My husband was a new widower when I met him and shortly afterward, he asked me to help him clear out his former wife’s personal things.
He was overwhelmed—he wouldn’t say by grief, he would just say he was overwhelmed—but I knew better. He didn’t have any family here and he was sleeping with me, which made me more or less family, so I helped him.
That was three years ago and that was how I learned that “M” had a fetish for Ralph Lauren.
I hadn’t thought much about it until recently when I bought a Ralph Lauren skirt in a second hand shop. I didn’t buy it for me though. I bought it for the very same former wife of my husband who had died of cancer three years before and who I had never met or ever known.
“Look at what I found today,” I said to my husband when I got home. He looked up from his computer.
“It’s a Ralph Lauren skirt. Do you like it? I bought it for M.”
“Really?” He didn’t understand. “Why’d you buy a skirt for her?”
There were so many reasons why I didn’t know where to begin.
Because I thought about her all the time, was one. Because I felt like she was watching me, wishing she was here in what used to be her house with the man who used to be her husband, alive and healthy and…alive, was another. Because sometimes I felt guilty that I have her husband at the expense of her life. Because I’d taken enough from her and felt I had to give something back.
“Because I knew she’d like it,” I lied.
It’s not an easy thing to marry a man who had been happily married for 48 years of his life. While I’d had two long term relationships, I wanted to move on after each one. He didn’t. Not for one tiny second did he want his wife to die so that he could live happily ever after with someone else—me, for instance.
But I didn’t learn how hard it would be for me until after it happened.
Not because he made it hard. He was generous and open and wanted again what he’d had before.
It was hard because of me; because I kept holding myself up against M and her accomplishments to see whether I measured up. I kept watching for a sign that I wasn’t just the “fill-in” wife—that I wasn’t just a sexual diversion, that I was wasn’t anything at all that wouldn’t be as good as her.
It’s been three years now and I’m better than I was.
I don’t do the comparison thing anymore. It’s not that I had any kind of woo-woo awareness or spiritual growth born again-type moment. It’s just that the comparing got heavy and tiresome.
Let me correct that. It’s also because my husband helped me get over it.
One night on the patio, I told him that I needed to talk to him, that I was carrying something around and that I didn’t know how to put it down.
“I compare myself to M all the time,” I told him, adding how I was causing an ache inside myself by doing it and that it was stopping me from seeing his love for me.
It was a starry night. We’d each been sitting, chatting and enjoying the evening. He leaned over and put his hand on my knee in that characteristic way he has and told me that if I wanted to make myself a victim of her or of him and her together I could, but that he loved me and he hated to see me do it.
“Besides,” he said. “She was a person just like you and me, honey. Just another person.”
Although I don’t think I realized the full impact of it then, I’d had an epiphany that night on the patio. It wasn’t big and loud and didn’t even have background music. It was just a quiet acceptance of reality.
“She was a person. Just another person,” and with his words I somehow realized that he was telling me that his heart was big enough to contain us both.
Several nights after I’d bought the skirt I came out to the living room dressed for the movies.
“I thought you were going to wear your new skirt,” my husband said.
I told him no, I wasn’t going to wear it.
“I didn’t know it when I bought that skirt,” I said, “but having it now means that I’m not afraid anymore. It means that I know your love for M and that your love for me defies time, that it is ongoing for us both and that I no longer feel like I have to be the one and only.”
“How about I just fold the skirt and put it in our dressing room, right there amidst our clothes?” I suggested, adding that it just felt to me like that was where it belonged.
“You don’t have to do that, you know.”
“I know,” I said. “But it feels like the right kind of gesture, the kind that means there’s room enough in our lives for all of us, me and you and M…and Ralph Lauren.”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Bryon Lippincott/Flickr