Archive for May, 2007

the sound and the fury
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Today at work, I got asked The Question, the perennial favorite of those who have just met me or who have just learned of my history: How can you be so positive and relaxed about everything?

My canned response, the one that gets spit back at those who cannot even fathom the anger and sadness lurking beneath this sunny exterior (still, after more than a year to heal), boils down to learning to save my stress for the big stuff when Eric was sick and dying.

But it is really so much, much more than that.

The truth is that I’ve really sort of become a selfish and careless thing, spending my time only on those who care about me and actions to further my own position, and not really giving a damn about the rest. I really think that the only difference between myself and others is that I’m being brutally honest with myself. I don’t stress at work, because at the end of the day, the job will get done regardless of whether my blood pressure rises or not. And so I choose the path that accomplishes the task with the least amount of my time and energy: I get the job done. I solve the problem. No one’s dying or getting hurt, so no big deal.

I’ve also learned over the years to only share myself with those who have proven to care about me. I am an open book in some ways, but have been known to cut negative influences out of my life without much thought. The most recent example of this was an acquaintance who I met in F-ville. Although the only thing that we really had in common was that we both hated our jobs, we met outside of work regularly (albeit spending that time complaining about work). When I finally started to climb out of the deep hole of self-pity that I had buried myself in, when I finally started to be hopeful again, she had the nerve to confront me and tell me that I was “becoming a different person.” I told her that friends of mine support me both when I am happy and when I am complaining, and promptly erased her e-mail, phone number and other contacts.

And this whole crusade, this whole “Fuck Cancer, raise money to fight leukemia” business that I am hoping to make my life’s work? Although it appears altruistic at the surface, I want others to hear about Eric and me and what happened to us and how it should never have to happen to another nice young couple again. I want to beat this fucking, crippling, destroying thing for the most selfish of reasons: I never want to know that pain again. And yet, every time I connect with cancer patients online or offline, it is often the same tragedy. Many of the people whom I blogged with when I began “Cancer. It’s not just an astrological sign anymore” are gone or have relapsed. Sometimes it seems like everyone I know has cancer or is dying, and I guess in the big picture, those sentiments are true. Everyone is dying, but no one should have to live through the pain and have their life cut so short as Eric did. And so, I continue to raise my voice and speak out—not because of wanting to help others, but because I want to shield my own heart from the pain that it’s known before.

So when you see me being cheerful, not getting stressed over the day-to-day, don’t think that you should strive to be more like me.

I am not a role model.

I am simply trying to get by, the only way that I know how.

Mourning Clothes
Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I started wearing black in my teens and I have grown through the black of many shades and stages. Black dresses with carefree frills, black slacks for sassy, practical black for warm gloves and hats, the black I wore was playful and nonchalant, naive to the darker fringes found in wardrobes after death swoops in and kills nonchalance.

I liked wearing black. Satin black dresses, tied at my back, ebony curls and polished grey pearls; his charcoaled hair against my white breast. Black was an accent, not a focus. I asked him to wear it, and then wrapped myself around him like a sash circles a neck. Twirling around the smoky clubs, holding onto the black-and-blue of his eyes, we danced the midnight streets and the wooden floors of our churchhouse, under the moons of a blackened sky.

Black changed when he died. That night, I discovered the black of a widow. A shiny black; sharp and crisp. For Mama Til, my great grandmama, a widow’s black was dull, highly buttoned and severely laced. At the turn of the century, when Til stepped out of her launder woman’s home, she wore a widow’s costume. It was observed and noted that she was in her mourning period, and she was sheltered from the bite of the invisible widow’s black that I wear, perhaps?

Newly widowed, I yearned for an intricately woven, black-lace veil to drape over my tear-streaked face. I wanted the world to know that I was mourning my beloved. I wanted motorists to slow down when I crossed the busy street. I didn’t want for them to mistaken me as a goth and be suspicious of me. I wanted to wear a sign on my back that said, “be gentle with me; I am learning to walk with a limb missing.” But my widow’s black was quiet. Because mourning clothes aren’t worn in my time or culture, I wore naked clothes of grieving. Without a costume, I was blurred in a land of out-dated words and invisible wardrobes.

I didn’t wail in public. I didn’t throw myself into the unforgiving ocean or the expectant funeral pyre. I pinched my face brave as I feared falling apart. Afraid that if I crumbled, so did my children, my family, the peaked roof above our heads. I won’t crumble, I repeated, biting my lip till it bled. But no one saw the blood either. In my culture, the images of death are tucked away, until one day death bleeds in front of us. And then we don’t have enough towels in our closet, to sop it all up.

The black of my once-preferred wardrobe, paled as I tried on my new black. I didn’t know what to wear to describe my grief. A black armband to mourn revolutionary style, elevating my love to martyr? A hooded cape with a widow’s peak at my forehead? I recoiled at the sight of black. I heard widow and I cringed, “Don’t call me that. It isn’t true. It isn’t my story. It’s Jacqueline Kennedy’s, Yoko Ono’s, Katie Couric’s. Go away. Be an interrupted nightmare. Be someone else’s costume and title.”

The man I loved did not die fighting for the illusion of freedom. He was not a sacrificial lamb, a statesman or a rock star. He did not die in a factory accident, a car accident, or from an environmental disease. I didn’t watch him suffer and dwindle away, and yet, I live in the shadow of crumbling towers, where daddies and fathers and lovers disappear. Where I became widow and single-mother in the same swoop.

Trying to fit into my pre-dated corset, I looked up “widow” in the dictionary. From dowager, it said, a legal term. A woman who could own property because her husband had died. I looked for a widow in literature that I could relate to. There had to be stories of widows walking over boggy heaths, weren’t there? Civil War widows tending to the farm, hungry babies at their skirts. Widows of the Depression waiting in a bread line, cold children at their skirts. Widows of WWII in factories, boosting the value of America, children working at their skirts. Widows of Vietnam, staying out of fire’s way, horrified families hiding at their skirts.

Where I live, women run corporations, same-sex couples adopt children, domestic partners are entitled to working benefits and single mothers keep rediscovering that it has always been a village of women and children, around the hearth, while the men disappeared in the hunt, or war. Maybe, I realized one day, it’s not how I dress myself, but how I write myself. I can wear my name and write widow in a way that becomes me. My widoe can evolve from dowager, by dropping the w and adding an e. I can write myself as widoe and create a new way of looking at myself, through my own lyrical fingertips.

My widoe wears an e, the way another widow wears high-necked black, another wears a white mourning veil, another, a heavy shroud, or a severe peak. I told my professor that the e is the proper way to make the o long and widow feminine. Spare me the grammar lesson, she says. Okay then, widow is written in an archaic language that doesn’t define me. The e loosens the patriarchal bindings of widow, with origins of being his property. I know I’m privileged to live in a fertile valley where women, at least overtly, are not regarded as property. The nagging hole in my belly is obesity alongside the widow of India who has been cast out to the streets to beg with her children. The widow who has been denied her home, her children’s, inheritance, which had been stolen by her husband’s family.

“Widoe” is somewhere in-between mammal and woman, I said to my professor, as I explained my thesis title. Birth unites women in a family of mothers welcoming life into hopeful arms. Death unites women in a family of widoes releasing life from helpless arms. My widoe has the freedom to walk to a Haitian dance class, down the street from my home, thirsting for rejuvenation, from the live drumming, the sweat, and the colorful skirts. I don’t live the Haitian widoe’s day-to-day hunger and poverty. But, in many ways, I live her pain, her dance of raising children on a dime. Rather than deny my widow’s hood, I cut my cloak from a cloth that belongs to all widows, tailoring it to me, grateful for the choice I have to be able to wear what I want.

Returned and rebuilding
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Sorry for the long, unannounced hiatus. There were quite a few big decisions in my personal life over the past several months that interfered with both my blogging time and my access to the internet. I am writing now from a new town, a new place of residence, a new vocation, and most importantly, a new lease on life. I finally feel that I am at a point where I might be able to build a fulfilling and healthy life for myself, alone. Also, there are quite a few poor decisions from the past year that need to be rectified. I had read studies and anecdotal evidence of widow(er)s making poor financial and life choices after the death of their partner, and I am afraid to tell you that possessing the knowledge alone does not protect you from succumbing to an increased rate of mistakes and missteps. Ah well, I have all of the time in the world to rebuild myself into a stronger and better version. And for that time I remain eternally grateful.

In addition to announcing a return to regular blog updates here, I wanted to inform the readers of this corner of the web of a new online service which I was invited to try. The service is a newly launched online memorial site, Respectance.com. The site allows one to create a lovely memorial for a loved one who has passed, creating a place where people all over the world can meet and remember their loved one. My page is here, and I encourage you to check it out and add your own! It’s really sort of a neat concept.

Thank you for your patience.