No doubt many of you will think that I am out of touch, delusional or didn’t have a “good” marriage.
Some of you won’t believe me or won’t want to believe me.
I am not of the widow crowd that believes that my husband, Art, was “my one and only love in my life.” I don’t believe God put me on this earth to only be touched by one man’s life or to touch, mold, distract or teach only one man.
But that’s not my secret. My secret is my life is better now that Art’s not in it.
It is something that is hard to admit in a widow crowd cause, well, if feels almost blasphemous.
This awakening did not happen in the beginning. I cry every time I learn of a new widow because if I close my eyes, I remember those hollow, confused days. I remember the longing for his hand on the small of my back, or for my aggravation that he never called me by my name but referred to me as “Honey, Sweetheart or Baby.”
I remember wanting nothing more than to smell him again.
I remember knowing only that if I got up, I could go back to bed. And getting back to bed meant that I had done it...Lived through another horrible, no good day. And if I could live through that day, then I could do another. I knew that eventually this rising from and going back to bed would get me some place. I was unclear of where that place was. But I believed those who came before me when they said, "I promise you, it gets easier."
And then, suddenly (for it really did feel like a jolt), I would go a few days with out crying. I could plan, shop for, prepare a meal several days in row before I became that crumbly, un-functional mess again.
And somewhere, the grief became less about missing him and more about living without him, or any man, in my life. The grief changed from losing Art to losing the ground I had previously thought was so firm. It became about learning to live in the uncertainty. It became about facing my own demons now that the grief had laid them open and bare.
The grief became about me, not about him.
I was one of those wives who lost myself in motherhood, wifehood and friend-hood. Occasionally I would look up and see clearly that I had lost myself. Full of my self importance as a wife and mother, I became too afraid of what I might loose if I tried to “find” myself. So I turned away and skipped merrily (but empty) down the wrong road. My life was about making everyone happy, everyone but me.
And now that Art is not here, I can focus on myself. And I like that. I like being able to order whatever I want on the pizza. (Which I don’t do because I am gluten intolerant. Something that I have known for years, but did nothing about because it was easier to put up with a little discomfort than to try to resist the pizza, explain to everyone, every time, why I wasn’t having pizza and preparing something for myself.)
When I look at myself now in the mirror, I see someone who I not only like, but someone who I recognize! I am not the stereotypical lonesome widow, soldering on… bravely without a husband. I can’t stand the assumption that that is all there is in widowhood.
I think I am odd in this. I think that I am different so I play along, sometimes, like the good, longing widow. But I don’t long for him, I long for this new life that approaches. One filled with adventures and frustrations and vigor!
This life would not be possible if Art were still alive. I have seen how quickly life can disappear and I don’t want to spend it longing for or canonizing my wonderful but dead husband.
I do think about him every day but it’s not in a longing way one thinks of when one utters that phrase. It’s in passing, just like when I’m driving in the car and say to myself “Shoot! I gotta remember to call Christina.”
I don’t’ miss him in this life I have built. I am stronger here. I am more me than I ever allowed myself to be in my marriage. I have no one to blame for mistakes made, ramifications for decisions, or words said or unsaid.
If I am afraid, I have to have to look at it. If I don’t’ want to do something, I have to do it or find someone else to. It is all on my shoulders…the good and the bad.
And as a result, I like who I have become. I feel real. I am the phoenix who has risen from the ashes. I am gold and powerful and wise.
The ashes are what got me here, where I go from here is truly under my own power.
I have often said Art’s death was his last and greatest gift to me. Without him dying, I would not have jumped off the cliff and discovered that instead of falling, I am flying!
“Hey! How are you?” she asks. With that question a hand is placed gently on my upper arm. Her eyes are round, her voice soft and kind, as if she were talking to a person who is old. I wonder “Do I look ill? Is the lack of sleep that apparent?” My friend wants to know, to …really … know how I’m doing. Only her assumption is that I’m not doing well. After all, I Am A Widow.
And all I want to do is smile and say “I’m doing….
GREAT! Today, the kids got ready for school by themselves and this included Langston (age 14) folding his laundry. The very same laundry he put into the wash AND the dryer by himself the night before.
I had to tell Ezra this morning as he dilly-dallied over his breakfast to “put down the book or I’d have to take it away from him." This same child, 2 months ago, I had to cajole into picking up a book.
Pallas is using me as her confidant (I know this will change) she comes into my room and we talk about friendships and bodies and nail polish color.
Me. Well, I closed my business and I feel free. I have an informational interview next week and you never know where those end up! Our new place is great. I like that there aren’t all these places to disappear to. If Langston is not in the great room then he’s in his bedroom or the bathroom. That’s it. No where else to look for him. And did I mention that it was 75 today? And I wore shorts that I couldn’t fit into when Art was alive because I am now healthy skinny not a holy-shit-my-husband-is-dead skinny? “
I want to tell her all of this. I want to go on and on and on to show her the other side of widowhood, the side that is beyond just getting through another day.
But I don’t. Because I also don’t want her thinking that it’s all OK again. I don’t want her to walk away from our conversation thinking I am “over” Art's death.
And then I feel guilty. Guilty for feeling good..
Guilty for thanking Art for dying. Without his death I would never have become 70% fearless. 89% authentic, and 100% alive. I really like all the ways I have been pushed to grow and expand and live.
Guilty because the kids and I are actually ok. We laugh and have fun without him, without thinking about him.
Guilty because the intense bouts of grief come further and further apart from each other. I can go weeks without crying about him. I can go days without yearning for him.
Guilty because most of the time, when I think of him, it is with sweetness, laughter and a deep sadness that doesn’t overwhelm me.
And honestly part of me doesn’t want to disappoint her. I want her to know that as a widow my life will never be "back to normal." I want her to know that I am still different from her and she absolutely CANNOT complain about her husband to me. I want her to know that it’s still a struggle – just less and less of one.
So instead of answering her, I simply change the subject.
I’m with her and we are walking to find the bathroom in Macy’s. Pallas (my daughter) and I have just been bra shopping...for her. A momentous occasion full of “Moooommmm!” and “Why are you looking at me that way?!” She has requested this shopping excursion and I go along, resisting the urge to take photos and whip out the recorder to “document” the occasion. (Langston forbid me from documenting his first shaving lesson with our wonderful neighbor.)
We walk towards where the sales woman said we would find a restroom. Completely unaware of the time, the casino-like lighting making me feel out of touch, in a dream like state. We pass the mens clothing on the left. I think “Huh, Art would look good in that.” Then chuckle, remembering his frustration. The day Banana Republic started selling tall clothing online was the day I tossed those ugly, but long enough jeans! His 6’6” frame too long for regular clothes.
I stop to touch a shirt as Pallas and I pass the rest of the lingerie department. I see the restroom sign off to the right. I stutter step in my mind “Fuck, is he? Really….no way! It just simply can’t be. He’s never coming back? How can someone never come back? I don't understand.”
The thought encases me in what feels like a full body plastic bag. I run toward the restroom. Hands to mouth to catch. Open stall or not, I don’t care, I need to get it out of me.
It. Out. Of Me!
Pallas is running behind me, “Hey," she says disappointedly, "you can’t just decided to race without telling me!” Using her longer-than-mine legs to catch up. She notices my hunched run, reaches for me and says “Mom are you ok?”
There’s an empty stall Lunch, bile and tears mix together Into the toilet which automatically flushes.
Last weekend we moved.
Our new place is smaller, more intimate.
I like it.
simpler to manage. (There are only so many places Ezra’s left shoe can
be!) It makes sorting through the boxes and boxes of stuff I should
have sold, much simpler. (If it stays, exactly where is it going to go, Kim?)
And I feel lighter here, less weighed down by stuff and keeping track of the stuff so I can find the stuff.
But today, I walked out of the bathroom, I looked at my bed and I realized…
Art’s not here.
nowhere in this new place. Not in the decision of which draw to put
the utensils in, nor in which painting to hang where. He’s not in the
money spent at Ikea nor will he be in the car when I return a few
things. He’s not in the assembly of the shelves, or the finding of the
He’s not in the walk in closet.
not in third call to Xbox Live in two hours about the hook up issue.
He’s not there when the electrician, plumber, handy man and old renter
all arrive within 20 minutes of each other.
He’s not in the dinner I cook, the good night kisses I give, or in the bed where I collapse.
He’s not here.
was not till I left the house that I see that I have left him too. I
didn’t think I left him. I thought he was coming with us. But here in
this new place, I see that he was in every damn thing in the old place:
in the walls, in where the toilet paper was stacked and where the
breakfast trays were kept. He was in the lights he put up around the
large kitchen window that looked out onto the back yard. He was in where
the canned soup goes, the best place for the dresser and the fiction
book order: black writer fiction, black female writer fiction, dead
male writer fiction and damn good fiction to reread over and over again.
(Yes we really had the books divided like that!) He was in the up
high shelf with the extension cords and the bicycle tools tool box.
could hear him sometimes, in the catch of the kid’s voices as if, for
just a moment, they might forget and call to him, instead of me.
In this new place, their voices are clear and call, with piercing clarity, only my name.
This feels like this is where it begins. Where our new family starts, this family of four.
dinner table no longer has the extensions out. It is square: one side
for each of us. Tonight, I looked at each of my kids, one across from
me, two on either side of me and sigh. We are a family of four now.
Four sides of a square for four people.
The most weird, unnerving, pleasant and peaceful thing about this observation is that
I’m OK with it.
In 2009 we became a family of four. It was not what I wanted, not what was planned.
2011, it is what I have accepted and come to embrace. It is what we
are, it is who we are. It is neither bad nor good. It just is.
The last two days I've been sick.
I found myself lying in my bed, the wrong way.
Backwards (head where my feet usually are, feet where my head usually is)
The fever is making me feel backwards.
I'm preparing to move from the house the kids, Art and I have been in for 6 years. (Huh. The kids and I have been here for six, Art only 4.) It means going into his closet and getting rid of the rest of his clothes. The ones that no longer smell like him. It means going into the attic and going through the ones I put away for the kids and this time asking them what they want to keep.
I am at peace with this idea.
That feels backwards.
"They" said I'd know when the time was right to get rid of the clothes, to take down one of the photos. I couldn't imagine there would ever be a "right" time in his wrong death.
But without looking for it, it has arrived.
The time is right.
There is peace and gratitude in letting more of him go...
is it the fever?
Post from August 27, 2009. 4 months after Art died.
Yesterday, I took Art's remaining clothes out of the closet. I divided them into the one's I want to keep and the ones to give away. Today I drove them to the Mission in downtown LA. Some tall homeless person with size 14 feet will finally have clothes and shoes that fit him.
Yesterday, I took down the get-well cards friends, co-workers, familiy members and students had sent him. This wall reflects me.
I am that wall. I am empty, vacant, not complete. I am not surprised at the depth of the grief, just disappointed in it. I am surprised at how quickly I begin to hyper ventilate, and how powerless I feel. I can't talk, even though I wanted to call a friend.
I think we are fine and then it hits, the wave and I swear that I will drown. And I cry so deeply and so completely that my whole body gets involved. I shake and feel nauseous. I force my breath. My nose quickly fills. My head aches, my arms tingle. My feet move rhythmically back and forth across the sheet. I hold myself, I let go. I punch his pillow. I hold myself again.
I know I need to call someone. Anyone. But what will I say? What is there to say? I don't want to be cheered up, I don't want to be soothed. I want to be held, to be allowed to grieve, with the noisy blows from my bulbous red nose and with the lines of tears from my swollen eyes.
I don't want anyone to tell me it'll be ok because right now, it's not. I want someone to wrap their arms around me, to sit with my pain, to stroke my hair and my back. To NOT say "shhhh." To cry with me even. No judgment, no better world. Just this grief here and now.
It’s not because of another man either, and I didn’t win the lottery. I didn’t discover extra life insurance money or an extra $20,000 in my savings account.
I still haven’t found a new place to live. (If you live in LA, I’m looking for a 3 bdrm, 2 bath on the Westside. Hey, ya never know!)
And no, I have not been drinking or smoking the funny stuff.
I haven’t been eating ice cream or chips or cake for that quick high.
I’m happy because today Ezra and I had a good day and this day would not have been possible if Art were here.
If Art were here, my two oldest would not have flown on separate flights by themselves back east. They would not be forging their own, significant relationships with my sister and my in-laws.
If Art were here, I wouldn’t have taken Ezra to the Venice Beach boardwalk. We wouldn’t have marveled at the roller skating guy, the skate boarders, or the guy in the turban with the electric guitar. I would not have been told, “Wow, they don’t’ make them like you anymore!” by the dummy and his ventriloquist.
If Art were here, I wouldn’t have insisted (a bit meanly) that Ezra buck up and get on his new skate board. I wouldn’t have dared him to fall 5 times. (He fell 7 times and said he won!)
If Art were here, I would not have been at the neighbor’s pool. I would not have heard “Mom watch this!” only 9 times (a record low) and been amused that I actually DID watch 8 times.
If Art were here, I would have said, “I’m too tired, you take him.” Who am I kidding, if Art were here, we’d be somewhere else.
If Art were here, I’d be in Maine, suffering my in-laws.
But Art’s not here and still I’m happy.
I can’t believe I wrote that. I’m too happy to even bother justifying that statement.
I am happy.
I’m happy. Down to my hair follicles happy.
I’m happy because without Art here I found this new strength, this courage, this audacity to just fuck it all and be happy.
Without him here, I have found something that was lacking when he was here. A deeper, more loving knowledge of who I am, faults included.