Archive for the 'Vignettes' Category

The Big Red Day
Sunday, February 1st, 2009

My husband used to call Valentine’s Day “So What Day.” Romantic, huh? He thought greeting cards were a waste of trees; that buying flowers because someone told you to defeated the purpose; and that going to dinner on the big day just to eat from a limited menu and have servers anxiously awaiting your departure from the table was ridiculous. I will admit that we fought about this on a few occasions who wants to be the only girl in the office that didn’t get flowers? Eventually we settled into our own brand of celebrating our love, both on the big day, and on the other 364 days of the year.

I expected to breeze through the first Valentine’s Day without him, because he hated this holiday. But as the day approached, I found myself missing my heart day scrooge. There was no one around to balk at the increase in flower prices. There was no need to peruse the recycled card collection looking for just the right sentiment for my grumpy Valentine, and I cried when I realized there would be no one to take me to dinner at 4:30PM to avoid the crowds. Very quickly I found myself repeating in my head all the reasons to boycott the Hallmark holiday.

When the day arrived I found myself unable to ignore the National Day of Love. Instead of pushing the memories of our on-going struggle to find a happy middle ground for our own celebration out of my mind, I called them each front and center. And I laughed out loud. Recalling the times he showed up in the kitchen with a flower from our garden in hand, the dinners we “accidentally” went to on the 14th of February, my efforts to get him to just write me just one letter telling me how much he loved me (I was successful), and finally, the fact that he proposed to me on Valentine’s Day I felt loved. And I guess that is the point of the day after all. Even though Phil never contributed to the romance testaments proudly placed on desks across America, I never doubted that he loved me. That night I drifted off to sleep murmuring “happy so what day honey.”

My Death Wish
Monday, February 4th, 2008

It is an odd and frightening sensation to wish you were dead. After my husband died I fervently wished I could die, too. The first time I read that grieving people sometimes fantasize about death, I was relieved. My entire life I had appreciated the gift of life, to suddenly and frequently wish it away was a disconcerting and lonely experience.

When my husband, Phil, was hit by a car, the initial shock provided a buffer to the complicated emotions that would gather to haunt me in the days and months to come. As the buffer of shock wore off, I was struck daily by the realization that Phil wasn’t coming home. It felt like Groundhog Day—everyday I woke up with the expectation that the day would somehow go differently, and I would discover that Phil wasn’t really gone. Day by day the reality of his death ate away at my desire to live. There is a difference between wishing to be dead and being suicidal.

My death wish did not come from a desire to stop living. It didn’t even come from a desire to stop hurting—though the pain was so intense at times I hoped it would kill me. My death wish came from a desire to be with Phil again. His physical absence was like a phantom pain in a limb that was no longer attached. My death wish became a part of my daydreams. Jogging up a street, I would mentally challenge cars to run me over. On a plane, I would imagine a fiery crash that I didn’t survive. Hiking in the mountains I looked for wild animals that might want to make a meal of me. Driving alone in the car, I visualized my car flying over any ledge I passed. Every brush with imagined death was followed by the disappointing result of still being alive; continuing to jog down the street, landing as expected at my destination, a safe return from hiking adventures, and no crash over the nearest ledge.

The longing I felt to be with him was a constant ache; the only cure I could imagine was joining him wherever he was.As time marched on, the call to live gradually grew stronger. In the early part of my grieving I desperately held on to two reasons to live; my kids needed me, our family and friends would be so sad if I was gone, too. All my reasons for wanting to live were about someone else; if it were up to me….beam my up Lord! There was not one personal reason that I could think of to continue living—but healing has a way of sneaking up on you.

Eventually I recognized that my husband lived his life fully, every moment. He had an awareness of the value of life that influenced his daily choices. Reflecting on how he lived his life reminded me of the gift that life is, and he became a role model for me. As I have begun the process of creating a life for myself without him, I have had to find reasons to live that are my own. I want to be a mother to my children. I want to make a difference in my community. I want to weave my husband’s spirit into the fabric of the person I am becoming. I want to bask in the joy of being in love again. I want to experience the adventure that life still holds for me.

The woman my husband married died with him. Grief has changed me, but I am proud of the woman that is emerging from the ashes of loss.

Life is a gift to me in a way it never was before. The nuisances of life don’t bother me as much as they once did. Age old adages like, “Take time to smell the roses,” actually mean something to me now. The world can’t be the same place it was two years ago, because Phil isn’t in it—somehow that comforts me. What I am learning is that though many things around me are radically different, I can still be a whole, happy, grateful person. Ironically, my death wish has become a steely will to truly live. Phil would be glad to hear that.

On rejoining the world of the living
Monday, July 9th, 2007

This post is about sex, or more accurately, my lack thereof and all of my emotional baggage surrounding that fact.

Well, not just about sex, more so dating, interest, relationships, and how the hell a young widow is supposed to make sense of all of this shit and deal with incredible feelings of guilt at the same time.

The new town that I’ve moved to is wonderful. There are people here whom actually have some of the same interests as me. After years of being the only young, slightly-lefty, college-educated chick in a crowd of sorta-righty, career military folk, it is downright refreshing to no longer be the “freak” in the crowd. On a military base, I might have well been coated with neon pink paint and wearing a suit made out of tinfoil. Here, I fit in. I had forgotten what a simple pleasure “fitting in” is.

And so while in the process of building new friendships, my mind has occasionally wandered into the future: what will happen if I meet someone here who I like? What if I decide that I might like a boyfriend sometime in the future? Those questions might seem mundane, trite nothings—I try to be a “grab life by the horns” kind of chick, and really, how much stress can be caused by the mere thought of a future suitor? But I have to be completely honest—I sit here in tears as I put these thoughts that have plagued me for weeks into record.

During my last session of grief counseling back in March, the issue of relationships came up, and I asked for a professional opinion. The therapist’s response? “You’ll know when you are ready.” Thanks for that $65/hour advice there, Doc!!!

I mean, really, what the heck? I have scoured the internet, books on widowhood, sought professional guidance, and I am still completely and absolutely lost. Part of this utter confusion, no doubt, lies within my realm of dating inexperience as a whole. My former husband and I started dating very, very young; he was my only real boyfriend in fact. Actually, we were officially a couple before either of us had our driver’s license. And so, my memories of dating, falling in love, and sex originate from a completely outmoded frame of reference. I can’t approach this strange new world using the same rules that applied back in high school—namely, I can’t initiate a relationship by asking someone to share a seat on the school bus with me. Making out in the back of my parent’s van won’t constitute a “date.” Guys won’t be willing to date me for years before we have sex. One of my worst fears is that my return to the dating scene will be an epic tragi-comedy on par with The 40 Year Old Virgin: sweet, yet hapless girl desperately wants to love and be loved; she unknowingly breaks almost every rule in the book, and hilarity (at her expense) ensues.

And I know it seems easy—if you’re not sure about things, then you’re not ready; but in reality, relationships and sexuality seep into so many aspects of our lives that they are akin to eating and sleeping. Soon, I plan to make appointments for both a family doctor and an OB/GYN. My personal, baseline, preventive health measures have been neglected ever since my husband’s leukemia relapse date of February 19, 2005. The OB/GYN visit is necessary—I don’t think that I’ve had any of my cancer screenings for three years now—but is also a great source of stress. The issue, of course, is birth control. I haven’t been on anything since we found out that my former husband’s chemotherapy treatment had resulted in sterility, and I am obviously not planning on sleeping with anyone at all in any sort of near future—but OB-GYN appointments are an annual thing. What if I meet someone in the next year? I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of going to another doctor’s appointment just to get a prescription—so should I go ahead and get a script written in the off chance that I’ll need it in the next year? Am I a really horrible person for even thinking about the possibility that I might eventually sleep with someone else? I mean—I know that I’m not, really, but that knowledge does nothing to assuage the intense feelings of guilt. I can’t be a nun for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to feel like I’m cheating on my former husband either.

Ironically, the inward stress has shifted outwards as I work towards decorating my apartment. I find myself actively avoiding displays and photos of Eric in areas of the new place that a guest might see. I don’t want the place to seem like a mausoleum to someone who never knew my former husband, and I don’t want to bombard a poor unsuspecting guest with a wall-sized display of him—but at the same time, I want to hang onto the happy memories attached to those pictures and drawings.

And so, I actively avoid it all by sitting at home with my knitting, and going out with my (all-female) knitting group. Can you tell that I’ve been knitting a lot lately? It’s so soothing, and when there’s a mistake, you simply rip the mistake out and reknit. If only real life was that easy.

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.

identity
Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

More info, less whining:

I am in a good place right now. I have wonderful opportunities in front of me, and I think that I have finally come to terms with Eric’s passing. For both of those milestones, I am extremely grateful.

However, in moving from merely surviving to living, I am faced with a whole new quandary: how will I now identify myself? For the past year, my life has been a harrowing test of clinging onto sanity’s cliff by one finger…and now that I am safely off of the ledge, I find myself questioning which roles I should assume. I proudly wore the guise of doting girlfriend and supportive wife for almost ten years…and now I am in a strange new place where I’m not quite sure how to act, and I’m not even sure of how to define myself.

Thusly, I am trying on new roles like a five-year-old playing dress up in her mother’s closet. However, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that, at twenty-six years of age, I should have all of this figured out already.

As I try to move on with my life, I am chained to an invisible weight of guilt. I plan to start having a social life, and have started caring about my appearance again, and wanting to seem attractive to others…but even as I put on makeup where there was none for so many months, I can’t help but feel as if I am cheating on my lovely Eric. I know that the guilt is unfounded, and that he would want me to be happy, but those thoughts do little to assuage the feelings of infidelity.

I am so fortunate to finally have reached this plateau, but it seems as if I have traded one problem for another.

I can’t believe that it has been almost a year that he has been gone.

I need some direction. Widowhood is a long and arduous journey, and I have reached yet another crossroads…

avoidance
Friday, February 16th, 2007

I live in the realm of
my mother’s discomfort.

Speaking to her of
a husband’s death,
the emptiness of a home,
how slowly the bed warms up at night,
she withdraws.

Talk of empty refrigerators,
of dishwashers that are ran only half-full,
of trying to fill the time once spent
building the foundations of a new family,
ends abruptly at the emotional brick wall
that she has built.

Her silence regarding
all things widowhood
speaks volumes:
Surely, this won’t ever
happen to her.

The Missing Peace
Thursday, November 16th, 2006

One of the more odd habits that I have picked up after March 17, 2006 is going to Eric’s grave when I am in the area. No words are spoken, no grand discussions of my life without him are vocalized. Instead, I lie down on the ground next to where he is buried, and I am overcome with such a strange feeling of comfort that I never wish to rise.

I hope that he knows how much I miss him.

Starlight to Shit.
Thursday, November 16th, 2006

The other night, I was driving up a country highway to visit my parents for the weekend. It was after work on a Saturday night, about 11:30 pm, when I saw the lowest, brightest falling star that I had ever seen in my life. The meteor was so bright that I thought that is surely landed in a nearby field. My curiosity piqued, I continued up the road for a fourth of a mile when I saw large plumes of smoke rising from the side of the road. Exhilarated, I pulled off of the small road and jumped out of my car. Maybe, I was about to become the proud owner of a bit of space rock. It was possible that I was about to own a singularly foreign and beautiful object. Just maybe, this was a sign from Eric.

The roadside clouds of smoke were rising out of a primitive country sewer grate. My shining star had turned to shit.

What an apt metaphor for my marriage, Eric’s health, and my own identity and life. I still struggle to define myself outside of my relationship with that boy every day.