If you think I need to be a wife to feel validated, the answer would be a no. I’ve been married and divorced; remarried and now widowed. But, no matter what place I am in life, I’M still there. I don’t need to be possessed by someone, but to be a true partner, a loving mate? Ah, that’s the winning powerball ticket. It’s a role I’ve cherished in life.
That being said, I kept the boat upright this last year without my partner, albeit listing a bit to one side at times. I’ve paddled my own canoe through in both home and work. With a home office for more than more than 15 years, days alone in that home are a given.
It’s the nights that bug me.
Last week, despite my reluctance to pull that trigger, I ended up in the ER — at 2am. Groan. My rebellious bad belly had been particularly spiteful these past weeks but it was nausea and a heart racing out of control that woke me from a sound sleep. Not able to put the brakes on it, I shakily called 911. My friends know well that my fresh-out-of-bed, no make up look would normally have made me want to rethink that call but wee hours lightheadedness, in a house where death already visited, does not make for a cool head — or an attractive one.
More important than my pounding heart that night was the ache in it as I sat in my ER bed and looked over at the empty chair that sat alongside. It was the same chair I filled in that and other hospital ER’s, waiting rooms and recovery rooms for so many years. It was a chair that I sat in as wife, business partner, medical advocate and pit bull. It was a chair that I sprang out of to chase doctors down when my husband was having an issue or to harass nurses to check for xray results. It was also the chair, in another hospital, at another time, where I sat only 3 days before he died.
I hate that empty chair.
Phone in hand I sat, with no make up, really bad hair and a hovering cloud of a pity just one word away. Luckily, four hours after I made my ER grand entrance, I had my exit papers, along with a super kindly ER doc’s directives to take care of myself. Well, duh. Having told him I was much more used to being the companion than the patient, he asked, with sad puppy dog eyes, if I was ‘moving on’. Huh? At 6 am, that was just too complicated a question to answer. Yet, with comedic irony, I had admitted to a dear friend just the day before that for the first time in forever, I was actually kinda ‘chill’. I wasn’t euphoric, happy or ‘moved on’ but chill. So how did that ironic confession trip off a major, landslide panic attack? What the?
Before I had a chance to dwell, I escaped with tear ducts in tact, having been given the green light to live another day – and live it large. Yet, after I settled back in at home, I thought about that stupid empty chair and wondered why it had gotten under my skin. It certainly wasn’t because I couldn’t and hadn’t been maneuvering my way solo all these months. In fact, I think I’m pretty darn competent at it. This is the first time I’m living honest to goodness alone. In past lives, at least one of my kids was always with me, my youngest being my last very welcome roomie and I don’t know who has better memories of those years together, her or I. She was getting her Master’s, first job and preparing a life with her soon to be fiancé and I was getting my sea legs after divorce. There could be no price tag on precious years spent with your last child.
The point is, living totally, absolutely single is brand new and I’m still not entirely settled in — and that’s okay. The first few months after my guy died, I saw him in every corner of our comfy home. I heard his voice echoing up the stairs asking ‘where are you”, as he comically did when I left the couch for even 5 minutes to run upstairs to grab something. A house that once held a boatload of laughs, constant conversation, even an occasional argument or tears, now holds a resounding quiet.
Seasons have come and gone and oddly, I have adjusted to my very changed life. It’s funny how even when you really dislike something, despite yourself, you can still find Pollyanna moments. While life ‘after’ is hardly glad-game worthy, this cockeyed optimist is still able to find the not-so-horrible in things. I can wander in Marshalls with no time frame and babysit contentedly without worry that my ‘other’ might urgently need me. House décor only has to past muster with me — and my not-so-fat wallet. And those too healthy foods I preferred to pork chops? Yup, I can and do eat whatever Trader Joe’s and my bratty stomach allows.
Speaking of eating, Silvia Plath once commented on the term ‘widow’ saying “The word consumes itself.” Lovely. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I’d choose alone over having the person I love next to me. For most of my adult life, I’ve been a partner and being without my personal plus one beside me is life with a phantom limb. I take out my own damn garbage, lug heavy boxes to the garage and use my screwdriver and hammer like a champ. While I still hate emptying the dishwasher, I’m glad I have one. (though it still hasn’t gotten the message that it’s supposed to actually CLEAN the silverware). In pity party moments, it’s tempting to wish I was Scarlett O’Hara rather than the always capable, single mom Rosie the Riveter my kids always knew. But, if I didn’t always strive to just ‘get it done’, I wouldn’t have been who I needed to be for them, for him and now – for me.
What I miss, is simple. It’s the hospital chair that will not ever hold a fierce other for me that my mister always had for him. It’s the hug, cuddle, wink and shoulder rub only an other half could give. You know what I’m talking about.
Still, it is what it is, Captain Obvious. This is no prosthetic life; it’s the only real we know — empty chair or not. Do I miss having a my own, personal plus one; being the salt to someone’s pepper? You betcha. But my mister who’s missing lived YOLO most all his life and that perennial PR guy be the first to put a down and dirty, new spin on life ahead for me.
I can’t promise that I won’t ever lament the damn empty chair. Yet, most days (okay, the better ones) I’m still Pollyanna and other times (my best days) I’m a badass.
But aren’t we all?