I went out as a solo act last night. For the first time since Peter died, I dined with others by myself. I have gone out with friends since Death changed everything in my life, but last night was the first time I went out with another couple.
Friday night, I had dinner with a couple, but they don’t really count as I’ve known them for years. One has been my friend since I was five, the other since I was eighteen, so we’re talking a long time here. And, I was friends with both of them separately before they even became a couple. I was their third wheel for a long time before Peter came into the picture. Not really a third wheel, more like…okay, their third wheel. It doesn’t matter. There’s always been a comfort with us and a feeling of being out with friends, not really a couple…if that makes sense. Yesterday was the first time I was out with a couple I didn’t really know.
After a fairly emotional day of packing up – both good and uncertain emotions – I went out to dinner with the parents of my son’s lovely girlfriend, my son and his lovely girlfriend. Let me say, before I begin, I adore his girlfriend. I will forever be grateful to her, and praise her for being there for my son when he needed someone the most, the weeks after his dad died. I know where she gets such kindness from, her parents. They are as kind and welcoming as their daughter. Throughout the meal, they included me in every conversation, held humor, were engaging and meeting them, truly meeting them, I knew where their daughter got her beauty from. I can’t say this enough. They are great people. The problem with last night laid at my feet and had nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with me and my new partner in life, Grief. I was off and I was so far off, I didn’t recognize me.
I had some apprehension about going out last night. I even talked with Peter as I packed about how difficult it was going to be out last night without him, without a huge part of me, for the first time. Even the act of driving on a Saturday night, alone, started to add on to the growing pit in my stomach. Not the driving alone part, but knowing I was driving alone because my partner, my son’s father, was dead. I said a prayer for strength – yes, I’m getting there – put on my clothes, makeup, and a brave face and got in the car.
When we got to the restaurant, after a warm welcome from this lovely couple, we sat down, the five of us, at a six-chaired table. Now, probably no one noticed, but of course, I would and did. An empty chair sat between me and one part of the nice couple. It wouldn’t matter if it was between us, across the table from me, next to me, wherever. An empty chair served as a reminder of me of the emptiness in me without Peter, and suddenly, I wasn’t hungry.
The conversation flowed out of the couple, and the kids, and never stopped. I was asked about writing and I think I kind went into my out-of-body explanation about it. You know, the type where you talk not realizing your monopolization or the time. But that was the most animated or verbal I got the entire evening. And normally, I’m both and then some. I know I can be fun and funny. Peter and the kids used to tease me about how easy it is for me to draw out people’s stories at a slow and steady pace and enjoy doing so. I can have a certain charm, the same charm my father had, the same charm most of my family can turn on. I am the good conversationalist and party guest. Yesterday, I don’t know who I as I sat there mostly quiet, almost shy. Yesterday, I didn’t sit comfortably.
I didn’t know exactly what stopped me from being engaging with this great couple. I wanted to be. I really did. I saw the potential for friendship with them. Our humble roots, our child-rearing, and our humor all seemed similar. These were a good basis for a budding friendship. Only I couldn’t show them who I really was…probably because I’m still trying to figure that out with Peter gone from my definition.
Last night, I felt an uneasiness in me and hoped they wouldn’t see it too. I felt a certain inauthenticity in me and I know, from my years with people in various jobs and volunteerism, that never looks good on me. I am a heart-on-my-sleeve, what-you-see-is-what-you-get person. Yes, like everyone else maybe more, I have my insecurities. But they never cause an overzealousness in me to fit in. I gave that up in middle school.
At one point in the evening, I got up and went to the bathroom to stave off a panic attack. My own uncomfortableness almost triggered panic in me. It came from knowing I was not myself and I hated it. It came from knowing once when all else failed me, Peter was my touchstone for reliability and security in social situations, as I think I was his in our Yin/Yang relationship With him now gone during my first social situation without him, I was fearful of falling. I hated everything about it in me. I did take calming breaths and let a few tears fall.
We ended the evening with niceties and expressing a need to do it again. I hope we do. I really do. I’d like to try and see if some version of the real Betsy shows up. I would like to think the emptiness without Peter, the absence of Peter, will lessen and perhaps I can relax more.
On the way home, I gave myself a pep talk on how I did it. I know I did it for my son, but I did do it and I needed to do it, to get this first over with. It was not easy. It felt horrible. It felt phony. And it brought on a longing in me that fills me every time I’m reminded I am alone, I am without Peter. But I did it.
Honestly, going into last night, I did not think I would feel all I felt. It blindsided me, the way Grief likes to play games with me. Yes, it’s early on in my grief state. Yet it does make me wonder how much of me will I lose and how much I need to lose in order to emerge. Nothing makes this jump out more than in social situations. I know I have more dinners, weddings, birthdays, community events, and the list goes on to do by myself, to do without Peter. I know, they’ll become easier. I know, I will become less tense and more authentic in them. I know, all of this will settle down and the rock my stomach I carry around will become a pebble, eventually, maybe even a grain. And I know, I will always miss Peter’s absence. But yesterday was a first. Firsts are always hard. They’re also always necessary to move onto the more.