I will not be a wispy, weeping willow of a widow, I say, as I masquerade my heart which now feels like it has been thrown into a meat grinder, chopped into ground-up grief. I wasn’t Peter’s official wife in life; I didn’t want to be his widow in death.
As the stoic widow, I defied death by welcoming life, birthing our fourth son at home, in two hours, in front of the wood stove. I named my smiling baby after his dead father. Carrying the flaming torch of Peter, I formed a non-profit, made a film, and raised money to develop a rugby field in his name. I caught myself calling Peter my former "husband," more than once, and I felt like I was betraying the spirit in me that had chosen not to be his wife. I was a girl mourning the death of a man I loved, a man who had suddenly disappeared. In his invisibility, in his death, I had become more symbolically linked to him than I had been in his life.
Down the widow’s walk, it becomes painfully evident there is no sweet marrow in-between in the bones of a ghost. My hunger for Peter, for a love that once breathed warm, living air on the back of my neck, was leaving me empty-bellied, with a chill running down my spine. I had created the vaporous, yet hailed, father and phantom husband, in our dreams, in the boys’ bedtime stories, and in our songs. But there was nothing to chew on except my own emptiness, my own fear of being alone, my own mythology about a man making a woman safe and complete, regardless of what they call each other. I had been wearing the widow’s tiara with all its grace and strength, and in doing so I made an absent father the hero of our stories, the center of our home. One Halloween, the boys and I were making pumpkin pie from sweet, sugar-pie pumpkins we had grown all summer in our garden, and I asked Zavi what his favorite kind of pie was. He didn’t want to answer until I told him what his daddy’s favorite pie had been.
The widow’s clothes I had been wearing didn’t fit any better than a corset would under my yoga clothes, but I had squeezed into them. My widow’s hood was somewhere in-between a tiara and the black hood of a Goth, but neither wardrobe was my cloth of choice. Five years after Peter’s death, I resigned as director of “For Pete’s Sake,” the non-profit I had formed in his name, and started living in my own name. Slowly, I loosened the bindings of my widow’s costume, and quietly, in the middle of the night, I wrote poetry about a widow who wears thong underwear under her boyish pants as she climbs forts and ladders, keeping up with her sons. I went back to work on my master’s degree, which I had started six years before. I went on a date with sexy Signore Amore in a city of poetry, where dark-skinned, goateed, men smoke love on the back seat of motorcycles. After only four months of hanging on from the back, I knew I was tempting a too-fragile ice. Everything I was doing as a mother, a woman, was too much, too heavy, too thin. Love with a live man, dating even, didn't jive with me, a mama of three bouncing boys at home.
As a mama, I was acutely stretched somewhere in between all-nighters of singing the tender lullabies of Tom Waits while washing boys’ tears across fevered brows and the mama who wanted to put on her high heeled boots and storm away from the churchhouse, leaving my boys on the front porch steps with signs around their necks saying I had left in the direction of Thailand, where there would be no babies to tug, or pull, or push into my brittle skin. Instead of a love affair with a poet I vowed to make love to myself every morning with yoga, and dance my hips to satisfaction in Afro-Haitian dance class at night. I don’t need a man to make me whole, I’d say, hoping, like I did when I was a girl saying my prayers, if I said it enough, I’d start to believe it.
Looking for widows with whom I can share my journey, my ear is fine-tuned for widows in literature, the media, and the flesh. I read about the widow’s hood, a mourning hood affixed to a heavy cloak, sometimes called a peak. I look for the widow’s peak in strangers’ hairlines. I imagine a hood of widows, a neighborhood of widows, with laughing children and community gardens and wooden playgrounds. I read about war widows in the newspaper, and I cry as I imagine the war widows about whom I don’t read in the newspaper. Some one recommends “The Widow Wore Black.” It’s a comedy, he chuckles, as I wonder whether death could ever be funny again. I stay up late to watch the “Widow of Saint-Pierre,” a film about a guillotine being shipped to a French colony on the coast of Newfoundland, and I learn that in French, la veuve, “widow” is slang for guillotine. Next >