I stand before the linen closet in the bathroom, a trash can beside me. I’m told that it’s helpful to tackle one space at a time, so I’ve decided to go through Rob’s toiletries. There’s not much really. The elastics from his despised Invisalign treatment. Trash. The half-used Chapstick. Trash. The dental floss. Might as well use that. The cheap Axe body spray he bought on a work trip when TSA confiscated his Old Spice. Keep. It doesn’t smell like him, but he’s been gone six months now so maybe I can imagine it does. I’m glad I’ve started with the bathroom. There’s a sort of pragmatism to this room. A bathroom is an all-business space. “I need to consult my broker,” he’d say when he needed to duck out to use the loo.
I clean the top shelf, rearrange the towels to hide the emptiness, and move to the shelf below. My hand hovers over an old Money magazine when my teenage daughter walks in. “That has Dad’s whiskers in it!” she exclaims. We sit together, me on the toilet and her beside me, flipping the pages, searching for hair like two pirates looking for buried treasure. Sure enough, scraps of his beard lie sandwiched in the centerfold where he used to open the magazine to shave over. White, brown and gray hairs. Small bits really. Hardly anything worth keeping. And yet.
When I met Rob at age 23, he’d already begun to gray. He always liked his premature silver threads. He thought they made him look wise. Always the literati, he’d say, “Not gray … hoary.” Over our almost 20 years together, his hair grew grayer. His beard became white. During paternity leave for our last child, Rob began growing it in earnest. Our youngest only ever knew a bearded father.
I loved Rob’s beard best in the summer, when the sun had tanned his skin a deep brown. I used to hold his face, the wrinkles of his smile spreading out from his eyes, and tell him how much I loved him. Six months later, I close my eyes and remember his face. I remember the feeling of his beard beneath my hands, and my eyes fill with tears. God, I miss him. Even my hands miss him.
My daughter and I decide to keep the magazine. We’ve found a little treasure of memory inside. Carefully, we close the magazine so as not to lose a single precious whisker. I place it back on the shelf, the hair clippers and beard trimmer resting on top. I toss the random Q-tips into the trash, straighten things up and step back. Time to clock out. I’ve finished my work for today.