ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 106: A Photo, a Mirror

I haven’t seen Joshua since he left town eight months ago, just after Ernie’s memorial service.

Yesterday Christy e-mailed me a photo she took of him aboard the USS Iowa, a battleship that saw action in World War II and the Korean War. I look closely at the photo. I enlarge it.

His eyes look so tired. I’ve never seen them look so tired. Pouches, like dead fish, hang beneath them. His left eye is nearly shut. Where is the Caribbean-blue sparkle? He’s smiling, but it’s a put-on smile. A sad smile. A clown’s smile.

I e-mail Christy, telling her what I think.

Today Joshua calls me. “You told Christy I looked distressed on that battleship. That’s not true. Yesterday I was happier than I’d been in a long time. I walked everywhere that was open to the public. It was great. An officer passed me and said: ‘Straighten that Dixie cup, son.’ I was wearing a sailor’s cap, the one I wore playing Sonny Capto in Congress of Wonders. Daddy and I bought it at that Army surplus store on Main Street. I had a great time aboard ship.”

“I’m sorry, Joshua. Your eyes looked so bad to me.”

“Maybe I was squinting because of the sun. My eyes look fine. I have energy today. I’m fine.” Anger gives his voice a sharp bark.

We say good-by . . . and I look at myself in the mirror. Give myself a long look. My eyes are dim. My mouth turns down. My shoulders slump. I look as distressed as Joshua.

I don’t want anyone else to see me.

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.