My husband died two years ago.
I miss him a lot, but his absence feels especially sharp once a week when I do the white laundry. You see, Charlie always helped me fold the sheets for our California King bed.
Sitting in his wheelchair, he’d hold the sheet corners as I backed away and stretched the sheets out. Then as we folded, I’d move closer, until finally the sheets were tidied into a neat pile ready to put in the linen closet.
These days, no matter how I try, I end up bundling up both top sheet and bottom into a messy pile that I shove onto a shelf in the closet.
Charlie’s hands were big and square and thoroughly masculine. Over the sixty-two years we were married, he used them in a million different ways.
I can still see those hands splayed on the wheel of our cars, gripping the shovels he used to dig our many vegetable gardens and holding a tennis racquet or the tiller of his sailboat.
His hands were thoroughly at home grasping the hammers he used to construct bookcases and shelves in our various houses. I also recall him flipping crepes on the stove for a Sunday morning treat for our kids.
When I was eighteen, he gave me his silver ring from The Deerfield School and he never wore another, not even a wedding ring.
Back in those days he’d use his thumb to hitchhike up and down the East Coast. Before we married, he bought a motorcycle in England and cruised Europe, both hands on the handlebars.
In his late eighties, the wear and tear of years, plus a fall from his bicycle that caused him to hit his head, began to wear away at his robust health. His walking became uncertain. We put an elevator in our house when he couldn’t manage the stairs. Still, he stayed pleasant and patient and was still willing to spread lotion all over my itchy back with his big hands.
His interest in life was diminishing, but he never failed to smile and help me fold those pesky sheets.
I was alarmed the night he turned down his regular drink of vodka, saying it “just didn’t taste right.” In all our time together, I couldn’t recall a single instance of him not wanting vodka when offered.
Trying to keep life regular, I asked if he’d mind helping me by doing his weekly task of linen folding. He nodded and put out his hands to grab the corners of the first sheet.
We finished our task, but it was the last time we worked together. He felt poorly that night and the following day and slipped away in his sleep the next night.
I am mostly at peace with the hole he left in my life, except when it’s time to do the laundry.
Trying to fold those big sheets by myself always makes me miss him the most.