Almost from the moment Gavin was diagnosed, I was more superstitious than usual. Perhaps it's the absence of any formal religion in my history, perhaps it's just a safer way to "admit" what I could see but not say: the writing on the wall, that he would die. A way to externalize the stresses, and pretend that the rational observations I made (a medical establishment without solutions for his cancer, a man running out of 2nd choice options, a husband under 100 lbs) were actually spooky, perhaps even a bit silly and therefore somehow less real.
Is superstition a sign that your rational mind is falling apart, or manifestation of uneasiness, or a way to really know what's true?
The first sign was domestic. Setting up my studio, above his studio, Gavin wrestled with reinstalling my Ikea shelves. "Ivar," he said. "They should call it Beelzebub. Damn thing tried to kill me again today." I'd installed it once already, inside what was now the baby's room, and it wasn't easy, but he was not very handy. I was 8 months pregnant and had given up on moving big pieces of wood, no mattter how bad he was going to be at it, he'd own all the heavy work from this point out.
One day an Ivar upright smacked him in the shin for a bruise that lasted weeks. It was only January, but when he was diagnosed in September I felt sure, somehow, that this injury had led to either the cancer (no one dared guess for us how long it had been growing in him) or its metastasis (which happened before we found it out).
Why? I needed something. LIke the what-if's of a widow whose lost someone to a car accident, I had to have alternatives, objects, other parties to place in my story, whether or not they could hold blame well or be held to account.
Then there were his careless placements of aesthetic objects that might be good or bad, depending. The first was a Bolivian devil mask I'd purchased for him one Christmas as an apotropaia. (I think I felt entitled to buy one solely because I alone knew what the word meant.) I wanted it hung facing our busy front door to keep bad spirits out, but he thought that was corny, and hung it in his office. It was staring down his neck.
After diagnosis when he wasn't looking I unmounted it and hid it in the attic, then after he died, exiled it farther to his vacant studio, where the oil smells settled, cold. I wrapped it in silk to keep it from hurting anyone else.
Another was a drawing of his own, one of my favorites, beautiful and striking but: one in a series of 5 illustrating Yukio Mishima's The Decay of the Angel. The drawing is called "The body ceases to give off light," and he hung it, again in his office, looking down on his right shoulder. What could be more wrong? He could not see the problem.
I let him stare at just the picture hanger for the rest of the year, till he'd gone so far downhill that he was never in his office.
To compensate, I placed two works of his that I'd sort of considered "too good" for us: his two lamps. I think he had to frame them himself, displacing lesser works and cutting mats, to get them to me, and unsell one that had been promised, for a pittance. But they were my favorites, and I hung them above the bed. The light that swelled from the paper in these drawings at least let me know we were doing our best, even if he didn't see the difference between one and another.
I've written about these lamps before -- they were a great comfort to me for a long time in that bed after he was gone.
(Now you, too, can see why he hated the way his work looked in photographs: they look gray, dim. These lamps are absolutely glowing, silencing more than one viewer with a gleam that comes from inside the paper).
Nature gave us one more sign, just awful in every single way, but that's a story for tomorrow.