Driving home from radiation treatments, I made him swear to haunt me. “Swear.” “I swear!” “No, I mean, really swear. Don’t get to heaven and get all happy and rapturous and busy talking to Mother Theresa and John Lennon and forget.”
“You think John Lennon is in heaven?”
I look at him over my glasses. “Ok, ok. Sorry.”
“And it had better be good. Make it creative, so I know it’s you.” Don sighed, perhaps resigning himself to the fact that I planned to control his time in the afterlife as well. “Maybe if you smell roses?”
“What, like incense? Is that the best you can do?? What the hell?” We laughed at that, the smell of roses. Lamest haunting idea. Ever. “Roses.” I shook my head.
Two weeks after he died I went to see John’s daughter in the hospital, the same hospital we had lived at on and off for two years with Jude. We spent time in every room on the 21st floor, glued to the monitors to watch his breathing and heart rates. Don would try to get me to watch anything else, look out the window. I needed to know Jude’s 02 levels were good. So I watched.
Karin, however, was not hooked up to any monitors. She was in for some CF tune up stuff, and we were chatting on the other side of her room, which was on the 21st floor.
Suddenly the monitors started to beep. Karin, the nurse and I turned to watch as the monitors showed a heart rate and pretty decent oxygen levels for a few minutes. Karin looked at me, frightened. The nurse went over and just stood in front of the screen. Then she turned to me, and pointed to the wall.
They weren’t plugged in.
“Not bad,” I said, smiling. Only he was just getting started.
About a week later I came into my bedroom to find the TV blaring Maury Povich. What? So I hunted around for the remote in my unmade bed, and turned it off. I went into the bathroom and jumped as it came right back on. Maury Povich? Really?
Colleen told me she was almost asleep about a week after he passed, and heard his voice and breath on her ear. “I like it here…” and she jumped up and looked around. Unlike me, Colleen is not a big fan of the unexplained. She was sure it was just a weird dream. I was not.
John told me he would be talking to a doctor at the hospital, late at night, and Don would go walking by, and turn the corner. John would struggle to keep his composure. He would call me in the morning.”Tell him to stop! He promised to haunt you, not me!!” John also saw Don on Ridge and Ashland once, waiting for a bus. I told John to ask Don what he wanted. John told me he wasn’t sure how that would look to his coworkers. So he just tried to keep his gaze from wandering.
Either we were all losing our minds or Don really was showing up now and then to say hello to the people he loved. It made sense to me. Don never was one to break a promise.
As I have mentioned before, one of our favorite songs, “Don’t You Forget About Me” plays most times I drive past the graveyard. It played last Saturday, coming on just as I crossed Pulaski and the gates of the cemetery. Once it didn’t play. “Where’s the song, Don?” I asked, absentmindedly. Instantly the first chords of Spirit in the Sky came on. Oh. Ha.
Sage was getting his first tattoo on his 18th birthday, three months after Don had died. I had a moment, overwhelmed by the idea that after all we went through to have Sage, keep him healthy, see him through his teenage years, and Don wasn’t here. I started to weep. “He should be here,” I told Sage. “Why isn’t he here?” Just then Don’s favorite song ever, the one he asked specifically to be played at his funeral, came on over the sound system. We looked at each other in amazement as Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House”played. Not exactly something that gets a lot of air time.
One of the weirdest, and my personal favorite, was the phone call I got about six months out. My cell phone rang, and the individual on the other line asked for Don. “May I ask what this is about?” I asked, leery of engaging with sales reps or telemarketers. “This is Guitar Center. Can you tell him the parts for his bass are ready?”
So, a little background. Don was a bass player with long, blond hair and leather pants when we met. His idea of a date was to drag me to, you guessed it, Guitar Center. Not wanting to let on how high maintenance I really was, I pretended to enjoy myself until one day I lost it. “THIS.. IS NOT…A DATE!!!!” I yelled, making a big scene. It became a running joke throughout our marriage. We’d have a rare opportunity to go out, and Don would start the car and say, “Right, Guitar Center then.”
I told the guy that Don probably did not order parts for his bass since he hadn’t played bass in 20 years and also was, uh, dead.
There was a pause. “But he was here, two weeks ago..he gave us this number?”
I didn’t want to traumatize the poor kid so instead of asking if the man he met was transparent I asked him to describe the guy.
“Tall, skinny guy? Forties?”
“I…have to go.”
I hung up and sat there on the couch for a minute. “This is awesome. You have outdone yourself, Don Hill.”
Someone knocked on my door. It was Harmony, there to borrow some Tylenol. I went into the bathroom to get it, and she yelled through the door. “What’s that smell?”
“I don’t know, maybe the dog,” I said, digging through the medicine cabinet.
“No, I mean it’s like, flowers or something. Are you burning a candle?”
“No…” I came out with the Tylenol.
“It’s like roses,” she said.
“Yeah, but just in this one spot. Like, if I move away, I can’t smell it, but if I step back, there it is. You can’t smell that?”
I couldn’t. I gave her the meds and stood in the middle of the room for a moment after she left. “I may be good now, for awhile,” I called out. “Maybe you could find George Harrison and talk to him or something.”
I still have little moments. The song still plays, more often than not. Friends tell me of realistic dreams, of seeing Don out of the corner of their eyes or thinking they hear his voice. Sometimes the dog will stare at nothing and wag his tail, happy to see someone, but there isn’t anyone there. I hope Don has settled in to heaven, finding clever and interesting people to talk to, and is just too busy to check in quite as much. Or maybe we are doing a little better, so he knows we don’t need the reminders that he is basically ok, and so are we.
One of the things I love most about being married were the private jokes, the little references and asides that remind you of your history, your story, the world you created that only one other person shares. It felt like that world collapsed and ended the day Don died. Only, now I know. Those things don’t end. Love doesn’t end. It goes on in a way we really can’t wrap our heads around, and is still there even when we can’t see it or touch it.
And you know what?
I think it smells like roses.