A couple of weeks ago, I had to take one of our two adopted kitties, Sammy, to the vet because he has been losing weight, off and on puking, and having digestive issues for months.
So off to the vet I drove. Alone. Just me and my pet carrier and Sammy. We both cried the entire 30 minute drive to Long Island; and both for the same reason. We were scared. “I know, honey”, I said to Sammy as his eyes stared at me through the lines of that caged door. “I wish Boo was here too. Im sorry that Im not him. He would know how to make you feel better. I suck at this.” As I walked my kitty into the vet hospital, everything went wrong immediately. They couldn’t find my name in their system. Why was I there again? Was I married? What was my appointment for? After a million questions and no progress, they made me sit down and fill out “the form.” I took my seat amongst the other zillions of people and their Fluffies and Whiskers and Creampuffs, placed the paperwork atop Sammy’s pet taxi, and started to write.
That’s when I saw it. It jumped out at me as if I were wearing 3-D glasses in a movie theatre. The sight of it made me dizzy and filled me with fear. I forgot how to breathe and I stared blankly at the page as the following words became blurry, then clear, then blurry again:
Check the Appropriate Box: Single – Married – Divorced – Widowed.
My friends in the widowed community had warned me about this moment, and about how awful it was to have to check that box. But I guess I never really paid attention or thought much of it. How hard could it be to simply put a checkmark inside of a box? Compared to all the other shit I’ve been through, making the shape of a checkmark with my pen would be cake. Right? Right? Wrong.
My heart was beating so fast that I kept forgetting where I was. The sound of dogs barking and cats meowing became a migraine as I tried to wrap my brain around these boxes and what they meant. How can my emotions and my raw, complex feelings about this loss possibly fit into a box? The problem was, none of these boxes described my situation at all. None of these boxes told the truth.
Im certainly not single. Being single is a choice. Single people date and live single-people lifestyles and go out on weekends til 2am with other single people, which I have zero desire to do. I was all done being single when I got married. Being single is not a place I want to return to. I am not single.
No matter how many times people try to lump divorce and death of a spouse in the same category, they are two different things entirely, and I am most definitely not divorced. We were so in love. We were just beginning our time together. We were supposed to be that couple that stays together forever, that still holds hands when we are old and gray. We joked about moving to Florida in 30 years and helping each other up the steps to The Golden Corral for the Early Bird Special at 4pm. We were that couple that went out for dinner at restaurants, and found it sad and depressing looking around at other couples who barely spoke a word to one another during their meal. The clinking of their silverware and the tension between their eyes were the only sounds you heard, and we would always promise to never be them and to always discover new reasons to fall back in love with each other. I am not divorced.
Widowed. This is a tough one. Sure, technically, my husband died, and therefore, I’m a widow. But that just can’t be. How is that possible? Widows wear black, or they walk around in mysterious capes and large beige sweaters, looking out windows pensively and petting their 18 cats. Widows let their houses pile up with memories and receipts and old aftershave and things from the life they once had, until, eventually, they are featured on an episode of Hoarders. Widows are old ladies with white in their hair and whiskers above their lip. Widows are on social security, and enjoy shows like Jeopardy and Murder She Wrote. Widows have blankets draped over their favorite chair, and they call them “afghans.” Widows have children, and grandchildren, and sometimes great-great grandchildren, and enough years behind them to count for an actual life with their husbands. Don’t they? Shouldn’t they? I don’t care what you say, you stupid hospital form. I am not a widow.
My cat stares up at me through his sad cage as I focus on the word married. That is what I am. Married. That is how I feel. Those are the vows that I made, that we wrote. We chose not to say “til death do us part”, because we both thought it sounded creepy, like you were inviting death to come knocking. Instead, we coined the phrase “Until Forever” into our vows. Now he lies dead and here I sit, very much breathing but not quite alive, and I am married. I am married, dammit. Why can’t I still be married?
It wasnt my choice, nor his, to end our union. Even if you’re dead, you can still love, right? Even if you no longer exist, you can still be a husband, right? Can’t you? There is no box to check for when you feel like you’re married and want to be married, because its the only thing tangible that you have left to cling onto. There is no box for when your husband is clearly gone, but you still talk to him every day and you say goodnight to him every night and you say to the thin air: “Ha ha! You’re the last one in bed. You have to shut off the light!” There is no box for when you still put the brown and the red M&M’s aside, cuz he likes those gross colors best. There is no box for taking out your phone 20 months later, on a regulgar basis, to text him with the score of the Yankee game. There is no box that says “It’s not Fair!”, or “What the fuck?”, or “In Denial.”
In this new widowed life that I was pushed into, there are many areas where I know that I will be okay, eventually. I can rebuild a life for myself. I can still have happiness and still feel joy, one day. I can still laugh and I can still have wonderful people in my life who care about me. I can soar in my creativity, and get onstage and teach and write and perform. I can help others and help myself and find new things and new ways to always grow and learn. I can have a fulfilling life ahead. It will hurt like hell and none of it will be easy, but I can do it. However, there is one place of that life where I am stuck. There is one thing that hurts so deeply and in a place so far down, that even when I start to type the words, I begin to sob.
Marriage. The end of our marriage. The very thought makes me shake and almost whimper. The very idea that because you died, we are no longer married. It doesnt seem right. It doesnt make sense. How can I no longer be your wife? How do you begin to accept something so awful? So far, I just cannot accept this, I cannot take it in, and that is where I am stuck. Or loyal. Or crazy. Because even if I cant be with you here on this earth, I would rather keep the title of being married to you, then to even address the concept of breaking that tie or being with anyone else. The reality is, I will probably be alone forever. Right now, I have negative zero desire to find love again, and maybe thats unhealthy, but its just how I feel. I had love. I had you. How on earth do you find that kind of thing twice in a lifetime? I would imagine that you dont, and if I cant have something that special, I dont want anything at all.
When I die, I want to still be your wife. I want to die as your wife. Why cant I have that right? That honor? You got to die being my husband, but I dont get to live being your wife? Why not? Instead of “Widowed”, why cant there be a box that says: “Married – Spouse Deceased.” Why? The hurt that lies inside of my heart at the thought of our marriage being over – it is a hurt that is impossible to describe. It is a hurt that sits dormant, wailing like a child. Seething like a lion. Crying like a widow, who just wants to be your wife.
“Are you ready?” The vet tech looks down at me. Sammy yawns. My hand shakes and quivers. My fingers fall off one by one and my soul dies as I make the unwilling checkmark, next to the “appropriate” box. Widowed.
But Im not ready. Im not ready to be widowed. And to be honest, I dont even know how to begin to start such a thing. I would suppose that it all comes down to acceptance. And if Im being truthful, I can accept that you are gone – maybe. Possibly. Someday. But to accept that I am no longer your wife? That our beautiful marriage dissolves like some pill floating in a glass of water? No. That is not something I can do. I don’t know how.
Is it really so awful to just live inside denial? If I know its denial, and I know Im lying to myself, and I dont care, who am I hurting really? Not myself. Just let me have this one little corner, this tiny box, where we still exist as husband and wife. Where we hold hands and walk along the ocean. Where we watch Yankee games and get to be old people. Where I get to die with the knowledge that I was the one you chose, that you were the one I chose.
Beyond life. Beyond death. Until forever ….
Where is the box for that?