Rob often lamented that his hands were too small to palm a basketball. He’d played basketball throughout high school, and he claimed his hands were his greatest handicap. With bigger hands, he said, he could have been really great. I’d smile as Rob retold the stories of his glory days — buzzer beaters and alley-oops. I thought his hands were the perfect size.
I noticed early on that our hands matched well. That first summer, we’d take walks together, and our hands would swing at our sides at just the right height for holding. When he finally grabbed my hand one afternoon, it was as though the two were designed to fit perfectly with one another. Rob’s sturdy fingers balanced my long slender ones. His wide palms paired well with my smaller ones, making our hands almost a perfect match. When we picked out our wedding bands, his ring was only slightly larger than my own.
In our early days of dating, I didn’t hold Rob’s hand much when we went out in public. A few past romances had burned me badly, and I was convinced the longer we stayed “just friends” the safer my heart would be. Even after we were engaged, I continued the habit; I was hesitant to hold on to any one person too tightly. Life had taught me that love could slip away.
But over time, as our hearts became entwined, I began to love holding Rob’s hand anywhere and everywhere. I’d grab his hand as we walked through the grocery store together. He’d hold my hand in church. My heart had come to rest in the security of his love. Every night, I’d lie in bed beside him and find his hand in the darkness, whispering “I love you” before we drifted off to sleep. I did it the night before he died.
Rob’s hands were always warm, a boon for a girl like me with bad circulation. As we’d ride in the car, I’d slide my hand into his just to thaw my fingers. I could’ve worn gloves, but I always preferred to have his hands warm mine instead. One year he gave me rechargeable handwarmers for Mother’s Day, an apropos gift but no substitute for the real thing.
When I think of the many ways I will lose Rob to memory, I am afraid I will forget his hands. I never want to forget the way it felt to have his hands slide around my waist when he came to stand beside me in a room. I want to remember the way his hand would squeeze mine for reassurance when I was nervous or worried. I am afraid I will forget how it felt to have my smaller hands wrapped in the warmth of his perfectly sized, just-barely-larger ones. I still hold many hands these days, but only little ones. None that match his size and strength and purpose and love.
My grief therapist tells me that our bodies remember. That long after someone is gone or an event has passed, our bodies can recall– can still feel — the details. Sometimes this remembering is painful; other times it is a gift.
I look at pictures of Rob and work hard to memorize his features. I want to help my body remember. I look at his eyes and the smile lines that round them. I remember how it felt to be seen by him. I look at his shoulders, and I think of how it felt to lean against them. I look at his hands, and I remember all they held. His beloved ax bought for the joy of hardy labor. Our newborn babies fresh from the womb. My hands chilly on a winter day. I search these photographs hoping to provoke memories. I want reassurance that Rob’s presence is seared forever in my body’s memory. I’m afraid the physical knowing will slip away. I can remember now, but what about four years from now? I’m still so young. Will I remember his hands forty years from now when I am old?
I used to believe that it was folly to hold onto a person too tightly. I’ve learned that love can slip away in all the very worst, most tragic ways. I know that as the days and years go by, some memories of Rob will fade. Somehow, I hope my body never forgets how it felt to hold his hand.