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.