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

Book One, Part One, Chapter 34: Heartache

We sell Mary Lee’s spool bed, her mahogany drop-leaf table and rose-backed chairs, her china cabinet. We give away our oversized sofa and transport the daybed to our living room. Joshua is once again living with us.

One night, passing through the living room on the way to our tiny kitchen, I hear muffled sobs coming from Joshua. I kneel down beside the daybed, beside him as he lies under a sheet. “Joshua, are you okay?”

He wears a white t-shirt, too big for him, that slips off his small, tender shoulders. “I miss my grandmother,” he says between sobs. “She fussed at me because I left my toys on the floor. My Legos. She pushed them away with her cane. ‘I don’t want to trip over these,’ she said to me.” His small and tender shoulders begin to heave. “Maybe she tripped over my Legos, and that’s what killed her. That’s why she fell. That’s why she died.” He turns his head to bury his sobs in a pillow.

“Oh, Joshua, honey, that’s not what killed your grandmother. Your grandmother didn’t trip over a Lego. She fell getting into her shoes. She was older, in her eighties. Her bones were fragile. She could have fallen at any time, her bones just giving way. It happens.”

He shakes off my touch. He doesn’t want to be touched.

“You were a blessing in her life, Joshua. She loved you, and you loved her.”

“I can’t even touch a dress of hers,” he says. “It hurts too much.”

I’ve never before seen such naked heartache. When I was young, I cried when Peter Pan flew off to Neverland, leaving Wendy — and me — behind. But Peter Pan is not real. Joshua’s grandmother is real, at least to him.

I go back to our bedroom. Ernie says: “I should have taken Mother to the hospital sooner. If I had been quicker, her heart wouldn’t have been so taxed. She would still be here.”

What Ernie says, I do not question. I do not contradict. I take whatever Ernie says as Truth. Or, I don’t think about it at all.

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.