On January 18th, the spirit of a teenage boy stood alongside me in our kitchen.
He had a mouth but was mute.
He couldn’t exactly look me in the eye.
The teenage boy is the spirit of my first husband.
January 18th was his birthday.
He would have been 58 years old.
Last June I got an email from a woman identifying herself as his fiancé.
He had died unexpectedly, on June 7th, she wrote.
They didn’t yet know the cause of death.
“He had told me stories from the time you were together,” she said.
“I thought you’d want to know.”
I was grateful.
And incredibly sad.
The way this teenage boy feels.
We were married for 15 years.
The last 10 were not that good.
Instead of telling him it wasn’t working for me, I had an affair and let that be the excuse for ending it.
He found out about it via a stray message on the computer.
Then upended the kitchen table and broke all the chairs.
I moved into my new apartment.
He left for New Orleans.
A few months later he called and said,
“My girlfriend is pregnant.”
Our divorce was finalized just after his daughter was born.
He flew up to Cleveland for the court date.
Afterward we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and held hands.
Then I cooked him one of his favorite meals.
He and his girlfriend got married and had another baby.
A son this time.
He and his young family moved around then landed back in Cleveland again.
They had a third child, another boy.
It’s funny: we never wanted children.
We wanted careers, and had a successful business together.
Now he has three kids.
I still have none.
I heard through the grapevine that his wife died in 2007.
Self-medication gone bad.
In 2011, we connected on social media.
Where he confirmed that fact.
“The last thing she said to me was ‘I love you,’” he wrote.
“The last thing I said to her was ‘um-hmm.’”
We talked about being musicians.
I told him my mother was dying of cancer.
I apologized for cheating.
“I might have stopped liking you for a while,” he wrote back,
“but I never stopped caring about you.
Talking to you again reminds me of why we became friends in the first place.”
We met when we were 16 and 17.
I lost my virginity to him the summer after I graduated from high school.
He came to visit me once when I was in college.
But I blew him off.
When I was 24, I received a letter postmarked from Colorado.
“I’m on the top of a mountain right now,” he wrote.
“I am thinking of you.”
He was six feet tall, very skinny, and long-waisted.
He wore hip-hugger bellbottom corduroy pants.
He was an awkward kisser.
He had a funny kind of indentation in his chest —
a place over his heart where his ribcage caved in and shouldn’t have.
We married in 1981.
When his fiancé wrote to me about his death, she gave me a few details:
He hadn’t been feeling right,
went to the ER,
had a massive heart attack when he got there.
There would be an autopsy.
I wrote back.
She wrote back.
And contradicted things she’d said in her previous email.
Even though it was none of my business, the gaps in her story bothered me.
She invited me to the memorial.
It would probably happen in a few months, she thought, at the end of summer.
There was no obituary.
Something said, go to the computer.
I entered his names one by one: first, middle, last.
The results filled in line by line, as if I had the most ancient computer in the world.
I stood up from the table.
There was his photo.
And under it the words “registered sex offender.”
I paced the dining room
then the whole house.
No, no, no, no, no.
I had slept with this man for 15 years.
He had his issues.
But no, no,
This was not one of them.
I wrote back to the fiancé and told her I would not be coming to the memorial.
“I prefer to remember him the way I knew him,” I said.
She sent back a diatribe 17 paragraphs long.
Each one starting with the words
“Did you know that…” and
“I bet you didn’t stop to think that…”
Of course I didn’t.
How could I?
He and I hadn’t been in touch in 15 years.
And then when we were, he didn’t say anything about it.
“He was set up”
“psycho ex-wife number three”
were some of the other words in the diatribe.
I don’t know
I don’t know
I don’t know who did what to whom, and when.
It’s too much.
This boy in my kitchen.
He is looking at the floor again.
Still not saying anything.
Looking very cute like Ed Sheeran on the Grammys.
There is a place over his heart
where his ribcage caved in
and shouldn’t have.
The photo I found is gone.
As if it had never existed.
His three children, all under the age of 20,
have neither of their parents anymore.
And I can’t shake the feeling that he ended his own life.