Writings

Grief Journal

He used to call me, “sweet cheeks”, “hussy” (inside joke), his “squeeze” and, of course, “babe”. When he was trying to be funny in front of his brothers, he would call me, “Puneet” instead of Taneet, and then I would reply with, “who the HELLLL is Puneet?” and we all laughed.

Sometimes he made me laugh really hard. Other times I made him laugh really hard. Lots of times we both just laughed and laughed, especially with our daughters. There were little things about me that he mocked which was actually hilarious to me. For instance, when he found out my family’s nickname for me has always been Mattu (pronounced ma-two if you don’t have an Indian accent), he (being a big Star Wars fan) called me “R2-D2”. Or whenever I made my weird Chewbacca sounds he echoed it so loud that my belly would ache from laughing. He knew how to be extra silly, and I think it came out more around me and our girls. He could be really quick-witted and I loved that about him.

The thing about having a partner/spouse is that you get to see all sides of them. Others only see just their professional side, or sporty side. I saw who he was as a son, a brother, a father, a cousin, a nephew, a grandson. And because we worked together in the same office, I also got to see him in the role of a manager, co-worker, businessman, and all-knowing insurance/sales guy. He showed me his vulnerable side time and time again. Outside of our home I knew when he was pretending in front of others and when he put up his walls. That’s what marriage is. Seeing, experiencing and accepting all truths, the ones nobody else sees.

He taught me so much. I knew nothing about sports when I met him. I was just a nerd getting through life with my nose constantly in a book. But he brought me into the world of horse racing, football, baseball, hockey, soccer. So I wouldn’t get bored when a game was on, he explained every rule, not to mention background stories, biographies of the players/coaches and history of the teams. Before I met him, I never attempted to reverse park. But he taught me how. And to this day, I still use his technique. And whenever Soca/Reggae/Calypso/Caribbean was on (and it was on a lot) he explained what the lyrics meant and where it all originated from. Since I didn’t grow up watching shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, he made sure I dove into that world as well.

He was basically obsessed with his brothers and parents. After we started dating for about two months, he asked me if he could introduce me to his family. He wanted the two things he loved most to come together. I became as attached as he was to his brothers; it was hard not to. They were an extension of him.

He loved wearing plaid. Actually, much of his plaid collection came from me. His favourite football team was the Denver Broncos (fave player was Peyton Manning, number 18), his favourite soccer team was Real Madrid (fave player was Cristiano Ronaldo, number 7 – which is also his birthdate), which reminds me; he loved soccer so much that a couple of days after our second baby was born and we were still in the hospital, he asked me if he could go home for a bit to watch the World Cup. I was like, “reeeeallly, dude?” (in my head though – but on the outside I just smiled and nodded because I knew how badly he wanted to see it. I did roll my eyes so hard that I’m pretty sure I felt it in my c-section stitches!)

Also – he was unusually obsessed with ice. Every morning he woke up, walked to the kitchen, opened the freezer and popped a few ice cubes into his mouth and chewed them very loudly. And he could not get through the morning without asking me to “squeeze” his head. I usually didn’t mind it because he had such soft, thick, lovely hair before having to get ready for work and putting that Axe hair product in it.

I knew what his favourite meals were that his mom made; spinach and chicken, and pumpkin and shrimp, but we both shared a deep love for Mexican food, specifically burritos, tacos, fajitas and quesadillas. When we wanted to really treat ourselves, we would look at each other and say, “BURRITOS FROM CHIPOTLE.” It was our thing. He also loved when I tucked him into bed so tight that he was a human burrito.

Just as I saw all sides of him, he saw all sides of me. He saw me in my truest form; a really messy, emotional nerd who hoarded books, documented everything and spoke in too many accents.
He always knew when I was in the washroom taking a poop because I would flush more than once (sorry – TMI) and he would say, “droppin’ a deuce in there?” and turn on the fan because the switch was on the outside of the washroom. I still remember the first time he farted in front of me when we were still dating, he just casually said, “excuse me”, but the first time he heard me fart was in the middle of the night when Annabella was a newborn and I was rocking her to sleep. He looked up from the bed and asked, “did you just fart?” and mortified, I said, “noooooo, that was the BABY.”

We could complain about our family members to each other, or talk smack about certain co-workers, and share our “dutty” jokes with each other (i.e. that’s-what-she-said jokes). Oh, he loved the show, The Office and Michael Scott was his favourite character. But he wasn’t into it as much when Michael left the show.

We shared a mutual love for Batman. I’ll never forget when we went to see The Dark Knight Rises in theatres. Our favourite scene was when all the bats emerged as Bruce finally escaped that cave. But again, he taught me a lot about superheroes and the original comic book stories that I didn’t know growing up. On the day of our wedding reception (which was two days after our ceremony) he pretended to be Christian Bale driving the Tumbler (in his Nissan 350Z) and yelled to me, “RACHELLLLLLLLL! HANG ON RACHELLLLLL!” And when I was on maternity leave, every morning when he left for work I would send him a quote from a Batman movie to his work email so that he would see it as soon as he got to the office.

The sweeter side of him told me I was beautiful, gorgeous, and recognized my strengths and talents. One day at work, I used my lunch break to walk around the office and get people to sign a birthday card for my team leader that I had made out of bristol board, and when I got to his office, he said to me, “this is what makes you so special.” He would tell people how easily I could personalize things through my writing.

He helped me pay off my student loan early in our marriage. Most of the downpayment for our condo came from his many years of savings. He used his line of credit to buy me and our girls a car after we separated. And when that car was totalled in an accident, he was the one I called first and the one to bring me home from the hospital.

When I got food poisoning at work one day, he was the one I called to pick me up (this is when we were separated) and he brought me home (to the condo we all used to live in) and then picked up the girls from daycare. We all stayed together that night and the next few days. When I fainted twice from having literally no energy or food in my system, he was the one who lifted me off the floor and carried me to bed.

Some of my favourite gifts from him are: one year for my birthday, Disney re-released Cinderella from the ‘vault’, as the Diamond Edition, and knowing it was my favourite, he got it for me; another time he got me a Kindle because I love reading (and also because he thought it would stop me from buying so many books – I didn’t stop by the way); a little Flamingo pin (which is currently sitting on my dresser), a tiny bear made out of glass with my birthstone in it for mother’s day, a random bouquet of flowers, and my absolute FAVOURITE; tickets to see Aladdin live in theatres, where I cried during the “a whole new world” scene and he looked at me and said, “are you CRYING?” and I said, “shut up.”

Of course, there were much darker times in our marriage which led to our separation, but after some time apart, although we lived at different addresses (five minutes away from each other and eventually an hour away from each other), we still managed to stay connected, every day. Mostly because of our daughters, but also because we were great friends. He didn’t agree with many things I shared through my writing, but he also made sure to applaud my parenting and my role as our daughters’ mother.

We worked together to ensure our girls knew we are still always a family.

I sometimes catch myself picking up my phone to call him and tell him something and have the sudden realization that he isn’t there to answer me.

And that’s when the pain hits.

I’ve read about the different stages of grief and mine are all over the place. It’s not linear and clear cut. One day I feel I’ve accepted his death. The next I’m screaming in my head, “HE CAN’T BE GONE.”

When I sleep, I dream of him – about him coming back to life.
When I’m awake, I see his face in the casket. And it’s like the wind gets knocked out of me.

I miss hugging him. He was so tall that my head was at his chest and my arms would wrap around his torso. We always greeted each other with a hug and kiss on the cheek whenever I dropped the girls off with him, and again when I picked them up. I always said, “I love you” before getting in the car and he always said it back. It was important to me that our girls saw this exchange so they understood, parents can be separated and still love and respect each other.

I’m remembering a time last year when I couldn’t sleep, it was around 3am. He couldn’t sleep either and he called me. We talked and laughed. I don’t know anymore what we said to each other but I remember a huge smile on my face.

photo from our honeymoon

Short Stories

A Bird at Breakfast

He sits down next to me on the bench we have on our front porch. I want to reach my fingers up to the hair falling over his forehead but the warm breeze beats me to it. Instead I straighten out the scraggly hairs on his left eyebrow like I’ve done for so many years. Usually, he would jokingly swat my hand away but this time he just looks into my face. Searching, waiting.

“What’s wrong, Taneet?” he asks me.

I can’t look him in his big, brown eyes, the same as Annabella’s, so full of love. I drop my hands in my lap and play with my two karas.

“I feel like a fraud”, I whisper. He places his hand over mine so I stop fidgeting. The feeling of his hand on mine is like medicine on a festering wound. I clear my throat.

“It’s like…I was so quick to start calling you my ex-husband after I left. And since you’ve left me, I’ve been calling you my husband again. It’s weird and selfish. I have no right. I built this whole single mom life while we were separated and felt so proud of it. But since you’ve been gone, I’ve felt nothing but a complete void. An emptiness. A huge loss. Suddenly I’m a widow. I just feel like such a fraud. I don’t deserve-“

“Taneet. Taneet, stop. Stop”, he says.

“But I know what people have been thinking and saying about me. They think I have no right to grieve your loss. I used to just let people assume we were divorced when we weren’t. I tried to make myself appear stronger than I actually am. I could never bring myself to divorce you. I wanted to be a family again. For the girls. They wanted it so badly. I did, too. And when we were finally planning for you to move in here with us this summer…” I can’t catch my breath.

“Taneet. Stop. Look at me.”

I bring my gaze up to his and lower it again. I can’t look him in the eyes.

“Taneet. You only need to worry about two things: the girls. That’s it. I don’t care about anyone else. People are stupid. Who cares what they think?”

“Unfortunately, I do”, I say, looking down at my lap again.

He’s reaching into the pocket of his hoodie. I look over.

“This”, he says, “this is all that matters.”

He shows me a crumpled photo of the four of us in Cuba.

“Remember, Taneet. You are the captain of our ship. You hold us together.”

I take the photo with shaky hands and bite my lower lip.

“I’m sorry”, I begin to sob, “I’m so sorry, Andrew, I’m so sorry. I failed. I failed! I couldn’t keep our family together! I couldn’t keep you safe and healthy. I couldn’t take away your pain!”

I’m choking and hiccuping on tears now. He was never the best at comforting me when I cried. It made him uncomfortable. But he takes my face with both hands now and wipes my tears. He smiles and shakes his head.

“You gave me everything, Taneet. Our girls. You’ve done an amazing job. You’re a wonderful mother. Hey, hey, hey, stop.”

My snot is now shooting out of my nose and mixing in with my tears around my chin as he uses his sleeve to wipe my face.

“Taneet”, he continues, “people are always going to talk. It doesn’t matter. I was my happiest when I was with you. You know that.”

I continue to cry. I can’t seem to stop.

“We miss you. So much. The girls. The girls need you. I’m not enough for them. They need their daddy. Annabella will be a teenager in a few years! I can’t do this without you!”

“I’m here, I’m here!”

“No! You’re dead! You left us, you left us! You died! Why did you have to die?”

I’m shouting now, my throat raw, but he still looks at me and smiles.

“I’m always with you. Always.” He wraps his arms around me. He’s warm. The last time I touched him he was cold as ice. I allow myself to melt into him. I feel the summer breeze again, passing through our embrace. It feels like we are sitting here for hours and hours.

“I finally figured out the song you were always humming”, I say into his chest, my eyes closed, “when the girls were watching the Wizard of Oz the other day, it was like a light bulb went on and then- “

He’s gone. I can feel his warmth but I don’t see him anywhere. A familiar song takes my attention from the seat next to me and past the porch to the sugar maple tree in the front yard. There sits a brilliantly red cardinal looking right back at me. Singing loudly, assuredly.

I exhale into the passing breeze and it flows back into the cardinal’s song. Sweet, strong and familiar.

Writings

Gratitude Journal

Why is it that when I sleep soundly, they are restless, yet when they sleep soundly, I’m wide awake?

I’m listening to my daughters’ light snores and even breathing, feeling at peace that they are next to each other, next to me. Several nights I tuck them into their own beds in their own bedroom, only to find them next to me in the middle of the night. But on other nights, like tonight, I do not fight their protests to sleeping in their own beds.

They don’t know this yet, but I need them more than they need me. Even when I do get a night when they let me sleep alone, I curl up to the same side of the bed, make myself small, and miss their small warm bodies sprawled next to me in deep slumber.

Just over two months ago, life was quite different. Parts of it, anyway. There were schedules and routines, timelines and curfews. Planned meals, packed lunches, pre-picked outfits. I only saw my daughters in the mornings for about an hour, and then in the evenings. On weekends there would be a hundred other things scheduled.

Now, we spend every moment together. Mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights, weekends, weekdays, everyday. Weekdays and weekends really have no border between them anymore. Its all the same. Some weeks have been delicious. So many cuddles, laughs, games, fun. Movies and baking and eating and dancing. Planting and walking and colouring. Other weeks have been torture. Sibling rivalry, yelling, crying, stomping, slamming. Needing space, solidarity, sanity.

Meanwhile, the world we’ve shut ourselves out of seems to have fallen into shambles. Sickness and death and panic and disorder. More death. Fear.

We’ve finally started going out again, other than just walking down our street. Driving the car again, although the brakes make sounds now, complaining to me that I waited too long to put them to use again. We wear masks, take shallow breaths and quick steps.

One thing has been constant, though. Our own form of medicine, comfort, cure. Which is our hugs and kisses. So many hugs. So many kisses. Maybe more so than before. Despite what has happened moments before, or what is happening outside our home, we tell each other, “I love you”, we kiss each other. We hug each other, tightly. Sometimes we don’t let go for a long time.

Short Stories

Daydream

The sun softly blinks into our bedroom to let us know it’s almost time. Then she slowly makes her way inside, sprawling out gently on our bed. I blink back and see a beautiful pair of brown eyes smiling into mine.

“Good morning my beautiful Jaan,” he says with his throaty Sunday morning voice. “Great morning my beautiful Ji,” I say back, lifting my hand to brush his scruffy beard. I breathe in the scent of his body and let my eyelids fall back down. Happiness exudes through each exhale as we both inhale the other. The universe has been good to us and we are therefore in a good place. Living in our dream home, all of us, together, in a gentle and calm neighbourhood. What makes this place a dream is not the purchase price of it or the square footage, but the simple fact that we are all in it and we were able to make these walls, shingles and bricks into a home.

The economy is booming, we both love what we do, the weather isn’t scary anymore. The stars have really aligned.  Of course, nothing is perfect, because that ideology no longer exists. Social media now serves as a support system for all human beings who may need it. Materialism, fake lives, narcissism, that’s all over. No one compares and despairs anymore. Even corrupt government has been abolished. World news is mostly headlined with the good that continues to circulate from country to country. War is a thing of the past. As is most suffering.

As I inhale him, I also breathe in the aroma of the roses he gifted me last night. Red roses, so cliche, but my absolute favourite. Flowers are still the universal symbol for love. And he gives them to me all the time without reason or obligation. Just because. We are best friends; mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and there is no one else on this planet that can break such a powerful form of devotion. We are not insecure, we have no doubts. There are no questions. We worship one another. We are who we are and we are us. We are true.

I used to believe that marriage was a facade, an evil institution that society placed on a pedestal to bring humanity down. Weddings, money and monogamy were always celebrated and everything else was questioned. Most humans hid behind the shadows of their marriages as liars, cheaters, cowards and fake hashtags. They were missing honest to goodness truth and purity. Now I believe that love is real, it’s tangible, it’s not a facade. It is life. It is the very air I breathe. And I am breathing him in, into my lungs, stomach, brain. Even my fingertips.

Our daughters dance into the bedroom with our fluffy, jovial puppy and the eldest says, “good morning mom and dad! Shouldn’t we get breakfast started?” The youngest one jumps onto the bed in between us, squealing and snorting with laughter.

Today, like every Sunday, we take our food truck to the local park and feed as many hungry bellies as we can. He cooks, of course. I’ve used my creative skills to design everything, from marketing to menus. The girls love helping out and being part of the team. Giving back, sending gratitude into the universe in spades. We also speak to youth in different schools about addiction and mental health, every month. Which reminds me, I really need to organize this month’s talk: learning how to love yourself.

As our daughters and pup pile themselves onto the bed and into our arms, I think back to a time when all I could see was darkness, and all I could feel was pain. But the sun always has a way of shining through even the thickest, bleakest, heaviest wall of despondency. She extends her rays of light around all of us as we embrace each other, leaving me with the warmest, most delicious delight I have ever felt.

Short Stories

Diamonds for Dinner

He’s in the shower.  My mouth and throat are like sandpaper. My hands are clammy. My eyes are stinging. I was up late last night writing my final letter to him. The pounding in my chest is harder than usual. Or is that my head? The baby starts to cry in her high chair. Oh, shit. The cereal. The water has been boiling, what’s wrong with me?

“Mommy’s coming, baby! Here comes your num-num!” I tell her, as I mix the Gerber baby cereal with her little pink spoon.

“Foh me too, mama, foh me too?” my toddler’s voice is suddenly looping around the kitchen. “Of course, sweetie!” I tell her, grabbing another bowl. This stuff smells so good, it reminds me of when my mom used to make cream of wheat for us. The thought of eating now makes me nauseous. I hear the bathroom door open. He’s coming out. I rush out of the kitchen and into the living room, which is also our dining area.

I’m blowing on the cereal softly and can see him from the corner of my eye, stepping into the bedroom, and shutting the door. Baby is opening her mouth, waiting for her breakfast. Toddler’s got her eyes fixed on the TV, watching what’s-her-face on Treehouse. Dory? No. Dora. Do you have to explore so loud today, Dora? Shut up!

“Sweetie, remember to eat your breakfast!” I tell her in my trying-to-be-calm-but-not-actually-calm voice. I can’t believe this will be our last time eating breakfast here. My phone buzzes. New message. I turn it over. My throat feels even drier. Do I even have any saliva left? The bedroom door opens. Fuck, he’s coming.

“Yummy, num-num, baby!” I say in my sing-song voice, spoon going in. Baby smiles, cereal all over her little pink gums. Am I really ready for this? Yes. Yes, obviously, you cando this and you willdo this. I hear the jingle of his keys. He’s getting ready to leave.

“Sweetie,” I whisper to toddler, “go say bye to daddy.” She obediently gets up from the mini-table that he built for her, and runs to the den. “Byyyyeeeeeeeeee dadddaaaaaaa!” He’s lifting her up, hugging her. She gives him a kiss. My vision gets a little blurry, but I blink it away. He comes around to kiss baby’s head. As always, I’m invisible. The front door closes, and the lock turns.

I quickly pick up my phone and type: ‘He just left. Come up in ten minutes to be safe.’ Should be enough time so they don’t pass each other in the elevator. I hop over to the bedroom and open the closet door to start grabbing empty bags and see his long-sleeve, collared shirts hanging there. I’m transfixed on them when I hear the lock on the door turning again. Oh no. I scramble back to my chair next to baby and pick up the cereal bowl with trembling hands. He’s back. He marches into the living room.

“Where’s the car seats?” he asks, looking directly at me now.

“Oh,” I manage to say. I never was a good liar. “I brought them up to clean last night. There were milk stains,” I say, trying to maintain eye contact with him. He doesn’t seem convinced. What if he knows? Please just leave.

As if he hears my thoughts, he walks back towards the door without another word. Leaving a trail of fire behind him that I cannot put out. Not this time. I grab my phone again. New message: ‘I’m here. What do I do?’

I respond back: ‘Wait a few minutes. He came back.’ Now I rush over to the window to see his blue Nissan leave the parking lot for the last time.

Trying to remember to breath, I open the front door and look towards the elevators down the corridor. She’s here.

My mom looks terrified. She quickly walks over to our unit, pushing a trolley of empty suitcases. We’re too nervous to even hug each other. Once she’s inside, she hugs and kisses the girls.

“Do you think he’s going to come back again?” she asks me, quietly. I shake my head. “I don’t think so. I hope not. Let’s get going.”

Within a few hours, we’ve managed to pack up the pots and pans, some dishes, all of our clothes, and the girls’ toys and books. I had already packed shoes and other things over the past few weeks and hid the boxes, knowing we wouldn’t have much time today.

“Whey we goin’, mama?” little toddler asks, looking around the condo unit as it quickly gets emptied out. “Just on a little trip,” I tell her, “just us girls!”

“Yay!” she cheers, hugging her stuffy to her chest.

Once the movers have taken the last of the luggage, I sneak into the bedroom and place the letter on the dresser. I take my engagement ring, and then my wedding band, off my finger and place them next to the letter.

“What? You’re not keeping your rings?” mom exclaims.

“No,” I tell her, exhaling for the first time in a long time, “not keeping them.”

I can still hear his voice, slithering into my ear, telling me, “as long as that ring is on your finger, I can do what I want to you.”

Definitely not keeping the rings.

At long last, we are leaving. I look around and exhale again. I’m breathing. I’m actually breathing. As I lock up, I realize that I didn’t get around to cooking dinner. Oh well. He’s got something else waiting for him tonight.

Short Stories

Cut Free

It started out as just a tiny knot. The wide-tooth comb, at first, was gliding right over it. Then it was getting caught. Now some of the teeth had broken off. The rest of her silky raven hair cascaded down her back like a light laced wedding veil. Except for that tangled web on one side. She was usually so careful and took great care of herself. Except for the past summer. She began to let things slide. She hadn’t known it could get this bad.

The mess of knots was so close to her scalp that it was weighing the one side down. She was getting migraines again. It had taken forever to get rid of those. She wore her hair like it was the most precious of crowns. No one had touched it in years. Until recently of course. She began trusting too soon, far too soon.

She knew the tiny knot was there, and she continued to comb over it, hoping she had gotten it out. As time went on, the little bead of a knot became a ball, and then an intricate web, as if a spider had been living in it, catching its prey.

It was getting out of control.

This was not her. And only she could fix this. She could either try to painfully comb through it or cut it off immediately before it worsened – even if it hurt her to do so. Her pride, ego, appearance would all be affected. What would people think of her? But she could simply no longer cover it up and lie about it.

She had to forgive herself for letting her guard down and for allowing it to get this bad. But she had to let it go. There was no turning back now.

With trembling hands, she picked up the scissors and brought them up to her face. But her fingers released them, clattering against the counter. The same hands grabbed the electric razor instead. The buzzing lulled her into a numbing trance and as she rid herself of the agony directly at the root, she smiled at her gleaming reflection.