Reader's Advisory: This column contains a frank tribute to the breast, the hardest-working body part in show business.
Before we get down to the business of explaining midyear widowhood, you need to know this about me: I am no poster child for breast-feeding. My introduction to nursing was like induction into a religious cult. You know: the disrupted sleep, the repetitive tasks, the litany of trite homilies intended to numb the mind and paralyze the spirit into compliance. "Breast-feeding can be uncomfortable at first," the books said. Uh, yeah. Bruised, battered, and appalled to discover that new babies nurse every couple of hours around the clock, I spent the first six weeks of Mona's life alternately crying, berating my husband, and soaking my nipples in basins of salt water.
Then things got bad. I developed an infection in my left breast, and the hybrid cure my midwife devised had me stuffing cabbage leaves in my bra each morning, expressing milk with a Frankensteinian industrial-strength pump after every feeding, and popping a combination of homeopathic pills and narrow-spectrum antibiotics each evening.
Oh, and also trying to relax. The books were big on that. The first step toward successful nursing is to relax. So I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I took to my bed, hit the booze, and asked my husband to read me soft-core erotica.
OK, OK. I'll stop there. But when it's the gift of life you're talking about, and you are desperately tired and awash in crazy hormones, you just have to get the job done.
Flash-forward to widowhood. I discover that the rest-cure for grieving is much like the one for successful breast-feeding. Except I can't very well ask my in-laws to read me Penthouse Letters.
So anyway, I was home for a few days to settle unpleasant business: taxes, overdue work, insurance matters, and medical bills that had been hanging over my head since Gil died. Back in January, I arranged for Mona and me to escape for the summer to her grandparents' house in Massachusetts, the house where Gil grew up. We spent July going barefoot together in the clean, quiet streets, playing in the sandbox, visiting neighbors, and swimming at nearby ponds. Now it was time for me to fly home alone and tackle items that still gave me sleepless nights. Mona stayed behind to enjoy the New England summer with her grandparents.
My house was just as I'd left it. There was a pleasant scent of cool in the front hallway, and the scattered toys and magazines made it seem I'd only been gone a few hours, instead of a month. I opened mail, threw away things addressed to Gil, and headed upstairs to bed.
I'd forgotten my breast pump.