We are a trio of dark-haired, semi-exotic,
smart, kind women, and we have all been married to Jeff. Amy was his
high school sweetheart and mother of his daughter. I am his current
wife. And Nicole...Nicole was my predecessor, and she died of breast
cancer when she was only 34. That was two years ago today.
Sometimes when Jeff and I are having fun, it
occurs to me that our fun was made possible by the tragic death of a
beautiful woman. I wouldn't even know Jeff if she were still alive.
It's a strange, dark feeling.
I have built a sketchy, imagined persona for
Nicole based on bits of information I have gleaned over the past
sixteen months. Some of those bits are minor (she had a Southern
accent, her eyes were blue, she wore jangly jewelry), and some of them
are not (Jeff's daughter adored her, she stood up for what she believed
in). I think that while we have some things in common, I am probably
more like Jeff than she was.
When Jeff and I began dating, Nicole
fascinated me. As our love intensified, I wondered if I could
possibly measure up to this creature who would remain young as I aged,
who had interests that were different from mine, and who shared several
precious years with my husband. Jeff has always answered my questions
honestly and without reservation, and he lovingly reassures me when
that strange, dark feeling creeps up on me and I start thinking too
much. I marvel at Jeff's strength and I welcome the chance to comfort
him when his own unfathomable memories from two years ago surface. The
grief he has been forced to endure during his young life is
He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
One photo of Nicole is on display in our
house, and I remember looking at it when I visited Jeff for the first
time. It's in a small plastic frame on a low bookshelf. It's not the
prettiest photo of Nicole--Jeff has shown me others saved on his
computer--but I'm sure it was selected for a reason. A couple of
illustrations Nicole cut out and framed decorate other bookshelves,
where some of her books remain. Psychology textbooks (she was a Ph.D.
candidate at the University of Illinois), ADHD children, breastfeeding,
relationship self-help, goddess worship, New Age witchy stuff...I am
not interested in reading any of them, but she was. A couple of days
ago while I was waiting for my cat to urinate--long story--I opened a
random goddess book; Nicole was a pagan priestess, and her altar
remains outdoors near our back deck. I found notes in the
book's margins, along with a piece of paper with an outline for some
kind of ceremony. I became fascinated with her penmanship's unique
curves, dots, and dashes, kicking myself for being unable to ignore a
few misspellings (she was dyslexic). A couple of closets house a
random assortment of what have got to be her clothes, some dressy and
some ordinary, and a possible wedding dress under plastic. I kind of
want to look at it, but I kind of don't.
Our house is not a shrine to Nicole by any
means, but a few other innocuous items can be seen here and there:
batik scarves, a frame drum, a wall hanging made from scraps of her
clothing and bellydancing costumes. Nicole taught bellydancing and was
apparently a gifted performer with fans who sent their condolences to
Jeff via internet message boards. While she was going through
treatment for cancer, she started a breast cancer awareness charity, Bellies for Life, that still continues to raise money through dance performances. A few of her performances are on YouTube (her stage name was Ishara Gamal), but I've only watched them a couple of
times. They're just too...real. Also too real is a Live Journal that
still exists wherein Nicole describes her day-to-day battle with
cancer. I can't bring myself to look at it yet, although a friend who
read it assures me that I will love Jeff even more if I do. I don't
know if that's possible.
Nicole's cat Hypatia is a strange alien
creature so tiny and lithe I could probably pull her through my wedding
ring. When she cuddles with me, sometimes I remember what Jeff's
mother told me: Hypatia was Nicole's constant companion when she was
sick in bed. I kiss the top of this gorgeous cat's sweet head and know that
Nicole has kissed Hypatia there also.
And then I think: well, obviously she's kissed Jeff too.
It's so easy to forget about that. Jeff
makes me feel like I'm the only woman in the world, and I am so deeply
in love with him I can't quite believe it. But at the same time I am
part of a tiny sorority, along with a sort of sister I never met, all
of us connected to each other through our love of this strong, brave,
Nicole died in his arms. If there's any justice in the universe, he will die in mine.