The Other Woman: What It's Like Marrying a Widowed Man
Twisting in a tangle of sheets, I thought about how Karen, too, must have looked out the window to see the neighbors trudge through the drizzle with golden retrievers tugging on their leashes. Surely she also saw the school bus motor down our quiet street every afternoon, filled with boisterous children. Maybe Karen lifted her head and smiled when she heard the thumping of small feet, Tonya's earnest attempts to channel Adele, and Lizzie's lament of "I'm hungry!"
I began to grill Gary for details about this woman whose life I'd come to inhabit. From him I learned that Karen had planted King Edward daffodil bulbs each fall, that she made her own granola, that she could watch any movie starring Cary Grant ten times without tiring. Gary told me how on a blustery Friday afternoon in February 2009, Karen had gathered her daughters close on her bed and, with Gary's help, explained that the bad cells were beating the good cells, and that she was going to die. Lying there in the room we shared, I couldn't imagine how she'd summoned the courage.
Every so often during those months of bed rest, when Gary and the girls were out, I'd wander through the quiet house, letting my fingertips drift along the same counter tops that Karen's hands had touched. I'd sit at the dining room table, clutching a mug of ginger tea and a box of Saltines, fighting off morning sickness. And I'd wonder whether Karen, who had miscarried twice before she and Gary adopted Tonya and Lizzie, had sat at this same table feeling sick to her stomach. I was certain that she'd experienced the anxiety that was now consuming me, the heavy possibility of so much loss. In life, we have little control over whom we fall in love with and when; which babies flourish in our bellies and which don't; when we die and whom we leave behind, bobbing and gulping in our wake.
In January 2012, I delivered a healthy baby girl, and Gary and I became swamped with around-the-clock feedings, diaper changes, and swaddling and reswaddling our squirmy infant. I was so overwhelmed by new motherhood that I nearly forgot my jealousy of Karen—until one afternoon when I sank deep into her old blue chair to feed my daughter. Holding my warm baby, I lifted my foot and the recliner swiveled to face the bookcase. From there, I could see an array of photos: Gary and me at our wedding; Tonya and Lizzie goofing around at the beach; our newborn, her hair wet from the bath, her eyes starry with wonder. I felt a sudden surge of gratitude for my oddly constructed family—including Karen, who will always be here: in photos, in memories joyous and heartbreaking, in her careful recipe notes, and in her blue chair, which still isn't pretty, but is starting to feel like home.