The other day, someone asked me whether I would consider myself a widow.
I know that people need labels, but honestly I haven’t thought much into what I would call myself. Things have been confusing recently.
The amount of times that question has come up has caused me to really have to ask myself what John and I were. What was he to me and me to him?
Was he my “boyfriend?” No…the word itself sounds so trivial. The word “partner” seems to fit, but doesn’t seem to capture the gravity of our relationship. So then there’s “husband” or “spouse,” which for some reason seem to be the terms that carry the most legitimacy, but apparently, John and I missed out on the paperwork and fees that those terms require. So…oh well.
But when I sit and think about it, even if he were my husband, and I was his widow…those words just, frankly, seem to fall flat. There’s an emptiness to them, a vagueness in regards to the journey and path that our relationship carved into who we were and who I am.
What is the emotional difference between a boyfriend, partner, and husband? And why does it matter so much to people? Honestly, I don’t know. I guess people need to make as much sense out of senseless events as they can, and the labels help.
But I can’t help people with that. I don’t know if I would consider myself a widow for one simple reason: I didn’t lose my husband.
John wasn’t my husband, not even a little bit. He was so much more. He was a part of my spirit. He was a soulmate. I lost the person who made me…me. As someone else put it so perfectly, I lost the echo of my life.
Is there a word for that?
John wasn’t my husband, but I would listen to his heart beat for fun. Forty-two beats per minute. It was the slowest…heartbeat… I had… ever… heard. When we were lying around together, bored on a weekend, I would ask if I could listen to it. It fascinated me…how I could fit two of my heart beats into his one. How even our inner workings seemed to balance one another out.
He wasn’t my husband…but I enjoyed hearing him live. Literally. That slow rhythmic beat that told me I was not alone in this world. That I was his and he was mine. I didn’t lose my husband, but I lost that. What is the word for that?
He wasn’t my husband, but we would talk about the future. The real future. Not about the wedding and dresses and engagement rings, but of the struggle that would come with married life. The arduous nature of military life and how he would miss out on the kids’ birthday parties because of deployments and how he would have to cope with the inevitable moments where I might feel resentful that I had to give up everything I knew in order to support his career. We would talk about it. The struggle of a life together where we knew we would have to fight to make each other happy and recommit ourselves to each other every single day. I didn’t lose my husband, but I lost the promise and chance of a future with someone who would fight with me and for me.
A friend of mine once described the nature of relationships and said that people start off as squares, and that life chips away at us until we are whittled into little jig-saw pieces. And at some point we meet someone who just “slots” into those pieces that are missing from us. And that person makes you not fully whole…but makes you just a bit better. They make life a little less scary. And they make you a lot more fearless. I lost that.
John told me once that I “helped heal the broken parts of him,” and he did the same for me. And he died. Even the word “died” doesn’t seem to fit: He was ripped away. Wrenched out of my life. And for a while there, my life felt like it was meant to feel like punishment.
He died. He wasn’t my husband. He was not my spouse. I am not his widow. But that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to fight for me and our love in ways that I simply cannot explain.
We never got married, but I know that my phone will ring with only his name flashing on the screen and no way to hang up on the call and no record of it after I finally have to turn off my phone. I know that my five year old niece started saying phrases that were shared only between me and him. I know that the one time I needed four quarters to fill my tires up with air, a student of mine randomly walked up to me and handed them to me and said: not sure if you need these, but here.
He wasn’t my husband but I know the first time that I sent him a voice note a month after he died, I asked if he was proud of me. And when I got home that day and opened my apartment door, a red balloon floated in from literally God knows where and nestled at my feet. What is the word for when someone dies, yet they keep showing up for you? What’s the word?
I know he’s dead. Not my husband…but my partner. My best friend. My hype man. I know’s he gone, but I also know that he’s found ways to make sure that even though I’m struggling with emotions that range from agony to grotesque indifference, I’ve never had to deal with feeling lonely. Because I somehow still know he’s here. Whispering. And guiding. And loving. And honestly, spooking me out a bit, which I’m sure he is absolutely loving.
I know he’s dead and people need a way to refer to me, so the best thing I can come up with right now is that I’m not a widow…because I’m still very much his girl. His person. His best friend. In heart and body and soul. Because those are the only labels that really ever mattered.