Her Widow Excerpt 16

Published September 30, 2018



A hot sun this morning.

Dear Catherine,

I washed the car this morning in my bathing suit. Summer is here.

“Don’t you want to kiss me?” you asked as I was getting into my car. I was startled. I hardly knew you. Before I could say anything, you leaned into my car and kissed me on the lips. It was our first kiss. It seems incredible that I will never touchthose lips again. I would do anything for one more kiss.

Will I ever remember you without this despair?


Tonight’s cool breeze blows through the screen door and plays with the skirt of the tablecloth where I sit.

Dear Catherine,

I brought my journal downstairs with me this morning and it lay all day on this table where I now sit eating my supper: a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, a favorite combination of mine since childhood. I often fix it when I am exhausted from working hard all day.

It was here, at this table, where we poured over Zoe’s ashes—

Hey, did I just feel you? Did you drift in on the current of air that blew through thescreen door? Was it you who ruffled the tablecloth to get my attention and whispered to me that you and Zoe are together? I want to believe that.

The evening your ashes were delivered to the house, I took them upstairs, poured them out on my pillow, and combed through them as we had done with Zoe’s ashes. I know Diane and Debbie thought it strange of us to be so curious about our dog’s ashes. We were like children playing in a sandbox. We probably shouldn’t have told our friends what we did. They said it was ghoulish and peculiar of us to want to see the tiny bits that were all that was left of Zoe.

When I was done studying your ashes, I put them back in the tin I received them in and set the tin atop the chest of drawers in the closet that was once yours and is now mine. I’ve left the walls of the closet the Kelly green you painted them, though the color startles me every time I open the door.

I purchased a small plot in the church cemetery this week and I’m having a plaque engraved that will tell our story in brief: Catherine Hopkins, beloved spouse of Joan Alden. We searched in vain from California to Massachusetts for the gravestone of a lesbian. They were surely there but none wanted to be known. Yours will soon be set in Spencertown for someone to find.


The ascending full moon outside my window slips from its frame and is out of sight.

Dear Catherine,

It is late and I have been crying. Lately I have been crying myself to sleep again and crying in the middle of the day as well, and I’m disappointed in myself for slidingback like this. I was fine in California and when I returned, until a week ago.

Dee dropped in on her way to the marina today to see how I was, and I told her I wish I had a terminal illness rather than this MS. Of course, that upset her and I had to listen to the virtue of being a survivor for nearly half an hour. As I grew impatient with Dee’s conventional argument, I could hear her growing impatient with my sour attitude, and then I heard you say, Dee is doing her best and genuinely cares for you.

I had an answer to that: Dee’s best would be to simply listen and not challenge my feelings.

Later, I questioned myself as you would have. My best would be to think about what I could do without grumbling about what others should do.

I know that my despair frightens Dee whose husband is struggling with Parkinson’s. I picked the wrong friend to cry to. Sometimes a friend is not asking for the truth. I am still learning from you, Catherine.


Bill’s lawn mower wakes me from deep sleep.

Dear Catherine,

I went up to Albany yesterday to have my pump programed to give me a higher dose of baclofen and I overslept this morning, obviously undisturbed by the dogs barking for their breakfast and barking again at Bill’s arrival. I needed the sleep; my spasms have been waking me two and three times a night for a couple weeks. There is no explanation for this exacerbation. I haven’t been sick with a cold or under increased stress. After two weeks, I decided the spasms weren’t going to stop without more baclofen. It has been a reminder of how I had been before I had the pump.

Eating my sandwich in the backyard where I could enjoy the smell of newly mowed grass, I thought about kind Dr. Ferro and wished he hadn’t moved his practice down to NYC.

It was only last year but feels like a dozen years ago that I was sitting in a corner of the OR waiting room, waiting for word on your brain biopsy when Dr. Ferro came into the waiting room and over to me to tell me you would be coming out of surgery soon. When he sat down he eyed my wheelchair and asked when I got it.

“Recently, but it’s more a practicality then a necessity,” I explained. “I’m having trouble walking distances and standing for any length of time. What did they say about the surgery?” I asked. I wanted to talk about you, Catherine, and he wanted to tell me about a new way to deliver baclofen.

“You wouldn’t get vertigo from intrathecal baclofen,” he said. “You might not need a wheelchair.”

“Did they say how she’s doing?” I asked.

“She is still under the effects of the anesthesia. It could take overnight for her head to clear.” Then on he went telling me about an implanted pump that would deliver Baclofen through a catheter intrathecally, so I would have no bad side effects from the drug and a smaller dose could be given to eliminate my spasms.

I interrupted him again. “Do you know what they found?”

He bowed his head and when he looked up at me he said, “More cancer. Catherine will have a narrow window of relief once she recovers from the brain biopsy and the effects of the radiation that will follow. During that period of relative calm, she will be well enough to take care of herself and you could come into the hospital and have the pump implanted, Joan.

“After that, her health will decline and she will need you full time. You are going to need the baclofen pump to take care of her in her last months and to take care of yourself when she’s gone.”

I felt my gut drop and my eyes sting and I made an attempt to sound and look strong.

“How long?” I asked.

“From now until she is in bed all the time maybe four months.”

“That fast?”

“She is healthy otherwise, so it could be longer, but you need to plan on less.”

“How long does it take to recover from the pump operation?”

“You would be in the hospital overnight, go home the next day, and be tender for a week or two. You will be able to take care of yourself but not yourself and her. You will need a little help and—”

I didn’t hear the rest. I wasn’t thinking about me or an operation.

Now, I feel grateful to him for being honest with me and looking out for me. There was little he could do to make your life better, but there was a great deal he could do for me, and I’m sure I would never have had the operation after you died. I wouldn’t have seen the point. I am sad that I didn’t have the pump years ago. I could have accompanied you on your long walks with the dogs and gone with you on your excursions to the Catskill Falls. I was jealous of the friends you took there in my place.

Yesterday, I gave Dr. Ferro your print of the iceboat. He teared up when he unwrapped it and saw what you had written on the back: “Take good care of my Joanie.”

The dogs are up on the lounge with me, sound asleep, worn out by their chasing the lawnmower. What on earth do they think it is going to do to them? Or is it a competition for who can scream louder?

I am full of sad memories of your last months now that I permitted myself to remember. That’s how it goes, Catherine. I feel a little stronger and I allow more memories in. They land a blow and I avoid the difficult memories for a while. But I return to them because those difficult days were the most intimate and I don’t want to forget that and us then.