I was at a secondhand store recently when I bought a Ralph Lauren skirt that I spotted on the rack. I didn’t buy the skirt for me though. I bought it for my husband’s former wife.
I never met “M” and didn’t know her — in fact, she died of breast cancer — I did know, however, that she had a fetish for Ralph Lauren.
Shortly after I met my husband he asked if I would help him clear out M’s personal things. He was overwhelmed — he wouldn’t say by grief, he would just say he was overwhelmed — but I knew better. He didn’t have any family here and he was sleeping with me, which made me more or less family, so I agreed.
That was how I learned that M had a fetish for Ralph Lauren. Her closets were full of all things Lauren.
“Look at what I found today,” I said to my husband when I got home with the skirt. He looked up from his computer.
“I didn’t buy it for me.”
“Who’d you buy it for then?
“I bought it for M.”
“Why’d you buy a skirt for M?”
Soon after I married my husband I learned that it wasn’t easy to be married to a man who’d been happily married for 48 years to someone else. I’d had two long-term relationships in my life and I was the one who wanted to move on from each one. Not for one tiny second however, had my husband wanted to move on from his relationship, he’d simply had no choice in the matter.
In the meantime I kept measuring myself up against M and her accomplishments. I kept watching for a sign that I wasn’t just the “fill-in” wife or just the sexual diversion wife or that I wasn’t the grief pill wife — “Take as needed when feeling loss.”
My lack of confidence was making me ill. What was worse, it was getting in my way, forcing me to pay attention more to it than to the happiness that was right in front of me.
I hadn’t kept my thoughts secret from my husband and one night I told him that I needed to talk to him about it again.
“Maybe if I just say it all out, I’ll be able to see it differently.” I knew it wasn’t him that was causing me to think and feel the way I was — I knew it was me.
I asked for his help.
It was a starry night. We were sitting on the patio chatting and enjoying the evening over a glass of wine.
He listened to me quietly and let me say everything I needed to say and when I was done he leaned over and put his hand on my knee in that way he has of accompanying his words with touch. He called me Baby and squeezed my leg and paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. He told me that if I wanted to make myself a victim of M I could do it.
I bristled at his use of the word “victim,” but he was right. That’s what I was doing. Making myself a victim.
He went on.
“I loved M and now I love you,” he said, and he hated to see me hurting myself the way I was.
“Besides,” he added, giving me a deep look with his grey eyes, “She was another person just like you and me. Just another person.”
Although I don’t think I realized the full impact of it then, I’d had an epiphany that night on the patio. It wasn’t big and loud and didn’t even have background music. It was just a quiet acceptance of reality.
“M was a person, just like you and me. Just another person.”
My husband’s heart was big enough to contain us both.
So, two years later, when I came in from the secondhand store and he asked me why I’d bought a skirt for M, I told him because it made me feel good,
“I didn’t know it when I bought it,” I said, “but buying that skirt means that I’m not afraid any more. It means that I know your love for M and that your love for me defies time, that it is ongoing for us both and that I no longer feel like I have to be the one and only.”
He was happy to hear what I was saying, it was written all over him.
“What are you going to do with the skirt now that you have it?” he asked.
“I’m going to put it in the dressing room. There’s plenty of room there for the four of us — me, you, M, and Ralph Lauren.”
“You know, it’s true what they say about secondhand stores.”
“You really never know what you’re going to find.”