Since Bernie’s death nine months ago, Rosie had lost forty-three more pounds, bringing her total to fifty-two. She wasn’t dieting. Even during spurts when she ate like a pig, she told her best friend, Lena, she wasn’t putting on any of the weight she’d lost.
She remembered a time when kids at school had offered her parts of their bag lunches and she’d eaten her own lunch and their leftovers and not gained a pound. This had been one of the two times in her life when she’d been slim: between twelve and thirteen, puberty; and ages twenty-nine to thirty-three, when she was breast-feeding her youngest, chasing her two daughters around all the time, and had joined a gym.
Then twenty pounds came on, and another twenty until – well, she didn’t even admit to Lena what her high was.
Bernie never seemed to care that she had gained so much weight. He saw her for her. Rosie had cared much more than he did, though she never went on that two-year diet she thought she would need to get back to 130 pounds. Yet now the pounds were dropping off.
Bernie had always kept his own weight in check. He was a little overweight, too, but not like she was. The weight loss for both of them had started when Bernie began to waste away. Rosie bought Ensure because Bernie told her his stomach could handle it, and she practically turned into a cheerleader trying to get him to eat. After a while, though, she got it: she could not stop the dying process. Her job was to see the whole thing through with him, right at his side.
They thought he might experience his last day on this earth for more than two months. By the time he died, Rosie was almost relieved. Then she felt a stab of pain at her disloyalty. She did not want him to be dead, but he was, and for his last seven months he had been in horrible pain. She tried to reassure herself that the relief she felt was that he no longer had to suffer. While that was true, it was also true that she was relieved to be done with waiting for The Big Day.
The relief didn’t stop the tears, though. She’d get up, go about the day’s business of shopping, cooking, doing dishes, responding to calls from friends, but after a while she didn’t initiate calls herself. Oh, she’d made the needed calls about the death certificates, two calls to activate his life insurance, and she’d managed to make arrangements for the funeral. Thank goodness the girls helped, but she had made the actual calls. After that, if there was a problem with a bill, she emailed. She chose to drive to the gas and electric company to speak to someone in person instead of trying to explain by telephone. It was an odd kind of compulsive behavior. She had even named it: phonophobia. Said out loud it sounded like something fake, phony, or like she was afraid of the actual phone – which she was not – or even like she was afraid of hearing. None of those interpretations captured her inability to pick up the phone and dial.
Her daughters and Lena caught on pretty quickly to Rosie’s new aversion and made sure they called her on a regular basis. Once in a while they tested her, not calling for a couple of weeks to see if she would call them. Then they would start calling her again.
She had seriously considered her youngest daughter Jeanette’s suggestion that she see a therapist but ultimately decided that this phobia would probably pass in time. She didn’t think about getting counseling or finding a grief group to help her through the mourning itself. In her mind, the telephone was her problem.
Jeanette also seemed to think the weight loss was, as she put it, “worrisome,” mentioning it at the same time she brought up therapy. But really, how could weight loss be a problem for a fat person?
It was when her nephew and his wife invited her to meet them at a restaurant about forty minutes away that Rosie realized she had developed another small phobia: she didn’t want to drive on the freeway. Driving through town was okay, but the idea of merging into traffic going sixty-plus miles per hour terrified her. She made it to the restaurant and back, but she was such a basket case for a full two days afterwards that she decided to allow herself this other tiny phobia. For a while, at least, she would decline future invitations if they involved driving on the freeway.
She told herself that some things had gotten worse: her inability to use the telephone or drive on the freeway, but some had gotten better: she had lost and seemed to be continuing to lose weight and almost overnight her hair had turned silver, a lovely, shiny color with no unattractive green halo.
Rosie was, she decided, a different person now. Bernie would still love her if he were around, but he would have to acknowledge that she was not the same woman he had married.
She wondered if he’d be different, too, until she realized how silly that was. He was dead. He couldn’t change now, in the Afterlife, could he?
She must have meant, she said to Lena later that night when Lena called, that Bernie probably would have become a different man if she’d have died first. It felt like a great insight, though Lena didn’t react much. Rosie, however, laughed for several giddy minutes at the thought of Bernie as a changed man. Might he have shaved off the mustache he’d had since the seventies? Suddenly had the urge to get manicures? Started dating bimbos?
Nix on the bimbos, she told herself. Bernie was not a bimbo kind of guy.
When they hung up, Rosie decided that nobody understood her now, not even Lena, her friend of fifty-one years. It didn’t make her mad or sad. It was simply a fact.
Maybe it was time to have people call her Rose, not Rosie. Not that she talked to all that many people anymore. It was the same name, only without the “i”.
Lena would probably not be able to do it, and it didn’t matter with Sarah and Jeanette, who called her Mom.
Well, she could start thinking of herself as Rose, couldn’t she? She didn’t need to say anything about it. She could spare them the worry. Lots of things about her seemed to worry them, but really, she was coping just fine.
Yes, Rose, she said to herself, practicing the new version of her name. Lena didn’t need to know everything about her. Best if she kept some things to herself.
|Louise Kantro is a retired teacher, empty-nest mother, cat-lover, and ball-and-chain to her husband of 44 years. She plays bridge, tends to her 91-year-old mother, and goes to the library every three weeks. Louise volunteers as a court advocate for foster children and collects rejection slips for her stories and poems (except not from us).|
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May 12, 2017
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