Muriel graduated from high school while I was in Columbia and began applying for college on the day I graduated. She later became a psychologist, and her school years ushered in a ritual that lasted over a decade. When I drove home from work, she waited by the front door of our 8,000-square-foot Levitt house on Long Island. She walked up to the car and said a version of, “Kevin is watching TV and needs a bath; Leda is in the game pencil; and Shanna is sitting on the high chair where she must have just pooped. There’s a chicken potpie in the oven for you. Give me the car keys; I’m late!”
Three children in four years, little money, and a house that smelled of diapers made even the most trivial argument flammable. But in our early twenties we vowed never to sleep in a quiet bedroom one after the other.
Eventually we moved to a bigger house in Great Neck, a leafy suburb where Muriel started her practice. The screened porch overlooking a garden was the only quiet corner of a noisy house, perfect for the customers Muriel was quick to see. When our children gave the slightest hint that they were jealous of the attention she was giving clients, she would pull out her diary and say, “I’ll give you an appointment. What is 5 o’clock tonight? “
Just this week I asked Kim, our youngest child, if she remembered those conversations. “Oh,” she said, “I think about her all the time. It was maybe only an hour, actually 50 minutes, but I had mom all to myself. She made the porch a safe place to discuss anything, even things children don’t usually tell their mothers. All of my friends were jealous. “
I didn’t need an appointment to speak to Muriel. Even in the evening, when we went to dinner with friends, we hurried to the restaurant an hour earlier to sit alone at the bar and talk over a glass of wine. But now I slept in a quiet bedroom.
A Buddhist friend, aware of my loneliness, urged me to speak to Muriel. “They were together for almost 70 years,” he told me. “She’s not gone. It is in your being, your consciousness. Talk to her. Ask for your help. “I was about to shake off his advice, but I was in such pain that I would try anything.
The photo on the wall next to the thermostat that I set every morning and evening shows Muriel. It seems so full of life that I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up one morning to find glass on the floor and the frame empty. I decided to speak to this picture. I began to hear her voice, as I did every night before bed when she rested her head on my chest while we talked about the day and our love for one another.