When I was eighteen, I gave a talk to an organization for older teens and young adults. The topic was “Who Am I?”. In it, I spoke about being finding myself outside of High School as a new, independent me. Part of my speech was about the different masks I wore in an effort to fit in. I told a story of how I, the normally unrebellious highschooler, was now smoking in the back of Chicago buses, and cutting classes in college. I explained to the audience how all of this was confusing to me and how I kept trying to find myself among all the masks I put on. I wore a mask for my parents and family, another for the new friends I made, another for the professors, another for my co-workers, and more translucent one for the people who knew me best. Then I played the song Rainbow Connection and it was all groovy.
I thought about my speech, and my eighteen-year-old self, yesterday because the young me has become relatable again. Oh sure, I don’t smoke anymore or ride CTA buses and I have my degree. But I am struggling trying to find out who I am. And instead of masks, sometimes, I wear a Super Widow cape and feel like a fraud.
I am not always who I project lately. Sometimes, I quip quick one-liners when I don’t feel humorous. Or fake listen to some people’s stories while my mind wonders onto yet another thought of Peter. There are times where I push myself to see the gifts in my life when all I am is bitter. Or I say I don’t need anything when I know I do but I can’t formulate what I need. I respond ‘I’m okay’ like a tic when really I am a miserable mess of a person right now. Most of my days, I go through the motions of one step in front of the other when I feel as if I am on this insane hamster wheel of grief going nowhere.
I don’t always do this. My true friends see me despite my cape. But when I do put on a persona I am not, it’s because I want to project this person who is fighting through it all. Or I don’t want anyone to grow tired of me, who can only talk about grief for her husband; I already feel selfish making everything about me. I sometimes think faking it means making it, and I truly want to get to that happy point again before Peter died. I want to again be full of humor and to love hearing other people’s stories. I want to go back to when I knew how to articulate, was better than okay and had a pep in most of the steps I took. I miss that person, but she won’t ever be again because half of her is missing and who knows what she’ll look like when she emerges. And that scares me so I fake it sometimes. I fake the personas I am not and the feelings I don’t feel.
Someone once told me, when you bury your feelings, you’re only burying them alive. They will rise up again in you. And she was right. They do. With every ingenuine feeling I project, the pit in my stomach grows and I struggle to keep it together. At night, I let it go of all the emotions I kept bottled up in flooded tears, part of the loneliness of the dark. When the day comes, I know I have to make it through another day, and sometimes, that means being a fraud, if just for a moment. I know I can’t go around crying or in utter sadness. That would only paralyze me more, stop me from getting through the day. And getting through the day is my only goal right now. And, yes, it all just sucks, like everything else about being without Peter.
I know I have to be kinder to myself. I know there are times where I don’t have to wear the cape. I know there are times where just being me, broken me, is alright and it’s the best I can do or be. Such as yesterday night when I didn’t feel ready attending the widows’ group because I spent all my energy getting up, going to work, attending a few appointments this week. That was my authentic self. That is who I am right now.
Like my eighteen-year-old self, I now struggle to find myself. Who Am I is a great question, one I have no answer for, nor won’t for a very long time. The masks I wore at eighteen have been replaced by the cape I now sometimes wear, and it’s all part of finding out Who I Am now, forty years later.