Owning the Past

Among Gavin's many treasures was an unmatched set of unmarked pottery, Harlequin, which he noted was "a cheap knockoff of Fiestaware." He collected the pieces with love, one at a time in antique malls and yard sales and we used the bright mixture as our formal china, for holidays and parties.

But if it hadn't been for the Hans Wegner-knockoff teak buffet (with an expandable table and ten chairs) that we bought to show the stuff off, the china would be completely dusty. We often disagreed about dinner. Gavin thought you should invite a gaggle of existing friends, including some terrific cooks, and make a new recipe. I prefer to treat guests to a favorite dish that I'm comfortable cooking, and my favorite part is designing the mix of people from different spheres. It was easier to take friends for Burmese than come to peace AND clear a year's business off the table.

And people do have different impressions about the Fifties. To a contemporary viewer, the super mid-Century hipness of the mismatched Harlequin complemented our old house's post-war metal kitchen cabinets and our spectacular dinette set. But to him, much older, they represented an atomic age that he had lived through. The red glaze on Harlequin ware was made with radioactive lead or something; an astrophysicist friend assured us that using it once in a while was safe "enough."

I always thought of this set as one of his more valuable non-artwork possessions so I held on to it. Now that I'm remarried, I have another chance to buy new china. And we're moving. I hate packing. I have a hard time deciding. I emailed a friend who deals in 50s furnishings: "Call me. I'm ready to sell the Harlequin." It felt like a big step.

But as I wrote up an inventory, I hesitated. Does that mean the buffet has to go, too? What about all the unmarked pottery I collected to match and display all the flowers our cutting garden would produce? And the coordinating placemats and party bowls?

Can't I get one set of china for both daily use AND parties? Do I need a separate set for occasions? That system is so bourgeois. This is a second marriage. It's not like we're registering. I can choose something I really love, and buy twice as much. I can let go of "Gavin's special this-or-that." That he loved.

I got sidelong glances from two people who know me well. Perhaps I was protesting too much. The Harlequin is only worth like $10 a piece, less because for some bizarre reason people want stuff that matches.

So I made up my mind. I bought strong boxes and bubble wrap.

Maybe we'll have dinner parties at the new house. Strangely enough, it's a split level, which Gavin would have loved, and although the kitchen is "updated" (um, to the 70s) the pottery will still fit. Even with a small garden, maybe those vases will get some play. Hosta leaves look nice.

I'm packing it up because now it's mine.

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"Moving On"

Are we gearing up to star in a soap opera or a reality T.V. show? We’re switching houses with Mr. Fresh’s first wife and two grown sons. All of my shit is going to be taken out of this old box where I’ve lived for 12 years, put into about 150 boxes and then fitted neatly into that giant white box, then the white box gets picked up by a monster truck and carted over to another box about a mile away. (I’m trying to “contain” the drama by compartmentalization. Is it working?)

Yes, we are buying out her half of the house where their marriage fell apart. Yes, the three of them, with one job between them, and a cat, will rent my old house downtown. “If we were all Vulcans, this plan wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow,” jokes Mr. Fresh every time a friend points out the potential pitfalls.

This old house represents my old dreams. A third of an acre close to public transportation, in a semi-urban suburb. Room for vegetable beds, perennial beds, dedicated space for tender, stellar dahlias. Space to build Gavin his dream studio. Ample sufficiency for a patio where we could dine au naturel 3 seasons of the year and a wild area for a child to explore. Maybe even room for a playset if we strike the jackpot someday.

Ten years later, I understand why they’re called “widows’ weeds.” The garden is overrun, some of them are taller than I am and they’re all much more fertile. Seeds shoot out at your pants cuffs as you forage for the last few string beans of the season.

Halfway through our time here, we did build Gavin’s studio. It’s an architectural beauty, industrial and considerate at the same time. He had a few months to work in it before our daughter was born. Just a few more after that to work, struggling to produce, to meet his expectations while caring for her. And then diagnosis. A few intervals, in between treatments (he was a single-tasker) when he took advantage of the light, the space designed to fit his work habits precisely.

My abandoned room for sewing, beadwork, and silkscreen (etc., etc., etc.) in the lovely loft.

This studio stores paintings, drawings, and prints left over from 30 years of shows. He was lucky to be so successful; 90% of his output is in homes and boardrooms, where it is appreciated, and it left the gallery paid and professionally framed. The oddments (and a few treasures that were held out, NFS) remain to us. What’s left after love.

But the house is also full of his crappy handyman work and that of the husband before us. We never could afford to fix up the house, grade a patio, open up the back windows to see the gardens. The house is a hundred reminders of what didn’t work in our relationship, the decisions about paint colors that we couldn’t peacefully make, two argumentative artists, devoted to being happy together even if things didn’t get done. We couldn’t fix it all ourselves. The heat was on me to produce (money, a child). Love couldn’t extinguish his disease.

I wake up and ask Mr. Fresh like a child on the boat to the New World: “And is it really true? That two people can shower at the same time in the new house?” “Yes.” “What if the dishwasher is running?” “Yes.” “And the laundry, then too?” I wouldn’t be more surprised if we got there and there was hot and cold running milk and honey.

So many widowed bloggers are moving, and we all say “moving on,” appreciating how undescriptive it is, how ambiguous a phrase, how if someone else says it we resist. But it’s sort of true. Still, can’t I move on and also stay? If I’ve had two loves, why not also two homes?

“To move” is such a big word. People say our stories move them. I’d like to think we’re starting a movement of the grieving, perhaps for visibility, perhaps for quiet. What do we need except for our loss to be reversed? At any rate, many of us are working together even if we don’t know what for yet.

So, widows, keep moving, keep talking and sharing and writing. And stay tuned to see find out how this “move” goes. Despite the potential for histrionics, exchanging real property in this economy makes a lot of sense for both households (or all 3, depending on how you count). And thus far, every step has been smooth and easy. Perhaps we’re turning into Vulcans, or at least, examples of Rational Economic Man. Or perhaps we each understand that our backstories are only ours, and not a threat, and that a good coat of bright colored paint can make a new day seem fresh.

Either way, it’s bound to qualify for good ratings.

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Guest on Powder Room Graffiti

I was interviewed for Powder Room Graffiti, a site that seems to interview only the most interesting women. Imagine me and Wendy Aarons on the same page! 8-)


A Poem for Rosh Hashanah

I didn't even know I was Jewish until college, but the Jews win, in my mind, for solemn holidays. (Of course, Christians win for festive and accessible. I worship Christmas though I don't feel the divinity of Jesus at all). I've never been to a High Holy Days service so I guess that makes it much easier to like, for all the wailing.

Rosh Hashanah is all about being aware of your mortality. This poem was part of Rev L's wonderful service today, about death. I don't recall if she mentioned it, but the book from which this piece is taken was written in grief after the poet's daughter was murdered.

Death Barged In
by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.


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Widows' Cooking, or, What's Burning Tonight?

At least 1000 pots after Gavin's death, I widowed the fucking coffee again today. Around here, if we're in the kitchen, "widowed" usually means more or less burned, although Mr. Fresh insists that last night I "widowed" the partner of the rice, not the rice (or the pot). Peh! If I can destroy a 1-qt 18-18-stainless pot just trying to boil a damn egg, I obviously don't have time for the niceties of transitive vs. intransitive verbs.

Gavin and I had a superfancy Alessi espresso pot with a great story ("was $225, NOW just $5") behind it. After he died, I committed to simplifying by purchasing a conventional drip.

You wouldn't know when you meet him that there are at least a dozen ways to strike out with Mr. Coffee. First of all, you can defeat his wisely installed safety features. One morning I forgot to close the lid on the pot, so boiling water backed up in the filter area. The counter spilled over with boiling water mixed with coffee grounds. Two towels later I tried to correct it (mid-stream, so to speak -- I added more water) but the coffee tasted like dirt. On other mornings, I managed to leave off every possible component: water, coffee, filter, the tray that holds the filter and the pot. I managed to keep it unplugged or not turn it on until it was time to leave. I'd set it up the night before and mmm, wht's that fantastic smell waking me up at midnight? A few times, I left it on all day to sludgify. That one, I know you've done.

And how many ways can you screw up coffee if you count combinations of two errors on the same day? Three errors? As my Sensei used to say, I having experience.

It's only natural for a young widow to be distracted, to try to multi-task a bit more than your average Mom, and to not care much about small things like nutrition when she has so much "on her plate" already.

Many widows will talk about the futility of cooking. It's hard to change recipes (how much is 2/3 of a handful?) and you have to set the table for one less adult, a constant mistake to make, a painful and frustrating reminder not only of loss but in our addled minds, of our failure to adjust. There's always a backlog in the sink, so you get stuck using the wrong pan for the job, either overflowing it or adding too much liquid in an attempt to cover the bottom. And don't get me started on running the dishwasher when no one's around to empty. I'd rather just leave all the clean stuff in there for a while than face that no one else is home.

Combine these feelings with a new incompetence that makes you forget to shake juice (bad) and NOT shake soda (very bad) and you have a lot of extra cleanup and still no meal.

In this situation it can be a blessing that grieving folks tend to have little appetite. But I had a toddler and an elderly MIL to cook for (both with freaky eating habits), and a little bit of pride in independence, so I soldiered on. A few weeks after Gavin died, I found myself at J.C. Penney buying a cute yellow microwave, my first. We have an adorable vintage kitchen and insisted we couldn't spare the counter space. There's something not worth standing up for after your world dissolves.

You can probably see why we quickly became dependent on frozen entrees from Trader Joe's.

After a year of fishsticks, pizza, and salad-in-a-bag, with its accompanist, my deteriorated cholesterol numbers, I started trying to use the kitchen more fully. But I was still a widow.

"Widowing" doesn't just involve burning. Once I got really organized and cooked extra chicken breasts, deliciously I might add, but left them in the (off) pan overnight. Cooking like a widow includes making useless grocery lists that say "chocolate, tampons, 100 other things" but no food. I would buy expensive cuts of meat that I didn't know how to cook or out-of-season produce that would spoil immediately. And I didn't want to eat any damn leftovers. I threw out the fridge as often as most of us thrown out the mail.

It didn't help that for a "timer" I would use a beer. "I'll turn down the rice when this (half-empty) beer is finished." I'm sure you can see how effective that technique is.

Perhaps bad cooking is itself a way to grieve. After all, smell and taste recall the past more vividly than other senses. It's too easy to say, "the last time we ate this, Gavin was here" or "this is the first time we've had Thai without him." The landmarks pile up. Steamed broccoli is always the same, even though our family looks different.

Perhaps cooking badly is a way widows can continue to tear their hair and beat at their breasts: a new way to mortify the flesh in agony, in memory.

But I'm out of active grieving. Now my challenge is to cook enough protein for the meaty Mr. Fresh, who's joined our table and our lives. I am remembering some skillz but I still use a beer for a timer sometimes.

Maybe we'll register for some fancy new cookware? We could still use a 1-qt and I'm in the mood for egg salad.

Disclaimer sidebar: Not all widows are shitty cooks

Some of us not only eat but also, egad!, cook well: Snickollet cooked a luscious-sounding fish dish, for a date no less, and J-in-Wales has published some wonderful recipes (one,  two,  three, and an unnumbered soup.) These plans share the virtue of simplicity, but then, in their authors' first-things-first, no-nonsense wisdom, that's no surprise.

There's also at least one recipe named for us, though it seems like an awful lot of ingredients for an actual widow to have on hand: "Widowed potatoes."

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What Should I Write Next?

I've been befuddled about what to write.

First, I don't know what you, my dear readers, want.
My Father's Day post, which was sort of a more general advice post geared to friends-of-widows, generated a lot of interest (it was also the first I tweeted about).

So I created a cute little poll to ask you, my readers, what I should write about next. Here's what you said:

In first place, with fully half of voters picking one or the other (or maybe both - I allowed you to vote multiple times): "The Best Advice (for Friends)" and "Renewal, Reinvention, etc." Second, you wanted more dating stories. In third place was another tie, and with only half as many votes as the dating stories: "Start a Fight, Supa!" and "Book or Movie Reviews." A stunning fourth place with just one vote each: "All My Memories of Cancer" and "Dreadful Children's Books."

Second, I'm not sure how I, the dear writer, wish to spend my time.
When I created the poll, I had about a dozen posts half-written. Now I have about 75 topics any of which could just flow out like the verbal diarrhea I'm known for. My impression when I got the energy up to actually start writing was that my current life is boring and I'd been through a series of adventures, good and bad, over the past five years. It was obvious that I should chronicle how I survived, adjusted, flourished, and what I observed and felt about the world. By doing so, I hoped to provide a little insight and light to others.

But most bloggers talk a bit more about their daily lives, processing things a bit more quickly. They're willing to share what's now and next, and not just what they've been through. I went to BlogHer, in part, to try to figure out what to do. Was it in me to share my present? Would this blog help lead me into a new career? Do I have a book in me -- heck, everyone else seems to think they do -- and are books even relevant?

One tidbit I heard is that it's typical to come up with a crisis of content and direction at this stage in the life of a blog. Gee, thanks.

And it seems like there are about five times as many young widowed bloggers now as when I started. Each is unique, yes, but still lots to read and targeting a very small population.

But my life hasn't stood still. As I shared stories, as the distance from my life with Gavin opened up, this opportunity (recovery from loss, having a forum, Mr. Fresh's support as I find a new professional and creative occupation) has turned into a chance to cope with and heal from larger issues in my life.

Third: Where that leaves us, writer and readers
As far as the topics you requested, advice and stories of renewal are still hot topics in my life and I'll continue to keep addressing them. As for dating, within a month of closing the poll I shared the last few dates. There are some delicious details still to come, but gravy, not meat.

There were four items in the low-ranking third and fourth places in the poll. I get that you don't want to hear about them. I'm working on something about kids' books as a guest post for another blog (it's pretty off-topic here). I started a fight on Twitter, and doubtless will have some relevant books or movies to talk about, and it won't be hard to keep those topical. Clearly they won't be a primary topic.

The cancer is, literally, a whole 'nother story. I've been writing (offline) about it a lot, but am not sure if it will pester you all, my current readers, if I start publishing it here. I'm reluctant to release a lot of this bile, yet it's an important part of the picture and it feels dishonest to leave it out (avoiding seemed okay to me, but I did that as long as I could).

And new topics come up. I can't help myself from making observations on the vagaries of being widowed and playing in social media all day. Plus, it dovetails with one of my career possibilities. I guess that's why I started writing "Fragments." Sounds fancy, huh? (Sappho left only fragments.)

But you're not my therapists (I already pay someone good money to do that job) and I wish to treat you well as readers, friends, and community.

I think I'm just going to have to work through this one post at a time. I'll still try to make you laugh, but I might start making you cry or think about gross, scary mortality a bit more. Forgive me if I seem even more scattered. If I have stuff that's completely unrelated to loss and recovery, maybe I'll post it as "OT" or use other channels.

A big part of my problem for the past forty years has been that I had too many opportunities. I suppose I'm perpetuating that. Perhaps that's reasonable: blogging is as much about living as it is about writing (if not more). I picked the perfect medium to prevaricate. Then again, I have learned a few things, and I'm a way lot clearer about my strengths and my place in the world than I was ten years ago or even three.

Thanks for reading so far, today and for the past year-plus!
And if you're just joining the journey of the Fresh Widow, you've been warned!

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Twin Rebounds and 9/11

Does anyone else remember how 9/11 seemed like the fire that cleansed? How afterwards those of us with only public losses felt we would never be able to be mean again, we’d never be able to endure hurting anyone, we’d change our lives, we’d help make the world better for everyone. We were wide awake and stunned and constantly going back to the video, the rubble mountains, the list of names in an attempt to process the largeness of the event.

Lovers committed. Friends and families reunited. We knew the sky would clear one day and by God, we’d have our priorities straight.

I remember watching the towers fall in the 5th floor conference room. Someone spotted a fire not too far away, I asserted it must be an accident in a trendy wood-fired oven but it was the Pentagon. I skipped the third class in our statistics intensive to return home and witness, try to help, see, even though we couldn’t go below 14th street. I remember the posters on lampposts everywhere, touting hope, loss, denial. I remember co-signing for a cell phone for my sister who’d walked north in the dust with her cat, living for who-knows-how-long in a friend’s basement music studio.

Gavin drew the gorgeous blue sky he remembers that whole clear day.

I remember feeling like I was really, finally a grown up. I would be part of the solution. It was my turn to step up. My generation had a Pearl Harbor, but we couldn’t see what it meant or what the story arc would be. Remember that we didn’t know if it would be the only attack?

Then it turned into a war, a war I couldn’t connect to the events, and then a second war, and everything got all muddied up. We took sides. The pain backed off, and we forgot how things were going to be better different. We had fires burning all over the place, too many to count, and everyone seemed to get comfortable again.

I finished grad school and reproduced my genetic material.

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Gavin’s diagnosis on 9/7/04 was another day that changed everything. He lived 2 years with a stage IV cancer. A year and a half after his death I started dating and found The First pretty quickly. .

It’s so weird to read about your life in someone else’s book or blog, but young widows have that experience all the time. It’s validating but can be spooky.

Abigail Carter lost her husband on 9/11, in 9/11, and she’s written a wonderful book, The Alchemy of Loss, describing her experiences as a young widowed Mom and some of her upward trajectory out of the pit of loss. She continues to chronicle her recovery on a blog and I love her.

Her first relationship after widowhood was so much like my intense five weeks with The First. She says:

“I was rocked sideways by my own desire, fervor, and heat, the persistent ache of my loneliness forgotten, or perhaps soothed. My new partner, equally wiling, had endured two years of unrequited love from his soon-to-be-ex-wife. // In the coming weeks, we wrote more flirty e-mails full of desire. He wrote me a poem. Is this a phoenix love we have, rising from the ashes of other lives and other loves to clutch life as it passes? … I found myself in a lustful relationship, based not on reality, but on a sleepy, hazy, live-in-the-moment dreamscape.” (p. 236)

I can’t describe my feelings any better. The First and I were twinned, worried we’d dry up. We didn’t share poetry; just sexy texts. To help fill in our world of unreality I gave him the His Dark Materials trilogy for Christmas. Unlike Abby and her love, we kept the kids completely out of it, which definitely added to the sense of fantasy and probably to our lack of judgment.

Abby again:
“I sometimes tried to imagine what our life might be like together -- one large car, four children -- but the image never quite came. // We both had messy lives. We both knew that we were holding each other back from dealing with them. … I wasn’t yet ready to commit so seriously to a man who would sacrifice what was best for him and his kids to be with me, so I began to pull away.” (p. 238)

I could imagine merging our households eventually, but his divorce was starting to happen. All of a sudden I was invisibly in a tussle with his soon-to-be-ex. I couldn’t win against his kids and didn’t want to be part of the changed game. I understood my moral imperative to get out and ended it a week later.

Is it a widowhood thing (many of us share eerily similar experiences) or is every rebound like this?

For me and I think for Abby too, rebound relationships helped us rebuild our energy, imagine new roles, and find strength in different areas. As fantasies, they served their role and then sunsetted out of our lives.

Were those two wars like rebounds for a country trying to comprehend its biggest hurt ever?

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What I Would Say at Seth's Memorial Service

Another damn young widow. I never met the spouses of most of my widowed friends; it's actual grieving, rather than just making friends, when a loss happens to someone I knew “before.”

Everyone wants to know how to help. This subject is the number one request on my blog. I'm sorry to have the occasion to answer them, but here is a first attempt, way too long, incomplete, hastily done. I'll keep refining materials on this subject, so your feedback is much appreciated.

If the opportunity comes up, if someone wants to read this at tomorrow's memorial service, I'd be grateful.

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I had not seen Jane or Seth, or their darling Eli, since they moved to Cleveland. I was preoccupied with my own battle for a child, my relationship with my husband, and then with his illness and death. In the three years since then, as a widow caring for a young child, I learned a lot about surviving, what people in crisis need, and now, about building a new life and thriving again.

I learned that while a memorial service is for the person who has departed, it's really for those left behind. Jane is not me, but based on my experience and understanding of the dozens of young widows and widowers I know now, I can share some basics about how to make a difference for the grieving wife:

1. There is no wrong thing to say. Nothing can hurt her more than this loss. So say what you feel. “This sucks” is a good start. Any day you have a memory of Seth, any anniversary, birthday, on any coincidence or whenever you wonder how Jane and Eli are doing, pick up the phone.

2. Know yourself. Grieving splits loving families and challenges the closest of friendships. Jane and Eli can’t afford to lose a single one of you. And you are all grieving – learn about the process, be honest about your own feelings, and then be open to listening to Jane and Eli. They WILL need you. Offer any distraction or company that you can: a play date, coffee, drop by with a meal. Invite them to your place and make sure Jane knows no one will be dressed up.

3. Please, I know you mean well, but DO NOT SAY “let me know what I can do.” I can’t speak for Jane, but I have met hundreds of grieving people and every single one hates this phrase: Why? WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE NEED. We have a hard time finding words, we can’t think on our feet. In time, we need so much we’re ashamed to say. Asking is incredibly difficult at the best of times! So: Offer something specific – housework, grocery shopping, a meal, money – or just give it without asking first. Don’t be ashamed if it’s not grand.

4. Be persistent. I don’t know one young widow who was good about returning phone calls, e-mails, or other communication. An acquaintance of mine from school stopped by (wearing sweatpants) and really listened one June day, a visit that changed the course of my first year significantly. If you’re rebuffed, try again later.

5. Think about the long term. You may recover from the feelings aroused by this service in a few weeks. But Jane and Eli’s loss will be a part of their experience forever. In October, in March of next year, a year from now. Two years from now. Three years from now. Their loss will be real, and they will still need you, even though the needs will have changed.

At our wedding, the minister asked every guest to support and uphold our marriage. But at my husband’s memorial service, I didn’t ask the congregation to help me stay alive.

Please, each of you, in whatever way makes sense for you, help keep Jane and Eli safe, sound, and strong in the coming years.

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First Day of Kindergarten, So Help Me God

Have you ever seen anyone shinier and happier than my little girl on her first day of kindergarten? Me neither.

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This morning we arrived a speck late and I heard them start the pledge of allegiance. Staff and students took it so seriously: stopped, even in the hallways, faced the nearest flag, hand on heart, recited the hallowed words.

In high school as I was healing from early childhood I adored William Safire’s essay on mondegreens:
I led the pigeons to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic, for Richard Stans,
One naked individual,
With liver tea and justice for all. Amen.

I have not been civic as a widow. The world outside was “one more damn thing.” I cancelled the paper before the memorial service; Gavin was the one who understood Bosnia. (I have a weakness when it comes to understanding “sides,” political or in dramatic movies. And I was the household’s economics department.) I pared down. I pretended I couldn’t care. To this day I barely follow health care reform, though I know it’s vital and even have a strong sense of mission about it.

But let’s be honest, I’m not an ironic teen any more; I feel the oath in my bones. I’m the kind of person who cries when singing the national anthem, even at a baseball game.

And here we are with a black President.

I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to talk about the dread I’ve felt as my daughter approached her first red brick schoolhouse. Elementary school was almost hell for me and my sister; we were in a white minority, our parents too blinded to the virtues of the civil rights movement to apprehend anything. We learned of the holy saints Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and trilled like good Castillians over “rrrRoberto Clemente.” We grew gnarled inside, wishing for black-is-beautiful cornrows.

Outside this home, every person had their own ideas and motivations. In second grade, a little boy showed his penis under the table and told me he’d kill me if I didn’t meet him in the playground after school. I believed him. It was a crowded classroom after a teacher’s strike. My parents wouldn’t hear, couldn’t have helped, given their own serious limitations. I fabricated a conflict with the teacher in our overcrowded classroom and managed to just barely escape. I receded into a cocoon of depression because those above didn’t think I was worth protecting. This event shaped the damages in my life. I’m still working, still hurting, still showing open wounds as I plead for help from above.

It’s not right to talk about it when I'm protecting my own precious jewel of a child, in her perfect pink raincoat.

But it was real, and it was then, and I’m not a child. I’m a mother. I can own my pain and accept it’s only my job to heal.

I know that my parents’ blindness, and their histories, which I’m still uncovering slowly, were more of the culprit than that little boy was. I know that growing depressed kept me intact, safe, from what was much worse. It was adaptive, now it’s not, and I’ve taken about a millions steps through and out of the pit.

I can take care of my girl. Remarrying (and a big macho man, at that) demonstrates that I can act appropriately. She’s not me, and I’m not my mother.

I was isolated. My mother felt contempt for the world. I’ve just been through enough of that, and I’m starting to love it, warts and all, again. I trust it (but require that all others pay cash). I like the complexities of our differences enough to look at them straight.

My daughter will be part of the world. As everyone reminds me, her challenges will be in some area that I can’t even imagine.

Will I be awake?

I face the flag of our land, which I’m so lucky to love. Let me not be afraid to ask for help. Let me know my limits. Let me be a good enough Mom for my joyful, secure daughter, keep my eyes and ears open. May we be safe. Please.


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(Fragment 05) Widowed AND Remarried

In my brief bio here, I say “I identify as a young remarried widow.”

I use “I identify” because this is how transgendered people speak. Postmodern as it sounds, the words should tell you, not that I made a choice, but what I really feel in my heart and what I know to be true. I use trans language out of respect so no matter how I edit the blurb, I’d like to keep this phrasing.

I say “young” because, even with all my gray hair, my issues are different from those of older grieving folks. While I enjoy meeting those folks, I find true sisterhood (or brotherhood) with grieving people around my age, especially if, like me, they are raising young children.

My dual identity as both “widowed” and “remarried” makes me complicated, like my trans friends. Even though you can finally select relationship status “widowed” on Facebook, you can’t choose two statuses.

But it’s also the thing I hear the most from readers: a bunch of you have told me you love hearing that grieving doesn’t disappear and that loss can be compatible with joy. Widows are “in between” in about a dozen ways. They are glad that someone who’s been there says you can arrive at chapter two without leaving chapter one behind. It’s easier to take on a transition if you know it’ll take a long time and there’s no easy way out.

OTOH -- two statuses?-- I could be asking for too much. I have never been accused of being realistic. Mr. Fresh says he hears my dissatisfactions as the result of rising expectations and that this is a powerful force: in fact it was one of the factors responsible for the French Revolution. I acknowledge, with gratitude, that he’s right. I’ve come so far.

But society also expects me to play a public role as a widow, and as my kid's married Mom. Why has it been so hard for me to announce my wedding? Unlike many widows, I haven’t hesitated to tell people I’ve “moved on” romantically.

I eloped partially out of hostility. I refused to vet the man who was to become Mr. Fresh with family or friends. I challenged my beloved minister by asking her to marry us before she herself got married, even though she’d announced her engagement months prior (and then I requested a reading she hates). In the back of my mind, I didn’t want to let my community off the hook of caring for us, to hear them exhale with relief that we’d be okay without their help. And I didn't want to let go of the hard stuff, the tough part, either.

But maybe I’m over that. At least I can see the pattern, hear the little voice inside me. In truth, I know most of our circle smiled big and wanted the best for us. Whenever I told someone I was dating I heard genuine happiness for me and, from married Moms, vicarious excitement. In actual fact, my communities and families have held me pretty well.

I feel ready for the bona fides. Maybe once everything’s out it won’t look so complicated.

A printed announcement:

With Short Stack Fresh,
Supa Dupa Fresh and Marshall Fresh
Take great pleasure in announcing
Their union in marriage,
December 10, 2008.
The family will reside at Xxxxxxxxx.
A celebration is planned for spring 2010.

An alumni note:
Supa Dupa Fresh married Marshall Fresh on December 10, 008. They live in Sprawling Suburb with Supa’s 5-year-old daughter, Short Stack. Supa was widowed in 2006.
Note to alumni editor: please let me review any changes to this text. I don’t want anyone to think I was divorced.

And with those, I realize I owe the world more formality: I never sent Gavin’s death announcements to his alumni publications.

Gavin O’Shaunnessy, class of 1968, passed away on June 2, 2006. O’Shaunnessy’s artwork lives on in many public and private collections. He is represented by the BigDeal Gallery in SmallCity. He received ThisSchool’s Distinguished Alumnus award in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Supa Dupa Fresh, and their daughter, Short Stack.

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(Fragment 04) Guest Post at Rock and Drool

I wrote a guest post at Rock and Drool a few days ago. It's supposed to be a mean jab at divorcees, but I don't think that works so well. Perhaps I am not very talented at poking people, even though I have such strong inclinations. On the other hand, I enjoyed writing for a different audience about my pet topic and I'm thinking about how to do more.

Melissa of Rock and Drool connected with me after I commented on her post about talking to her pre-schooler about loss. We met IRL at BlogHer and she is as energetic, funny, sexy, honest and supercool as her blog. Go check it out!


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