I knew I’d be asked that, with popping flashbulb eyes, the second I stepped onto the black carpet. Brooding in front of my closet a few hours earlier, I defaulted to the same getup spontaneously designed, by me, to be authentic, yet appropriate. Nice, but not needy. Distinctive, but not threatening.
Fortunately, “revealing” isn’t my style.
Someone will be offended just because I showed up, but I can’t apologize for being a widow. We’re all upset. We’re all familiar with survivor guilt: the one (inexplicably) still alive. When I, the Widow Woolf, began to emerge socially, to the polite question of how it happened I spontaneously came out with, “Well, someone had to go first.” Of course, that applies to swan dives or a great-grandparent as much as marriage but it was an instant hit—a very effective verbal tweet with a sad little wink, inferring the obvious but easy to take.
For a widow too often personifies death—not “survival”—while still alive, a little ghoulish. Black widow, merry widow, widow’s weeds, widow’s walk… is the word, and concept, of widow harder than that of death itself? I say yes. The evidence of this is that people who so easily throw around the unspeakable, from obscenities to live streaming of massacres in progress, for an anonymous media audience avoid the five-letter word “widow.” (And I would bet widows and survivors, themselves, in person—too real.) But that day may be here. In the dark web of obscenities passing today as free speech, the Rubicon has recently been crossed where the special respect, if not uneasiness, around widows is concerned. Ask Cindy McCain.
Who am I wearing? Let’s have a little fun—you guess my label! Helpless Glamour, Suffering Predator, Irresistible Tragedy, Unaccountably Calm, Armored Yet Vulnerable? Surprise! I’m wearing Flying Solo. Bereavement Couture. Timeless style, mix-‘n-match, reversible. Here, would you like to try it on? One size! No, I didn’t think so.
The ends of life say it all. We compensate for terror of the intimate sorrow at the far gate with celebration of the joyful intimacy at the first gate. Understandable—babies don’t make us feel vulnerable. Fear, which is learned and an acquired choice, does. (Where do babies come from? The same place babies and former babies return to, of course. Consider.) As the 1972 bell-bottomed Stealers Wheel song goes: Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.