An Old Friend (Two Coincidences)

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(1) Gretch has written about how widows sort of appear. I certainly found they came out of the woodwork for me. Now that I’m in a “mature” phase of widowhood I understand their motivation: we know our experience has been so rare and so isolating that we must reach out and offer the comradeship that transformed us.

Years ago at HippieCollege I had a friend who, like me, didn’t quite fit in. We were a little bigmouth, even “considering,” and often dissatisfied with the liberal party line. She had worked as a cocktail waitress one summer, a contrarian occupation for our type (I am pretty sure the job description included shaving her legs) but I was blown away to hear about the tips. She and I weren’t close but we moved in the same circles. We were a bit odd – a rare two among our cohort who ended up responsible for two sister student-run dorms. Unlike my sophomore self, she was able to handle it.

Like me, Andrea Volpe married an artist 20 years her senior.
Like us, Sam Walker and Andrea were well-matched, surprised and satisfied by each other, generally happy for many years.
Like mine, her husband received a stage IV cancer diagnosis one day.
Like me, she was fated to grieve while caring for a small child, her only.

When Gavin was diagnosed, Andrea was the first person I contacted. Already five years out, she shared advice that is still unfolding as true. I remember her telling me with clarity and force that I should expect to be surprised by who could handle Gavin’s illness and that my friendships would reorganize themselves. Like others who showed up, magnetic, to guide me, she pretended she wasn’t sure I’d end up a widow like her.

She has written a lovely personal essay about several stages in a conversation between her husband and one of his fellow artists, and herself after his death. I’m also reminded about my life-long connection to correspondence art, which will surely be post numero uno on my social media blog (to come).

(2) What is really weird is how we were connected when I was first selling used books on Amazon. It was early 2000 and I had just heard that Sam had died. I started to set up Elie Wiesel’s Messengers of God, a textbook from the Midrash class I took the same semester as printmaking with Sam.

Strangely there was a very old check inside it (I bet some of these whippersnappers don’t know why we call them “bookmarks!”[Never mind what a “check” is]). It was from Sam, for $7.42, reimbursement for a copy of Lynda Barry’s Big Ideas which I’d bought for him over break at Printed Matter in NYC back when small press books were hard to find. (I suppose I’d skipped some reading if I hadn’t deposited the check back in 1986.)

As I looked for comps to price the Wiesel book, I saw the Amazon “new” price: $7.42.

Typical for me, mixing the flip, the silly, the profane,the drop dead serious -- Big Ideas contains an important cartoon I found helpful as a griever, which postulates that if “these letters appear on the back window of your car (‘WASH ME’),” a dead loved one is probably trying to get in touch with you. Surely "7.42" was some sort of message from the other side?

That spooky assemblage -- book, check, and Amazon printout -- is still waiting up in the library, which I've sworn to clean out before we move. Back in 2000 I wanted to send them together to Andrea but wasn’t sure if that was a fair “grieving” thing to do.

Now? I’d laugh and send it. As I do, now.

* * * Comments * * *


J-in-Wales said...

As in most things, timing is so important. In the first few weeks, several widows spoke to me, offering listening and handholding services. But they made barely a dent on the shell I had built up around myself.
It took 4 or 5 months of festering in my cocoon of confusion, anger and hurt before I could really take in that there were other people who understood how I felt. A widowed acquaintance of around my age gently, but insistently chipped away at my shell, and I shall be eternally grateful to her for doing so.
Now I find this worldwide community of widows a huge source of comfort even though you would never get me within a mile of a real-life bereavement group. Or at least not without the aid of gag, ropes and remote handling equipment!!!

Sandi said...

It is so true that frienships reorganize themselves. I've realized that when the shit hits the fan, assholes will show how true assholes they are, and good people will show their kindness.

Fortunately for me, except for my in-laws, I've come across very few asshols.


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