Saturday, July 8, 2006

More Losses

I've just discovered the screaming downside to my fantastic job luck (that would be, landing a t-t job at the delightful university where I now teach, which is some 30 miles from grad school city, and where I had been on visiting appointments [not the gory adjunct piecemeal route] during my final years in grad program). That downside is that my marriage is/was bizarrely congruent with my graduate school experience; I met my husband the first month of my doctoral program, married him during a potentially permanent lull in the dissertation; our daughter arrived early in his cancer and the week following my official campus visit; I received my t-t offer from the school while still in China; my husband died four months after my dissertation defense.

And like that grad school experience, our life together is coming to yet another end. As of August 1st, all of the friends who knew and loved US, the couple we were, the family we became, will have left grad school city and its environs. In many ways, it is the natural dispersal that occurs after graduate school; many of my friends are lucky enough to have good jobs in different parts of the country, while others moved back to be nearer to family, and still others are having entirely different adventures. But these natural patterns mean that soon I will be surrounded entirely by friends who never really knew "us"--who didn't socialize with the pair of us, didn't get to know his dry wit and endless enthusiasm, never dined at the cozy little house where we were so happy, didn't come to our wedding. Even my colleagues, who know of my marriage didn't really know my husband; we lived too far away; my job was only temporary (so we all thought), so why get too attached? And then, of course, he was too sick.

The final two pieces of that brief and happy world are leaving; one friend is taking a post-doc, and, most painful of all, another couple is departing to experience the glamour of life in a European capitol. These latter friends really define the good parts of the last ten years of my life--graduate school and marriage--and with their departure, I am losing a vast and irreplaceable part of my heart. I don't doubt the staying power of our friendship. But their home was one of our most frequent destinations when my husband and I were dating, engaged, married. The four of us sipped exquisite wine (okay, it was often more gulping than sipping, but it was invariably exquisite) together, and they fed us and nourished us, body and soul, through the dark days of academic trials, and then throughout my husband's illness. Even now, they are the only ones I know who automatically make a space for my husband at our now sadly infrequent gatherings. There is always a glass of wine for him, a toast in his honor, a memory of him that we can share. Everywhere else I go, I am the one who has to do the remembering. Nothing means more to me than their willingness to remember with me, and for me.

Their marriage was the inspiration for my own--in them I saw living proof that two could be stronger and happier than one. She saw my engagement ring before my husband did (it came in the mail; he was at work). She helped to plan every aspect of my wedding, thus making it possible for us to serve the finest reception food and wine ever. Had the weather not been cooperative, we would have been married in their home. They were among the first to meet our daughter. They were in every hospital room we had throughout his illness. And at the bitter end, the two of them put together a memorial service that was beautifully reminiscent of my husband, of our wedding, and of the happy times the four of us had.

So I feel that I am starting over, in ways I desperately don't want to. The people (the ones I cared most about) for whom my husband was a living, breathing, joking, loving entity are all gone away. Instead, I have his family (who didn't know him or appreciate him, and with whom I have infrequent contact...all to the good), and my solo friends: those who are supportive, caring, and wonderful, but for whom he is only a narrative I have to introduce over and over again. To them, it must seem strange that I am constantly bringing him up and trying to explain him, explain our life, explain what I was like back when I was happy. They are too kind to say anything, but they are to be forgiven if they occasionally wish I would give widowhood a rest, or if they wonder why I have to tell everyone I meet that I used to be married to the best man in the world, and that I used to be happy, and that I didn't always have this pinched and bitter look. It's like the high school prom queen who has gone to seed, but never stops reminding people that she used to be thin and gorgeous. It never works; all anyone sees is the fat frump she has become. In my case, all that's left is the widow--not what it was that I lost. That can't be explained.

It's hard work, in these circumstances, to keep him with me. Too many things in my life have no relation to him, or to our life together--the life that I wanted to have forever. I can't keep him alive by myself, and even if there are people who still love him, they will all soon be far away. In too many ways, it feels as though he never existed. I thought nothing could hurt more than losing him, but this second wave of loss comes close.


At 5:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They are too kind to say anything, but they are to be forgiven if they occasionally wish I would give widowhood a rest, or if they wonder why I have to tell everyone I meet that I used to be married to the best man in the world, and that I used to be happy, and that I didn't always have this pinched and bitter look"

you know, maybe they don't wonder. maybe they don't resent it. maybe they just want to know what the best right thing to do or say is, and they come up short. so they listen. maybe, just maybe, they just want you to do what you need to do. maybe they believe you.

we certainly do.

At 5:37 PM , Blogger Prof Mama said...

I'm so sorry that you're going through yet another loss. They are wonderful friends, and their move is a blow, no doubt about it.

At 9:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there was anyway those of us out here in Blog land could make this easier for you, I know I would try, but for now, I just read you and wish you and your daughter the best. I'm sorry for the loss of your friends.

At 10:42 AM , Blogger OTRgirl said...

I was thinking of you over the weekend. I remembered that after my Mom died what I most wanted were places where it was ok to tell stories about her. But most people seemed to get really awkward or sappy about it. "That must be so hard for you." Yeah, obviously, but its also neat to remember her as I talk about her.

To lose a place where that's mutual is a HUGE loss.

At 7:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've spent 3 hours learning about you, your daughter, and your husband. All I was looking for was a reference containing Et al.

I worked for academia, was surrounded by my closest friends in their stuggle to have either family or career (publish or perish, yes?). One of the best of these women choose both, and fought breast cancer while nursing her second child, 2 years later it's back, and I fear every day that there may be...well, I can't go there. I'm just getting tired of everyone wearing pink ribbons and not really "getting it."

I also understand what you mean about moving away from the place where you formed all of your memories. I changed careers and moved away after 8 years of building the most wonderful relationships of my life. I had the family I was never born into, but every time a degree was finished or funding ran short, I was the one who was left behind. Eventually I became the old maid with the rambling history that was shared by myself and a mysterious stranger on the top floor getting chemo.

You've broken my heart with your story, and you've distracted me from my own graduate work tonight. I want to keep track of you, you are too witty to not escape sorrow. You seem pretty amazing and are a wonderful read, and I'd like to know that life will be kinder to you.

At 7:16 PM , Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

This post is why people blog.


At 7:33 AM , Blogger Dorcasina said...

anon1: You are right. I will remember the truth of this: that there is nothing anyone can say. And that silence can be loving acceptance.

anon2: I'm touched that you spent so much time here with my daughter and me.

These blog friendships are powerful things, no?

At 4:38 AM , Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I understand -- oddly enough, when we made our most recent move I ended up in a situation where my new friends didn't know the 'me' before my sister's death, but I moved closer to her friends --- who knew her. So -- while in some ways I gained her, I lost myself.

Your new position will let you have the chance to build a life in which people will say 'we knew her after her husband's death, and over the years she became more happy'.

At 9:37 PM , Anonymous Mme. X said...

And now we will visit and toast your husband from a distance. When we can, in person; when we can't, we'll do it on the damn phone. It won't be the same, certainly; but it will be, and it will be good. That said, would give the world if we could tuck you into our pockets & bring you along with. With great love--

At 12:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice site!


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