything to her? I can hold the phone up to her ear.

You want to talk to your wife as if no one else is listening, but you don’t
know if she can hear you, but damn it, you have to say goodbye.
You have to fit in everything you’ve never told her but should have.
You hear the machines beep as you say, I love you. You want to say
more. The words are in your head, but they can’t push through.
You’ll be mad at yourself years beyond this moment because you didn’t
do more or say more. You’ll wonder if she recognized your voice, if yours
was the last she ever heard through drug-induced sleep.

Your story will spread for a few days. Look
it can happen, it did happen to someone I know.
People will send you texts and cards—all of your boxes
will be full, but very few of those people will stand
next to you by your wife’s closed casket.

After a few weeks, people will tire of your story.
You’ll become the reminder of their worst nightmare,
so it’s easier to forget you, to explain away all the reasons

As much as they tire of your story, you’ll tire
of I’m sorry for your loss and What can I do

They turn away when you say

This is how we can join hands again, drink air.
This is how you save yourself, this
is how you don’t become me.

Jamey Temple is a writer and professor who teaches English at University of the Cumberlands in Eastern Kentucky. Her poetry and prose have been included in several publications such as Rattle, Literary Mama, Kentucky Monthly, and Still: The Journal.

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