When Roberta Hernandez died early last summer, she left more than a few unpaid doctor’s bills and a nice collection of china. She also left Ernesto. I doubt he’ll ever be the same.
But I suppose that’s what’s supposed to happen after you spend almost sixty years with the same person. Over sixty if you count the three years that Ernesto said they “courted.” Regardless, the two were inseparable
It was cancer that took Roberta—“The woman cancer,” he’ll tell you. It stalked unseen and unfelt in her body before finally making itself known, and by then it was too late. She barely had time to say goodbye to her family and her priest. And her husband. Ernesto was the last person on earth to whom she spoke. Her words were as simple and direct and full of love as they always had been.
“Don’t leave your shoes in the middle of the floor or you’ll trip,” she said. Then she closed her eyes and was gone.
Ernesto swears that in the six months and twenty-seven days since, not once has he left his shoes in the middle of the floor. The first thing he does when he gets home from the park or the store is take them off and put them in the closet. He doesn’t say, but I think it’s his way of keeping Roberta close. Of honoring her.
His dear Roberta.
Ernesto isn’t exactly a Christian in the truest sense of the word. His Catholicism is more a matter of culture than faith, passed down to him from his parents like a family heirloom that is placed on the shelf and taken down only when the need or the curiosity arises. Ernesto took that faith off the shelf in the weeks before and after Roberta’s death. He held it tight, begging and bargaining with God, pleading his case against the taking of his bride and best friend. In the end, he lost that verdict. And with the pounding of death’s gavel went what little faith Ernesto had left.
He spends his days now much like before. There is his walk in the morning from the small brick ranch on Sunset over to the 7-11 for a paper and a coffee, then it’s to the garage to tinker with whatever needs tinkering. Lunch is promptly at noon, though the more extravagant fare of chicken or pasta has been replaced with a sandwich and some chips. His company, too, is different. Instead of Roberta, Ernesto tries to content himself with Drew Carey and The Price is Right or, if he’s feeling particularly down, cable news. Hearing that the world is about to end brings him comfort. It convinces him that his time away from the only woman he’ll ever love may be drawing short. He prays, but only for that.
The nights are the loneliest. The bed is cold, and the extra pillow Ernesto places longways beside him does little to make him feel less alone. On those occasions when the darkness is especially so, he will drive out to the cemetery where Roberta now rests. He will stay by her grave through the night (or in the car when it’s especially cold) and talk to her, trying to will her back into existence.
He’s said sometimes in the moonlight he can see the shadows of the dead roaming among the tombstones and walking along the ridge above the graveyard. They are to him the lost, the truly alone, and he’s vowed to never allow Roberta to take her place among them. I asked him once if he was afraid of those shadows. He looked at me and shook his head. I suppose Ernesto believes that makes him brave. To me, it means he’s become a ghost himself.
Love is a strange thing. So valuable and so strong, yet so easily spent and broken. Our hearts are made so that they may be given away to another. And when you find that other, that perfect person, it feels so right that it’s almost necessary. The idea that one day that person may not be there doesn’t factor into the equation. Because he or she always will be there. Alway.
This post is part of the One Word blog carnival: Love, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more stories about love, visit her at One Word at a Time.