"What if a widow were electrified by a vital instinct, one as violent as it is unexpected, to react to mourning by proving to herself that she is still alive -- that she hasn't died along with him?"
I saw Giuseppe Tornatore's film, The Correspondence, which can be interpreted as a case of technological stalking that extends the limits of earthly life, or as an insidious scheme to extend the subordination of an intellectual-loving female student to her teacher.
This film made me think that while mourning the loss of a loved one, the most hygienic and civil solution would be a Hindu immolation ceremony, in which a widow is burned along with her departed husband. That's what I thought six months ago, when the death of the love of my life opened up that inviolable taboo for discussion -- the same taboo that Tornatore ignores or removes, using every technique of artistic expression from the last millennia.
Just a few days after my husband passed, I had a conversation with a kind dinner companion. It started out mellow. I said let's imagine investigating the impossible, exploring the issue of hormonal surges in widows. Let's explore the unforeseeable and devastating desire for sex in women who have just lost the men they love. For an eternity, they've been known as vedove bianche (white widows), caught in unyielding despair. What if a widow were electrified by a vital instinct, one as violent as it is unexpected, to react to mourning by proving to herself that she is still alive -- that she hasn't died along with him?
Did I say I had a "conversation"? I should have used the word soliloquy or monologue. There was no visible reaction from my interlocutor, perhaps because he was embarrassed, perhaps because he was well-mannered. Here's a hornet's nest of taboos fit to set the blood boiling. Death, sex, loss and suffering. The taboo of widows and romantic love.
"Let's explore the unforeseeable and devastating desire for sex in women who have just lost the men they love."
What if your most pressing need was simply to bring your female body back to life? I need to be kissed, embraced, held the way a man holds a woman... I need to remember what it feels like. Will you help me?
Because no one will ever ask you what price you've paid, and for how long. They'll never ask how long you've left your flesh untouched. A widow is pure spirit, devoid of carnal desire. Her nights are overcome with thoughts about the definitive absence of her loved one. She is in the ashes of her own existence; it's only natural. And suddenly her world is made up only of women-- only her girlfriends offer company, words, infinite time and kindnesses. But you'd trade all those girlfriends for one single night of freeing sex, for one night of resurrection.
It's a cry for help that men find repugnant and women find frightening. I can't remember a single book or film about it, not even a private conversation. Behind you lies an eternity of silence, until you experience it yourself. It's blasphemous to "betray" your deceased love, isn't it? It's blasphemous not to be consumed, body and soul, by their death. Alcohol is okay, so are prescription meds. You can take any drug you'd like... those are all politically correct solutions. Sexual pleasure, however, that's Satanic: burn that witch at the stake. But it's like bread and air and water. It means clinging to life when you've lost everything: your future, your dreams, your hopes. It would be better if you slowly died as well, because that would be the right way for things to end. And then? Then it gets even worse. You tarnish the memory. It undoes months and months of suffering and dedication. Because then you start thinking that "all that love isn't real," and was never real.
"Expressing this simply and openly is considered scandalous. It means asking for a physical, material gesture of human solidarity, rather than camouflaging it with half-measures, with the established customs of decorum and decency. "
I wanted to conduct this test in the name of the many women who experience the same things I've experienced, fully aware of the infamy it would attract, certain of the instant reactions and the well-mannered rejections. Expressing this simply and openly is considered scandalous. It means asking for a physical, material gesture of human solidarity, rather than camouflaging it with half-measures, with the established customs of decorum and decency.
As a child, you learn both the taboos and how to get around them by means of the so-called, execrable, eternal "feminine arts." What would the good morals in this little world of ours, or of others, expect? That we flirt but (heaven help us!) don't let anyone see us doing it? That we give ourselves over to a virtuous autoeroticism? Something healthier? Something more honest? When will someone finally have the desire to take a deeper look at this unknown abyss which maybe --just maybe -- deserves sympathy, even respect? Think of this as a provocation. It may be a disturbing provocation, but rather than disdain and blame, it deserves high-level answers, true compassion, the mercy of Pope Francesco. Or, at least, a willingness to listen and discuss.
This post was originally published on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.