Dear Walt,

I’ve been thinking for weeks now what I wanted to say to you today about what this past year has been like without you. I talk to you daily. I write notes to you daily. Nothing I post. Nothing for the public. Just things I need you to know. Things you already may but I still need to tell you.

But this anniversary deserves more. It’s a marker, a big first. I’ve gone through all the firsts during the past twelve months and honestly, things have been pretty good. My birthday was the worst, but I think that was just the whole idea of turning sixty. And doing it without you. Because we were supposed to grow old together.

With sixty being the new forty, well, we never started that journey, ha. Our anniversary, earlier this month, wasn’t terrible. I found a receipt in your email (which I still have to check every few days) for last year’s date from Domino’s Pizza. So, yeah. We celebrated our twenty years together with pizza. Brooklyn-style crust. Pepperoni. Onions. Feta cheese. Bacon. Spinach. You were always so sweet to give in and not order sausage which you knew I don’t like but you did. You were always so sweet about everything.

I think it was your insistence that every day deserved the same attention, that no date was more important than any other, that has made this past year bearable. We didn’t have a standing date on February 14th, no flowers, no candy. We said, “I love you,” daily. Sometimes we went out for our birthdays, sometimes we did not, so those were fine. We actually had your life celebration on your birthday this year since no day could possibly have been more perfect for that.

We didn’t do anything last year for Christmas since it came so soon after December 21st happened, but I never told you I heard you outside talking to our son-in-law about needing to buy me a gift a few days earlier. I’m so glad you hadn’t since I hadn’t bought anything for you. Last year our house was a shell, cold and dark for the holidays. This year we put your Woodstock Santa in the front yard. The sparkly one our neighbor loves so much.

We put out the sign we inherited from the previous owners, too, the one everyone in the cul-de-sac had until the flood. I’m glad ours was hanging in the garage and was saved. Our neighbors two doors over still have theirs, as do the neighbors across the street. Last year the subdivision was mostly deserted so you hadn’t put up our usual lights. This year, we’re the only house that doesn’t have them, but oh well. I remember how bummed you were about our gorgeous pre-lit tree floating in the flood. We didn’t buy a new one this year. We talked about it, but I’m just not ready. Maybe next holiday season I’ll be in the mood.

I was so excited, though, to find the long box of decorations I could swear you told me we lost. My favorite tall Santa was tucked safely inside. He and several of the others are now sitting on the brand new mantel and lit by your string of cow lights! You weren’t going to put in a new mantel because you wanted to hang the TV on the wall above the fireplace you didn’t care about. You’d even put in new wiring and supporting studs. None of that’s being used. It just looks much as it did before the flood.

It’s really hit home this past year how you knew what to do about everything. I mean everything. We’ve managed and figured things out but it all requires research; instead of asking you, we have to ask Google. And YouTube. We replaced the broken turntable in the base of the microwave since it finally went out. I already told you about the pool filter tank, but now the heater is on the fritz, coming on by itself. I found a forum discussing that so at least know it’s a thing and shouldn’t be hard to deal with once I have time.

I found the receipt for the tire you ordered when we had the blowout in your truck. I still haven’t ordered the other three but I know now what to get. I don’t drive it much anyway, though our youngest daughter and I took a road trip, my first without you, to Colorado this past July to see our son and his family. It was such a great getaway, but I missed you not being there.

I got the Ford repaired and inspected and licensed after it sat for a year following the flood. ALL BY MYSELF. Which I know you’re smiling about because of how much I hate doing anything car. Oh, and I had a big repair done on the Mini. You were probably scowling about that. I don’t think you would’ve tried to fix it yourself; you’d have been more inclined to sell the car. I knew you were cheap but boy has that really hit home this last year, ha!

Thank you for replacing our crockpot early into our post-flood living. I use it several days a week now that I’m back downstairs. Yes. I’m cooking. Stop laughing. Oh, and I’m back downstairs. In our room, though it’s completely my room now. The big bathroom remodel you wanted didn’t happen. I got another tub though I think I liked my old one better. And you’d really hate the bedroom colors but it’s completely my space and I don’t expect to find you there.

I got the bed frame I always wanted but couldn’t have because you were too tall, and a new quilt. You loved quilts. I don’t know if you’d like this one, the black and white and gray, but it makes me happy. And I painted one wall the deep red you had chosen for the kitchen to replace the aubergine. I kept the aubergine in there, and the white cabinets look amazing with the dark walls, but your red in the bedroom makes me happy, too.

It’s been hard for me to get used to this being a new house with new residents. Our daughter who does most of the upkeep has put things where I never did and part of me wants to gripe. But then nothing is familiar. Everything is different and new. And I remember you saying you wanted to relocate the spices once things were rebuilt. I don’t know what you had planned, but they remain where they were. One of these days, we’ll do a fix because that shelf is a mess.

I often wonder what you’d think about the house now. I have this photo of you on my phone I’d taken one day at Costco. Who knows why but I’m so glad I did. You’re smirking, and that’s the expression I imagine on your face when you see the new furniture, the new flooring, things I chose on my own without you. But you don’t live here anymore. You live in the other house. You live in the past. You are alive there and vibrant and caring and generous and loving and so very very smart and funny and thoughtful, doing because you saw a need and acted.

I can only visit you there through memories. I can’t travel there to hold your hands that I miss so much. I can’t make coffee and have you come up behind me and nuzzle my neck and, well, that’s all I’ll say about that. But I miss your affectionate nature. Your love of touch. Though you never said it in so many words, I know from the stories you told me that you didn’t have a lot of that earlier in your life. I’m sorry the people who should’ve touched you and hugged you didn’t. They don’t know what they were missing. I am so happy I was able to fulfill that physical need.

I miss holding hands with you while you drove, while we walked into a restaurant. I miss holding you, sitting beside you as we watched tv. I even miss sitting across the room from you while you watched tv and I watched something on my Kindle. I doubt you knew but I often looked at you and felt my heart swell with love and with disbelief that I was so lucky to have found you and so privileged to have you love me. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have had you love me because of the man you were. You made me a better person. You taught me so much. I know I taught you as well.

That smirk of yours also makes me feel guilty that I haven’t done more with my career this past year. More with Icefall. More with books I still need to reissue. I did manage to finish the novella I started last fall before December 21st happened. I know that made you smile. It’s a great story for the holidays, about what love means, which I learned from you.

I’ve been having a tough time of writing for several years. You hated it. You had such faith in me. You believed in my talent, my creativity, but I tell you what. You had more to do with my success than you ever realized. Maybe more than I did because of how many times I’ve turned to ask your advice. It’s a tough business without an anchor, without my anchor. It’s a tough life, not having you because of knowing you and realizing what I’m missing day to day, what I’ll never have again because you live in that other place, the past, where I hope that other me appreciated you enough.

I worry about that. I try not to. I have guilt. Fear that I disappointed you. That things weren’t perfect. I know better. I still worry and deal with guilt and fear. Nothing is ever perfect. I know that. But we were. With all my heart, I know we were. As perfect as it gets.

I think I’m ready to write again. The house is 90% finished. The only big thing left is the staircase and we’ve been dealing with that successfully since day one. I’m changing that up, too. Getting rid of the balusters we had, not using that damn shoe rail and fillet system you had learned about early in December and that I was the one to order after you weren’t here to do so. I still have the note you wrote standing at my desk while on the phone with the guy who called after researching it for you. And… you’re smirking, rolling your eyes, but it’s going to be great.

I think I’m ready to write again because this year is over. This year of loss, of being destroyed. This year of learning to live with loss. Learning to live with a broken heart and daily tears and emotional destruction and physical pain that is a manifestation of bone-deep grief. My body misses you and feels the loss, my fingertips, my earlobes, my breasts. My heart misses you. My soul. My mind misses yours more than I knew missing was possible.

I’m so glad to be done with this year of learning… about cars and pools and how the house is put together and that I can do anything. I know it’s only the first year of many I’ll spend without you. But this one is done. Done. Over. Behind me. I can breathe.

The plumber who put in my new tub said that to me. That it’s good to know how your house is put together. I know more than I ever would have were you still here with me. You would’ve handled it, answered questions I asked, then told me what you’d done during the day when we settled in for the night. You liked telling me. You liked talking. A lot of times I tuned you out. The same way you did to me because we knew each other well enough to be able to do that kindly.

I don’t do that now. I listen to every word. I pay attention when a photo of an ice cave and another inside a glacier show up as the background on my laptop a few days apart. Those are pictures for Icefall. I know that. I’m listening. I’m listening. I’m loving you and listening forever.

This year has gone by faster than I realized a year could pass. Remember when we realized that I visited your university as a high school senior when you were there as a sophomore? I don’t think we were ready for each other then. We hadn’t yet lived. We needed to discover life, to know what we didn’t want as much as what we did. I went thirty-eight years without knowing you, and then you entered my life and the next two decades… Oh, what we had and built, what you showed me about love and being in love, the beauty and the possibilities and existing as a whole together, even while being complete on our own. I miss you beyond words. I miss us.

And I always will.