Life without Kenneth

My previous essays have been focused on my experience with grief, but I haven’t shared my experience dealing with the actual loss of Kenneth as a person in my life. In honor of his birthday this week, and next week being six months since his passing, and because I’ve been particularly emotional lately, I thought I would give it a try.

So if you really want to know how I’m doing…this is a bit long…

***

I’m a liar. I thought I never wanted to get married again. I thought I didn’t need anyone. I could do this alone. I’ll just have casual boyfriends, I thought. I won’t ever need a man in my life. Husbands are a pain in the ass anyway, right? I won’t ever have anything serious–by choice! I’ll be a workaholic instead. That sounds much better. Less emotional. More productive. I love productive.

And then the reality of being alone set in. I’m not exactly alone. I have three kids and two dogs who fill my time and home with all kinds of loveliness (and chaos). But they aren’t my partners.

When your spouse dies, I think you really understand the role of a partner.

The right partner.

There’s a difference. An equal. Somebody to inspire me. Somebody to learn from. Somebody to push me to be a better person. Somebody with shared interests. Somebody to hang out with. Your own personal cheerleader. Somebody who can help do the dishes and take half the responsibility of the adulting needed to maintain a household. A best friend who loves to see you get dressed up but also thinks you’re beautiful first thing in the morning.

I never thought I could be so cliche.

But apparently I am.

So I guess I lied. Or I’m a glutton for punishment. I don’t want to be alone forever. I don’t want casual boyfriends. I might want to be a workaholic, but what I mostly want is the right partner. Not the perfect partner. Just the right one.

Somebody like Kenneth. But not Kenneth. Somebody different, but with similar core attributes: kind, smart, passionate.

I started at the school in the fall of 2006. It was my third year teaching. I was just happy to have a job. Everything else was details. Kenneth was the teacher next door to me. I didn’t know much about him, other than he always wore all black and kept to himself. He wore trenchcoats a lot.

I remember he tried to ask what my political affiliation was my first week at school and I ignored him. He asked the new guy across the hall and the two of them got into a heated debate. I wasn’t going to fall for that one.

About a month later, most of our department went to the Reagan Library for a teacher field trip. Kenneth didn’t go, but I remember my colleagues purchasing a photo of Reagan and giggling about giving it to him. I didn’t know the extent of what that meant just yet. When they cleaned out his classroom after he died and brought the mountain of junk to my house to sift through, that Reagan picture was in there. In a weird, odd way, it felt full-circle. I went from not knowing him to losing him in a 10 year period of time.

I dressed up as Victorian queen for Halloween that year and he asked what I was supposed to be, his eyebrows raised, as he leaned back against his classroom door in his Indiana Jones costume, making me feel like the size of an ant. He didn’t say anything else.

My other significant contact with him during that first semester was regarding gradebooks. The tech coach told me Kenneth had the Easygrade Pro CD that I needed to put on my computer. When I went to ask him about it, he barely acknowledged me and continued staring at his computer as he told me he didn’t have the CD. I left his classroom and paid $50 to purchase a copy. A year later we would discover that he did in fact have the CD. Of course he did.

During winter break, I went to my classroom to work and brought my 4 younger cousins with me. He happened to be working too, and I popped my head into his classroom to say hi. That was it. No other words were exchanged. He later told me he didn’t talk to me because he thought I had “all those kids.”

In January we always have an in-service. I was asked by my principal to present with another teacher in my classroom. I remember Kenneth sitting in the back of my room. He was in the session before lunch. The bell rang and everyone shuffled out, but Kenneth lingered. I was surprised that he was actually talking to me after ignoring me for 4 months. I didn’t get to eat my peanut butter sandwich that day. He talked my ear off about what, I can’t remember. I just remember thinking he was pretty smart and he had a nice deep voice. I don’t remember being attracted to him at all. I just kept thinking about my peanut butter sandwich.

After that day, he came into my classroom daily. He suddenly started standing outside of his classroom in between classes. He later told me that he was sitting in the back with his friend during the in-service when both of them agreed that I was “cute.” He told his friend that he was going to talk to me and that I would go out with him.

He talked to me for a solid 5 weeks before asking if I wanted to go out sometime. I said okay. After 5 weeks of him reading his favorite poems to me and talking for hours about politics and philosophy and everything else, I was smitten with his intellect. I was open to seeing where this went.
Later he would brag to people that it was his clever pick-up line that was the hook, line, and sinker.

“Stop looking at me like a fat kid staring at a cheeseburger.” I laughed, but that most definitely didn’t seal the deal. He chose to believe otherwise. I miss that about him. He was a legend in his own mind. He could make cold calls without flinching. He had thick skin I never had.

There’s a lot of stuff in the middle, stories about living together in Long Beach and a stepson and child custody battles and buying our first house and having a premature baby and dealing with the loss of his father and having two more babies. Trips to Barcelona and London and Paris and Playa del Carmen and Israel. Trips to Ohio and San Francisco and camping. Parties. Holidays. Good and bad memories. But I don’t want to talk about any of that.

I want to talk about what it’s like not having him here anymore. In a lot of ways I feel like that young woman who was awkwardly standing outside of her classroom on Halloween wearing the Victorian queen costume: single, unsure, a little bit lonely. But in so many big ways I’m not that same woman, and that’s because of Kenneth.

Kenneth and I could be like oil and water. Both stubborn. We would fight like crazy, both intent on winning. He drove me insane sometimes. On the surface we may have seemed like complete opposites.

But in many important ways, we were completely compatible. I always say that we agreed on all of the important issues. We never once fought about money. I trusted him completely. I never had to worry about his loyalty. We didn’t argue over any of the “big stuff.”

Housekeeping matters were a different story.

Like many of you, it took the loss of Kenneth for me to fully realize what exactly he meant in my life.

This morning, at 4:45AM, I was in the kitchen doing the daily chore of preparing breakfast and lunch for the kids. Juicing. I didn’t know how to use the juicer until he passed away. He loved it so much. He spent hours at night watching documentaries about health and preparing the fruits and vegetables, and I would fall asleep in my bedroom, sometimes going out there to tell him to turn his crap down.

But now, in the quiet of my house, around the same hour of the day that he passed away, I long for his noise. I miss him.

The socks he left on the floor.

His clutter that spilled out of rooms.

The way he always lost his glasses at night and I’d have to help him find them.

Or the way he always forgot where he put his keys, even though I told him a hundred times to put them in the same place everyday, and he would argue he had his own system, and I would point out that clearly that system didn’t work, and cue the circular bickering.

I miss the way I would cringe just as he was about to say something publicly, the look on his face when he noticed my expression, and the fit he would later throw about me censoring him.

His bow ties.

Not really his awful t-shirts. Or the orange travel shirt.

I miss how a person could love Lord of the Rings, chess, all things gothic, classical music, Bauhaus, Nietzsche, Marx, and Yogi Bear. You couldn’t put him in a box.

I miss our mutual love for books and writing. I remember lecturing him as we were about to meet Neil Gaiman at CSULB that he could not, at any cost, embarrass me, when we entered the VIP room. So what did he do? He went back in line a second time and monopolized Neil’s time, asking him pointed questions about writing productivity while I watched on the sidelines. He was so excited afterward, determined to finish his novel.

A novel that I will now finish for him.

I miss him as my colleague.

I miss him as my partner.

Many of you didn’t know him as a father. Kenneth was the best father. We were supposed to have at least one more child. I was on the fence. He was a definite yes. This is coming from a man who never wanted any kids.

I remember him getting frustrated with me one day when I was cranky about not being able to go write at Starbucks.

“Why do you want to be a published writer so bad? Isn’t it enough that we have this beautiful family? The kids are enough for me!”

No, it wasn’t enough, and it still isn’t enough for me, but I think about what he said and how the family was enough for him, and I feel lucky. And sad, because the kids deserve to have that kind of father with them today. They had the best father ever. I picked the best father for them, and now he’s gone.

He bathed them. Wiped their butts. Changed diapers. Brushed Ellie’s hair and read her stories. Wore the baby carrier. We always did family things together: Legoland, Disneyland, parks, whatever. He drove them to school in the morning, and they had a ritual of saying hello to a banana tree on the corner of Trask and Beach Blvd. He never raised his voice with them. I don’t think he ever spanked a kid. He was patient and considerate. He wanted to teach them everything he ever learned in life.

I miss hearing his self-help audios that I always complained about.

I miss his theories about how men can attract women. I miss him calling me a feminazi when I disagreed with his opinions.

I miss Kenneth sharing news with me. Talking politics. Teaching me things. We would always text or email each other articles. I loved that he always knew so much and kept learning even more and that we always had so much to talk about. I loved that he was a voracious reader.

I miss having to calm him down when he would go on rants.

After he passed away, I found a note he scribbled about the destruction of education in America and how he would have to find a new career because it was hopeless. Down below, there was a note: “Ask Teresa first to see if I am overreacting.”

I miss his horrible spelling. He would write affirmations on index cards and put them everywhere. I would find them and correct the spelling. He’d get mad at me for writing on his stuff. I miss his handwriting. His journals filled with angsty rants. Pages filled with financial calculations. Always a dreamer. Thinker.

I miss his kind heart.

I miss the way he always believed family was first. The way he would never tell my dad what he really thought because “you have to always respect the elders,” he would say. I miss the way he would never say no to visiting with family. I miss the way he loved his childhood and all the stories he had about his parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts.

I miss all of his stories. Stories I heard a thousand times over, about the days of his waterfall haircut and going to clubs with Raul and Bob. Stories about ex-girlfriends. Stories about going to a club in Berlin with Dan, located in a castle. Stories about high school. Stories about growing up in Orange County in the 70s.

I miss going to work and hearing him lecture on the other side of the wall. I miss going to staff meetings with him and eating lunch together.

I miss his infectious and passionate spirit.

I miss watching movies together and the way he always found the best stuff to watch on Netflix. I don’t even know where to start now. I miss him complaining that I’d always fall asleep during a movie, and how he’d wake me up so I made it to bed comfortably.

I miss the way he always kept my gas tank full, the way he always did my ironing, and how he always ran all of my errands, usually without question, even if it involved purchasing obscure feminine products.

I miss having somebody to share my thoughts and feelings with, somebody who could tell if I was sad or stressed or happy or nervous. Somebody who cared how I was feeling (most of the time). Someone who would tell me to chill out if I was stressing over something stupid.

I miss the way he would always buy me little things, like flowers, journals, books, sour candy, or whatever. I miss the way he was cheap as hell, but if it came to me buying something for me, he always gave the green light.

I miss the notes and cards he would write to me, just because.

I miss the way he thought I was the most beautiful woman in the world and how he told me I was the smartest person he knew.

I miss parenting with him. I didn’t have kids to do this alone. I wanted to have a family. Our family now has a hole in it and I just can’t wrap my brain around this gaping wound. I started this journey with him, and now I’m leading the family without him. I get easily triggered at Disneyland when I’m with the kids. Families will cut in front of us and shove us out of the way and I feel so resentful watching the husbands and wives while I push my own stroller alone, tired, frustrated, wishing my partner was here with me, remembering the days that we were there as a family.

When he passed away, I opted for fast and furious. Clear the closet out. Throw away the shoes. Scrub it all away. Let my open wound close up, live with the scars, and move forward. Forward. Forward. Forward. Logically I knew the chapter was closed. I knew I couldn’t revise the past. I had to keep moving. My heart would have to follow. Get over it.

But it’s hard to scrub it all away.

Last night I had my first dream since he passed away where he was in it. We were going into a grocery store and he protected me from an ominous man. I woke up sad. Just when I thought I had everything under control, I had to go missing him. I had to allow myself the space and time to think about him not being here. I don’t often open up those floodgates. But when I do, it’s hard to suppress. Part of me is glad. It reminds me just how much he meant to me. He was real.

I miss my buddy who always had my back. He would always defend me. Unconditional love and support. That’s what I got.

Sure, he drove me crazy. Pissed me off. Didn’t always do what I wanted. He wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. I did too.

But all of the good parts were worth so much more than the dumb things. If only we had a time machine.

Always the teacher, Kenneth taught me one final lesson when he died. After his loss, I learned to love a little bit better. See people for the good more than the bad. To be more optimistic and passionate. Have more patience. To be courageous. To live life fully, because you never know when those loved ones will be gone.

I’m just sorry he isn’t around to do all of those things with him. I’m sorry we won’t get to go on another trip just the two of us, and I’m sorry we rarely did date nights. I’m sorry I won’t get to see him age, that I’ll never know what he would look like with white hair. I’m sorry he isn’t going to Japan with us this winter.

I’m sorry he won’t get to see our kids graduate from college. I’m sorry he won’t get to see grandkids. One time he told me “I’d like to live long enough to see my grandkids. I don’t know if I’ll be a good grandfather, but I’d like to be here anyway.” It cracks my heart in half just remembering that. I’m sorry he never got to hear Eloise and Peter speak in complete sentences, and I’m sorry he didn’t live long enough to see Ethan lose his first tooth.

I can’t believe he is missing this election. I can’t believe I am precinct walking without him. I wish he could be here. We didn’t have enough time together.

Some of you have experienced loss and you know what the missing part feels like–the agonizing pain that chokes you. But only those who have lost a spouse will know what it’s like to go through grief and life without your partner to lean on. To go through this pain alone.

I would be lying if I didn’t disclose that I’m sorry I feel like I’m back at square one. Alone. I’m scared I won’t find somebody who is smart and caring and who adores me the way Kenneth did. It’s not that I believe there is only one person for everyone. It’s just that I’m a little worried about how long it will take to find the next right person. I’m scared there is nobody in the world who will love my kids the way I think they should be loved.

I’m scared that this is my life sentence: single mom, alone.

No matter how positive I force myself to be, this is the shitty reality I just can’t ignore. This is not something your parents or friends or anyone else can make better. This is something I know is 150% my own problem and something I have to deal with.

So I will.

Somehow.

1 comment

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  1. Elaine

    In having a husband, a man like Kenneth, you were blessed. His loss to you and your children is heartbreaking. You honour him with your words and your love. He was also blessed. Whatever life has in store for you it will be amazing and I hope to read about it. Thank you for sharing your story.

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