My Husband's Other Wife
She died, so I could find the man I love.
A few months after we were married, when the sixth anniversary of her death was approaching, my husband fell into a depression. He became silent and burdened. After several weeks of it I wondered if this was what my marriage would be like. I decided that maybe I could be in a happy marriage even if I was the only one who was happy. Then, when the day of her death came and went, his darkness lifted for good. It was a last spasm of guilt about having left her behind.
I am sarcastic and occasionally (sometimes? often?) harsh. Robin wasn't—I know because I asked, not because John holds her over me or compares us—and he would have had a gentler life had she lived. I try to remind myself that I owe it to her to do as good a job of taking care of him as she would have. I will catch myself about to say sentences that begin "How many times have I ..." or "Weren't you listening when ..." and stop thinking that if he were still married to Robin, he wouldn't have to hear this.
When our daughter was about 6, she and her father were exploring in the attic when she came across an unfamiliar box, filled with Robin's things. She came running down the stairs in tears. "I found a box of jewels and Dad won't let me touch them!" she cried. My husband and I talked it over. I understood his desire to keep all that was left of Robin safe. But I suggested she would have liked that a little girl was enchanted with her jewelry. So we told our daughter she could play with these rings and necklaces, but that they were precious. We explained that Robin had been a good friend of her dad's who died, and Dad was the one who had kept her things.
When our daughter was 8 she found the same box of photos that I had seen that day I moved in. She brought them downstairs to our bedroom and said she wanted to look at the old pictures of Daddy. She asked about the pretty, dark-haired woman always standing next to him. My husband told her that was Robin. After a few more minutes she looked up and said, "There are so many pictures of her."
"Dad loved her," I said.
"If you loved her so much, why didn't you marry her?" she asked her father.
He looked at me, and I nodded.
"I did," he replied.
Our daughter looked at the picture she was holding in her hand, her eyes widening, then at me. It was like one of those moments in Dickens when a foundling discovers her true origins.
"It's like I have two mothers," she said in a kind of astonishment.
I liked her formulation. And I thought Robin would be satisfied with how well her wish for her husband, now mine, had been fulfilled.
My husband and I have been married for 15 years, more than twice as long as he was married to Robin. My daughter is 13 now and long ago outgrew the chair that Robin's family gave her. I keep it stored safely with her bassinet, the clown rattle, and her favorite jacket printed with elephants. I hope someday a granddaughter might use these things. If so, when that little girl is old enough, I will tell her the story of her other grandmother, Robin.