Up In Smoke
UP IN SMOKE
It was a couple of days after Valentine’s day, two weeks after the two-year anniversary. Elise reread a poem in her journal that she wrote a few weeks ago. She remembered that night. It was one of those nights she fell asleep early and woke at one-thirty in the morning, with an eerie surge of energy. She started going through some drawers that she hadn’t touched since he died. She discovered one of Ned’s collections of lighters in a kitchen junk drawer. She was prompted to write,
I found multiple multiple lighters in a drawer
I found wooden matches, matchbooks and memories’ vapors settled in curtains, walls, his clothes and more,
Images came flooding back, a blanket thrown to cover me
my overburdened knees bent bent under the strain of memories, I couldn’t tolerate the weight,
I couldn’t handle any more, as I found myself curling up
in fetal on the floor
How’s the weather?
“I’m going to check, and I’ll be right back, after I check.” Elise could hear Ned’s voice.
“I’m going to go check the weather.”
“I’m checking the weather.”
“I just checked the weather.”
Where’s Poppa? Elise called him Poppa sometimes. He’s checking the weather.
That was what he would say when going outside to smoke a cigarette. Or hanging out the window to smoke if the weather was cold.
“I need to check the weather. I have to check if it’s still there.”
Some days required a lot more checking. Some days a lot more clothes. He had no shortage of clothes for layering. Most of the time they weren’t enough to get him warm. And that was with the thermostat set at seventy four.
But every day contained frequent checks on the weather. And night. And middle of the night. Lots of checking. Even after the cancer diagnosis. Pancreas, with mets to both lungs. “What, you’re gonna to tell me I’ll get cancer and die?”, he would say, should Elise dare say something with or without words. A look with her eyebrows raised was enough to irk him. She learned to stop herself. She learned to not do a lot of things. But Elise reminded herself, this memory is about him, and checking the weather, not about her.
She could have written a doctoral thesis on his smoking. She felt like she did. Plus, a documentary or two.
Now every time she hears, “How’s the weather?”, she thinks of him.
She thinks of him a lot.
A lot. She hears his voice, the window sliding open, the click of the lighter, the soft whisper of the first burn. She sees his strong hands, fingers tired and hurt from four to six daily punctures to check blood sugar; and neuropathic pain prohibiting him from painting, coloring, or any of the myriad of other artistic projects that were normal for him.
She sees him, his hair once long and blond now very short, wavy and gray but stately and stylish, with his short, white, salt and pepper beard and mustache. She sees his rib cage through his sweater, and his layered shirts hanging on his hollow trunk that used to be muscular; sees his six-foot-tall frame with long torso and long neck, perpetually wearing his muted earth-colored patch-pocket pants or dark gray sweats; legs, torso, butt, a mere fraction of their former selves, hidden inside the layers of clothes.
She remembers her nose refusing to acknowledge the smell of his smoking, losing its ability to smell much of anything. She hears the cigarette butt sizzling into the water bottle with enough water to douse it and all its packs-worth of companions, the cap twisting closed. The window sliding shut. She sees the many bottles stuffed to the brim, lined up on the sill.
How’s the weather? “I’m going to go check,” she heard him say.
Elise’s nose is happy. It got its sense of smell back. And now, sometimes she can still smell him, checking the weather.
She wrote a poem for Valentine’s day.
Valentine’s Day Poem to Ned
Sometimes I look at pictures, pictures bring memories, memories a smile,
Other times I look, and it pains, pains my heart a while.
I used to feel tightness in my gut, my throat,
sadness bottled with ache and fears afloat,
Adrift, my moorings loosened from the pier,
Tearing down the barriers, barriers to my tears.
When my heart feels torn, like the tide tears flood and flow,
A smell, a place, a song, a thought, in a moment, on call, they’re ready to go.
Oh, don’t be too concerned, I laugh more than ever too,
at all sorts of things and especially, your whispering clues.
At my humanness, my foibles there’s so many,
I would be rich if for each one, I had a penny.
You are and always will be close,
You resonate on my frequency, you jar the memories of my nose
You are glue that holds and balm that soothes, here inside my heart
And helps put me back together,