Love, Loss + Luggage: Travel as Prozac, Part II
By Tré Miller Rodríguez
Special Guest Contributor
Lake Winnipesaukee, 2007
Lake Winnipesaukee, 2007
“My name is Harmony, what is your emergency?”
“I just woke to find my husband not breathing—he’s yellow!
“What is your name and does your husband have a pulse?”
“I’m Tré,” I say, “and I don’t know if there’s a pulse!”
She tells me to put my ear to his chest.
His ice-cold chest.
I can’t hear anything over the roar in my ears.
“Is there a heartbeat,” she repeats.
“I don’t know,” I yell. “I can’t tell if it’s his or mine?”
“The medics are on their way,” she says. “Where is your husband?”
“I need you to move him to the floor so you can perform CPR. Can you do that, Tré?”
Episodes of Law & Order flash through my head: I don’t know much, but I do know if there’s one thing you should never do, it’s move the body.
“No,” I tell her. “He’s twice my weight. I can’t move him.”
“Then you’ll perform CPR on the bed,” she says. “But first, you need to open the front door so the paramedics can access your apartment.”
I open doors.
I begin CPR.
NYPD enters our bedroom.
One of them leads me toward the kitchen for questioning—“any drugs last night? Any alcohol?”
An army of firemen rushes in.
“No,” I tell the cops. “Just Greek food and movies about Cuba.”
I turn toward the sound of furniture being moved and see Alberto on the living room floor, surrounded by medics and monitors.
Thirty-one minutes later, he is still on the floor.
The equipment and paramedics are exiting our apartment.
“Do you want us to cover him?”
“Are you saying—?” I choke.
Time of death: 9:03am.
Cause of death: massive coronary event.
Fatal heart attack.
In his sleep.
In our bed.
At 40 years old.
On March 15, 2009—nine days after my 34th birthday—I become a member of the club no woman wants to join.
Enter eulogy-writing and urn-choosing and pall-bearing.
Exit former life of gym-work-kiss-dinner-sex.
Enter lawyers. Accountants. Insurance investigators. Appraisers. The IRS.
Enter and exit mothers, mothers-in-law and girlfriends staying with me in weeklong shifts.
Unable to fathom going back work, I took an indefinite leave of absence. I’d experienced grief before—my brother died in a car accident at 18 and I’d since lost ex-boyfriends, grandparents, friends—but this loss?
It was a foreign language.
Meltdowns happened in private—sometimes at the sight of his vitamins, shampoo or handwriting—but also in public restaurants, taxis, on street corners. I had zero appetite. Sleep would happen only after exhausting myself on Facebook or with enough alcohol. And each morning, the grief was awake before I was.
Two weeks after the funeral, the cold April weather and dreary skies seemed to intensify my sadness. During a particularly odious meeting with lawyers on the fifth consecutive rainy day, I decided to get the hell out of New York for a while.
As I left the building, I called a family friend in West Palm Beach to ask if their invitation for Easter was still good?
I couldn’t pack fast enough.
I spent the one-month-iversary of his death in Florida: drinking too much, thinking too much and calling his voicemail 12 times a day.
When I returned to New York two weeks later, I was sad but sun-kissed. I started sleeping on Alberto’s side of the bed. Saying yes to lunch invitations from girlfriends. Writing 1000 words a day. Taking trips to California to see my parents and reunite with childhood friends.
During one of these trips, several girls from high school noticed my Facebook updates about California and asked to stop by.
At a dive bar in the desert with one of my guyfriends, he explained why these girls were coming out of the woodwork.
“Well, you’re the white elephant in the room.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask.
“You’re tangible proof of the worst-case scenario. Something everyone’s aware of but no one wants to talk about.”
“Death,” I say.
“Yes,” he says, “but also, people are curious. They’ve never seen a white elephant before. What will it look like: will it eat? Will it cry? Can it converse like the rest of us or only in white elephant-ese?”
“So, I say. “I’m the white elephant.”
Another round please, bartender?
I returned to my PR job in July, three days after spreading several handfuls of Alberto’s ashes in Lake Winnipesaukee, where we’d vacationed for Independence Day.
In August, I flew to Miami, Alberto’s birthplace, and spent his 41st birthday with his mother. Together we spread his ashes with fresh flowers in the warm waters of South Beach before going to evening mass and dinner at Mr. Chow, one of his favorite restaurants.
Two weeks later, a girlfriend and I met in the Bahamas for what would have been my fourth wedding anniversary. I wrote Alberto a card, which I attached to a dozen balloons and sent into the ether.
The day before leaving, we spread flowers and ash in the Caribbean at sunset. I watched bits of his bone sink in the clear saltwater and wanted to climb out of my skin.
Out of the moment.
“I hate that we’re doing this,” I say.
“Then why are we doing it?” my friend asks.
Why the hell am I doing this?
“To acknowledge him,” I say. “And bring our past into my present.”
For Thanksgiving, I booked a solo trip to London, where I had a handful of friends and where the American holiday doesn’t exist.
Even an ocean away from our traditions, I ran into pieces of Alberto—and plaques with his name—everywhere. I photographed Stonehenge, visited Bath, went to sushi alone and didn’t cry. I spent Thanksgiving Day in Hyde Park, spreading his ashes in a Grecian fountain, and met an old friend for dinner. One house party and a sunrise later, I raced back to my hotel to pack. I made it to Heathrow by the skin of my teeth—but smiling like a girl who had danced all night like no one was looking.
(To be continued on Monday August 15th.)
Tré Miller Rodríguez lives in Manhattan and recently completed her first book, “The White Elephant in the Room: Memoirs of a 30-Something Widow.” To read excerpts of her memoir, please visit her blog at WhiteElephantIntheRoom.com.