For five years in my twenties, I dated a woman who annoyed me in half a dozen different ways, but mostly by pretending to be stupid. She even explained it to me once: "Men like women who don't know too much and don't tell them when they're wrong, so I play dumber than I am. It's a strategy." I was too young and stupid to fully understand what such a "strategy" meant or implied, so I laughed it off as a joke, but she wasn't joking.
Stephanie, of course, was remarkably intelligent, and she never, ever pretended to be dumb. But she was sometimes too hard on herself, and occasionally said she thought she was a failure, which simply makes no sense. Whatever Steph attempted, she was successful, with only the exception of physical matters beyond her control — she wasn't "successful" at walking on a prosthetic leg that didn't fit and painfully gouged her skin with every step, because nobody could be "successful" at that. But at anything where she wasn't physically blockaded from success, she succeeded.
She always felt that she should be doing something, accomplishing something. Before her disability she was never unemployed for long, always had a steady job — that's success. She loved cooking, and prepared dinner for us almost every night, even when she could barely walk or couldn't walk — that's success. She planned affordable but always excellent weekends for us — that's success. She was always knitting or crocheting, being creative in some way — that's success. The list could go on, longer than I could go on typing.
And yet, she saw herself as unsuccessful. That's a real head-scratcher. There are some people — plenty of people, actually — who think they're quite successful, when in reality they're no more and perhaps less successful that Stephanie was. From this I draw two conclusions: nobody has an accurate assessment of themselves, and our society is completely bonkers.
I didn't just love her, I admired her. She had most of the same foibles and human frailties that I have, but she was better at dealing with them. She was introverted and socially awkward like me, but when she wanted to be warm and gregarious, she could pull it off flawlessly. Unlike me, she rarely lost her composure in stressful situations. So in addition to being my best friend and sweetheart forever, it's fair to say that she was also my role model. What would Stephanie do? is still the question I ask myself in sticky situations, or when facing difficult decisions.
To me she was extraordinary, but perhaps in some ways she was an ordinary woman. She didn't cure cancer. She didn't negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East. But she smiled and laughed a lot, she wasn't stupid and she didn't pretend to be stupid, she fell in love and had adventures and lived a quiet but respectable life, cut short by poor health. To me, her life adds up to something spectacular.
Did she make the world a better place? Yes, just by being alive. That's what we all try to do, but Steph did it better than most, and she absolutely, inarguably made my world a better place. So much sunshine, so many smiles, such limitless warmth. For sixty-some years I've been alive, and twenty-one of those years were outstanding, thanks entirely to Stephanie Webb.
She's been gone for almost eleven months, and I haven't gone half an hour without thinking of her. For the length of my life, I will cherish every moment we had together, and be thankful for all the time she gave me, all the love, all the kindness, all the cooking, all of everything — every breath she took, every conversation we had, every night together, and every morning aglow. I could try to write the most eloquent words ever written, and they wouldn't carry a fraction of the emotion we felt for each other.
I've constructed a Shrine to Stephanie's memory here in our living room, spreading across several shelves, onto the wall, with an overflow of precious memorabilia in the next room and more in the basement. I stand at the Shrine and remember my beloved wife every day of every week, and I always will. But of course, "always" only means until I'm dead myself, and at that point I'm not sure who's going to care about the Stephanie Shrine.
Once I'm dead, this apartment will be rented to someone else, our phone number will be re-assigned, and the names on the mailbox — still Stephanie's and mine — will be peeled off and replaced with some stranger's name. Stephanie and I will be branches that never sprouted on our family trees, signatures on old leases and contracts, diplomas and degrees that no-one will care about or look at.
When strangers are clearing out our clutter, everything in the Shrine will be pointless. Much of it will be garbage. Steph's t-shirts and blouses, her jackets, and her favorite fancy dress might be worn by someone I've never met, or they might become rags. Her favorite books might be read, might be donated, might be trashed. There's an unopened package of all of her preferred snacks — Fritos, Gardetto's, Laughing Cow cheese wedges, Sugar Babies, Tootsie Pops, Werther's caramels, Whoppers, and more — in the Shrine, and they'll all end up in a dumpster, since they'll be well past their expiration dates unless I die pretty soon.
"She will not be forgotten" is lovely, but it's hogwash. Once I'm dead, once her parents and brother and friends are dead, of course Stephanie will be forgotten. Given time, you and I and everyone we know will be forgotten. Twenty or fifty years on, almost no-one is remembered by name except celebrities and politicians. In not too many years, and you and I will be two blips in the time-space continuum. Two forgotten blips.
So, was it all pointless? It was almost pointless, that's for sure. If we hadn't met, then yeah, I'd say our lives were as pointless as an unsharpened pencil. But Stephanie and I did meet, and that's the point. We spent our lives together, helped each other in every way we could, and made each other's lives worthwhile for our short time on the planet. We stood together instead of standing alone.
Life is meaningless without that, but with that, everything has a purpose and makes sense. Our purpose in living was each other, so Stephanie and I very much had a point to our lives, sharp as a shiv. Thank you again, my love, for being the point of my life, and for letting me be the point of yours.