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Happy Birthday, Roger!

July 13th has become a favorite of mine when she enters the world dancing and celebrating. The date indicates the beginning of peace for me, and a termination of the seemingly eternal six-week period of time when memorable dates congest my breathing and weaken my body.

Also, during this long stretch of time, I feel the cloud around me, the one that places a haze over my individual self, violently stuffing me back into my blaring widow status. Any of my personal accomplishments, good moods, or peaceful days are to be set aside until the certain dates go by. The boys’ lives are paused as well. Another thing that makes these days heavier is being the “sad one” all the time. I am associated with bummer-like feelings, and July 13th brings me back.

As the years go by, people still celebrate him on all of the dates, and I pray it remains that way. If people forget him, I will lose a little of me, so I don’t want it to stop, but it takes work.

Memorial Day begins before the actual weekend with posts and photos, and I will always be grateful. We all dip into the tepid pool of memories and deliver them to each other in the form of Facebook posts, old, pixelated photos, and emails. This year was particularly peculiar with its lack of ceremony and personal connections, yet still it wedged its ghostly barbed form into our hearts.

After we memorialize our fallen, we celebrate Father’s Day which has become blurry with false cheers for the future which we don’t have with him. For some reason, the sun shows brightly each year attempting to heave up my pouty mood. Maybe she’s mocking my fake smiles and closeted crying with her cheerful rays.

After Father’s Day comes June 29th which marks the anniversary of Roger’s death. This year we acknowledged it for the eleventh time. As the years pass by in their modern vehicles, I become less confident in time’s ability to mute the sadness. I just willingly become tired because it’s easier.

The significant dates linger, too, by my own choice and fault, because I stay off social media on those days as much as I can. I respond the day after, which I suppose is counterproductive to condensing the feelings of all the special days.

Roger’s birthday is Sunday, July 12th.

He would have been forty-eight, with gray hair, maybe, otherwise the same. As always, I would have teased him because he is older than I am, and he would have crossed his eyes, scrunched up his nose, and made the most obnoxious face at me while he cackled.

There would have been pineapple upside-down cake as with any special Roger day, probably some type of cheeseburger, and so many fries, crinkle cut, with lots of Heinz ketchup and extra salt. I would not have given him grief about having too much Dr. Pepper, and Busch Light would have joined him to the end of his evening while we swam with the squeaking bats in our backyard pool.

The boys would give him gifts of heavy handfuls of dried clay shapes with gobs of primary colored paint placed carefully on their surface. They would look nervous when he opened their individual gift, making my heart stop for just long enough to reset me. I would have wrapped t-shirts with funny pictures on them, size large, a giant Zero bar, some router bits, and a book that he would love more than I thought he would.

I remember the first birthday of his after he died, the day we had his funeral, July 12, 2009, but a year after that leaves its spiny quill in me the most.

We made a pineapple upside-down cake, of course, and let the day pass. It was getting dark so the time came to light the candles. The kids were happy and giddy, I mean, it was a birthday. I stood on the back deck with my vodka drink and freshly lit Camel Crush after casually saying, “Go on without me.”

The lights in the kitchen turned off and I saw the cake through the back window, floating around on its own being held up by an orange halo of candles. He would have been thirty-eight.

I listened to them sing to him.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear dadddddddddyyyyyyyy. Happy birthday to you.”

I choked.

After that year, we quit doing anything traditional on his birthday. I don’t make a cake and we don’t look at photos. We just exist in the thickness of the date, waiting for the day to pass, longing for the arrival of July 13th so we can, without explanation, live as regularly as we can.

I don’t think there’s a right thing to do. We celebrate him every day and he’s never away from our minds. Sometimes, though, it’s just too much.

Happy birthday, hon.

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Man Cave in My Mind

On June 29th it’ll be ten years since I lost my husband, Roger Adams, Jr. when he was killed in Iraq. During the last few months, I have been working on a memoir. It began as a project for a writing class but seems to be finding its way to more people each day.

“The way you write brings him back,” one said.

“I remember his crooked smile, too,” another commented.

“I love the way you describe his Dress Blues and how the cover compliments his full lips,” is another nice comment.

Writers observe details and share them. The reality is, my gift curses me with vivid pictures of his face, the feel of his coarse palms while we hold hands, and the smell of his uniform’s sleeve. I can close my eyes and softly rub my face on the chest pocket of his cammies and feel the soft thickness of the material. I smell the barracks room on his neck, Pine Sol and Camel cigarettes, and can hear him say, “hon” like it was this morning or last night.

I will write all day long, with breaks for lunch or a walk to the brook in the back of my property. I will then play corn hole or croquet with my sons, have some wine, then sleep. I try to aid my sleep with sitcoms such as “Friends” or “Golden Girls” to cloud my Roger-filled mind. I felt selfish when I began this ritual until I recently started having the dreams again and became tired of wiping my eyes.

The one I had the night before last was of Roger, me, and our four sons when they were little. He and the boys were swimming in our modest pool at our little house in Jacksonville, NC. We just cleaned up after dinner of something with gravy, and his favorite pineapple upside-down cake with extra red cherries. The sun was caressing my shoulders, and the grass was cool on my bare feet. I watched them play and listened to them laugh and splash around. Occasionally, the cool water would come my way and they would all giggle while I dodged it. Roger looked at me the way he always did, with a little smile and crinkled eyes, and I felt safe.

The great torture that comes with waking up from a dream like that can be debilitating. Mine lasted all day yesterday, and I awoke this morning with a cloudy vision of it. The clarity of his face, tanned worker hands, and the smell of his neck, is once again diminished, and I am thankful for that.

“How can you want his memory to diminish?” I have been asked.

“His memory will never be diminished,” I have said, not violently defensive, because once, I didn’t understand either. It will always be clear and rich, but in order for me to carry on with a full life without him, I must be allowed and able to put the images in a special room in my mind, so I made him one.

I made Roger’s room nice for him, and it’s filled with his favorite things; his dad who passed last year, and the many pets we have lost after him. I just know he and his pops are playing cards, and he is tossing the muddy tennis ball around to the dogs. The Boston Red Sox will be heard on his old shed radio and Big Papi is at bat once again. There will be cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies, still warm, and Dr. Pepper in a cold can. The walls, which are not inside or outside, are plastered with photos of people he loves, especially our four boys. And, this Patriots fan even gave him a small 49ers pennant to hang in a corner somewhere. It is a room, but has no boundaries, and it smells like the wool on clean dress blues and freshly cut grass. He can build furniture and splash in the pool while he waits for us, and he can visit whenever he likes.  

Roger is always in my mind, and him having his own space helps me to be OK with not focusing on him, and the guilt of moving on with life while he’s not here. He still comes to the front of my mind in my dreams, but as long as he has his own place to go to allow me to breathe, the more I am able to cope without the challenging blues that come after a good dream. Being a left-behind mortal can be torture, but with silly little coping tools like Roger’s room, living can be more than tolerated, it can be quite nice.