…the first one without Shawn since number 22.
I love my birthday.
When I got the news that our third child was due on my 35th birthday, I cried. Not my most mature moment, for sure, but February 25th is my day.
Shawn knew this. And every year he planned for it. Last year he got a group of friends together and we sang karaoke until the wee hours of the night. Shawn and I started out with our favorite song – Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” It was the first song we sang together the night we met, in the late summer of 2001 in Japan. There are photos, somewhere, of us standing on a table and singing with a sort of wild abandon.
Last year, we seemed to forget that we had 3 kids under 8 at home, that they all had playdates and baseball practice and diaper changes the next day. Instead, we just had a really good time. It was magical. “Epic” as Shawn would say.
And so this year, all I could think in the days leading up to my birthday was: I feel so damn anxious. Anxious that it will be terrible, that I’ll cry at my birthday dinner and ruin my time with my friends. Anxious that my kids won’t make me birthday cards because they’re too little to think of it on their own and no one will think of it for them. Anxious that I’ll feel old. Anxious that I’ll be alone.
But I guess my oldest friends knew this, because my two dearest friends from college, Kelly and Paige, came in to DC for the weekend. I was too overwhelmed with everything to plan anything, but of course it didn’t matter. All I wanted was to see the two of them, take walks around the neighborhood and finally talk about something other than the serious issues in my life. The last time they’d been here was just after Shawn died, when they’d left their families and jobs and stayed for a week, helping me sort out the logistics of my life and consoling me as my heart was breaking.
And so we did what old friends do – we took long walks, we drank lots of coffee, we talked about our kids and our jobs, we laughed about our lives and they let me cry about Shawn. On Saturday we found ourselves in the perfume section of a massive department store, spritzing each other and ultimately spending stupid amounts of money on something so fleeting. But as we cruised through a few other stores and talked about why we did or did not need a new wine opener or a sleep mask, I laughed more than I had in many months, and I found myself – if briefly – in one of those states where I was just in the moment, and happy.
Later that afternoon, we went out and bought champagne and proceeded to get ready for hours in my bathroom, playing 90s music and generally acting as though we were back in college. My 8-year-old daughter was mesmerized, and a little horrified, to see us having such a great time. When we were finally done, and I stepped out in my 4-inch heels with my girlfriends by my side, I felt happy, pretty and…something else. Empty? Scared? Nervous?
We met some other dear friends at a hip restaurant, one of these places in a neighborhood so utterly cool and new that I was shocked to see how it had transformed in just a few years since I’d been there. We ordered from the perfectly curated menu and drank a specialty wine. My friends told funny stories about their lives and everyone smelled my new perfume.
I’m not quite sure how it all came up, but at the end of the evening, I started talking about how I was barely able to process the word “widow” and how it just seemed so foreign and so old.
“Of course,” my friends told me, “you are beautiful and sexy. Who cares about that word?”
“I guess it’s not the word” I told them. “It’s just that I feel so insecure without Shawn.” And then as I had feared, I started crying.
Here’s the thing – it’s not that I feel insecure in the same way I did at age 21, worried about how my hair looked or whether I was wearing the right jeans or drinking the right beer. Those sorts of silly issues faded just by mere fact of growing older. It’s that when I was with him, I felt so secure in who I was. I felt so secure that he loved me. I felt so secure that we were a thing – Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. I felt so secure in who I was a person, as a partner.
Now, I don’t feel that. Instead, I feel quite insecure, which is honestly a feeling I can’t say I’ve had often in my adult life.
I’ve heard that people who lose an arm or a leg are often left feeling phantom limbs where none remains. In many ways, that’s how I feel now. It’s like this part of me is gone. I don’t mean it’s like a part of Shawn is gone – I know he’s not here. What I mean is that part of what made me who I am – happy-go-lucky and confident – that part has been replaced by something else that makes me more nervous and less sure about myself. And a lot more anxious.
I know things will get better, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a thousand times. I know part of the reason they will get better is because I have wonderful friends around me, many of whom cried alongside me at that dinner table. I know my kids will get older and write me cards on my birthday that I don’t have to ask them to write. I know I will regain some of that security as I find my footing in this new world of mine. But we will not be Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. That person is forever frozen at age 38, singing karaoke with her head thrown back and her husband holding her hand.
Image Credit: Stephanie Harrington Photography.