The night Olivier died—before it felt real, as I lay curled up in a chair by the fire, worn out by the agony of hope—he came to me.
What woke me was the lamp beside the chair. A sudden flash of light. I opened my eyes, frowning. The light flared and dimmed, and flared yet again. And then I saw...myself.
My face, tear-streaked, mascara drying on my cheeks. Hair mussed, the open collar of my red-and-black checked flannel shirt, the way I was curled sideways in the chair. And I saw myself in a way I could never have imagined. And I laughed because I was so utterly beautiful, in a way I cannot describe. It was the beauty of all of me. My physical self. My soul.
And then I saw him. Olivier.
Junie, he whispered.
I felt his hand as he caressed my cheek, as he leaned over me. 'Hello, my beautiful wife.'
He bent close and kissed me, and I felt the rough three-day beard on his unshaven cheeks. He was wearing his old brown leather bomber jacket and brought with him a breath of cool fresh air, and the scent of the spruce, larch and conifers of Chamonix.
It is impossible to describe how happy I was. Because that night...he was there. And he was real. And he was there not to tell me goodbye. He was there to show me how much he loved me. In a way that would stay with me forever.
He kissed me hard.
And then he was gone.
I scrambled up out of the chair. Wide awake. I could still feel his hand on my cheek.
'Olivier?' I whispered. But I was alone.
And I knew so many things then. How my husband truly saw me, how much my husband loved me. And that there was no longer any hope. Olivier was dead.
And so came the abyss. And the dark, sick knowledge that I would never see him again.
And yet...love does not die. It cannot be swept away in the tides of death that come to us all. And grief? Grief is a dark and magical journey.
Nine months later
I have always thought that it was no coincidence that I was hesitating in the doorway of our little Victorian cottage, touching Leo's old leather leash, when the call came in with that +33 country code from France. The man introduced himself as investigating judicial officer Capitaine Philippe Brevard, who had a letter from Le juge, and who was temporarily assigned to Chamonix, investigating the death of Olivier and the pilot, Madame Fournier, who had a husband, a young daughter and three cats.
I really didn't understand. Not then.
But it was one of those phone calls that changes your life, that shakes you to the core. At the time, I thought I was bulletproof. I did not want the life that I had. I was a widow, navigating the new phase of my marriage, where my beloved was somehow gone and somehow here.
The worst had happened, and no one could hurt me anymore. So I thought.
But at the time...at the time, I was relieved. The call was a reprieve from the daily routine where I was going to have to make myself walk out that door, steeped in the sick and too-familiar feeling that I was once again headed out for a walk alone. When what I really wanted to do was run up and down the street calling for Olivier. Where are you? Where did you go?
Routine is how you navigate grief. Walk in the morning, go to sleep at night, hoping never to wake up. Death for me would be a rescue mission.