I sit here wearing two sweaters, a beanie, corduroy trousers, woolen socks, desperate to stave off the cold. Never mind the thermostat is set on a very reasonable 63° Fahrenheit. It’s not a literal chill, as such, it’s something that sets upon me when I’m sad, lonesome, tired, facing another bedtime alone. It’s the chill that set in on December 28, 2014, at about a quarter to 6:00 a.m., when I awoke to find Joel’s side of the bed unoccupied, aside from the coat, backpack, and winter cycling gear he’d laid out there on his return from a Happy Woodchuk jaunt on the afternoon before.
It’s the chill I took waiting in the garage for the 911 crew to arrive. I didn’t know what to do. I knew he was dead; I knew nobody could help us. But I knew I had to call somebody and I didn’t know who to call or what to do. So I dialed 911 and told them that I’d just found my husband, that he’d fallen in his workshop and hit his head and bled to death while I slept soundly in our bed. I’ve had precious few sound nights’ sleep since that horrible day. I’ve had insomnia, broken sleep; I awaken sometimes in the night shivering – only a hot bath can release my clenched muscles. I was about six weeks pregnant when Joel died; I didn’t dare take hot baths for fear of boiling the poor baby’s brains; now I stew myself when I must.
I was newly pregnant when Joel died; we’d been trying for a second baby for a couple of months. I’m pretty sure that Lydia was the result of our celebrating Joel’s birthday; I suspected I was up the pole by Cranksgiving, when I found myself struggling on a ride that should have been a doddle. Two weeks later, a whiz-quiz, and a positive sign, we were delighted. Joel was over-the-moon excited; he told a few co-workers and friends. People would say “congratulations” and I’d poke him gently with my elbow and grumble about how I’d wanted to keep things under my hat until at least the first trimester had passed.
I’ve had easy pregnancies both times; no morning sickness, no unusual symptoms. In the first trimester, I was tired as heck. I’m always a bit hibernation prone come autumn and winter under the best of circumstances, but when my body’s adjusting to host status, shut the front door. I was ready to dig a hole, burrow down, and tell Joel to wake me up come April. So, on the night of the 27th, after a busy day wherein we struck the Christmas tree, re-organized the kitchen, spent some hours planning out the forthcoming summer’s camping trips, and I’d watched an episode of Top Gear and made a batch of muffins and a sleeper-sack for Joseph, I was ready to call it a night. Joel said he wanted to go out to the shop and do a few things, so he’s come and join me in bed later. He was going to lay out the wood trim he’d just bought for the dining room, put away some of the Christmas decorations, and get out some stuff he wanted to sell on e-bay. This was pretty normal routine for us. Regularly after supper, Joel would go out to the shop for some hours, working on a bike, practicing Tai Ch’i, lifting weights, daydreaming, whatever. That workshop was Joel’s sanctum and I knew he needed his alone time out there to re-charge after his busy days as Trek Store Service Manager and general purpose Bike Dork. He’d abscond to his shop and I’d descend to the basement where I’d set up my sewing area and I’d sew for a while or fool around with my computer, or write or whatever. Same deal; a break from Mommy Duty, a bit of time to pursue hobbies and re-charge.
When I awoke to an empty bed; a bed that had obviously never been occupied on the left-hand side that night, I knew immediately where to go and look. At first I thought, “well, maybe he got caught up in some project and pulled an all-nighter like a fool.” When I opened the door, the radio was blasting, the heater was running, and I instinctively looked right back to the South end of the shop, where Joel’s workbench and bike stand preside. My eyes expected to see his lanky form standing behind our friend James’s bike which was hanging up on the stand. Nobody stood there. Then, I looked down. He was lying on the floor. I thought, ever so briefly, “well, that’s a weird-assed place to take a nap.” Then, I saw the blood. And his home-made back-extension bench, knocked over alongside of him. Initially I thought that he;d been working out on that bench and it collapsed, but I quickly realised that the direction he was laying was all wrong for him to have been using the bench. He had fallen from the North side storage loft, fell some fifteen feet to solid concrete, and that stupid workout bench had probably exacerbated his fall, directing him headfirst for the floor, smashing his temple against the concrete, knocking him unconscious, robbing him of any chance to yell for help, to try to get inside, to save himself, to survive.
I waited out there in the cold garage. The heaters were running, but they only took the worst edge off the chill. By the time the first responders got there, I’d been standing in the garage in my pyjamas for a good twenty minutes, and was shuddering with shivers and adrenaline and shock. I was simultaneously tense, wobbly, and sick to my stomach. Memories of that grisly scene, of the trauma of that day, of the horrifying devastation haunt me still. The sick realisation that I was bereft; that our son Joseph, just 18 months old then, had lost his daddy, that the baby I was carrying would never know him. That I would be going into labor in some eight months alone. That all of the love and plans and comfort and excitement that we’d shared together had dispersed with his life. The sensation of coldness is tangled up in the emotional wreckage of that day, and when the cold starts creeping into my bones, the memories start intruding more aggressively.