A Year of Magical Thinking
One of the books recommended to me after Tom died was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. There were many things that resonated with me as she shared her experiences during the year after her husband died. One thing she talked about (and gives the book its name) is the idea that if she just did things a certain way, her husband would come back – that he would be alive again. This is a very broad characterization of this idea, so if you’ve read the book and completely disagree with my description, I’m sorry – I’m just trying to share the idea as it struck me.
I’m not thinking magically in the sense that somehow I can make Tom come back. But there is this sense that somehow he will be coming back and he needs to still have a presence in the house. I cleaned out our closet and his drawers in the first month after Tom died – but there’s still a selection of clothes and shoes and ties and belts in the closet – all my favorite things. And most of the drawers have a few things of Tom’s mixed in with mine – like somehow if our clothes are together, I’m somehow with Tom too. His wallet and phone are still on his bedside table (which I have taken over because it is much more convenient to use). The only article of clothing that still smells like Tom, a jacket from Disneyland, is hanging on the hook behind our bedroom door and occasionally I will hold it to my face, just to remind myself of his hug when he got home from work.
The kitchen is full of the presence of Tom – the 40 jars of spices and herbs, the freezer full of meat and 30 bags of fresh frozen corn (because he LOVED fresh corn), the specialized kitchen gadgets. There were a couple of bags of shrimp in the freezer, so I volunteered to make Tom’s “signature” appetizer – “Bang Bang Shrimp” (inspired by the dish of the same name served at Bonefish Grill). I’ve never made it before and I don’t think I’ve ever fried anything in a fryer before. But we have the recipe (unlike many of Tom’s meals where the recipes reside only in his mind) and I didn’t think he did too much tweaking of ingredients once we had determined the ideal amounts and had actually written them down. So yesterday, I made “Bang Bang Shrimp” for the extended family and assorted friends that stopped in at my brother’s home. And in the back of my mind I was remembering all the times he had been busy in the kitchen making food and caring for others in this way. And I was hoping that the dish was going to turn out close to the way he made it. I can’t even really judge it, because I’m not a fan of very hot and spicy things so I only ever had a couple each time he made it. So I was asking people, “does it taste the way it did when Tom made it?”
Today I thought, “there isn’t any more shrimp in the freezer” – and there won’t be anymore unless I decide to make “Bang Bang Shrimp” again for a party. I don’t eat shrimp much and probably won’t go out of my way to buy it. It feels like a little piece of Tom is gone from the house now. That’s my version of magical thinking. If the things that were part of him living here in this house go away, then somehow he has really gone. Then it will be completely real that he isn’t coming back. The pragmatic part of me is already questioning why I feel the need to keep his phone charged – why I feel the need to keep his phone at all. But the part that can’t accept that he is gone feels that he will need at least some of his stuff when he comes back!! I’ve had a number of dreams where he is back – he was dead and now magically he is not. The first one I ever had I found myself explaining to him why we had to change his gmail password and what it was now. I found it pretty funny when I woke up. But that part of me, that magical thinking part, thinks it was a completely reasonable thing to worry about.