Sandwiched between Mom and my sister Janis on the nubby sleeper sofa couch where nobody ever sleeps. Legs tucked to chest as close as I can get them around my baby belly and extra large Waiting For Baby breasts. The baby wiggles in his water world. Presses my left thigh. My right. A tiny foot skims ribs.
Out the living room window fresh snow blinks and sparkles against winter’s dark. Glistens under the neighbor’s Search Light strong garage light. This blanket of snow. Heavy icing. Frozen condensation in the corners of the living room windows. A web of crystals. Just out the window, three large rhododendrons. Fuchsia colored in spring. Bloomless now. The leaves curled like fat hollow cigars. Junipers dot the sloped flowerbed. Spiny juniper legs packed in snowsuits.
I sit. Body heavy. Buried by boulders. Set in concrete. Bobbing on the black and blue of the ocean’s floor.
Skin ice and on fire.
I yank my favorite blanket tight to my cool chin. I wish it still smelled like Grandma Sally, my yaya, but she’s been dead seven years.
A gurgle sound bubbles out of my mouth, like drowning.
“What is it, Annie?” Mom asks but it sounds like “Waaat. Issss. Iiiit,” in my underwater world.
I want to say, Go Home.
I want to say, This isn’t real.
I want to say, Kent will be home soon.
I want to say, He wouldn’t crash on black ice, crack his brain, die.
Throat shrunk to the size of a swizzle stick stuffed with pebbles.
None of those words come out.
“Look,” I say, mitten pointing. “My tree looks different in the snow.”
Spindly evergreen that’s barely green. Six feet tall. Grows out of a bolder. Grows at the edge of the rim here in Billings, Montana. The rim. Massive rock that defines the town. Stretches for miles. I called it the ridge for the first six months. “Rim,” the locals said, correcting me before I even got to the end of my sentence. This Montana dry rock that rings higher ground. The town in a bowl below. Standing on the rim you can see how Billings was once a massive lake in the time before now.
Snow sparkles. A web of fairy lights. White broken by long winter shadows and drifts and tracks. Winter squeezes lungs, chaps my skin, pinks my cheeks. I hike the buried trail. Add boot tracks to dog tracks, bunny tracks, deer and fox too. Steady tracks closer to my tree. This tree at the rim’s edge. This tree that cracked rock and grew and sings me a heart song. Dipped in snow now. My Never Give Up tree.
Frozen fairies caught in the weeds, buried in snow. Their twinkle lights blink on/off/on/off. Slow. Like a lighthouse. Like a bass drum. Not like summer and snare drum blinking. Tat, tat, tat. “Where’d they go, Yaya?” you ask your grandma who snugs her pilled sweater around her roundness. Your yaya who came from Greece as a girl. Who smells like garlic and root cellars and love.
“They’re here,” she whispers into your crown as she kisses the top of your head. Dried lips on silky dark hair. Her gnarled hand on your back. Ropey veins. Hands that dig in the earth. Hands that form meatballs. Hands that run clothes through a wringer since she doesn’t like dryers. Hands that hurt your mom when she was a girl. Pinched and slapped and bruised her to the marrow. Hands that never hurt you. You are her apology to your mom. She never says this, but your bones know. “They’re still here,” she says. “Just resting.” This wiggle of happy zips through your body. A spark and zig zag like you swallowed a summer garden fairy.
Stuck words. Not stuck in my throat. Deeper. In ribs. In diaphragm. In stomach. Stuffed in the dark folds of muscle and organs. No light. No air. At 28, I have new words. Words I never wanted. Widow. Widowed. Widowhood. Pregnant widow. Life and death bound in the same body. Widow maker. Widow’s peak. Widow spider. In Printing: widow’s a last word or short last line of a paragraph falling at the top of a page or column–undesirable. Greek widows all dressed in black. Heavy steps in sturdy scuffed man shoes. Wringing hands. Widows who move like shadows. Custom. Narrative: once widowed, stay widowed. While Greek DNA spools through my cells, I wanted a different story even though I didn’t know how.
“Do I have stop wearing my wedding ring?” I asked Mom, forcing words out as my throat squeezed, fat with tears.
“Maybe keep wearing it while you’re pregnant,” she said, her voice lifting in a question. I remembered her telling me when she was pregnant and her fingers swelled past her wedding ring, her mom, my yaya bought her a thin band from Woolworth’s discount department store. A place holder. A Yes I’m Pregnant And Married Of Course.
I spun my ring, burrowing the groove in my finger.
A gold band with a simple diamond. Round. Unbroken. A symbol of love and infinity and ‘Til Death Do Us Part. I didn’t feel parted. Felt Married. Maybe Widowed. Would I ever feel single?
Six months later, I went to my first widow’s support group. All of us under 40 with kids. All other members there for a year or two before me.
“I’m single,” Charlene announced, smiled so big her face went round. “And going on a date.”
My stomach shrunk to the size of a walnut. Vomit rivered up the back of my throat. I swallowed. Hard.
“Who?” “When?” “Good for you.” “How fun!” “What are you wearing?”
Pulse in my ears. Dry mouth. My legs twitched like I might run. I thought I’d meet crying, miserable women. And here they were: five women asking women questions.
I breathed deep. Filled lungs and limbs and bones with air. I stayed rooted to my chair and listened. As they talked, this tiny spark lit in me. A mini light like the garden fairies from my childhood. A peak view into a possible future. I stopped thinking I was nothing like them and started hoping some day I would be.
I got my wish. It wasn’t that day. And it wasn’t all at once. I grieved hard and wide. In time, my heart cracked open to the gifts of my grief—more compassion, more love, more gratitude.
Winter blue sky. Piercing blue. More Persian blue than sky blue. Sky with a touch of sea blue. Marble blue. This deep blue of Montana winter skies. Big sky. Endless sky. Heart swelling sky. Cracked by sun. Dotted with puffy clouds that I think of as summer clouds even though it’s 9 degrees. I’m a transplant here. I read the sky with northwest eyes, sure that dove grey cloud in the west is a rain cloud. Surprised when bloated white clouds—not a sky blanket of grey–sprinkle snow. Flaky snow. Dry. Powdery. Not Oregon ice snow. Not good snowball snow. Not snowman snow. Our neighbors, Montanans, shovel their sidewalks. We’re transplants. We don’t shovel. We wait for the snow to melt.
“Do you see them, Yaya?” You don’t want to point at the fairies, your little woodland friends, if your grandma doesn’t see them too. They flit through the tall grass at the edge of the cut grass. They cartwheel along the top of the cedar fence like it’s a fairy balance beam. Tiny sprites in gossamer. In tulle. Fairies of light. They bounce and dance and giggle in your garden you built with your yaya. You helped her haul dirt. You picked out seeds: carrots and lettuce and peas. Marigolds and black eyed susans. You made seed rows with your pointer finger. Watered with your red plastic girl sized watering can. The one you carved your initials into with a black Mr. Marker.
You squint at the sun, at the rainbow just past the grass and the two dwarf apple trees your yaya planted. The rainbow at the edge of the woods behind your house.
“They’re blessing your garden,” she says and dusts off her hands that smell like dirt and manure. “Listen to them. Hold them in your heart.” She brushes your cheek with the back of her chapped hand. “You are light and love. Like them. Always know it. You’re a garden fairy, too.”
Anne Gudger is a Montana writer transplanted from Oregon so sky and sea float in her cells. She’s been lucky to have words in Real Simple Magazine, The Rumpus, Slippery Elm, NAILED Magazine, Third Street Writers and more. She’s married to a honey of a man and has two beautiful grown children plus a fabulous son-in-law. For the past two years, she’s studied with best selling author Lidia Yuknavitch and corporeal writers.