A few weeks ago, I had my first experience as the third wheel. Fifth wheel, really. The extra and unnecessary one. The odd man out. I sat with two couples, who were delightful and easy to talk to, but the conversation was a strong reminder that I am not a part of couple anymore. I am a single. But not truly a single really. Just… a separate? Separated from my husband by space, but still connected by love. It’s a strange place to be. And just so we’re clear, my feelings of being the third wheel are completely my own doing. I don’t expect, nor do I want, people to bend over backwards to accommodate my feelings. I own my feelings, I’m just still getting comfortable with where I fit in socially, I guess. In a room full of people, I wouldn’t know where I fit in. And I’m ok with that, but settling in its taking time.
Anyway, so there we were, me and these two couples, all getting more acquainted, talking about our backgrounds. Asking each other questions about where we were from, how we ended up together, how long we’ve been married. Except that now those types of questions aren’t directed at me. It’s like now that Gregg is gone, our relationship is in the past. It happened, but it’s not happening anymore, even though it’s still sort of happening for me, in a way that’s hard to explain. So while the couples were getting to know more about each other’s stories, I was reminded of mine and Gregg’s.
“Where did you grow up?”
This is where Gregg or I would have said we grew up in the same small town.
“How did you two meet?”
This is where I would have said we met in elementary school, but no, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Then Gregg would have given everyone the same old schpeel about how I was just waayy too cool to date him in high school and it wasn’t until he had all those Army muscles that I wanted to date him. (Which is false. It was the growing from a 14-year-old boy into a more mature version of a pretty much 14-year-old boy that got me hooked. The muscles were just a bonus.) I always hated this schpeel because it made me seem shallow. Gregg loved telling it because he knew I hated it. But it also showed the romantic part of our relationship. Friends for years, love, dating to engaged to married in three months. It’s a beautiful love story, really.
“How long have you been married?” We both would have glanced absent-mindedly at the ceiling while we calculated the years and months since June 27, 2009.
“How long have you guys lived here?”
Our answer would have always been a time frame that was less than 2 years, no matter when we were asked. In our 7 1/2 years of marriage, we made 4(ish) out of state moves. We would have explained Gregg’s Army career, his deployment, our adventure living in New York, eventually settling back in Arizona.
“Wow, you were deployed, how was that?”
I would have said that our first year of marriage sucked in a different way than most people’s. We had to learn to be away from each other instead of learning to be with each other.
But no one asks these questions anymore. And I’m definitely not faulting them for it, I know it comes from trying to be respectful. But it also just never comes up because I’m a widow, not a wife. Sometimes I don’t think people really have to try hard to avoid it. That chapter has ended and it’s more important to know what I’m going to do next than to know the details of my relationship that ended. Only I’m still stuck on that chapter of my life that ended prematurely. And I may be stuck there for a long time, and even after that I’ll turn back to it regularly to remember what it was like to be actually in my marriage, not just clinging to it like a moment you wish you could freeze time for.
When people do ask about us, they want to know more about the end of it. How he died, how old our kids were. How on Earth I did it. That sort of thing. Which is not bad. I can’t really think of anyone who has been truly off-putting in asking those questions. But the beginning stuff only matters to me now, ya know? Sometimes I just want to tell people that I took my first plane ride ever by myself to go see Gregg before we were even dating. Sometimes I want to tell them how on the last night of my first visit, instead of taking me to a fancy dinner, he asked if I wanted to eat apples and protein bars for dinner, which was the best idea I had ever heard. I want to tell them how he got down on one knee in the middle of a crowded airport and how everyone started clapping. I had never been so happy and embarrassed in my life.
My goal is to write it all down so that our kids, and their kids, will have it. And so I’ll have it when I start to forget the details. Gregg was good with details, I’m more of a big picture person. A lot of my memories are condensed down into snip its that highlight major details and emotions, with all the small stuff smushed together in between, all stuck into one big glob that’s hard to pull apart. Gregg had a ridiculously good memory, and would sometimes tease me that he was hurt when I couldn’t remember the exact day of our first kiss or the color my shirt was when I flew to see him. He remembered things like that. Once when I was ridiculously pregnant and feeling particularly out of my mind, I even forgot what day we were married. He was appalled, and probably truly hurt by that.
It’s a strange feeling when your place in the world changes. The club I’ve joined still feels foreign. But I think I am getting settled into it, though ever so slowly.