It doesn’t really ever stop. It doesn’t go away. The hurt. The empty space.
And you never stop being a widow.
Even if after only a year you think you’re stuck (and wonder about the possibility that you may be holding him back from somewhere he’s supposed to move on to) and you push yourself to let go of some things and move forward. Even if you allow yourself to be manipulated by someone who says your grief is unhealthy and calls you “Courtney Love” and says you weren’t really a widow because you weren’t legally married in an attempt to dismantle your very identity and discount your experiences but at the same time convinces you he loves you and wants to be with you (despite his wife’s objections!) Even if you don’t talk about it, trying to avoid triggering this narcissistic new boyfriend who’s jealous of the dead guy. It’s all still there.
Even when three years goes by after you’ve eliminated the narcissist who tried his best to replace the dearest sweetest most brilliant person in the world and left you even more scarred and scared but in different ways, it’s still there. But now you’re free to express yourself without censorship.
Even when five years goes by, the shock of finding the dearest sweetest most brilliant person in the world hanging from a carefully constructed rope never leaves. It washes over you still sometimes in a giant wave that disrupts the current moment, makes you drop what you’re doing and work to wrap your head around it once again. The images don’t erase themselves. And you don’t want them to. In that image there is also incredible peace on his face. He was calm, his body relaxed. He stopped the hurt.
And you never stop being a widow.
Sometimes it still hits me. Like out of nowhere. I think of him, I feel him. My heart stops for a second. I remember he’s gone.
Five years later and still.
I wonder if that will ever stop. But I don’t really want it to.
The shirt. His shirt. The shirt he wore the first time I laid eyes on him. The time I fell madly in love with him, when I felt as if I’d found something I’d been looking for all my life. When I stopped looking and it walked in the door of the gallery with a big warm smile, carrying a newly finished sculpture. I think I stopped breathing
He was beautiful and brilliant and funny. That jacket still feels like him. Even though it’s gone through the wash. I can’t wear it. It feels too heavy.
One day Jeff said, “This is gonna change your life!” and he placed in my palm a small packet of golden watch hands.
He saw me struggle with time, how time taunted me, or rather, how I allowed it to taunt me. He helped me see how to disregard it, to just let things be. I was working on reconstructing time according to my own inclinations toward it, not how it’s typically imposed on us.
I realized that I’d been collecting old clocks. I’m drawn to them – the beauty of the design, the mystery of time that they hold. I wonder what was happening when the hands stopped moving on that particular timepiece.
These concepts of reality and time, you can construct them, stretch them, mold them, into what suits you. And when someone mentions “the real world” or thinks you’re not in it, they have no clue…
Once I fell in love with a beautiful young man, under a blue moon. Long blond hair like silk, and bright green eyes so clear, that saw me, that understood. When he held me there was this warmth, like our hearts connected, even through skin, bones, muscle. One time I went away for the weekend to see if he’d notice I was gone.
I’m sitting here at Delurk, the artist-run gallery in Winston-Salem, NC working my Sunday afternoon shift. As I look at this painting of mine hanging on the off-white brick wall, bathed in warm light, I think about how it came to be.
I was at a place where I was unsure of my palette, and what textures I wanted to paint next. I was in the studio on a warm spring morning, just messing around with paint, when Jeff walked in, on his way back in from having a cigarette out on the loading doc, cradling something in his hands. He held it out to me and said, “Look what I brought you…!”
I peered into his outstretched hands. It was a moth, with soft powdery wings of various browns and beiges, slow, on the verge of death, too tired to fly away. I gasped at the beauty of it. He gingerly set it on my table next to my easel, patiently waiting while it stepped off his fingers and onto the edge of a book.
I was mesmerized; It was gorgeous! I studied the lines, the colors, the textures–warm beige fading into dark dark browns and dots of soft powdery white. I stepped up to my easel and palette and began mixing the colors I saw on the moth. I applied them to the canvas, smoothing and blending, and scraping off at times.
The next morning the moth was dead and gone when we arrived at the studio but I continued working on the painting that was inspired by this beautiful, magical creature and the wonderful man who brought it to me.
“I think it’s done,” Jeff declared a couple weeks later when I stepped back to evaluate my work.
It was May of 2012. It was the last painting I did before Jeff’s death.
That spring and summer I saw more moths than I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was like they came to visit me silently in our studio, sent there magically somehow by Jeff to let me know that everything was going to be all right.