Memoir Lives Life As A Widow
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Anne Roiphe opens her book with a snapshot of embarrassment and pain. She doesn't know how to use the key to open her own front door. Her husband, Herman, whom she refers to in her book as H, has just died. They were married for 39 years, and he always carried the key. Her new memoir is called "Epilogue." It's an account of the struggle, sadness, challenge, and acceptance of trying to pick up your life after the person with whom you've shared it has gone. We talk now to Anne Roiphe in our studios, the author of 15 books and novels, including "Faithful." Thank you so much for being with us.
Ms. ANNE ROIPHE (Feminist Author): Oh, thank you for having me.
SIMON: From the first few pages, it's like there's a punch in the stomach. I think you say, there's a weight in my stomach as if I'd swallowed a burnt-out log, about losing a spouse.
Ms. ROIPHE: I think that's a pretty decent metaphor for what it felt like at first, this extraordinary, overwhelming sense of disorientation and a kind of physical hollowness that followed.
SIMON: I wonder, did you keep these notes and wind up writing this book to put your feelings at a distance somehow?
Ms. ROIPHE: I think I was writing because that's what I do. In some sense it controls the feelings. If they are written about, they are more manageable. If I am writing, I'm breathing. I'm living the way I always lived. So I think that the writing of it was certainly helpful to me and a part of what I was doing. And I'm sure that writing it changed the experience; that I would have had a somewhat different experience if I wasn't constantly trying to capture what I was seeing and feeling, that that affected what I was seeing and feeling.
SIMON: I want to get you to read a section of the book, if you could, to describe this period for us.
(Soundbite of memoir "Epilogue")
Ms. ROIPHE: (Reading) I feel a surge of envy when I see a woman about my age in a restaurant with her spouse, the two of them talking softly. Are they planning a vacation or worrying about their kids, a job lost, a divorce, a setback of mind or body? Are they talking about their friends, analyzing this or that foible, this or that peculiarity? Are they talking about the abductions in Baghdad or the CIA prisons hidden in byways of foreign countries? Are they discussing his blood pressure medicine or her next dental appointment? I am becoming selfish. I can't remember other people's birthdays. I forget to ask about their children. I am self-absorbed, that is to say it takes all my energy to hold myself together. This may be a normal response to a great loss. I expect it is. But I do not like myself like this. If I were a polar bear, I would go into a cave and hibernate.
SIMON: And yet as you say, as Herman, as H, your late husband said, we're social animals, we can't do that.
Ms. ROIPHE: No. We can't do that. And we shouldn't do that. And I pushed myself to go out and see friends. I pushed myself to go to the movies alone. I pushed myself not to stay in the house all the time. But there was a problem. When I was out of the house, I wanted to be back in the house. When I was in the house, I wanted to be out of the house. It was a kind of global dissatisfaction with my place because I had really lost my real place which was by my husband's side.
SIMON: And then your daughters, being helpful, filled out a personals ad in a literary magazine.
Ms. ROIPHE: First of all, I never read this ad. I knew they were going to do it. I knew they had done it. I just didn't want to know too much about it.
SIMON: Can I read it?
Ms. ROIPHE: Sure.
SIMON: Widowed novelist near-70, ex-Park Avenue girl, ex-beatnik, ex many other things too complicated to list here, loves big parties, summers at the beach, grandchildren, seeks interesting man for dinner and a movie.
Ms. ROIPHE: All right. And then some letters came.
Ms. ROIPHE: From interesting men who wanted to meet me. And I met them. I met them for coffee. I met them for dinner. And I felt as if I was beginning a new exploration. And I heard wonderful stories, interesting stories about other people's lives. And in a way that pulled me back into the excitement of being a person.
SIMON: Herman, H, wanted you to meet someone?
Ms. ROIPHE: He had said many, many, many years ago when no one was thinking anybody was going to die, that a sign of a good marriage was that one person, the person who was left behind, was able to reconnect. It means that our marriage, our love, was strong enough, did not leave you filled with grief or anger or unhappiness, and left you free to connect to someone else, and I want you to do that. So I tried. I mean - and I will try. I think he's right. I think that, you know, life should be lived as long as one has it with as much connection and love between people as possible.
SIMON: Ms. Roiphe, thanks so much.
Ms. ROIPHE: Thank you.
SIMON: Anne Roiphe, her new book, a memoir, is called "Epilogue."