There is a ghost in this house. That’s what she tells me. She talks to him a lot. They were married fourteen years. He gave her three kids. You don’t just quit having conversations with someone that important. Even after they’re dead.
She is an early-forties mother. Her days revolve around cleaning. It seems like cleaning up after her three children is all she ever does.
She wakes up, cleans, makes coffee, cleans, cleans, cleans, then gets her kids ready for school because otherwise they’d sit around in their filthy underwear eating Pop-Tarts all day and playing on phones. Also, she cleans.
And somehow at the end of each day, even though she’s worked a full shift, she manages to make Hamburger Helper. Then she vacuums some more.
This is her life ever since her husband died. Her kids depend on her for everything. She packs their lunches, walks their dog, and takes them to soccer practice.
You get a sense that her kids don’t understand how much she actually does for them. Children usually don’t. I was the son of a single mother. I still can’t comprehend the sacrifice.
One needs money for a field trip, another for a band uniform, and her oldest dropped his cellphone into the toilet at school and needs a new one. And through it all she still finds time to scrub baseboards and keep her house immaculate.
“I like cleaning,” she says. “It’s therapeutic. When my husband died, all I did was clean and talk to him. Sometimes we’d talk and clean until late at night.”
He never says anything back, but she swears that he’s here. She tells me this without even the slightest trace of irony.
Her home is a madhouse. During our interview, her kids clomp up the stairs, down the stairs, then up again. The sounds of their feet are like cinder blocks falling from a second-story balcony. She is immune to their noise. A mother to the core.
She can look you in the eye and have a steady conversation without losing a beat even though it sounds like A-10 Warthogs are making emergency landings on her roof.
The sound of bloodcurdling cries erupt from her youngest child in the other room. It sounds as though this child has either broken his femur or shattered his collarbone.
She looks at me, smiles, and takes a sip of coffee. “It’s probably just a scratch.”
She tells me all about yesterday. It was a big day.
The day started off normally. She rushed the kids to school then went to work. On lunch break, she got a call from her boyfriend. He was having car trouble and needed a ride.
They’ve been together a year. She met him a few years after her husband died. She says he’s helped her remember how to enjoy life again.
So she left work. When she arrived at her boyfriend’s indoor parking garage, she couldn’t find him anywhere. She drove around in circles. He texted to say that he was down the street eating lunch.
“I was so mad,” she said. “I was like, ‘How rude, I come all this way to help him and he traipses off to lunch without me?’”
So she parked in the garage and walked to the nearby eatery to meet him, she was a little upset and planned on giving him a piece of her mind. It turned out to be a fancy restaurant. She told the hostess she was meeting someone.
The hostess said, “He’s been expecting you.”
That was a little weird. How did the hostess know who she was? The hostess led her to a private dining room in the back of the restaurant. When the door opened she saw two candles on a lone table. Her boyfriend was waiting. When he saw her, he took a knee.
And I don’t have to tell you what happened next because anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Love Boat” knows what happened next. He asked a big question. She gave a big answer. They set a date.
She pauses. She dabs her eyes. She talks about her late husband for a moment:
“You know, when I first got married I was young, we would always joke and say stuff like, ‘If I die first, don’t ever marry anyone else, honey, because I couldn’t bear the thought of you loving someone else.’”
She laughs to herself. The memory of being young and in love is sacred.
When he got sick she became his caregiver. And it didn’t take long to lose him. Only weeks before he passed he told her, “I want you to be happy when I’m gone, honey, promise me you’ll find someone and be happy.”
Funny, how life changes a man.
At first she couldn’t promise. It was too painful. But he made her. So she told him that she would try.
She wipes her eyes again. “But you don’t just stop loving someone. You just don’t.”
After our talk, she shows me a photograph of her late husband. It’s on her mantle. In the photo are two young people dressed in wedding attire, cutting a cake together. Smiling. He’s handsome. She is radiant.
She replaces the framed photo. She is sobbing into a paper towel now. “I’m sorry for crying. I was just thinking: I’ll probably be the first bride in history who’ll be given away by a ghost.”
Not the first. Not the last. But definitely the loveliest one, with the cleanest house.