From A Year of Magical Thinking

You don’t understand, I would say

And in fact he did not. Nor did I: we were equally incapable of imagining the reality of life without the other. This will not be a story in which the death of husband or wife becomes what amounts to the credit sequence for a new life, a catalyst for the discovery that “you can love more than one person”. Of course you can, but marriage is something different. Marriage is memory, marriage is time. “She didn’t know the songs”, I recall being told that a friend of a friend had said after an attempt to repeat the experience. Marriage is not only time; it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age. This year for the first time since I was twenty-nine I saw myself through the eyes of others. I realized that my image of myself was of someone significantly younger.

Before dinner John sat by the fire in the living room and read to me out loud. The book from which he read was a novel of my own, A Book of Common Prayer, which he happened to have in the living room because he was rereading it to see how something worked technically. The sequence he was reading out loud was one in which Charlotte Douglas’s husband Leonard pays a visit to the narrator, Grace Strasser-Mendana, and lets her know what is happening in the country her family runs will not end well. The sequence is complicated (this was in fact the sequence John had meant to reread to see how it worked technically), broken by other action and reequiing the reader to pick up the undertext in what Leonard and Grace say to each other. “Goddam”, John said to me when he closed the book. “Don’t ever tell me again you can’t write. That’s my birthday present to you.”

I remember tears coming to my eyes

I feel them now.

In retrospect this has been my omen, my message, the early snowfall, the birthday present no one else could give me.

He had twenty-five nights to live