“Of course he did. Of course Gil f***ing died.” I mumbled it under my breath. In the front seat of our van. We were driving home from Iowa. From Bob’s funeral. I opened up my phone to see that Jonathan Crombie had passed away.
He was Gilbert Blythe. On VHS. Several places were warped. I didn’t own a copy. They were always from libraries. Too many libraries to count, because we moved so much.
When we moved into a new house, I would unpack all my books. Before my clothes. Most of my belongings stayed in cardboard boxes, ready for the next move. But my books were always freed and put on the white shelf. Not even a real bookshelf. It was one of those veneer over pressed board shelves that bubbled up when I accidentally left a glass of iced sun tea to sweat on it. It was wobbly. But it held my books. And I always unpacked Anne and Gil first. Their covers completely falling off.
I’d read them dozens of times before I even saw the movie for the first time. But once I saw it, Megan and Jonathan were now the faces. And they were perfection. As I read and reread the entire series from Green Gables to Ingleside, I couldn’t shake them. And their voices recited the lines. Jonathan’s Canadian accent replaced the voice I had created in my imagination.
I hated saying goodbyes. You trade addresses with a kid you know you can never write to, because you have no stamps. You make promises to see one another again someday. My friends would send one card, with a new school photo. I had no photos to send back. We always bought the cheapest package and my photos went to family members I saw twice a year. But I did this ritual over and over again. Crappy rental after crappy rental. Nodding that I would write, and hoping maybe we could afford stamps this time around. But we never could.
I didn’t need money to read my books. I didn’t need money to ride my bike to the library. I didn’t need money to daydream about Prince Edward Island or how amazing it would be to have a “dad” like Matthew Cuthbert and get a scholarship to college and marry a man like Gilbert.
And as a 32-year-old me traveled home on a long stretch of highway with a grieving 5-year-old who actually had me photograph him with the coffin so he could always remember how weird the embalming fluid made his Papa’s hands look, I grieved losing the person who was the closest I had to a dad. Bob was finally dead. The road to being destroyed by cancer had been simultaneously fast and drawn out. But he was my Matthew. Taking me in and making me his own, even though he already had children. And I cried over Jonathan’s death. A brain hemorrhage. His family didn’t even get to say goodbye. They had waited 3 days to announce his death.
It’s probably why I never want to leave this place. This house we’ve been working on for 11 years. Because it’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in my entire life. We came home to this place after our honeymoon. We brought all four of our newborns here. We came back to this place after leaving two of our children with hospital pathologists. We were here when Bob lived. We were here when Bob died. Dave surprised me with my own copies of the movies, which have been the centerpiece of many date nights in this house. And my tattered, yellowed books are on a real wooden shelf in this house. A shelf bolted to a wall we own.
Two years later, I miss Bob nearly every day. I think about how he teased me for having so many books that Dave had to keep building new shelves. And he would’ve teased me for crying over Jonathan’s death. And he would’ve teased me for being so sappy. I miss the teasing so much. That was the worst goodbye of the countless goodbyes in my life. And a stamp can’t fix it.