Her Widow, 2nd excerpt





Great chunks of snow fall with a thud from the trees and roof. 

Dear Catherine, 

I’ve talked too much today. The story is losing its pull on me. I say the words but don’t feel anything. Yesterday, at least, I was real in my pain. Tonight, I feel false. 

It will be days before everyone is told, before the story is old, and only I am here with the full weight of it. 

I called your Aunt Agnes in Ireland, and for a moment, lifted by the lilt in her voice, my heart sang. 

Homer came by to fix the toilet.

By noon, a turkey had arrived that is now in the fridge, keeping company with a casserole and a cake from church.

Tomorrow, Clyde will be here to sweep the snow from the roof. 


The bright sun streaking in the bedroom window lights a nearly square patch on the floorboards. 

Dear Catherine, 

This morning in my dream you came to me and combed your fingers through my hair. I woke, remembering your promise to do this as a sign to me that you had survived death. 

I got out of bed and stepped to the window to look out. Snow had stopped falling and everything was still. The sun glinted off the frozen world beyond, making a showy splendor of the ordinary. Branches were bent down, heavy with snow. The wind had blown drifts down the road and made peaks out of chimneys. It was a picture you would have raced down the stairs and out the door to take. 


Plows have been pushing snow down the roads all day and are still at work tonight on Main Street. 

Dear Catherine, 

Everyone is in bed except Marc and me. Marc sits in the kitchen, reading the Unobstructed Universe that I lent him, while I wander aimlessly in and out of rooms. Everywhere I set my foot or direct my eye is strange and cold. 

I’ve received no calls or cards from my family. I have only my nephew Marc, but he is everything. Quiet and respectful, he washes dishes, brings me plates of food I can’t eat, shuts off the lights, and locks the doors.

Last August when I stood beside you in the surgical office and watched the surgeon insert the tube into your stomach, we understood it was not to feed you. It was to remove the food you ate and prevent any from lodging where your bowel was obstructed, to prevent your bowel from turning gangrenous. You would not die quickly or easily from the tumor in your brain stem. You would starve to death. We lived with that awareness. How do I live with the awareness that I will never see you again? 

Battered by a storm that has taken you away from me, I feel certain I will never see a sunny day again. I struggle to keep my head above water as all around me goes under, afraid I will soon drown and at the same time, wishing I would. 

I’m sorry I didn’t follow you in death.
I lie on the couch all day and sometimes all night. I feed the dogs. That is what I do.                                                        


The New York airports are closed. 

Dear Catherine, 

The snowstorm has raged on and made it difficult for some and impossible for others to get here today, but the church was packed nonetheless. Every pew was taken. Some friends of yours stood and spoke about you. Pat described the evening you drove her home and hit the car brakes suddenly in an intersection, and jumped out of the car to rescue a spring peeper you’d caught in your headlights. 

When Pat sat down, Linda stood to tell us at sixteen years old, you climbed out your bedroom window late one night and rolled the family car down the drive. You were not sneaking out to meet someone but going to the Sound to park at the water’s edge and listen to the surf. 

What made you more enchanting, Catherine, your gentleness or your nerve? And how were you able to cheerfully accept people as they were, never asking more from anyone then she could give? 

Steve ended the service saying it was not only the love you brought to the church or the love I brought, but our love for each other that changed the hearts and minds of so many. 

Your brother never showed though he’d told me he would. I was relieved in the same way I was relieved not to hear from my family. How would they have comforted me? 

My family’s three letters, written just after you got sick and all arriving on the same day like a school assignment, seemed calculated. Mom’s letter addressed to you, my brother’s letter to me, and my sister’s letter to the two of us. I can guess who gave that assignment. 

I remember only the sarcastic remark in Mom’s letter to you in which she said I must be distraught because I had made you my all and everything. 

Of course, it wouldn’t have occurred to her that I did so because my family had turned away from me, never shared family news with me, never invited me to visit when others would be present, never asked about my life. 

Twenty-five years earlier, well before you came into my life, our family battle began. I was summoned to England to explain the letter I had written to Mom and Dad saying I was in love with a woman, Allyson. My sister advised me to write a letter rather than call. 

“Give Mom and Dad time to adjust to the shock of it,” she’d said. 

I was in England a week. Mom and Dad waited until the last hour on the last day of my visit to grill me. It was an awkward conversation made worse by Mom’s decision that we have our talk in the parlor where the sterling tea set was front and center, obscuring our view of one another. We sat in a circle around it, in tall wing-back chairs set too far apart for intimate conversation. Mom didn’t speak at all, although from the sound of it, Dad’s question was hers.“ 

“Joan, just exactly what is your relationship to Allyson? Are you friends, like sisters, or mother and daughter?” 

I answered, “We are all that but we got together because of our romantic attraction to each other.” And, because I was irritated by the delay that kept me on edge for seven days, as well as the formal setting, and that first question, a cowardly way to ask if Allyson and I were sexually intimate, I said, “You know Dad, it doesn’t take a penis to have an orgasm.” 

To his credit, Dad didn’t flinch, but Mom pushed back in her chair. Dad, in a cheerful voice, said, “I’m glad to know you have a sex life. I would hate to think any of my children missed out on that. I won’t ask you anything more.” 

I thought he meant he wouldn’t ask me anything more about my sex life, but he evidently meant nothing more period. Neither Dad nor Mom ever again asked me anything about my personal life. My sister and brother followed suit. They were either afraid I would share something that would make them uncomfortable, or they were simply not interested. 

Mom and Dad considered themselves worldly, but I saw the muscles tighten in their faces and heard the uneasiness in their voices whenever Allyson and I were present. Our sexual orientation unnerved them. Their message was that I was no longer one of them. And Allyson, and later you, Catherine, would not be invited to events where there was a chance someone outside my immediate family would be present. We were excluded from all weddings and christenings, even my grandparents’ funerals. 

In each instance, I received a phone call from my sister or brother, saying I was welcome only if I arrived alone and kept quiet about my personal life. I went to Grandpa Baldwin’s funeral but none of the others because going alone to that first funeral felt like a betrayal of Allyson, of me, and of us jointly. 


My Writing Life

blue room 2nd copy
Last night, getting into bed, I felt what I often feel at the end of my day, that something is missing.  That something, which I mention in Her Widow (my next book), is having a chat with Catherine about my/our day.  I glanced at the picture of her on my bedside table and reached for my journal to write to her what I would say if she were beside me in bed.  I didn’t get far before my eyes began to sting.  The struggle to live without her at my side continues.  I accept that it is never-ending in ways and it doesn’t always bring tears to my eyes, but it is always there, thrashing about in my belly and it brought me to thoughts of the Jews in the camps.  How horribly they must have suffered the loss of parent, child, spouse, sibling.  I think the terrible conditions they lived under and threats and starvation might not have amounted to as much pain as the separation from family members.  The holocaust hit me last night deeper than it ever has before, personally, and I think that is the point of suffering, to put us in touch with people (humanity) we don’t even know, who might not even walk the planet now, who we only read about and imagine.  We are one, after all, and perhaps need suffering to wake to that.  Perhaps empathy and compassion cannot be felt by those who for one reason or another haven’t suffered or been in touch with their suffering.
I think I need to get back to my professional writing if I have so much to say on a misty morning.  I am wrestling with myself over what I should allow myself to write in a blog or even to friends, and what I should keep to myself.  Instinctively, I reach for the pen, or the computer when feelings are pulling on me, but maybe it is not of importance to anyone and perhaps it is even self-indulgent and self-important to write personal thoughts and feelings.  Maybe I should read a book or watch a movie and distract myself.