The Law of Similars
For almost two full years after my wife died, I slept with my daughter. Obviously, this wasn't Abby's idea (and I think, even if it were, as her father I'd insist now on taking responsibility). After all, she was only two when the dairy delivery truck slammed into her mother's Subaru wagon and drove the mass of chrome and rubber and glass down the embankment and into the shallow river that ran along the side of the road.
In all fairness, of course, it wasn't my idea either. At least the two years part. I'd never have done it once if I'd realized it would go on for so long.
But about a week after Elizabeth's funeral, when Abby and I were just starting to settle into the routine that would become our life, I think the concept that Mommy really and truly wasn't coming back became a tangible reality in my little girl's mind--more real, perhaps, than the lunch box I packed every night for day care, or the stuffed animals that lined the side of her bed against the wall. It happened after midnight. She awoke and called for Mommy and I came instead, and I believe that's exactly when something clicked inside her head: There is no Mommy. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever again.
And so she had started to howl.
Forty-five minutes later, she was still sobbing, and my arms had become lead wings from holding her and rocking her and pacing the room with her head on my shoulder. I think that's when I paced out the door of her room and into mine. Into what had been my wife's and my room. There I placed her upon Elizabeth's side of the bed, pulled the quilt up to her chin, and wrapped one pajamaed arm around her small, heaving back. And there, almost abruptly, she fell asleep. Sound asleep. Boom, out like a light.
Later I decided it was the simple smell of her mother on the pillowcase that had done the trick. I hadn't changed the sheets on the bed in the week and a half since Elizabeth had died.
Of course, it might also have been the mere change of venue. Maybe Abby understood that she wasn't going to be left alone that night in that bed; she knew I wasn't going to kiss her once on her forehead and then go someplace else to doze.
The next night it all happened again, and it happened almost exactly the same way. I awoke when I heard her cries in the dark and went to her room, and once again I murmured "Shhhhhh" by her ear until the single syllable sounded like the sea in my head, while Abby just sobbed and sobbed through the waves. Finally I navigated the hallway of the house like a sleepwalker, my little girl in my arms, and placed her upon what had been Elizabeth's side of the bed, her head atop what had been Elizabeth's pillow.
This time as I lay down beside her I realized that I was tearing, too, and I was relieved that she'd fallen instantly asleep. The very last thing she needed was the knowledge that Daddy was crying with her.
Was the third night an exact replica of nights one and two? Probably. But there my memory grows fuzzy. Had Abby asked me at dinner that evening if she could sleep yet again in Mommy and Daddy's room? In my room, perhaps? Or had I just carried her upstairs one evening at eight o'clock--after dinner and her bath, after we'd watched one of her videos together in the den, Abby curled up in my lap--and decided to read to her in my room instead of hers? I haven't a clue. All I know is that at some point our routine changed, and I was putting Abby to sleep in my bed before coming back downstairs to wash the dinner dishes and make sure her knapsack was packed for day care the next day: Her lunch, a juice box, two sets of snacks. Extra underpants in case of an accident, as well as an extra pair of pants. A sweater eight or nine months of the year. The doll of the moment. Tissues. Lip balm when she turned three and developed a taste for cherry Chap Stick.
Excerpted from The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian. (Use of this excerpt from Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian may be made online only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1999 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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