Posted inEditor's Pick

Grief is a Jumble Word

Ken Otterbourg | Longreads | February 23, 2018 | 2,710 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story

Grief is a Jumble Word

Ken Otterbourg contemplates love and loss and what we remember when we try to forget.
Ryan Riggins

Ken Otterbourg | Longreads | February 2018 | 14 minutes (2,710 words)

I woke up sad today. I was sad when I got out of bed, and I was sad when I went downstairs to get the tiny can of wet cat food for the four cats. I was sad when I nearly stumbled on the bottom step of the first landing in the basement. I was sad as I thought about what would happen if I fell and lay in the basement for several hours with a broken leg or a concussion while the cats ate the cat food and licked my face and the dog wondered where I was after he had heard the pop top on the cat food can that signaled it was soon to be his turn. But I did not fall. So, I was sad when I let Bailey out of his crate and watched him scratch his face against the carpet while I got his leash.

I was sad when we walked outside as the sun was coming up in the east and I could still make out Venus in a morning sky that was the color of hope flecked with a few clouds off in the distance. Venus helped but not enough. I was sad when we walked down Fourth Street. I was sad crossing Broad Street and watching the morning traffic build and all the people on their cell phones even this early. I was sad after Bailey took his shit in the monkey grass even though it was a good shit that indicated the virus that nearly killed him two weeks ago and caused him to shit blood that was the color of raspberry juice was gone and that the $550 I had spent during four hours at the emergency vet between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. was definitely money well spent and necessary.

After we got home, I was sad scooping out his dog food into the bowl and giving him the remains of the cat food that stuck to the tiny can. The dog was happy and wagged his tail and swirled in delight. I emptied the dishwasher, and that didn’t make me happy or cause me to swirl in delight. It never does. I was sad drinking my coffee, which usually made me happy because it made me think of how much JoAnne loved coffee and how when I met her she used to drink a whole pot of it every day, so much that I wondered how she got any work done because she must have kept having to pee. But now things like that make me sad, and I would stop drinking coffee myself but I don’t think it would matter. I was sad eating my English muffin and banana and reading the newspaper and doing the Jumble and wondering if there is a list somewhere of all the five- and six-letter words that can only be arranged in one correct way and are therefore Jumble suitable. Those are the sorts of things that I think about, and many times a little nerdish insight or aha moment of that type is enough to make me smile. But they can also make me sad because there is nobody to share that insight with except the dog and the four cats and they don’t care, and it’s not the type of thing that you can save until later when you speak to an actual person because you would have to figure out how to slip it into a conversation so that it sounded natural and it never does. It’s the sort of utterance best delivered with no preamble across a kitchen table to the woman who loves you in spite of these tendencies and maybe even a little because of them.

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