This story originally appeared on Role/Reboot, and is republished here with permission.
Elizabeth Scarboro’s husband died of cystic fibrosis, leaving her a 29-year-old widow. She shares her experience trying to find love again.
Wednesday morning, 7am, the radio alarm blaring. Keep your eyes closed. Don’t move, because you have miraculously woken up in your old life.
The bed’s warm, your husband’s snoring next to you. Only the snore is more of a low whine, accompanied by a rough pawing against your back. The dogs, nudging you to get up. Your brain, moving slowly, registers this as a logic puzzle. If you’ve gone back in time, and your husband is still here, the dogs can’t fit on the bed, and the alarm is set to beep.
The dogs do fit on the bed, and the alarm is set to radio, therefore he’s dead and time is linear after all. Your mind veers toward the surreal these days. This person who was Here is Gone, and it’s not much of a leap to think other seemingly impossible things may occur. But there’s no time to delve into that, the dogs need to get outside; you’ve got to be at work at 8:15.
Stumble into your sweats and take the dogs around the block. Or let them take you. They are big and unruly, and they were your husband’s—you only agreed to let him get them because he promised that you could be the fun parent.
At home, it’s a quick shower, go-to clothes, and breakfast. You’ve forgotten to buy dog food again, so it’s Grape-Nuts for the three of you. Suddenly, everyone’s old-fashioned. You’re 29, and most of your friends aren’t married. You’d never been interested in marriage in the abstract, but you’d fallen in love young, and stayed that way, and decided to make it official.
Being married hadn’t changed things much, until now, when it’s not only that this person you loved is dead, but that your husband is dead, which registers to the world differently. Meaning, it might as well be 1950, the way people worry for your future.
Your next door neighbor Rivka, who, to be fair, is 70, but who is also a staunch feminist, wants you settled. It’s been less than a month but she’s trying to marry you off to her caregiver Mark. “He can take you on drives in the country,” she says.
Mark, who sells T-shirts out of his van, shifts uncomfortably. You’re all out on the sidewalk, squinting in the morning sun. Rivka leans in close. “A young widow quickly becomes an old widow,” she says.
There’s Rivka, and then there are the 12-year-olds at school. Teaching used to wear you out, and now it’s the daily seven-hour vacation from your life. You stumble toward the building with your coffee, and before you’ve opened the door the kids have swarmed, giving homework excuses, asking you to settle arguments.
Their world consumes you, and in their presence you lose track of your own unraveled life. But they haven’t forgotten the month of subs they muddled through in your absence, or why you were gone in the first place.
“I have an uncle,” Jessica says. There are many plans for you involving uncles. “My mom thinks you’d like this friend of my dad’s,” Peter confides. “When do you think you’ll get remarried?” Angelica asks. You shrug. You want to say never, or I’m so tired I can’t see straight. “It’s OK,” Jorge says, patting your shoulder. “It can take a long time.”
You, on the other hand, imagine wandering through years and countries by yourself. The ground underneath your feet no longer feels solid. The possibilities are endless, and none of them interests you much.
In the brief moments that you come down to earth, you are shocked to see men everywhere. In the grocery store. The subway station. The school staff meeting. Of course you’ve noticed them, you’ve had your crushes and your brushes with danger, but it’s been 10 years since men have registered to you in this no-holds-barred way. You’d never thought your brain had been boxing itself in, but it must have done something to make peace with monogamy, because now there’s a crazy, frenetic motion to the world.