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

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 87: Twin Steeples

It’s August, eight months after Ernie’s death, and I find myself at the reception desk of a brick building in Butchertown, keeping my appointment with Judith, the therapist. I follow her to her inner office.

“That’s my chair,” she says, pointing. “You may sit in any one of the other three.”

Each chair is spaced a little farther from her chair. I take the one nearest to hers, and I even pull it up a bit. Her voice is soft, and my hearing isn’t too keen. I don’t want to miss anything she says. Perhaps, also, I want to feel close to someone.

“First, do you have any questions for me?” she asks.

“I like your long skirt and the white top you’re wearing. I like your hair, your glasses. No, I don’t have any questions for you.”

A strange way to answer her question, I’m sure, but what questions am I supposed to ask? She seems like a person I’ll feel comfortable with. I have no idea how competent a psychologist she is, and what question could I ask to derive that information. What’s your success rate? How many suicides have you prevented? How many people have you brought back from the brink of total and utter despair? How many people have you helped recover from a life not really lived?

Judith’s about my age. Light hair frames her soft face. Her glasses almost disappear. Her assistant told me, when I made this appointment, that Judith had also lost her husband. The assistant said: “She has the biggest heart I know. She’s sweet and understanding. I think she’ll be able to help you.”

“I’ll ask you a question, then,” Judith says. “What was happening medically with your husband?”

“My problems go beyond his medical issues. He died as a consequence of my failure to love him.”

I tell her all the ways, little and big, I hurt Ernie.

“You lose what you don’t value,” I say. “I was an ingrate. Didn’t know the meaning of gratitude. Didn’t bless each and every day I was with Ernie. Didn’t consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have been in the right place at the right time for Ernie and me to meet.”

I talk. I gesture. I cry. She hands me a box of tissue.

“Your grief is coming from very deep inside you. You’re learning to express yourself. You’re experiencing a rebirth. You’re awakening.”

“Yes, but I’m awake, and Ernie’s asleep. When he was awake, I was asleep. It’s pure torture.”

“Do you want to come again?” she asks.

“What do you think?” Meaning: Should I? Am I that sick? Can you help me?

“I pick up my grandchildren on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Let’s make it ten a.m. next Thursday.”

I walk to my car — Ernie’s little red car — parked in front of a century-old church whose bells are tolling noon. I don’t want to go home yet. I never want to go home, for that matter. No Ernie.

I walk down Washington Street and look back, gazing up at the twin steeples of the church. From where I stand, one steeple completely hides its twin.

I think: That’s Ernie and Ernestina. We were twins. One of us hid the other. Or, one of us hid behind the other. Jesus.

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.