|Graduation, UCI. June 1980.|
Really, it was such a short time. We didn't even know each other for 10 years all together. Married, another not quite. Five not quite six. This was not half a lifetime even then. Nor even a third or a quarter. A fraction that grows smaller with each passing moment, sliding through my hands as I try to pin it down.
When can we neglect a term, my students wonder, desiring simple solutions? When it's one part in five, or one part in ten? One part in a hundred - not something I'll have to face then. Or the mathematical limit, where the one part in forever becomes nothing. Somehow there, but not. Evanescent increments, to use Bishop Berkeley's term.
It will be 30 years on Easter that I became a widow. And yet I could still have written this essay from a woman widowed a scant three years — young, she suggests, at 36 with a loss that she had 42 days to see coming, where my 29 year old self had less than 42 hours. I know those odd moments, curiously devoid of grief, where "call Tom to tell him you got tenure" shows up on my mental to-do list. Or the dreams where you are trying to explain to people that you must rush, because even though Tom is next to you, you know he is dead and will vanish at sunset. Or sunrise. Or.
I have, too, the memory of my mother confessing she had no idea what to tell me about mourning a spouse. Her friends had not yet reached that age. There was no pool of experience she could draw on, except one unspoken moment. Though I remembered then, and now, my mother's voice, whispered words of explanation in a back pew at St. Luke's as a neighbor's coffin drifted down the aisle, followed by a weeping woman in a black coat, "no mother should have to endure the death of a child." Was it the year she lost the baby, or years later? I can't quite place it in time. Was the neighbor's name Angela? Her daughter baby sat for us, a teen-ager to my seven whose name I can't recall, just how sophisticated I thought she was.
The young widow wonders about remarriage, which overrides the widow effect, the damage being widowed does to your body. You can't replace a person, she exclaims. True, and yet your heart might open to accommodate another. Victor has not taken over some spot reserved for Tom, but has his own space in my heart.
It changes you, she says "I think it’s about withstanding a blow that fundamentally changes your architecture." I would not disagree. Our check-box demographics can't capture the complex plane of my life, or hers.
"And what are these same evanescent increments? They are neither finite quantities, nor quantities infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not call them the ghosts of departed quantities?" Bishop George Berkeley mocks the calculus, and the infidel mathematicians who entertained such thoughts.