The Widow's House
March 31, 2021
I think all married people do this; at least that's what I tell myself. No matter how hard we try, we lose bits of ourselves over time. Commitment is a horribly abused word. As with the word, literally, it rarely means what it's meant to mean. When I think about commitment, I think it means: whatever I have said I would do or be, I will do everything in my power to do or be that. Marriage is the big one, right? I could back it up and say, I am committed to this dog, and that might not be terribly difficult because the dog isn't asking much of me. I'm not likely to find myself compromising on big or even small things. Dogs don't negotiate and their needs are actually pretty simple. I can't call this a relationship because as much as a good many of you would have me believe otherwise, it is NOT a relationship. I own the dog. Period. End of discussion. I make all decisions and I am entirely responsible for said dog's well-being. Yes. There are nuances.
But it's just not the same.
Children are temporary; eventually they stop being children and while we can retain parental responsibility until the day one of us dies, that there is a choice. The commitment part starts at zygote and gradually morphs into something else. So. Not children.
I have been way too committed to my job(s) and therefore consider myself entirely unqualified to discuss it. So. Not that either.
Marriage, it is.
This is not really a post about marriage.
I don't know how many people can say they've walked into their marriages, eyes wide open because there are bound to be surprises. Life changes things, experiences change people, and the sanctity of the marriage bed is a load of crap. If I tell you something in confidence, I am most assuredly not telling your partner. If I wanted to tell your partner, I'd have done so. But we hold the sanctity of the marriage bed as right and true. We tell ourselves that we are one and should be able to discuss anything -- and here comes the problem. Whether or not we spill secrets, we do intermingle. We twine around each other, working from the ankles up. Sometimes the vines are easy and flexible and other times you don't realize you've been consumed by Kudzu until it's working its way down your throat.
The thing is, when two or more people yoke together, negotiation (call it whatever it actually is) is unavoidable. When we give up bits of ourselves to the greater good, we forget who we are. None of this is inherently bad. Have a baby on your own and I promise, swear to god, you will be an entirely different, possibly unrecognizable person within a year. Or less. Also, not inherently good or bad; just a universal truth.
All that build up to explain the Widow's House. How it came to be, the why of it, the way it changed decade by decade, and the way it has remained the same.
I couldn't have been thirty, not yet. I may or may not have had my second child, but I'd been living on that farm in Oxford long enough to have grown roots. I loved the farm in Oxford. I loved being married. Except for when I didn't. I loved being a mother. Except for when I wanted to throw myself down a well. All things considered, it was a charmed life. There were horses and dogs and cats and a big old rat snake named Frank, who did the dirty work for us. I could still sit out on the back deck, up against the kitchen window, and drink cheap beer with my husband. There wasn't anything better than sitting on that ledge, watching the bats come out and sucking down a brand I don't much care to discuss. We still looked at each other in wonder. How did we come to this place? How did we find each other? How can we have such a beautiful baby plus all these horses! How could we possibly be so lucky?
Nothing wrong there; nothing at all.
Except every time I drove by this one grey house with a 'room for rent' sign out front I fantasized about renting it. How would this work? Well, I'd need to set up a separate bank account and probably establish a credit card in my name only, and maybe a P.O. box to get that process started and then I'd have this, this bubble. Not a separate life, a bubble. I thought I might put a chair and a lamp and a bookcase full of books in that room and then whenever I felt the need, I could just go there.
It took me a lot of years to figure out why.
I'm thinking it had to be late 1992 or early 1993 when we visited my father's house in Gahanna. They weren't there all that long but it's still my favorite house ever. Lots of small places to curl up with a book and french doors from the library to a garden. I might have invented the business with the french doors but they got lodged in good and tight. During that visit I did two things:
- Without thinking, I did a full back walkover, unspotted. The result was perfect. The second result was a couple pulled muscles. I wasn't twenty anymore. I was an almost thirty mother of two and I had no freaking idea who I was.
- I imagined a house in the forest. The house was small, but not too small. I borrowed rooms from my father's house and rearranged them until I had just a single room with a loft. Those french doors led right out into the garden, and there was a garden because the house in the forest was in a clearing with just enough light. There was a front door and a flagstone path that eventually led to a road, I suppose. There might have been a goat; there was definitely a horse, and eventually the place was overrun with chickens.
Over the years the house expanded and contracted. The most recent iteration has plumbing and electricity but the only heat source is one of those big old stoves. Can't use them in the summer unless you want to boil yourself so there's a backup. Maybe. In the center of the room (which is kind of small now) there is a big old square oak table and this is my work surface. This is my everything surface. There isn't any other. I don't know if there are stairs or a ladder going to the loft because today I am only 57 and a ladder is a piece of cake. But what about twenty years from now? Might I not wish for stairs? I could make my bed in the corner of the room and not go up at all except that up is where I dry the things I grow.
I am practicing medicine, can you see?
I also know the house isn't easy to see. It might look like an ordinary small house on the outside, it might be set too far back from the road for seeing. The point is, the house is for me. No one else, just me. That is the one thing that has never changed. The house is for me.
This is why it's called a Widow's House. You didn't think I made that up, did you? Surely, I am not the first happily married person to drive by a 'room for rent' sign and think of it wistfully, if only in passing. A Widow's House is for when it is only you, now. When you can let go of who you believe you've needed to be, for whatever reason. Should you choose to partner again, they can visit, but they can't leave so much as a toothbrush.
For a lot of years I thought of the men that might cross that threshold as creatures. I don't mean to be derogatory. I mean I kept them separate and apart. They might come and visit, might float about for bit, might even bump into each other, but at the first sign of discord, out the door!
I don't mean for it to sound that harsh; I only mean to drive home what has become the sanctity of self.
There's a punchline here; but you knew that, right?
I made a decision to stay within a twenty mile radius of Fairfield County. I did this because I did not want to be away from my children. My family blew every which way with the wind except for me. I stayed right where we last landed as a family. I didn't want to get so far from my children that I wouldn't see them often, they way I didn't see my parents often.
And I realized, COVID or no COVID, I don't see them anyway. I suppose I could change that with enough pulling of teeth, but I'm really not interested in pulling teeth or demanding the presence of my children periodically. They will come, or they will not. Should there be a baby at some point, I don't know I'd have any more access to it in Southern Connecticut than I would in Montreal. OK, that last one's a stretch.
A Universal Truth: Ask loudly and clearly enough and the Universe WILL deliver. Might not look like you expected, but it will deliver. The Universe delivered for me about ten years early; maybe even fifteen or twenty. You know what? I'll take it! I'll take it right now.
This is not so much about sanctuary, although that is where I'm going. This is about landing smack dab in the middle of my freaking forest! HOW COOL IS THAT?!
So here's the thing (you know there's always a thing). That house above? It's a place. It's real. It's exactly situated the way I would like and where I would like. I can't really have it as it's a bit of a disaster but if I could wish a viable building onto that two acre lot, I would do so. There's a funny thing about this house. Actually, there are a bunch of funny, and also WTH? things about the house. This one is my favorite because it begs the question, stairs or a ladder? There it is, just sort of hanging out in the middle of the one big room.