Sometime in the late morning of December 23rd, 2010, at his country house in Marshfield, Massachusetts, Jeffrey Richardson Hewitt, my former husband, the father of our two extraordinary children, the grandfather of Leda, our shining light granddaughter, a former nurse and lawyer, a photographer, a prolific painter, a skier, tennis player and sailor, an oenophile, a jazz-lover, the dedicatee of my first book, an advocate for reproductive rights and former grief counselor, suffered an aortic aneurysm and died instantly.
It has taken me almost an hour to write the above paragraph. No, it has taken decades. Descriptors are inserted and then removed. Adjectives are pondered, rejected, dredged up and spit out. Ways in which I might have described him a mere month ago have slipped below the pelagic surface.
This is what has disappeared: possibility. There is no more time. I always imagined that with the proliferation of grandchildren and as our lives progressed, his anger & resentments would fade and we might enjoy again the things in each other that initially drew us together, and we could be friends again.
We were friends before we were lovers, friends before we were married & friends before we were parents. I imagined we could be friends again. But for that we needed time. Perhaps he would find a loving partner to go forward with. I imagined that one day at yet another grandchild’s birthday party, Jeff and I could find comfort in telling our shared stories, stories from a time when we were full of possibility and maybe little else: hiking naked in Red Rock Canyon, reading and writing stories, bicycling along the cliff in Santa Barbara, falling in love with Yeats’ poetry, climbing ruins in Honduras, reciting poetry, teaching our children to ski, losing the speeding demons among the moguls, quizzing the children on the capitals of the world (The ever-ready and eternal fallback was Ulan Bator, and always will be.), playing take-no-prisoners Scrabble, and being blessed by an elephant in India.
We’d had so much already. But to arrive at a consoling future, we needed more time.
We’d been living together for about 4 years when Jeff’s mother, neither a shirker nor a tactician, gave him her grandmother’s diamond ring and told him to get going and marry me. (Shit or get off the pot, what was she was later reputed to have said, but that may be apocryphal.)
The proposal accomplished & the ring in place, I returned to graduate school and Jeff went off for a six-month jaunt through Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He mailed back long handwritten letters on dragonflywing paper, full of adventures, hallucinogenic descriptions and religious rhapsodics. In Borneo he traveled into the jungle atop a riverboat. It was the hottest and swampiest and most fetid place he had ever been. For the rest of our lives together, Borneo would be the standard by which all heat and humidity were measured: Yes, the Amazon may be a sultry cauldron today, but it’s nothing like Borneo.
We were married on 9-11-76 in my parents’ back yard. His family’s bulldog, the über-terrifying Wrinkles (Or was she the kinder, gentler successor to Wrinkles?) was the ring bearer. I weighed 99 pounds. His glasses were scotch-taped together. We read poems by W.H. Auden and W.B.Yeats. The bridesmaids were not called bridesmaids; they wore dowdy red cotton dresses and carried paintings of assorted red and blue symbols, so abstract even we didn’t know what they meant, though we had painted them.
25 years later we separated.
One of the games Jeff played with our children, because his father had played with him and his brothers, was called Rigor Mortis Has Set In. In the course of roughhousing with the kids, he would grip an arm or leg, then seize up and fall to the floor with a thud, stiff and inflexible, only breaking his frozen pose to mutter grimly, “Rigor mortis has set in.” The children squealed, pleaded and wiggled. But his grip was powerful. They begged him to play Rigor Mortis.
I wanted to see him play Rigor Mortis with our grandchildren and hear their peals of delight; I wanted to watch this next generation learn to navigate the tidal line between terror and hilarity.
Rest in Peace, dear Jeff.