Photograph and Rituals

eiffel towerEvery night, before I go to bed, I touch a photograph of Peter I have hanging on the family area of our house. While my fingertips glide over his photo, I talk to him, or a picture of him, telling him about the day, asking him questions about where his spirit is lit, trying to crack a joke or three depending on my mood, and then saying goodnight. It’s been my ritual of mine for the past two months – or nine weeks today – since he was killed. The photo is of us outside the Eifel Tower in Paris on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The picture gives me peace as it represents one of our better times. And it gives me peace to talk to it, to touch it, to make it part of my bedtime routine.

Sometimes, when I stare at the photograph, I am sucked into his eyes. I like to escape in them, to see if I can find anything in them letting me know he’s alright. He had kind eyes. They really were windows to his soul. This photo captures them well and how I miss looking into those green windows. As Etta James sang, “damn your eyes”.

Peter hated being in photographs. He never felt comfortable or authentic in them. I’ve never been great about being in photos either. It’s probably why we decided on not having a photographer at our wedding reception. It was an odd choice to many, but all we wanted was to have fun. A person hanging around, snapping photos of us, would not have been torture for us. You can even see in the wedding pictures we did take our forced smiles and awkward poses. In some, we look like the couple from the painting American Gothic. All that was needed was Peter in overalls holding a pitchfork and me in a gingham dress and we would have been a reenactment. But this photo of him in Paris, captures Peter, in all his kind, gentle beauty, crooked smile and all. And I look like I’m beaming to be with him. It captured our spirits.

There are so many things I miss about Peter and his absence from my life. Things I mourn so deep, my insides crumble and I am hollowed out because of them. One of those things is our recaps of our days. It was the main habit in our marriage, our partnership. At dinner, or at the end of the night, we would summarize our days. Sometimes, we would rush through our summaries because our bedtimes were close. Other times, we would take long, leisurely strolls through our days as we sat at the dinner table or on an evening walk.  Peter wasn’t a huge talker, but sometimes, he would take his time recapping his day in one, long, beautiful prose. Other times the synopsis of his day ended as quickly as it started.  But every time, we shared our days, in short spurts, long completeness, or somewhere in between.  And I miss that. I miss our shares and God, do I miss his voice.

The hardest thing of me talking to Peter’s picture is I don’t get a response. Not really. Knowing him for as deeply and long as I do, did, I can imagine his response. Still, it’s not the same. It’ll never be the same.  And, on a particularly hard and grief-riddled day, talking to his photo deepens my despair. Yet, I do it. It’s become my own habit, one, for now, I find comfort in, even if it breaks me down to my core. Perhaps those are the times I need it even more.

Last night, while my daughter spent the night with my son, and all there was in the house, like all my nights now, was me – okay, and LL Cool Dog – I talked to Peter’s picture. I asked how he liked the new chairs my daughter reupholstered for me yesterday. I went on a bit about my day, my plans for tomorrow and finished by telling him the same thing I tell his photo every day – I ache from missing him. I kissed my fingertips and ran them over his thinned lips, his kind eyes and his crooked smile. Then I went to bed.

I know it’s an odd practice, to talk to the photograph of your dead husband. I know it is. Maybe in the future I’ll stop it. Maybe not. I mean it is harmless. And since Peter’s unexpected and sudden death, I’ve learned not to look foward too far.  So, for now, I do this, unabashedly and with purpose. I talk to his photo.  And right now – and all I look to are the right nows – I can’t just stop recapping my day with Peter. After all these years of sharing our lives at the end of the day, the withdrawal would be too painful. And I already have enough pain from all that was abandoned when Peter died.