As I said in the post The Triptych: How I finally learned to finish a piece (and how you might too), I’ve been teaching my memoir students the triptych form over the last few years. During the first drafts, I encourage writers to use a one-word title that announces the theme that ties the scenes together. Today’s triptych writer is Kristine Shorey who I met through two writers from We Came to Say, Abigail Carter and Elizabeth Corcoran Murray.(BTW, if you’re in Seattle, please come out to the Book Launch for We Came to Say Wednesday, August 24th at Third Place Books).
Kristine says after reading about triptychs on Writing Is My Drink, she identified that this piece she’d already written was a triptych. Pretty cool. This piece and other work from Kristine is forthcoming in the anthology The Widow’s Handbook.
By Kristine Shorey
December 1988. It’s Christmas time, a few weeks after my husband’s death, and I’m still on bereavement leave. My boss comes to my house, bringing me a tree ornament wrapped in a box. It is a large silver ball with a Mickey Mouse. When I hang it on the tree I notice it has a year printed on it as well—from a few years back.
My boss is a few years older than I am. He is single, slight, a couple of inches taller than my 5’4”, his face deeply pockmarked, his nose the large for his thin face. We wears unfashionable wire framed glasses, speaks in a working class Boston accent. Our group has nicknamed him the Chiwawa. I have never thought of him as anything but a boss. During this visit he exhibits a shy awkwardness at odds with the brisk, confident business person I know him to be. He is wearing a soft sweater; until now I have only seen him in a suit. His voice is uncharacteristically gentle. He bends his head toward mine so we are in a sort of huddle, looking toward the ground.
“Are you, um, are you (pause) seeing anyone?” he asks.
My image of him, already shifting, now flips entirely. My heartbeat quickens just as it used to when I was single and could tell a boy was going to ask me out.
“No,” I say. I lift my eyes to meet his. He isn’t looking at me.
“If you decide to, I can ask HR about getting you some names.”
My face freezes. He is asking me about a THERAPIST. My husband has been dying for two years and you wonder if I have a THERAPIST? I want to shout. How stupid can you be? My anger is at my vulnerability, but I can’t see that yet.
February 1990. It is a relief when I’m recruited for a job in another part of the state. I’m ready to leave my job, the company, the region. When I first returned to work I felt like I was wearing a sign, “My husband just died.” People either avoided looking at me, or would ask me “How are you?” in a way that I never knew how to answer. When I started dating a recent widower, I felt that sign had turned into a scarlet letter.
I am at an interview lunch with my potential boss. I really want this job. She’s taken me to a trendy white-tablecloth bistro. I am wearing a suit that seemed more chic in the store. She is wearing spike heels, a tight skirt, a silk blouse and heavy gold chains around her neck. Her hair is sprayed in place, her makeup elaborate and perfect. Her long red nails tap against my resume, which she has laid on the table. She points to the address line.
“You live in a house?”
“Are you married?”
This throws me. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to go down Widow Road, either.
“Not anymore.” I keep my game face and hope she won’t probe for details.
“But you got the house. Good for you.” She smiles and nods. Not correcting her impression just about kills me.
September 1991. The wedding planner is showing my fiancé and I the playlist for the band that we’ve hired. We’re selecting a song for our first dance. They don’t play “our song”—“Baby, I’m Amazed,” by Paul McCartney.
“Let’s go with this one,” my fiancé says, pointing on the playlist to a Linda Ronstadt song.
She hands us the sheet music. I read the lyrics, “I’ve been waiting all my life for you, and now you’re here.” He starts to hum it. The song has been played often on the radio recently. I like it but am surprised at his choice. Doesn’t he get how inappropriate it is for two people who have each been happily married before? I must be making a big deal out of nothing, I tell myself. I don’t want to argue.
“Sure, that’s fine,” I hear myself saying.
When we dance to the song at our wedding, I shrink inside. I would give anything to change it. But it’s too late now.
# # #
A moving, compelling story. I can feel you shrinking as you realize the bigger picture of yourself. Well done. Thanks.
Elizabeth Corcoran Murray
This is haunting and provocative. Why am I haunted by it? I want to know more.
Just found this, sorry to post/comment on something old, but I just picked up your book that sent me here. This is truly beautiful, moving, writing.
Made me think. Thank you. Made me feel–even better.
I’m ready to try a triptych, too. I hope mine will be as well-reduced as yours. You could’ve said more, but you didn’t and I respect that. So much.