my husband’s late wife

…that pat your leg or sit in the backseat just the the right of your peripheral vision or that say,

“Hi, Ann.”

There are a lot of ways to meet your husband’s first wife but her disembodied greetings on the edge of sleep is probably not the preferred way.

On the drive home from the city, Rob admitted that what had woke him was the presence sitting on the end of the bed touching his legs. This has happened before. It’s usually associated with an anniversary for him.

“Even now, I can feel someone in the backseat,” he said. “I can almost see a dark figure just on the edge of my vision.”

“What do you think it’s about? Your birthday?”

But it could have been Edee. She’d been up all night the previous night with Pandora in her arms as the little cat alternated between struggle and a death like limpness.

I didn’t tell Rob until the next morning that as I was falling asleep Saturday night, I saw Shelley in the background of my waiting dreams. It’s not as odd as it sounds. Rob had a dream once where Will had given him a hug. And I have a half remembered dream of speaking with Shelley but I don’t recall what was said.

When I told Rob what had happened his reply was,

“So, you’ve been identified by name now.”

I was quite startled when it happened, but I’m not frightened. I am not at all sure what it means. I am sure that if I were to hear a recording of Shelley’s voice, it would be the same as the voice that greeted me. I’d like to think that she approved of my handling of the cat situation and Edee. I was quite worried I’d overstepped and been too motherly. It’s hard not to mother. I am a mother. It’s not something I can switch off. After Dee was born I found that my approach to children – of all ages – in general was more maternal. It made me a better teacher and was a liability all rolled up in a neat package.

The house has been quiet since early Sunday morning. Pandora recovered though it was a very close call. I spent Monday afternoon on my own for the first time since June and all was well. I am taking that as a good sign.

The wives of polygamists refer to themselves as “sister-wives”. I think this is meant to impose a familial relationship on something that could easily dissolve into something competitive and downright ugly were it not for the veneer of a pseudo-relationship that the term implies. Despite my own negative views on this subject, I began to wonder the other day if the term didn’t more aptly describe my relationship with Shelley.

Shelley was Rob’s wife. She died eight months after my husband, Will, back in 2006. Today is her birthday. She would have been 47 years old. Just a few months older than Rob and he never let her forget it. Now he must contend with being older then I am by a couple of years, and I am not sure why I think this, but I’ll bet Shelley is enjoying that particular turn of the table.

When I stop to ponder Shelley and Rob and myself and the circumstances that bind us, I know I could write a novel that would set me on Oprah’s sofa in a heartbeat. But life is not a book of the month, at least not this life that we share. Anyway I am not certain I am accomplished enough to find the words, craft the sentences and paragraphs that would explain us or if I could, that I would really want to.

I live in the house that Shelley called home. The colors on the wall and the decor are hers. The garden out back and the hanging planters grew things she planted. There is a room in the basement crammed to the ceiling almost with things that mostly belonged to her once and what isn’t there sits on shelves and in cabinets and hangs in closets upstairs and down.

Our kitchen is more and more mine now, but there are still elements of Shelley. The dining room too. However the bed where Rob and I sleep and make love was the place of similar activities when she was alive and still well. That last part doesn’t cross my mind much at all truthfully, but when it does it certainly gives a surreal twist to things.  

Her birthday fell on and around Mother’s Day every year and as is common when one’s birthday falls too close to a major gift-giving holiday, Shelley got more than her share of combination gifts in much the same way my friends and family tended to lump my birthday with Christmas whenever they could get away with it. As Rob was telling me this, it occurred to me that from this point on, I will share this holiday with Shelley. Our daughters have a common father in Rob now but though I might likely be grandmother to her children’s children someday, I will not be a mother to her daughters in the same way that Rob fathers my little girl much as I might love and care for their happiness and welfare. An awesome task though nevertheless, and I wonder all the time if I am doing a good enough job.

I wonder sometimes too if I had known Shelley would we have been friends. I don’t think so because I don’t make friends easily especially with outgoing people and judging by her oldest daughter, Farron, I think she was. She was deeply committed to her ideals and values. I am still figuring much of that out. A farm girl, she was handy in the outdoors. As an asthmatic with more allergies than should be humanly possible, I am more of a liability in any woodsy situation than not. Still, we both found love in Rob which suggests some mutual ground I have yet to discover though recently Rob related to me that Shelley and I have common ground in weight struggles. Though he finds my concerns now and hers of long ago a bit mystifying, like me Shelley was a fitness nut who made eating healthy a priority. Weight, gaining or losing, is somewhat of a stereotypical female bonding ground (of course it is also a source of much friction as well).

Sisters do not choose each other. They are born into families and learn to co-exist. Sometimes quite happily and lovingly. Sometimes not at all. More often than not such relationships fall somewhere in between understanding and merely shared heritage. Shelley and I did not choose each other. Rob choose us. First her and then me. In the earliest days here, I felt a presence that I can’t say for sure was hers but that seemed to be studying and watching. It was neither welcoming nor repelling. Just there. I haven’t felt that for a while. Perhaps I have been judged and found adequate. I choose to think that.

Happy Birthday, Shelley.