“Sounds good,” I say, and she takes off. I find myself slightly uncomfortable here, which takes me by surprise because I have been so comfortable around her recently. she has brought me such comfort. But I am now in her house, in her world. I am also in the house that Ben grew up in, and it feels fitting to cry. yet, I’m not on the verge of tears. In fact, I feel okay. I can’t help but think that maybe because it’s okay to cry, I can’t.


“marry me,” he said.

“Marry you?” I was in the driver’s seat of his car. I had just picked him up from the doctor’s office again. He had bent down to pet a dog that morning and his back had respasmed. apparently, this can happen when you don’t take the pain medication the doctor prescribes. Ben got a lecture on how he needed to take the pain medication so he would move normally again and work out the muscles. I had told him that earlier in the week, but he didn’t listen to me. so there I was, driving him home from the doctor once again. only this time, I was being proposed to while he was drugged out on painkillers in the passenger seat.

“Yes! Just marry me.you are perfect,” he said.“It’s hot in here.” “okay, okay. I’m taking you home.”

“But you will marry me?” he asked, smiling over at me, watching me drive.

“I think that’s the painkillers talking,” I said.

“Drunk words are sober thoughts,” he said, and then he fell asleep.


I sit out by susan’s pool, reading magazines and getting a tan. susan and I play gin rummy and drink a lot of iced tea. the days come and go, and I have nothing to show for them. I walk through her herb garden, and sometimes I pick lemons from her fruit trees and then put them in my drinks. I’m finally gaining weight. I haven’t stepped on a scale, but I can see the roundness back in my cheeks.

When the days start to cool down and the santa ana winds take over the nights, I sometimes sit by the outdoor chimney. I think I’m the first one to light it. But after the first couple of times, it starts to smell like a warm, toasty campfire, and if I close my eyes long enough, I can convince myself I’m on a traditional vacation.

Otherwise,, susan is usually with me, guiding me through her own little version of Widow rehab. she starts to cry sometimes but always seems to stop herself. I’m pretty sure at night in bed alone is the only time she can really let herself go. every once in a while when I am trying to fall asleep myself, I can hear her sob from the other side of the house. I never go to her room. I never mention it the next day. she likes to be alone with her pain. she doesn’t like to share it. during the day, she wants to be there for me, show me how this is done, and I’m happy to oblige. However imperfect, her system is working for her. she’s functional and composed when she needs to be, and she is in tune with her feelings in her own way. I guess I am learning from the best because I do feel a little bit better.

When susan isn’t around, sometimes I sneak into Ben’s old bedroom. I imagined it would be here waiting for him, frozen in time from when he left it. I thought maybe I’d find old high school trophies and pictures of prom, maybe one of those felt flags I’ve seen people pin on their walls. I want to learn more about my husband. I want to consume more information about him. spend more time with him. But instead, I find a small room that had been cleared out long before Ben died. there’s a bed with a blue striped comforter, and in one corner, a halftorn sticker from some skateboard company. sometimes, I sit on the bed and hear how quiet this house is with just one person in it. It must be so quiet for susan when I am not here.

I think of a world where I am a mother of three, married to a handsome man. We own an oversize suv, and he coaches girls’ soccer. He is faceless, nameless. to tell the truth, in the scenario, he doesn’t matter. I keep trying to think of a way to work Ben into this new life I could have. I could name my son Ben, but that feels too obvious and, quite frankly, too small a gesture. I am beginning to understand why people start funds and charities in other people’s names. It would feel good to work at the Benjamin s. ross Foundation for not eating Fruity pebbles. But I know there isn’t actually anything to rally against for him.

To tell the truth, I lack passion for much of anything. sometimes I wish I had passion for something—which, if you think about it, is a kind of passion in itself.albeit, somewhat weak.

Susan always plans things for me to do to keep me busy, even if it is just a structured day of lounging and watching television. sometimes the “camp counselor” shtick she has going on can be a bit grating, but it’s not my place to tell her to back off. she wants to help me and she is helping. I’m just that little bit more functional each day.

“My friend rebecca is in town tonight,” she says to me one afternoon. “I was thinking we could all go out to this new Mediterranean place I found.”

This is the first time that susan is inviting me out with any of her friends. It seems odd, somehow, to participate in something together that involves other people. I’m not sure why, though. It feels like this alliance is a private one, one not to be shared. as if she’s my mistress mother. But I think I’m really just scared of what to call her. How will she introduce me? “this is my son’s widow?” I don’t want that.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say. I’m fiddling with the pages of a magazine I read days ago. the pages are transparent and curled at the edges from when I left it by the edge of the pool and attempted a cannonball.

“Please?” she says.

“I mean—” I start. she abruptly sits down and puts her hands out, as if she’s about to make a great proposition.

“look, rebecca isn’t the best. she’s kind of . . . snobby. Well, she’s really snobby. and I could just never stand her snobby little attitude about our kids. When her oldest got into stanford, it was stanford this and stanford that and whoopity-do, isn’t patrick the smartest kid in the world? she always acted like Ben was such a disappointment.”

“Wow, okay, now I really don’t want to go. and I don’t understand why you want to go,” I say.

“Well, get this!” susan says excitedly. “she always, always wanted a daughter. always. she’s got two boys. neither married yet.” susan catches herself and blushes. “I’m a terrible person, right? I am. I’m trying to use my daughter-in-law to make my friend jealous.”

I don’t know whether it’s that I already hate rebecca or that I like the idea of indulging susan, but I agree. “should we wear matching dresses?” I say. “Maybe tell her we just got back from pottery making together?”

Susan laughs heartily. “thank you for understanding that I am sometimes a total bitch.”

We take naps and then get ready for dinner. I can hear susan changing her clothes over and over. It’s odd to see her so insecure. When we get to the restaurant, we are told that rebecca has already been seated. We walk through the dining area, susan just the littlest bit in front of me, and I see her make eye contact. rebecca stands up to greet us. “only two minutes late!” rebecca says, and I see susan start to roll her eyes. rebecca turns to me. “so this is the daughter-in-law you won’t stop talking about.”

And I realize that, more than anything, what made me want to come to dinner was that for the first time, I feel like I am susan’s daughter-in-law, plain and simple. the bizarre circumstances don’t matter. I am someone’s new, shiny daughter-in-law.


Ana is coming down to visit tonight. susan invited her to stay for the weekend and she accepted. she should be here any minute, and I am excited to show her how nice it can be to just sit by a pool and feel the sun beating down on you. I went to the store this afternoon to get us snacks and wine coolers. I got the wine coolers because I thought they were funny, but then I drank one this afternoon, and you know what? they are actually pretty tasty.

Ana shows up around six, and susan has a whole dinner planned. I get the impression susan is deathly bored. I think my being here makes it easier to fill her days, but before Ben died, before she and I became close, she was supremely, soulsuckingly bored. she’s in a lot of book clubs, but as far I can tell, that’s about it. so when ana comes for dinner, it gives susan an excuse for a seven-course meal.