"I don't know what to say," people wrote, or, "Words fail." What amazed me about all the notes I got—mostly through e-mail, because who knew how to find me?—were how people did know what to say, how words didn't fail. Even the words words fail comforted me. Before Pudding died, I'd thought condolence notes were simply small bits of old-fashioned etiquette, important but universally acknowledged as inadequate gestures. Now they felt like oxygen, and only now do I fully understand why: To know that other people were sad made Pudding realer. Some people apologized for sending sympathy through the ether; some overnighted notes; it made no difference to me. I read them, and reread them. They made me cry, which helped. They moved me, that is to say, they felt physical, they budged me from the sodden self-disintegrating lump I otherwise was. As I was going mad from grief the worst of it was that sometimes I believed I was making it all up. Here was some proof that I wasn't. One writer was so eloquent it inspired in me the only moment of true denial I remember from that terrible time: I thought, I'll save this, and show it to Pudding when he's older: It'll really mean something to him.
We decided to spend the summer in England, and chose North Norfolk because Edward had grown up there. We spent one week drinking heavily and smoking, and then we gave ourselves a shake, switched to a fish diet, daily exercise, and work. We were writers: We wrote. We ate local crab and local seaweed. We swam at Holkham Beach, an amazing stretch of sand that Edward remembered from his boyhood. We went to pubs. We saw children everywhere, of course, and babies. And Edward would always say, "I hope we can have another child," and I would answer, "Me, too."
Work, walks, wine. On the one hand it was comforting and even lovely, especially the long walks we took along the Norfolk coast, and on the other hand the very usualness, the loveliness, the freedom to do what we wanted was a kind of torture: Look at your unencumbered selves. After most deaths, I imagine, the awfulness lies in how everything's changed: You no longer recognize the shape of your days. There's a hole. It's person-shaped and it follows you everywhere, to bed, to the dinner table, in the car.
For us what was killing was how nothing had changed. We'd been waiting to be transformed, and now here we were, back in our old life.
Years before, I'd given away an antique postcard that said, beneath a drawing of a pine branch:
For thee I pine.
For thee I balsam.
(I regretted giving away that postcard almost immediately. The recipient didn't deserve it. Me in a nutshell: I don't regret a single instance of giving away my heart, but a novelty postcard with a really good pun? I still wish I hadn't.)
Now I pined, and pined. I pictured myself: a pine tree. The trail of the lonesome pine. I saw myself green and leaning on the beach, inclined toward my unreachable darling. To be deciduous would be better—I could stand brown and brittle, and then naked, and then in the spring I would start over again.
Actually, that's sort of what happened.
At the end of August we packed up the few things we'd brought with us to North Norfolk. We spent a few days in Suffolk, with Edward's family, and then a few days in London, then a few days in Boston. September 5 we drove to Saratoga Springs. The movers arrived and unloaded our stuff into the house. When they finally left, I went upstairs to the bathroom and took the pregnancy test I'd been carrying around in my purse all day, and brought it down to the kitchen as it developed to show Edward.
Well, what do you know. This baby would be due in May.
We Hear You!