I've never been a widow before. It wasn't a role I cared to rehearse, even though I knew for twenty-three months that I was losing Mel.
But there's no way to be prepared for the things that hit you. You know that birthdays and anniversaries and holidays will be killers, but you don't expect this: On this ordinary day, reaching into the supermarket dairy case for a container of milk, you see the black lettering on it that reads EXPIRATION DATE JULY 16th. You cry out. The carton falls from your hands. Milk pours over the floor. People are staring at you. The manager hurries over."What's the problem, lady?"
How do you tell him the "expiration date" is your husband's birthday - and your husband has just died?
COME and GO
Ask me how it began and I will tell you to imagine an eclipse of the sun – the gradual darkening, a shadow spreading over everything.
That's how it was with us.
But if you're one of those people who requires a defining moment it would have to be when Chuck fell down the stairs, fracturing his back, his mind already fractured.
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
We were a quartet before we became a pair. He and his wife, my husband and me, friends in our garden apartment complex. I liked to claim Chuck as a dance partner at parties, asking his wife, Edie, if I could borrow him. She'd shrug, amused. The same with my husband. So a chivalrous Chuck would try to keep up with my tipsy steps as we whirled through crowded rooms.
"We were the Astaire and Rogers of those parties," I told Chuck later.
"Who was Astaire and who Rogers?" he asked.
That was in the days when he could still joke. Those names are meaningless to him now, along with the two of us.
TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW
I'm in the car going home from the hospice. My daughter is sitting beside her "significant other"; my son is next to his closest friend. I feel totally alone. The man I shared my life with for thirty-nine years isn't in the car, isn't anywhere in the world. I run my hand over the cold seat, staring at the two gold bands on my finger: my wedding ring and the matching one I removed from his hand just an hour ago. In the silence I hear my voice saying, "I'm not a wife anymore."
TEN WOMEN OF VALOR (Introduction)
My name is Eve, which means mother of all. So I’m the rightful one to introduce the Biblical “daughters” in these pages. Still, I may seem like an odd choice since I was fashioned before there were any religions. Notice that I said “fashioned, not “born,” for Adam told me I was formed from one of his ribs. (Imagine beginning life already a fully-grown woman!) It was a wonder to me that his skin was so smooth, no mark to show that a rib had been removed.
She wants to be allowed to just sidle past the day.
But her niece is insisting that it's no time to be alone.
I'm not alone. Of course, she's never told anyone.
"What's a mere birthday?" she asks. "The world will be celebrating the birth of a new century soon."
But it seems that a luncheon has been planned.
At least, Jenny thinks, there should be enough people to give an illusion of festivity. But her friends have turned into"snow birds."(She pictures them flapping their arms and clutching mahjongg tiles as they fly south for the winter.) The one friend from her theatre days is on the other side of the country. So this will be that most fraught of scenes, a family affair.
"We need a surprise guest to add some drama," she tells the shadowy figure silhouetted in the bedroom window."If only you...."
But she vanishes, as always.