Today the Bug and I went into town for supplies. The local grocery boasted chicken and Macintosh apples on sale, so I bought some for the Bug to carry back home. Last errand: fill-up at the petrol corral, as the Mighty Bug's stomach was growling, and the price was $2.79 a gallon. As the blue car was accepting a long drink of fuel, a smart, expensive-looking sports car pulled up to a gas bay nearby, and a tiny dark-haired woman emerged, holding a credit card. She looked nervous. Upset.
"Will you show me how to do this, miss?" she asked. She was a lady older, a foot shorter than this Celt. Her accent was Greek. "I have been recently widowed, and my husband always did this. I do not know how. Will you help me?"
"Sure," I replied.
Here's Ken. This is how I will always remember him. This doesn't show how he looked or felt the last three weeks of his life, as he lay dying in a hospital almost five years ago. What I like to recall are the times he was happy, all the moments we made each other laugh...truly laugh. That's why I married him.
Scene: We are leaving the house one evening to go to a movie. In one of my less enlightened life moments, I am turning on all the lamps in the living room.
Ken: "Mare, what are you doing?"
Mare: "I'm leaving the lights on for the dogs."
Ken: "What are they gonna do...read?"
Scene: Ken is locked out of the house one hot summer afternoon. That morning we had driven off in separate cars and different directions. He returned home first, and realized he didn't have his house keys. I came home to find the pretty little decorative wicker garden chair, which would tremble under the weight of a horsefly, squashed flat in the front yard, its four legs splayed out like a newborn foal. Seems Ken used that chair as the base for a plastic picnic chair in the thought both would provide him sturdy height to reach a window so he could gain entrance to the house. As one might imagine, this construction provided the foundation for the felling of a great tree. Seems, after that, he had the sense to brush himself off and borrow a neighbor's ladder. Then, he, a big man, got stuck in the window, mooning the neighbors as two Black Labs curiously licked his face while he was trying to pop his way inside this domicile. He told me the whole horrific story.
Mare: (unable to speak, due to gasping of breath from laughing)
Ken: "Mary, this was a horrible experience."
Mare: (still unable to speak, due to much gasping of breath while laughing) "Uh huh."
Ken: "This is NOT FUNNY."
Mare: (Gasp) (Nodding) (Laughing) "Yes it is."
Ken: (Gasp) (Nodding) (Laughing) "Yeah, I guess it is."
What I liked about our relationship is that we just accepted each other, our human foibles, our character defaults, 'cause for sure, those blemishes were always there. And we drove each other crazy sometimes, and that was OK, 'cause we both understood. And, when he was feeling good, he would wander off to photograph the world, then return to the darkroom in the basement to process what he had encountered. Many mornings I would wake to find a hot cup of really fine coffee steaming on the nightstand alongside a damp print or two of horses or trees or sunrises or people, the photo paper reeking of hypo and fix.
After Ken died, I didn't speak to anyone, unless it was absolutely necessary, for two years. I felt like I was walking through mud, and that I would never feel better again.
1) When someone you truly love dies, the spirit of his or her death passes through you too, and you are never the same. You can never again bear the superficial. You only look for the quality in life.
2) Most people are terrified of death. They don't know what to do with you, the one who is left behind, the one who represents the experience we all fear.
3) People "felt sorry" for me. I found it to be incredibly insulting. I had no patience for it.
4) People wanted to "include" me. It felt false, and I refused it. I spent a lot of time alone.
5) Being widowed doesn't make you a saint, doesn't mean you are the best at relationships. It simply means you are the one who didn't die. I have never owned a halo.
So today, Mutt and Jeff, this widow showed another how to pump gas, and where the blue towels could be found under the dirty water tank that holds the window washing stick. And how to press YES to get a receipt. And how much I knew what she was going through.
She grabbed my arm when I told her of my experience, and she talked and talked. Methinks I am not the first one she has asked to help her at a pump, as I think she perhaps has never learned how to be on her own: how to change a flat tire or write a check or do the little things in life as I've always done for myself. This is not said to criticize her. I think there are a lot of men and women out there...widowed, divorced, separated... who are in the same boat.
She asked me:
"Does it ever feel any better?"
I told her that eventually it does, that you never really get over it, but that you get through it, as time and momentum helps you move on. And that the best thing about it is the day you realize you can still feel. And that's the best moment of all.