The following is an excerpt from the new book "Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives" by Becky Aikman.
Dating, in particular, was out of the question during my first two years of widowhood. Oh, I might have accepted a gift of food had it been offered from somebody like Denise’s platonic widower, but the thought of pursuing a true relationship made me anxious. Zombie anxious. Never again, I vowed, would I view attachment as essential to my well-being. It became vitally important to subscribe to a definition of happiness rooted in remaining alone. If that meant giving up sex for now, so be it. I couldn’t risk kick-starting endorphins that might make me feel attached.
Looking at it later, I wondered whether I’d been influenced, back when I was the only widow I knew, by societal attitudes that frowned on our seeking new love. Was I editing my behavior according to the cruel limits that mourning places on a woman in her prime? I found a survey from 1970 that showed a third of the public approving of a widow remarrying after a year, but a similar survey 30 years later showed only 9 percent approval. More than ever, it seemed, people preferred the chaste Jackie Kennedy to the remarried Jackie O, the devastated woman to the recovering one. It seemed that attitudes toward widows had become more restrictive in the 30 years between those surveys, and I considered why. Perhaps the more death occurs away from home, hidden away in hospitals and nursing homes, the more power we ascribe to it. Death has become unmentionable, and therefore unimaginable, and if unimaginable, therefore unmanageable. It should be impossible to recover from, we think, a mortal psychic blow.
In my case, though, there were a couple of years when I couldn’t make the leap. After all I’d seen, all I’d done and failed to do, I couldn’t imagine having the will again to take on responsibility for another person. The idea that I might stand before my friends in a white dress and pledge to love someone else in sickness and in health? Unthinkable.
Nevertheless, a little more than a year after Bernie died, I obliged a couple I was close to by joining them for an attempted fix-up with a friend of theirs. The four of us met at a restaurant, the kind of boîte that serves real entrées instead of pan-Asian snacks. The couple had told me that the man was successful at his business; they had told him I was pretty.
My intended suitor was a suburban man with a pleasant face, a recent widower, so recent, it turned out, that he redirected all conversation toward paeans to his wife’s favorite pursuits -- gardening, antiquing, shoe shopping -- following up with questions about whether I shared her interests. It was like a job interview to determine whether I could fill the shoes, literally, of a valued employee. His wife had been a devoted gardener, and he was so befuddled over what to do with her vast beds of tulips and nasturtiums that he had hired someone to spread hundreds of cubic yards of mulch to put them into some kind of order. Unless I heard him wrong. It might have been hundreds of cubic feet of mulch. I had no idea the quantity of mulch one needs to do whatever it is that mulch does for flower beds.
“Do you like to garden?” the mulch man asked me, while the other couple at the table hung on my answer.
“I have window boxes at my apartment,” I answered with careful neutrality.
His wife’s antiques also needed to be repaired and polished, and she owned a lot of those shoes that he didn’t know what to do with. “Have you ever restored antiques?” he asked.
“I bought an old cabinet at a flea market once,” I said. “I think it may have been a fake.”
“Are you interested in shoes?”
I felt the anticipation of everyone at the table while the question led me astray and I entered one of those altered states that I witnessed later when Denise lost the thread of a conversation. Was I interested in shoes? I was so interested in shoes that once when Bernie was in the hospital for a one-hour procedure, I busted out of the waiting room, ran outside, jumped into a cab, hightailed it to Barneys, whipped through the shoe department to ogle pumps and platforms and flats, and then repeated the whole escapade in reverse, no one the wiser, all before Bernie’s procedure ended, and all simply to remind myself that somewhere there existed a parallel universe where people concerned themselves with the delicious folly of placing something exquisite on their feet. It was a trip to the far side of Pluto and back, all in the course of an hour.
Copyright © 2013 by Becky Aikman. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.