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Little Pockets Of Empty Space

She was still noticing his absence. The spaces he used to inhabit, the spaces he should have filled.

Not intentionally. In fact, the moment she realized she was staring at an empty wall or chair too long, she would turn her head to stare at something else. Or she would go somewhere else. Preferably somewhere there were a lot of people. Some place where the air was filled with noise, where she could ignore the empty silence next to her.

It bothered her much more than she had expected. The staring, the having to leave or else risk her eyes tearing up again. The risk of breaking down in front of her co-workers or just random people on the street, again.

He wouldn’t have wanted her doing that. He hated the idea of showing weakness to strangers. And that was fine, she agreed with that. Showing neediness in public was just asking for someone to tear you down further until all you wanted to do was curl up into an impossibly small ball, and then let yourself be eaten by a rat or something.

Maybe that was why it bothered her so much. That she was still grieving, that she hadn’t just accepted that he was gone and moved on with her life. That her heart still shivered and wept at every little memory of him, that she had let herself get stuck in her grief — That she was proving she wasn’t as strong as she claimed, hurt. It hurt almost as much as that first night where she’d tried to sleep in their bed. A bed too large and too cold for just her. She still hadn’t gotten rid of it. She hadn’t gotten rid of any of his stuff. She’d only packed away things that would have gotten in the way of her everyday life. And the things that had been promised to the boys.

God the boys. Her boys were stronger than her, they could function without breaking down. Her grown up boys with their sharp edges and tough demeanors. Her boys that still managed to be kind when it mattered. They managed to live with his loss.

They stayed for a while, after hearing the news. Weeping with her in the quiet protection of the home they had been raised in. Her wonderful boys, proving once again to the world that blood didn’t matter when it came to family. It hadn’t been so bad when they were with her. Her boys had always been so loud, they could fill up a room with their presence with ease. They were perfect, and had just enough of their father in them to make it seem like he hadn’t really left. Like he was just away for work, and would be back soon.

It was bittersweet, seeing her boys in the house again. Glad as she was to have them there, she couldn’t help but notice the spaces they left open, spaces where he was supposed to be. But, eventually, they had to leave. Return and move forward with their lives. Lives they had worked so hard to build, to be and have better than they had in their childhood. She couldn’t have been more proud.

She didn’t try to make them stay, though they had managed to stick close for those first two weeks, before life beckoned them out her door again. And even after they left they kept checking in, through calls or video chats. They had spent a decent amount of time talking before, but they did it more now. They had showed up on her doorstep more times in the last few months than they had in years.

She let them in every time though. She had promised a long time ago that she would never turn them away, and even on her worst days, she never broke her promise. Though even if she hadn’t, she’s sure her boys would have made it inside regardless.

She had done a lot more staring then, so many hours lost in her own mind. She doesn’t even know how many times she cried. It was so stupid. Her husband would have been disappointed with her listlessness. She missed the comfort of her independence, but had it really been independence? She had been out, doing her own thing, but she had always come home to him. No matter how far she went or what she did, she had always known he would be there. That at the end of the day, she could come home to him.

Her boys had been so worried, were still worried, not that they’d ever say it out loud. She had tried to pretend she was fine, at least after the two weeks, but she had never been able to lie to her boys, no matter how hard she tried, they always saw through her acts. But they couldn’t be with her every moment of every day, and even if they could, she wouldn’t have allowed it. Just because she was a wreck who couldn’t move on, didn’t mean they had to deal with it.

Nearly a year later, she still couldn’t handle his absence. She was still noticing the spaces he should have been, still noticing the things he would have liked to buy. She bought his favorite brand of coffee a week ago, even though she hated the taste of it.

When would it be over? When would she get over it and move on? He was dead. Dead and gone and… and he had left her alone. Left her with a too big bed, a house meant for more people, and so much stuff!

Why? Why was she the one who had to stay and keep going? Why couldn’t she move on? Why was she still noticing those spaces? Why did she have to flee empty spaces?!

She didn’t want to be here. She didn’t want to be dead. She didn’t want pain, she didn’t want to be numb, she just wanted the grief to go away. Just for a little while? Can’t it go away, at least until she could handle it? Can’t this weight leave, just until she could catch her breath? Please?

She stands in their bedroom now, glaring down at the blameless street. She is so tired of feeling like this. Of crying. Of breaking down. Of missing a man long dead. Her hands curl into fists against the shelf under the window. She wrenches herself away from the window and marches out of the cold bedroom all the way out the door, stopping only briefly to grab he car keys. She leaves the driveway, and drives, white-knuckled, to the city graveyard. Confrontation had always (mostly) worked out for her in the past. Besides, what harm could it do now?

What was there left to ruin?

It takes what feels like a blink of an eye to get there. She sits in her car, engine cut, cold, with her heart beating wildly in her chest. She doesn’t breathe as she jerks herself out of the car and marches quickly through the garden of stone and rotting memorials. She doesn’t know if she shuts the door behind her. She doesn’t care.

She stops. Below her lies his grave. The stone sits there, impassive and uncaring of her trembling fists and hot eyes. Her husband is dead. His name, his date of birth and the day it ended, carved in black, stares back. She has not been here since the funeral.

She sniffs. And something breaks. Her chest explodes. She drops to her knees, and she cries. Ugly, wet, crying. With gasping breaths and shaking shoulders. She cries over her husbands grave, alone. She can’t breathe. It hurts. How can something intangible hurt so much? Why…

Why did he leave her alone?

He ruined her. She can’t handle being alone anymore. She used to be so good at being alone and now… Now she can’t even handle a single day without thinking about him. How dare he have made her love him, only for him to leave her. She can’t — She doesn’t —

She wants to see her husband. Just one more day. Just one more laugh, one more kiss… Is that too much to ask? She needs him, goddammit! He made her need him! He… he took all her will and her independence and all her spunk. Couldn’t he have left a sliver of her strength? Why did he have to soften her edges? What did the dead have need for her love, her life? Why couldn’t he have just —

“Mom?”

She jerks her head up. She tries to glare through her tears and — Oh. Those are her boys. Looking as broken as she feels. She sniffs, scrubbing her sleeve over her face and ugh. Yep, that’s a lot of snot. God.

Hands fall on her shoulders. She jerks automatically, but settles back as her sons drop on either side. Their hands are so warm. Warm and heavy like — She sniffs again, more aggressively, and a tissue is shoved in her face. From her youngest most likely, he likes to be prepared for everything. She ignores the way her hand trembles as she takes it. Her boys say nothing. They just, sit next to her. She opens her mouth to speak, but the words don’t come. What can she say?

The three of them sit there, silently, eyes locked on the last remains of him. She doesn’t know how long they sit there, she doesn’t even know how long she’d been here crying until they’d shown up.

Too long. From one blink to the next, light changes, it stretches, warning of the approaching evening. She is tired. She is just so tired. She wants to just curl up in the dirt and grass and sleep here. But her boys are here, and they are just as stubborn as she is, as he was, and she knows they’d either stay in the cold with her, or drag her home. She can’t do that to them. Not her boys.

She doesn’t say anything, just shifts and tries to rise to her feet. She needs to cling to her boys to get up and stay there, but they don’t say anything. She squeezes their offered arms, and together, the three of them stumble back to her car. The door is closed, thankfully. She doesn’t have her keys, so she doesn’t let go of her boys as they lead her back to her eldest’s car. She doesn’t protest as they guide her inside, her youngest still pressed against her right side. The rumble of the engine nearly soothes her to sleep, but she remains awake. They drive home. It is a quiet affair, as is the way they help her inside the house, her keys tucked safely in the hands of her eldest.

The next thing she knows, she’s sitting on the couch, a cup of something warm in her hands, and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She blinks, listening to her boys attempt to have a quiet argument about what to make for dinner. She smiles, and blinks again. It doesn’t hurt to smile this time.

She opens her mouth to call out to her boys, and then she notices. She notices that she hadn’t noticed the empty space next to her. She realizes she hasn’t noticed that space since her boys had sat next to her in the graveyard. Even when her boys had been there before, she had noticed, but she hadn’t this time. She breathes, hands tightening around the steaming mug.

She looks to her left, and notices that the empty space doesn’t feel quite so heavy. There’s no loud silence, no phantom fingers tugging at her skin. Her chest still aches, but there is a stillness too. A calm she hasn’t felt since the day her husband died. His absence isn’t hanging over her head anymore.

She can’t help the laugh that tumbles out her lips. He’s gone. Her husband is gone, and that is okay. Well, it’s not really okay but, she thinks she can make it okay. Make living without him okay. She can breathe again, and maybe, maybe that’s all she needs to be able to do.

Her boys on on her just as she finishes the thought. Asking her what she needs and if she’s okay. She grins, eyes watering, oh look, she still has tears left in her, and she pulls her boys into her sides.

“No boys. I don’t think I’m okay. ” She says, smiling and crying. “But I think I will be, eventually.”

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