Her Widow Excerpt 13Published September 2, 2018
A note to my reader: The publication of Her Widow has been delayed a couple months while a wait for pre-publication reviews to come in. I will continue to excerpt the book and keep you abreast of the progress. Thank you for your interest. Joan
My letter continues:
Now that I have decided to go out to California for a couple of weeks and visit John at his ranch and see Murphy Cross in L A, I have been recalling memories of San Francisco long before you, living in North Beach with my college roommates, and living in New York before you, acting classes with Stella Adler, Women’s Lib and burning my bra, and falling in love with a woman.
I was living on Edith Place in North Beach when I began a correspondence with Jerry, a helicopter pilot stationed in Viet Nam. By then Lynn had gone back to Ohio to marry Richard. Merrily was out evenings with the guy she would leave to marry Derek, and I was home alone most evenings, writing letters to someone I’d not met. Jerry eventually returned from Vietnam, and we got engaged. I wasn’t in love with him. I was in love with the idea of being engaged to a man, in love with being “normal.”
One weekend I drove down to Steinbeck country to visit Jerry in his family home. Every night in Salinas, Jerry came to the guest room of his mother’s house to say goodnight to me. He crept into the room after I turned off my light, and I pretended to be asleep. I’d put him off for weeks and although he had been patient, he wasn’t happy. I was relieved when he only kissed me goodnight those nights and went back to his bedroom, but time was running out for me to be true to myself and to him. If my charade didn’t end soon, I might find I was in too deep to get out.
I wasn’t confused about how I felt. I was attracted to women. But loving a woman didn’t seem like a possibility. As a young girl, I often felt like a boy in a girl’s body. When female hormones gave me breasts and a menstrual period and the feminist movement gave me pride in my gender, I settled into being a woman, but I was a woman who was attracted to women and I didn’t know how one negotiated that.
Lying in bed the night Jerry left without protest, I prayed for guidance. It occurred to me that if I wanted to be taken seriously I should get down on my knees to pray. I was too self-conscious to do that at first, then, disappointed in myself for being a coward, I threw off the bed cover and the blanket and got out of bed and down onmy knees on the floor.
Almost immediately I felt a cool breeze blow into the room, and I turned my head, expecting to find the bedroom window open and the curtain blowing in. Instead, standing before the closed window was the figure of a man. He was as physicallypresent as I was. He wasn’t ghostly looking or transparent. I couldn’t see through him to the window beyond.
He said, “Joan, everything is going to be all right.” Instantly my fear dissolved. I felt light, as if I might lift off the floor if I raised my arms. And what was more, I felt certain everything in the world was all right. I was all right and all matter in the universe was all right.
The figure soon vanished into thin air, and I stood and crawled back into bed. Waking the next morning without the first notion how to proceed with Jerry, I felt sure I would be guided.
I long for my mysterious visitor to guide me now and I don’t understand why at twenty-three, my prayer was answered, and at nearly fifty-three I hear nothing.
The daffodils along the front walk are blooming.
The dogs and I will be leaving for the airport soon. One moment I am excited to be going to California and the next I’m afraid to leave. I look around me, feeling if I take my eyes off something it will disappear, afraid this is the last time I will see the Shaker rocker in the bedroom, the small table with the enamel top in the kitchen.
This is how I felt the night I left your bedside in Columbia County Hospital and went home to call family and friends with the news that you had ovarian cancer. But that time it was you I was afraid I would never see again.
You were still under the effects of the anesthesia when I kissed you goodnight and took the elevator to the first floor, walked out to the parking lot and drove home. I had to go home to make those calls, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to take a step out of range of you. I was like Caleb on our walks with him. He runs ahead, way ahead, then turns around to make sure we are still back there where he left us in the dust.
Peggy was waiting for me at home. Earlier that day your good friend had thrown some things in her car and left Boston for Catskill. By seven at night she had let herself into our house and was making soup at the stove in the kitchen when I came in. I had a bowl of chicken and dumpling soup with her before I went to bed.
Three hours later I woke from a dream that lifted my spirits. I lay in bed in the middle of the night thrilled by the idea that I could die with you.
When I joined you in the hospital hours later, you looked puzzled by my cheerfulness. I announced my intention to die with you, and you said almost cheerfully, “We’ll talk about that.” You didn’t try to dissuade me, didn’t object to my plan or argue with me. That night, Peggy joined us in the hospital and we three joked about doing a “Thelma and Louise.” You understood that I needed the option of dying along with you in order to survive the next few days and all the days and nights ahead that would otherwise have been too terrifying to face.
You told me after Peggy left, “I don’t want you ever to leave my side.”
“I never will,” I said, and you smiled broadly and settled back in bed. Thereafter, whenever you had to go into the hospital for surgery or chemotherapy, I slept on a cot or in a chair beside your hospital bed.
The taxi is here to take the dogs and me to the airport.