I am a rebel. I always have been. I do my homework and get good grades but then I sneak out to go to the party. You know? In other words, I’ve always done what was generally expected of me, but then I also tend to kind of run away and do what I want later.
I went to college but did not go to law school like everyone else I knew. I did not get a serious job for the government like many of my peers, but instead ran away to Hollywood. I did not marry someone my own age and have kids and a regular suburban life, but instead I married an older man and became wife #3 to a unique ham of a man and a stepmom to two grown girls. I did not choose to live in a familiar home town but instead moved to about the most remote spot on the planet and did whatever it took to afford to live there.
Then, my husband died.
So now when people ask me so, what do you do? I stammer a little. I’m not really sure what to say about what I do or what I have done. My friends who already know me ask what my plans are now, which I have said before is hard enough to figure out, much less explain, as things are still in flux in my strange new normal. But how do I explain myself to new friends, quickly and painlessly?
I’ve been here in my Virginia hometown on the edge of DC for a couple of months and during this time have met up with a lot of dear school friends and met a lot of new people too. Because no, I don’t have teenagers at home like lots of my friends, nor do I have a high powered full time career in town. So when I go hear a band, for example, and there are certainly a lot of interesting new sounds to hear in a big city, I am not always accompanied by old school friends…so I find myself in a brand new crew. And they always ask…so what do you do? The inevitable question that is so hard to answer these days.
Sometimes I just say, well, my life is like a blues song right now. My husband died and I’m losing my house in Hawaii and my dad is not doing well so I am back here to help. No I’m not working because I can’t commit to a job when I am in the middle of moving across the planet. But hey I’m in school! I’m studying nutrition and that is a huge relief to the new person I’m talking to too, because, oh, ok, she is doing something kind of normal that I can relate to, anyway.
I’ve been getting better at the initial meet-and-greet paragraph. But it is a lot. When I say it all at once it comes out in a flurry of bizarro world – not that it’s anyone’s business, but, what else am I going to say? My life is not cut and dry, and it does not fit into a neat, tidy sentence.
Generally the reaction I get are eyes open in surprise. Like holy hell I was not expecting that. Couldn’t she just be normal and say hi, I’m Stephanie, I’m an accountant, I have two kids in college and this is my husband of 25 years? I know they are thinking oh man, what do I say? Do I express condolences for all the loss? Do I congratulate her on her new studies? Should I feel bad she is losing her home in Hawaii – wow, Hawaii, really? – or do I ask how her dad is doing? Or do I just smile and nod and try and move away slowly?
My mom knows very well about the rebel she raised, not that she ever had much control over that part of me. But my mom pretty much gets me, as much as she can anyway, that I do not fit into any neat category and never will. She knows now why I ran away to Hollywood and why I fell for Mike and why we chose Hawaii for our home, even if she didn’t at first, and even though these were not choices that were given to me on the initial sign-up form for life.
I have not one single regret. I have loved every second of my wild ride so far…except the MikeIsDead part, of course. But I still don’t regret marrying him, an older man, knowing he would go before me, of course no idea it would happen so soon, but even so, my life is immeasurably enhanced by having known him. Even now as I find ways to move forward he will always be with me.
One new person I met this week, standing outside a crowded club during the break for the band, heard the Stephanie nutshell rush, and her single question, after the inevitable pause and wide eyes reaction, was…so, do you talk to him?
She didn’t try to fumble around all the bits and pieces of me, she didn’t judge, didn’t avoid the grief, didn’t try to sidle away, wasn’t uncomfortable. Do I talk to him? She looked at me with compassion, this stranger I had never met before.
I smiled, thinking of my beautiful husband, just out of reach to me, but somehow nearby nonetheless. Yes. I do talk to him. All the time. He is always in my heart. Thanks for asking. She just smiled back, and reached out and squeezed my arm, this stranger. In that moment it was all I needed…it was all I could have handled. Sometimes, people don’t suck.
We clambered back into the club for the next set in our heavy coats and boots in this frigid corner of the world and as I went in I looked up to the heavens – for lack of any other place to imagine he is – and gave Mike a smile and a silent thank you, for everything he gave me. For what we were together, for what I learned from him, how he prepared me for life without him without me even having been aware, and for the opportunity to start over again, for the resources to do that, for my family, and the dear, sweet memories I will have in my heart forever.
There is a lot crammed into this nutshell. It’s a wild ride, and Mike is, and always will be, my fulcrum.