My beloved died six months ago. I had my hand on his heart when it stopped beating. A friend has since called what I’ve known since the long loneliness.
This morning I began reading Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie’s Être veuve sous l’Ancien Régime to discover (surprise?) it’s a topic badly served by its sources, one that feminists don’t to talk of much, and others not at all. I mean if the book is good (it begins very well) to report on it, make postings as I go to Eighteenth Century Worlds (ECW) and Women Writers through the Ages (WWTTA) (at Yahoo) and then a blog-review. First thought emerging from first pages: in the long 18th century it is not co-terminus with old age: yesterday I read Austen’s fragment, The Watsons, and discovered a typical widow (not much talked of in any writing on the fragment): a Mrs Blake, seeming in her early thirties, living with a brother Vicar and three sons and one daughter, and not able to protect her boy, Charles, from social hurt. Would Austen have developed this character? Her niece, Catherine Anne Hubback in her continuation, The Younger Sister, does not.
I’m also reading Ruth Stone’s poetry:
The habit of you lying next to me
was so strong that for a year
I slept with pillows on your side of the bed.
When I turned in my sleep
I put my arms around them
or as I often had before,
I turned away with my back against them-
this habit of tides waxing and waning.
Slowly during the years
the blood subsided.
When I dreamed of you,
you were standing with your back to me
facing the ocean, flat as a shadow
that cannot turn of itself.
A narrow strip separated rocky cliffs
of land from sea; under us, the shudder of sand,
enormous breakers eroding groins and jetties.
— from Second-Hand Coat
I sleep on his side of the bed because I don’t think I could bear to sleep on mine and see his empty. I keep books on a table next to me, a lamp behind me, a radio playing NPR when I’m there and awake. I can’t seem to reach him in dreams. How I wish I could. All the dreams that wake me are these realistic distresses, things that confront me now he’s gone — I’d prefer something gothic but that’s not what distraught disquiet produces in me.
I did not then understand that I would never lead another or new good life, that life was over for me insofar as personal hope or fulfillment is concerned and what I can do is fill the hours absorbing myself by books or movies or writing or with friends and acquaintances. Experience is teaching me this now. There is no overcoming it I know now. This is the truth of the widow’s life. Recently I’ve been thinking if I can hold to some memories and live with these and be true to them I can steady myself to carry on.