The Remote Control General

My beloved's various clickers represent one more gaping hole his death has left in my life


After I got over the shock of losing my life partner, Pat, I was abruptly left with an overwhelming list of Oh my Gods­: things he used to handle that I now had to take control of. The most daunting one is that I've been forced to finally confront all of our home electronics.

Long before we even moved in together, and for as long as I knew Pat, he had ultimate control of all of our televisions. He lorded over anything else that plugged in as well (except for my electric curlers). By the last year of his life, we had three televisions, two CD players, two DVD players and seven complicated remotes. Sadly, he died with me having absolutely no clue how to work any of them.

He was the self-proclaimed Remote Control General. If there was a long plastic dark colored item that worked electronics, I was barely allowed to even look, let alone touch it, especially when he was around. On the rare occasions when I did dare touch it, he'd be over my shoulder like a master Chinese potter, guiding his young apprentice.

"Easy, Grasshopper," he'd say.

"Oh, I see now, Master," I'd lie, but Pat knew the truth.

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Meanwhile, I totally ruled the rest of the house—two bedrooms, den, kitchen and the 2.5 bathrooms. So, on cleaning day, Pat would sit fondling the remotes, dusting them meticulously with a Q-tip in between the teeny buttons, then he'd wipe his magic felt on the TV screens and voila, he was done. I, of course, had to clean the rest of the place. Pat was not stupid.

I was so deprived of information on how to use our remotes that when he'd left town, I one time broke down and called him. "OK, how do I get to Amazon?" I asked him. "I've been sitting here for an hour trying to figure it out. I think I see Chinese symbols on this remote!"

I could have put the phone down and heard him all the way from his mother's home in New Jersey. "Are you kidding me? And you wonder why I don't let you use the remote!" he yelled. "You haven't earned that right, yet!"

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"I don't know how to use the remote because you don't let me use it," I'd scream back, exasperated. It was like a little play we put on every now and then.

About two years into our huge TV, with the complicated three-remote system which controlled the television, the stereo, the Blu-ray system and could probably flush a toilet in the next apartment if you weren't careful, I finally mustered up the courage to ask him to train me on the ridiculous apparatus. Thus far, I had only conquered on and off and the volume. Trust me, it was complicated, you had to use two of the three remotes to do it correctly. And one of them had to be aimed at an exact 45-degree angle from the precise middle of the sofa or something might blow up.

I felt I was ready to go to the next level, it was time for me to meet ON DEMAND, the DVR, the DVD player on the Blu-ray thingie, and yes, even learn how to play a CD. I'd brought it up a few times before, but Pat would just grumble, grab the remote from my weak hand and scream something like, "We've had this TV for two years, and you still don't know? It's not rocket science!" Of course, it felt like rocket science, as I was pretty sure if you hit the wrong button you could rotate the Hubble Space Telescope.

"It's a little hard to work permanently cupped in the palm of your hand!" I shot back.

Pat was like an artist with the remote. He could use it with his eyes closed, he could do it behind his back, he could do it with the flu, but it soon became apparent that he really had no intention of teaching me the secrets of the equipment.

There were never any process steps broken down, recap quizzes, but merely a symphony of activity magically performed. And like any great magician, he was loath to reveal how he did any of his tricks. He could find the tiniest button with the most obscure function while making me feel like a dope. Pat had many fine qualities, but a teacher, he was not.

I was, however, always allowed to use the bedroom remote, a single wand system, which was much simpler, but I'd redden with embarrassment if he ever watched me. He'd shake his head in pity and roll over in bed, disapproving.

Pat has been gone for over two months and I could kick myself for not insisting that he give me a step-by-step tutorial. I just let it slip by, and it wasn't like I could've asked him for detailed instructions on his deathbed.

Every night, I pick up the remotes and pet the buttons that I am too afraid to push. I still can't use the living room system, but I do marvel at how clean it all is.

It's been overwhelming for me, especially since I'm grieving at the same time I'm trying to uncover the mysteries of the media system. My attention span is shattered and the unused remotes just represent one more gaping hole his death has left in my life.

Then I smile, realizing that Pat has eternal control of our televisions.