Phantom Pains

7,579 nights I slept on his shoulder. Yes, I included the extra days in leap years, but I didn’t subtract the handful of times we were apart. Even in different beds, in different states, I never really felt like I was sleeping alone. That’s one of the things I enjoyed most about marriage, the feeling of connection.

Now that shoulder is turned away from me and to say the adjustment has been hard is an understatement. What I’m discovering is he’s much farther along in the adjustment phase because he’s been thinking about this for a long time. So he’s ready for me to accompany him to therapy appointments, so we can work on our post-marriage relationship. But I’m still getting used to the missing shoulder, not to mention the thousand and one other things that are suddenly gone.

I keep thinking about when my mother took my sisters and me to visit our great grandmother Lottie. We were young, maybe in elementary school, and Lottie was in the hospital after having the lower half of both legs amputated. Every few minutes she’d ask for a blanket to cover her legs, because they were cold, or talk about the pain in her limbs that were no longer there. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t someone just lift the sheets and remind her that her legs are gone? Wouldn’t that clear everything up?”

I aspire to rise above the phantom pains, to handle this loss with grace and maturity, accepting that the amputation has already happened, and reattaching dead limbs is not an option. But when he visits our boys or comes by to collect more of his things, I choke on all the contradictory feelings of missing him and hating him. I feel helpless and anything but mature. I feel people looking at me the way I looked at Lottie, as if to ask, “Why can’t you just look at his side of the bed and accept that he’s gone?”

I’m painting the walls, rearranging our furniture, getting rid of things he gave me, and trying to sleep in the middle of the bed. But every night it’s like sleeping in a hotel room, when you wake up and have to remind yourself where you are, which way is the bathroom, and not to be afraid of the unfamiliar sounds. I’ll get there. But it’s only been 37 nights.

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