Over the last couple of months I’ve read three different books that caused me to mumble guiltily about their contents when Joe asked what I was reading: Love is a Mix Tape (memoir), Good Grief, and How to Talk to a Widower (both actually humorous novels, considering). My response to the query was something along the lines of “it’s about a person coming to terms with the death of their spouse.” The guilt came from feeling like I was studying-up on how I’m supposed to act if Joe dies. I’ve felt this way before.
The last half of my first grade school year, and all of second grade, my father was stationed in Vietnam. When it came time for bed every night I would torment my mother, sister and brother by acting out in ways I imagined a person would who missed their father terribly. I genuinely did miss him, but I think the little drama that unfolded was mostly contrived from what I’d seen in movies or on TV: moaning from my bed for my daddy like a grief-stricken banshee, soon to be joined by the howling dog, or ending up snuggled next to my mother in her bed. According to her I kicked her shins black and blue (easy to bruise, my mom) while sleeping with her, which in hindsight makes me think maybe she was snoring, because now Joe says I do the same thing to him, and I know it’s because of snoring, because I’m awake when I happen to kick…
Once I’d matured to the age of 10 or so, I would sometimes cry myself softly to sleep imagining what my life would be like without my parents. This was more likely a result of the books I was reading at the time; I loved the ones about orphaned girls for some reason, Heidi being my all time favorite book and movie at that age. (I re-read that book countless times, perched on a big rock with a piece of bread and a hunk of cheese, blonde hair in long heavy braids, interrupted only by the sound of a platoon of soldiers marching by calling out cadence, since I was on a military base after all.) Perhaps I was starting to feel a bit pre-pubescently petulant towards my parents.
Now I find myself feeling morbidly middle-aged. My parents are both alive and healthy, and I’m very thankful for that, but I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Joe’s here by my side every night to kick at, and I’m fortunate in that, too, but I know anything could happen. I’d much rather empathetically experience someone else’s grief, real or fictional, in a book or movie than in my own life, any day. But maybe reading these books now will subconsciously help me get through the grief, when and if the time comes. Who knows?