First you burned, and then everything else went up in flames. I unhooked you from the respirator, and then you died. Do you remember that evening when we caught the bluefish in Menemsha Bay? We were ill-prepared, had neither a bucket nor a knife. We didn’t expect to catch anything, but a large vicious bluefish took the hook. We pulled it gasping to the sand, and had no way to kill it as its teeth went for our bare feet. You took a large rock and brained it. At that exact moment the moon rose full and orange over the eastern shore of the island, behind us. We put our hands in gassho and bowed to the fish. Took it home, cooked, and ate it. Only I remember, as both you and the fish are dead. You were cremated in your gray under kimono, along with your lineage papers, certifying that you were an ordained Buddhist priest.
It was from New Mexico Taxation and Revenue, which hounds both the living and the dead. Out of an atavistic fear that you owed money, I opened it. But they merely wanted to inform you of some changes.
I also want to inform you of some changes. Trump is no longer president. But then again, you never knew that he was. I’m not even sure you knew who he was at all.
And you have a grandchild, with an Irish name. But she doesn’t know who you are. When she is older, you’ll be a sad story–a scary one–about how her mom’s dad died. We have photographs. But I doubt she’ll ever care that the maternal grandfather she calls Pop Pop and asks for pickles is a step-grandfather.
Drought is here, but that is hardly new. As for the rest, I’ve grown tired of trying to keep you informed because things change, and you do not.
I prefer my widows cheery, although God knows I was beyond morose. When I was newly widowed I wept constantly, blowing my nose, rubbing my eyes. When asked how I was, I responded “I’m fucked,” over and over. However, even at the start, I craved some role models of widows who hadn’t completely collapsed, who had some kickback to life. I did find them—and found one inside myself—but it took a while. I wish that all those decades ago I’d been able to watch “Jane The Virgin.”
Usually television doesn’t have a profound effect on me, and “Jane” was no exception. Funny, cute, full of great Latina actresses, and some meta riffs on telenovelas and narrative—yes. But not much more. Until, to my shock, Jane’s new husband Michael DIES. Leaving Jane a widow. And in a very clever move, three years passes in the middle of a season. So we don’t have to watch Jane grieve. We get to see her recover.
“You’re in a long term relationship with grief—but it has to evolve.” That’s what Jane’s abuela tells her. Abuela herself is a widow—something we know but don’t focus on. I felt like Abuela was talking to me. I wrote it down.
Grief, despite our investigations, our systems, seems to have a life of its own. It’s like love or hate—it doesn’t yield to the purely rational. Sometimes I feel a door open and find myself prostrate sobbing on the floor—for my first husband, for those I lost to AIDS, for a high school suicide. These griefs have not gone…anywhere. Not away, not under. They are here, as fresh as they were when I preserved them like rose petals. They are part of me.
The one thing I still can’t stand is other people having opinions on what a widow can and can’t do. Remember Scarlet O’Hara, widowed, dancing with Rhett Butler beneath disapproving eyes? Even today there is some kind of allowable social opinion on when widows can date, or love again. Jane The Virgin nicely sidesteps this with a decorous passage of time. But, shocking as this may seem in our buttinsky world, what a widow does is no one’s business but her own. Smoke cigarettes, lie in bed eating ice cream, marry again, sell your house, join the Peace Corps—the truth is, you get to do what you want as a widow. And that is because—get this—grief does not make us stupid.
It may make other’s uncomfortable. But so what. For those of us who grieve…in our own ways, it makes us wise.
After many years of searching, I am finally in possession of a deck of Brian Eno’s OBLIQUE STRATEGIES cards.
Encased in a small navy blue box, these are a fantastic creative resource. Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, they are “over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas”–somewhat performancy instructions a la John Cage. And because they were limited editions, often cost several thousand dollars.
I found a 2001 edition for the price of a fancy lunch.
How to use them? I learned Tarot by pulling a card a day. These are so instructional, I figured I’d pull one and work with it until I “got” it.
Here goes: GIVE WAY TO YOUR WORST IMPULSE
This took some thought. Bitchy remarks? Lazing about? Writing a sentimental poem?
Then I got it.
Worst impulse: to tell the real story of me and these cards. And post it.
My first husband, Robert, had a set. I loved them. I used them, to write, to teach. He felt I was wearing the out. He hid them from me.
Then he died.
I searched high and low (i.e. the scary basement). I could not find the cards.
Worst impulse: to keep writing about dead husband. To act as if I have not gotten over dead husband despite nineteen years of trying, when it is obvious to me most of the time that I have.
To hold a grudge against dead husband. To feel he should have told me where the cards were hidden. To keep searching. Maybe this is a good impulse.
To keep searching.
So, from time to time I may pull a card and write about it. My even WORSE impulse was to pull a card a day and write a book about it. And not revise my novel or develop a new class or garden. So bad I won’t do it. Not yet.
I have been having the pleasant experience of drinking a cafe au lait and looking at a manuscript of Joan Logghe’s poems–the ones written when she was poet laureate of Santa Fe.
As I was reading, I came across myself, of all things. Not surprising, as Joanie is my friend, but pleasing nonetheless. The poem is “Visiting Placitas” about an evening we spent at JB and Cirrelda Bryan’s studio. It was a hot night, and I was dancing around to music. Joan wrote:
when she dances you don’t see
her widowhood, her Harvard
I can’t wish for anything nicer to be said about me, ever.
My first husband, Robert Winson, used to say–it’s upsetting that a person has to be close to you to do you any good but can hurt you from farther off. I found this intriguing, and just believed it, but this windy spring I’m wondering exactly what it means.
It doesn’t seem to hold true for history. Yes, Nazis can hurt and terrify me still, even at this remove of time and space. But I have FDR to thank for the social security checks. What about lovely little parks dedicated to someone civic I’ve never heard of or met? This is good at a distance.
And so of course is writing–poems, novels, literature, great suspense fiction–you name it.
There is a corollary, though, about appreciation. Do I wake up every day glad I don’t still have vertigo? Yes, that appreciation holds at a distance. Be happy I have a house with a roof…hmmm, this seems vaguer. And yet, there is my garden. For about twenty-five years my yard was mediocre. Now, thanks to other peoples’ expertise, time, love, and money, it is beautiful. I didn’t hate it every day then. But I do love it every day now.
Maybe Robert was just an introvert–and a shy person at first. Maybe he needed intimacy to feel good but not to suffer the bad. I can’t ask him because he has been dead a long time. And although he is indeed at a distance, he can still do me both good and ill, at least in memory or in the energy the dead still have to visit us.
Clouds on gallery ceiling, Santa Fe Community College