There are very few moments when I wished I’d disappear, when my hope was that I’d shrink and shrink and shrink and get to be so small that no one would see me. But they happen. Tonight, it happened.
It happened as I looked around at the families at my daughter’s school and couldn’t find a single person who was there alone. Everyone had someone with them — someones. They smiled and their smiles looked genuine. They talked and they seemed genuinely interested in what the other had to say. There was a festive feeling in the air, a lightness. I closed my eyes because I didn’t want to see them. I wished I could have shut my ears, but that would have been weird, and I was already weird enough sitting there on my own, waiting for my daughter’s performance at her school Christmas program.
If I am to be honest with myself, I’ll admit that I envied them. God, forgive me, but I envied them. I couldn’t leave because I knew Flora would be looking for me from the stage, and that she’d be waiting for my smile and the heart shape I make with my hands. I know she’d feel relief that I’m there. There’s more to her life than just me, I know, but tonight, I was her everything. And tonight, being her everything seemed like too great a responsibility to carry on my own.
Every moment that we’re surrounded by people we know well, but that we are alone, Flora and I, becomes a moment when I ponder our circumstances in a way that I mostly try to avoid, at least for now (because I have no answers): Why are we here? What are we doing here? When will it feel normal to be without Mike?
There are many reasons that make it tough to be a widow, but, to me, one of the most difficult has been knowing full well that some people look at me, know that I lost my husband, and try to avoid me. I notice it and I want to tell you, you don’t have to pretend you didn’t see me. Widowhood is sad and it changes you profoundly, changes everything about you, but I swear to you that it’s not contagious.
The other day I visited the women’s prison in Goodyear, Arizona, and I felt an odd kinship with the women I met there. Their grief seemed so much like mine. We all had been forced to leave behind life as we knew it, end the chapter, even though we felt there was so much more we could have written into it. Our lives are like the police movie we had to stop watching before the crime was solved because the power went out. We’re all learning to build a new us, them and I, and to accept and embrace that newness as a necessity.
We also have no idea of what’s ahead, and we’re confined, though I wouldn’t dare comparing their confinement to mine. They live in a cage that is literal and figurative. Mine doesn’t have bars I can touch. It doesn’t limit where I can go and when, or what I eat, or who my roommate is. My wings are wounded, but I still have them. I’m still free.
I don’t know much about the crimes committed by the women I met, but I do know that one of them is serving a life sentence for something she did while still in her teens. I didn’t care. We were in a room that the women have turned into a learning space; where they host guest speakers, do art work and borrow books from a library that, now, has five signed copies of my book. That’s what brought me there, my book. The women wanted to hear me talk about it. But then I got there and the only thing that fell right was to talk about my life and theirs and all that we have in common even though I got there thinking we had very little in common.
One of the things I have and they don’t is choice. I can choose to pour myself a glass of red wine and write this before I go to bed. I can choose to speak my mind and bare my heart without any fear that it will be hurt. (Truth is, it can’t be any more hurt than it already is.)
I told the women about resilience, and about how much I respected them for finding an honorable way to endure the dehumanization of prison, and about how I wish that the choices that are presented to them after they get out are better than those they faced before they went in.
Then I said goodbye.
On my way out, one of the women slipped me a note. “One thing is to have the opportunity to make a choice,” it read. ”But it’s another thing is not to have a chance.”
I’m grateful for the chances I have.
WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
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