Carol stepped out through the back door screen. It had an irritating squeak that reminded her she needed to add, oil screen door to her list of things to do She never kept a to do list until just a few months ago. It was right after Jake died in January she began having anxiety and panic attacks, wondering how she was going to handle everything from the finances to taking care of all the necessary tasks around the house. Over the twenty-eight years of their marriage Jake had spoiled Carol and she knew it. He not only provided for her financially, he also took care of all the repairs and maintenance around the house. She never got involved and though he always reminded her how spoiled she was and take she needed to take an interest in these matters he never pushed it. He was old school he said meaning he enjoyed every moment of watching over her.
Jake was eight years older than Carol and viewed her like a fine Japanese porcelain doll. She was born in Japan though raised since a baby in California. Jake was from the Midwest and was just weeks away from turning sixty-five when he experienced a massive heart attack while in Tahoe fishing with a few of his friends. Carol was at work when she got the call and it was that call that brought her now to moments like this thinking about oiling squeaking doors and mowing lawns. Over the last six months she found it difficult working through the transition from being two to being one.
There were no children to lean on or share in the grieving. Carol had only been pregnant once which turned our to a tubular and a matter of life an death resulting in a hysterectomy. Jake was more than supportive to Carol during this time, he was there for her physically and emotionally every step of the way and it haunted her that she was not there for him in the last moments of his life.
She moved towards the vegetable garden on the far side of the backyard. It had been Jake's pride and joy every summer since his retirement. He had always wanted to have the time to grow his own vegetables especially tomatoes. There was nothing Jake loved more in the summer then fresh vine ripe tomatoes and over the past few summers he became a master at growing what he said were the finest tomatoes in Sacramento county,a county known as Sacra-tomato for all the tomato field and canneries in the area. Carol really never spent much time with him out in the garden, though she enjoyed the fruits of his venture and gladly prepared all the squash, green beans and tomatoes to his liking which they feasted on and laughed over all summer long. And as instructed she would package, using her gifts of creativity, all the produce they could not eat themselves so he could proudly distribute to all he friends. He was rightly proud of his accomplishments but never failed to compliment her on her part in the process. Summer was their season and here she now was walking toward the summer garden with Jake not there to greet her.
This spring in working through her grief Carol decided she would plant some vegetables on her own, in honor of Jake. She knew he would be watching, and he would be so proud of her doing this on her own. But this afternoon as she stepped into the garden she felt a sadness overcoming her as the tomato plants stood tall waiting for her with several tomatoes now starting to turn red. She looked at them and suddenly her sadness took a turn to anger and she thought to herself; What was I thinking? Why did I plant all these vegetables? Who is going to eat them? Who cares if I planted all these stupid things? She found herself picking up the hoe and began hoeing slowly with a steady rhythm then faster and harder and harder still. She started hammering the hoe into the ground, the moist soil flying all over the garden. She started talking to herself, and then began yelling at Jake.
"Why, she screamed, why did you leave me with all this? What am I suppose to do with all of these tomatoes? Just what am I suppose to do with all these stupid, stupid tomatoes without you!"
She slammed the hoe again and again and in the last swoop she hit one of the tomato plants slicing off the plant at ground level. She looked down at the plant as it lay in front of her and she started to sob. The tears flowed down her cheeks and she fell to her knees next to the plant still bearing the unripened tomatoes. She lifted it to her breast, cradling it like a child and rocking it, unable to hold back the flood of tears.
"I am sorry Jake, she sobbed, I am so sorry, it is just that I miss you, I miss you so much."
This piece was inspired by my friend Kathy who lost her husband a few years ago - the many conversations I had with her as she worked through her grief gave this piece its life....