A few nights ago, Tommy woke me up. “There’s something in my room!” he said, eyes wide.
“There’s nothing in your room,” I said. “Let’s go back to sleep.”
He wasn’t consoled, and as I tucked him back in he said, “listen! There’s scratching in the walls!”
He was right. I told him that it was probably just a tree branch, but I knew otherwise. It was a mouse – or something worse – crawling around inside the walls of our house. “You have to call the pest company tomorrow,” I said to Chris as I crawled back into bed. “I’m teaching all day and this needs to be taken care of first thing in the morning.” He agreed, and I gave him the number of the company I regularly used.
He called a few hours later.
“Hello, this is Western Pest Control. How can we help you?”
“Hi,” Chris said, “I’m calling to try and get someone to come inspect our house for pests. There seems to be something living in our walls. We can hear scratching in them at night.”
“Okay, we can send someone out,” the woman at the pest company replied. “Let me check the address with you.”
It was correct. “Yes, that’s my address,” Chris said.
“Am I speaking with Shawn Brimley?” she asked.
“Um, no,” Chris said. “I am not Shawn Brimley. But Marjorie Brimley lives here.”
The woman paused, and then said, “so then who are you?”
“Well, my name is Chris,” he replied.
“Are you on the account?” she asked.
“Well, no,” Chris said. “Shawn died and so Marjorie became a widow and I’m Marjorie’s new partner.”
The woman said nothing, so Chris continued. “I’m just trying to get the mice out of the walls of this house. Can you send someone to check out this problem?”
I came down for lunch right about the time Chris was hanging up. He was laughing. “Well that was awkward,” he said, and recounted the conversation.
It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened, but it does bring up all sorts of interesting questions. For a long time – really, until this past spring – I told people that I was Shawn’s wife. Not his widow, but his wife. I rarely even used the term “late husband.” I usually just said, “my husband Shawn” when I was referring to him, as though he was simply on a long trip away from home.
It wasn’t an emotional or political statement. Or at least not usually. Often, it was just easier to keep moving through life by referring to Shawn as my husband. This also meant I kept him on various bills and accounts, because then I didn’t have to have all of these conversations about being a widow. I was already having so many of them in my daily interactions that the easiest thing to do was to just ignore the fact that (on paper) Shawn remained my husband – and “head of household” – in so many parts of my life. And maybe also a bit in my head, too.
But I am the head of household now.
I feel good about that title, actually. And yes, Chris is standing next to me now. He’s an equal partner in my life, so I’m not the only “head of household” – whatever that was even ever supposed to mean. We can both call for things like pest control.
And so, this begs the question: Why don’t I go and change everything to be in my name, or in both my name and Chris’s? I guess I could, but it’s such a pain sometimes, and three kids and a teaching job (not to mention a global pandemic) means that I have little leftover at the end of the day to do what the water company wants me to do to change the name. Which is this: come downtown in person with Shawn’s death certificate and also some sort of proof that I own the house and then I can get my name on the water bill. For real.
I mean, come on! I’m not doing that. I don’t need my name – or Chris’s name – on everything to assert that I am doing okay. I’m just fine living in this house and showing people that I’m making it one day at a time.
Even if the electric bill still comes in Shawn’s name.