A young man asked if I was married.
This is a typical question I get when I have conversations with strangers or people who don’t know my story. Often times it’s women or older people. They see me without a wedding ring with my two young children, and I just know how I look or how I act just screams single mother as if I have it tattooed on my forehead. Honestly, I usually don’t tell people about the whole widow thing until they ask about it. I often try to avoid those awkward my-husband-is-dead conversations, not for myself, but for the sake of those who don’t know yet because they always feel bad. I hate making people feel bad.
“Are you married?” He asked.
Such a simple question. Such a weird question. I was just trying to order my hot white chocolate mocha, and yet now we’re having this awkward conversation about the military and whether I’m married and oh my goodness, why am I giggling!?
I hadn’t really noticed this man before even though I frequent this place often. However, I was caught off guard when he asked me this question. First, a man was asking me. Second, why is he asking me? Third, wait, he’s really cute. Fourth, what do I say!?
I stuttered. I giggled. I blushed. I wondered what was happening to me and if I could just walk away and go cry now.
His co-worker, an older lady, laughed next to him and commented, “It’s complicated?”
“No,” I told them. “Um, I’m widowed.”
Insert more awkward laughter.
They both apologized. I flashed a smile.
Silence filled the air, like it often does right after I reveal the widow thing in conversation.
Just make my damn coffee, please.
I explained how it’s been two years since my husband passed away and I still never know how to answer the marriage question. I’m not legally married. I know my husband is dead. But do I still sometimes feel married? Yes. Does it suck feeling married to a dead man? Yes. It’s marriage without any of the benefits. And when women ask the question, it’s kind of normal. Us women are always asking questions to get to know someone or find out their business and such. But when this man asked the question, for some reason, it felt different.
Then the lady told me that I’m allowed to answer that question in whatever way I want to at the time to whoever I’m speaking to.
And that hit me straight in the heart.
Could I say “Yes, I’m married” to a random stranger who asks in a grocery store, someone I will probably never see again? Could I say “No, I’m not married,” to this man making my coffee because I thought he was cute? Could I skip the whole awkward widow thing and simply give someone the one word answer? What would that mean?
Would I ever even say no?
I don’t know. I still don’t know.
However, going home that day, I realized that for the first time in two years, I wanted to say “No, I’m not married.” And leave it at that. No details. No more. I didn’t want to be the young widowed mom. I simply wanted to be me. I wanted to be Sam. I wanted to skip the awkward laughter and red cheeks and sweaty palms. I wanted simple. Easy. For once.
As time goes by, it does slowly get easier to answer the hard questions. Are you married? Where’s your husband? Where’s your kids’ father? What do you do? Are you in a relationship?
However, I thought after more than two years of widowhood, I would be able to answer these types of questions with more ease, but that’s simply not true. I still stumble over my words. I still hesitate. I still overthink. I still laugh nervously. I still feel anxious. I still don’t know what to say. Oftentimes, I don’t know what I would even say at certain times to certain people.
Maybe one day, I will say no. Then maybe the next day I will say yes because it’s simply easier to avoid the awkward feeling with a stranger who I most likely will never see again. Maybe one day, I won’t even overthink about the answers and simply just answer. Maybe one day, the widow thing won’t be so awkward.
This man still sometimes makes my coffee, and I often think about our first awkward encounter. I still sometimes get tongue-tied. I’m just trying to buy coffee, and it turns out awkward. I sometimes wonder if he even remembers this conversation with the weird, giggling young lady herding her two babies.