My Side of the Bed

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

Our little family had symmetry, like the lamp and candles – we were balanced, with me in the middle, constantly pulled in two directions by the competing needs of the two great lights of my life – my husband and our daughter.

Now we are two.

There isn’t really a “middle” with just two.

I feel myself shifting out of that middle-that-is-no-more, drifting over to where he isn’t. As two, we measure the distance between one another, trying to stay close enough, but not so close as to crowd out our separate experiences of grief, and of learning how to carry that grief forward into whatever our lives will be.

Beside each other, with empty space between.

Sophie the cat does her best to fill that space, but still. She thinks she’s a person, and she thinks she’s the most important person here. But she’s a cat.

A cat who still meows loudly when she crosses the rug that was under his hospital bed.

Since late July, we’ve been sitting together in this house, defining our days by how we will spend our time together, what time I’ll drive her to work and what time I’ll pick her up, and what we will eat for dinner at our table for two. But after the holidays, our lives will change. I will have to get a job again, and she will have to re-learn the busses to and from work, the checklists (phone? keys? bus fare?) and maybe get used to a new companion/caregiver.

And get used to a lot more time without me beside her.

That scares her. Of course it does.

I have my annual “body and soul” cold, that turns my first soprano into a tenor, but let’s me sing “Body and Soul” in the right key, way down low – unfortunately, it’s the high notes I need right now. The cold ran its usual course, into my aching joints and down my throat, landing in an annoying, frustrating cough-with-throat-tickle, just as the choral concert is coming – the concert I really want to sing, because the music is so beautiful.

Tea, steam.

It’s helping.

But I still cough, and she says, nervously, “you alright, Mom? Getting back to 100%?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Getting better each day.”

Am I?

I bought new mattresses for us both. Bye-bye saggy old mattress with the cozy me-shaped trough in it.

The trough on “my” side of the bed.

Because over all the years we slept separately, I still stayed on “my” side of the bed. Occasionally he’d climb in beside me to spoon, to warm up on a cold winter night.

But not often.

When she was a toddler, as most toddlers do, she would sometimes climb in between us. Then back to her own beddiehouse.

I started on “my” side with the new mattress.

But without really noticing, I’ve drifted – into the middle.

It feels like an acknowledgment that, even though it was pretty much just me anyway all those years, it now definitely will be just me – in the middle of the bed.

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

And she, an adult now, will be in her room down the (short) hall at the other side of our small house. What had been his room on the opposite side of her wall is now her “computer lounge.” He’s not in there to tap on the wall and laugh with her, goofing around like kids until they fell asleep, on either side of that wall.

She put his stocking up on the middle hook in front of the fireplace, but I put it away.  A little one that says “meow” on it, for Sophie the cat, hangs there in the middle now.

I explained that Dad doesn’t need a stocking in heaven, and that I don’t think it is good for us to pretend that he ever could be here with us again. But remember, …

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s rights, sweets. We carry that love with us always, and Dad wants us to move forward and to have the best lives we can, knowing that his love is with us.”

“Dad is free from pain, free from anger, and he wants me to have a happy life.”

“That’s right, sweetheart.”

These conversations often happen during our evening “music time,” when we listen to one Christmas CD she has selected and then turn it off and sit, with the lights off, except for the Christmas tree.

Sitting quietly together in the dim glow of the tree, she in the “Grandpa” chair and me in the “Grandma” rocker, (because they were their chairs), until she needs to say it again.

“When people go to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s love never ends. He wants me to have a happy, independent, adult life.”

Yes sweetheart, we’re working on it.

From opposite ends of the hall.

In the middle of our beds.

At our table for two.

Wishing you balance, light and peace,

I remain,

Your faithful, trying-not-to-let-the-space-between-feel-so-empty-or-the-lights-feel-so-dim,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Years Tree

Rule of three tries…

Approach the task with good humor and humility. Presume things will go wrong. Resolve to be patient about it. Presume, but don’t believe, because you got this. Third time’s a charm, Right?

Third time without him, that is.

Set specific time to depart for the local big box hardware store where we always buy the tree. Wear Santa hats.

Strap tree to top of car, rather than stuffing it in the car to provide a year’s worth of needles to vacuum from various crevices for the year.

Get home without tree falling off top of car. Leave tree in cold garage for lunch break.

And now….

Tree stand.

Complimenting yourself for being clever enough to leave the stand on the work shelf in the garage since last year, rather than high and unreachable in the rafters where Mike used to put it, pick up stand.

Discover that unspecified rodent has purloined substantial amounts of insulation (must be from the bathroom in the breezeway that connects to the garage – the one that is now so cold) to construct cozy nest in the tree stand base. Eww.

Don gloves. Remove insulation. Wipe with disinfecting wipes.

Place protective plastic on floor in front of bay window (that Mike meticulously re-puttied when he was so sick, taking breaks to sit down, over three days), for inevitable spillage of water when attempting to nourish tree.

Attach base that looks oddly like a giant cervical cap (ewww) to fresh-cut base of trunk. Place in larger base, that has a foot pedal that is supposed to allow you to waggle the tree around until it is straight, upright and stable, and then lock it there.

Angelic daughter holds tree strait. Perfect! Lock.

Let go.

Tree immediately lists sideways.

Try again.

Tree lists again.

Remove tree with giant cervical cap from larger base.  Notice puddles, resulting from brilliant inspiration to put water in the stand before you put the tree in, on the plastic intended to protect wood floor, running inexorably toward said wood. Dash to kitchen for paper towels.

Angelic daughter decamps to watch TV when Mom’s swearin….erm, expressions of frustration, become a bit overwhelming.

Notice that in your efforts to place and lock tree, plastic has skidded on the floor, shifting tree way off center in front of bay window.

Sigh.

Try again.

Breathe. Employ observation, reason and calculation. Realize giant cervical cap thing needs to be snugger on trunk, and needs to sit lower in base.

Use garden loppers to remove low branches interfering with giant thorn-looking thingees that have to be screwed in tight to tree trunk.

Screw in giant thorn looking thingees.

Sit back in satisfaction. Nice and tight.

Time to try again.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Lift tree with giant cervical cap thing into larger base, and feel the satisfying click as it settles in to the correct spot. Feels stable. Step back to look.

Looks straight.

Praying (because God really cares about whether my Christmas tree is straight and stable, right?), shove foot pedal intended to allow waggling-around into lock position, and stomp down.

Holy crap. Maybe God does care that it is straight!

(No, dumbass, God cares that you get this done so you can calm down and stop swearin…expressing frustration, and move on to the decorating part which allows you to involve angelic daughter, retrieved from her retreat to the TV).

Praying more (hey, it worked), every-so-gently drag plastic back to center tree in front of window.

It worked again.

Lights!

Having been brilliant enough to buy two extra sets of lights last year, in anticipation of the future inevitable malfunction of lights that worked perfectly before, begin stringing lights – smugly, because you checked, to be sure the star that will go on the top gets the female end it needs to plug into.

Carefully distribute two strings of 300 lights in tiers around tree. Pick up third and final string.

Realize that final string will have a female end where it needs to plug into the wall.

Swea…Sigh. Breathe.

I put 600 lights on the tree, backwards. Used the female end that also has a male end at the top instead of the one with just the female end.

Unwrap lights. Rewrap lights. Decide 600 is enough. Last year’s tree, which had 900, was bigger.

Plug in.

Looks good!

Angelic daughter, creeping back in from TV room, proceeds with garlands and chains, and we (ok, I) only break four ornaments in the process of getting them out of their nests in the Christmas boxes and up on the tree.

After placing all her own handmade ornaments and garlands from school years, especially anything that has a picture of her on it, and the one with her Dad’s name on it, daughter decamps to take another break and watch more TV.

Which leaves me to hang the significant ornaments.

Listening to Vince Gill, “Breath of Heaven.” Hold me together.

The one with the little mouse at the front door, welcoming us to our new house nearly 20 years ago. House had LOTS of mice, we discovered.

Sniff.

The one of the little snowman with a shovel, that symbolized that year that Mike shoveled every two hours, seemingly for weeks on end. Big snow that year.

Tears.

I didn’t expect the one that really got me, though – a little bear dressed as Santa.

“Bear” was my pet name for Mike.

More tears.

“Can we have our quiet time now?

Breathe. Dry up.

Of course, sweetheart.

Regard the tree.

Oops, forgot the star.

Managing not to break anything (third time, anyway), clip top of tree with garden loppers. Pop star on top, held by treetop twig through the arms of the star.

Plug in.

Ta-da!

I really should have put that third string of lights on.  The lowest branches have none.

Abandon perfectionist tendencies.  Decide this is good enough.

Because, however imperfect, to me, there really isn’t anything as lovely, peaceful, and comforting as a Christmas tree.

Angelic daughter is tired. Sit with her upstairs until she falls deep asleep.  Return downstairs for more “tree regarding” time.

Play Christmas choral music, volume very low, by some Englishy choir, recorded in an echoey-Englishy-medeival stone cathedral.

Lo, how a rose ere blooming.

Smile.

Wishing you a beautiful tree, or Menorah, or whatever brings you peace and light this time of year, and hoping to get over this cough in time to sing Englishy carols in a big stone church, I remain,

Your tree-regarding, Santa-hat wearing, soon-to-be-cookie-baking,

Ridiculouswoman

Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

The Sideways Hourglass

How’d my hourglass fall over?

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman

Naughty and Nice

Before we go all holly jolly, a pre-holiday dive into the Snark Tank…

Or, nice and naughty, if I ever meet the right guy (Ha! in my dreams!)

Anyway,  since this is the time of year we draw the naughty/nice line, I think it is time to toss a few more things into the Snark Tank (naughty!), just to get them out of my system so I can flip the switch on love and joy. I’ve got two new topics to cover over there, and welcome your contributions –  “I Guess the Rules Just Don’t Apply to You,” and “Shit Doctors Say.”

I’ll keep the goodness and light over here in the “nice” part of my blog.

So if you’re not quite ready to go all holly jolly, take a dive over there.

I’ll be back over here with something nice.

As soon as I think of it.

Ho, Ho, Ho and all that,

Ridiculouswoman

Gowf

How I feel about golf, in one photo…

As I was leaving total body fitness class a few days ago, I was greeted with the above pictured troop of frozen golf carts.

(Or “gowf carts,” as those who play this spectacularly dull sport usually say it – especially the TV commentators. Mike used to watch “gowf” on TV – which, for me, is somewhere between watching paint dry and sticking knitting needles in my eyes. Suffice it to say, I was always able to find myself something else to do until the “gowf” was over, which often was somewhere between six and ten hours in).

So the sight of frozen “gowf” carts?

Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!

Just sayin’

Preferring brisk walks not involving attempts “to place a small ball in a smaller hole with weapons ill-designed for that purpose,” (Churchill),

I remain,

Your loyal, non-conforming because non-gowfer, but hoping the fitness class can get me skiing again someday,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island Serves Lousy Food; or, the Tale of the Terrifying Turkey

OCD invades fantasy island…

Thank God the gentleman caller didn’t show up.

glass horse

Because I cooked The Worst Turkey Ever.

Also the most expensive. What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking (and this is for you, RomComDojo, because I know you’ll understand):

  • This is the year of Rotten Romaine and Terrifying Turkey, so,
  • after throwing away ten bucks worth of Romaine lettuce because of the e-coli scare, I’m damned if I’m going to make us sick from salmonella turkey, so
  • how about an organic turkey? organic turkey farms must be safer, right?, yet
  • organic turkey was obscenely expensive; nevertheless,
  • it’s worth it if it will help me not worry about it, right? so
  • buy it anyway, because it is smaller for just the two of us even though it is OBSCENELY EXPENSIVE, but
  • even though it had been in the fridge for three days the damn thing wasn’t completely defrosted when I opened it to get the giblets out for the gravy, so
  • I put on nitrile gloves and put the bird in an aluminum pan in the sink remembering that even though this was an organic bird it was still a Terrifying Turkey that was Potentially Poisonous and I dug out the giblets for the gravy while I took note of any surface or object that might have got splashed with Terrifying Turkey juice so I could wipe it down with antibacterial wipes, and put the bird back in the fridge to keep defrosting and started the stock, which smelled really good and used my home-grown herbs, so yay me we got that good Thanksgiving smell in the house, however
  • it was the day after Thanksgiving which meant I needed to put up the Christmas lights, and it was not cold outside, which it will be next week, so yay me for getting that done, with help from my angelic, patient, hungry daughter, except
  • I got behind schedule on our day plan and realized that I needed to get the bird in the oven right away so I was little rushed, but I still
  • noticed this bird seemed greasy, and a little discolored on the legs but I put that down to being more “natural” and “free range” and “organic” besides
  • even though the instructions on the plastic that had encased the bird said to rinse it, all the Terrifying Turkey warnings said don’t do that, but then I
  • realized I can’t get the salt and pepper in the thing without touching the salt and pepper containers with the gloves I was wearing that already had Terrifying Turkey grease all over them so I
  • take off one glove and open the salt and pepper one handed with help from my chin and then
  • realize I also wanted to butter it all over and inside and say hell with it I have anti-bacterial wipes so
  • take off the gloves and shove butter under the skin and rub it all over with it and somehow get it in the oven using my elbows and then
  • rub all over the sink and countertops with disinfecting wipes, even waiting 10 minutes to rinse, so yay me and
  • I cook at 425 for 15 minutes to seal in juices before I reduce the heat however
  • I realized the instruction said 325 and I started to wonder whether the plastic thingee that that had held the legs together but could not be removed from the turkey was ok at 425 or will the plastic break down and poison us even if the turkey doesn’t? oh hell with it it’s already done and who needs instructions anyway I’ve been cooking beautiful turkeys for 30 years, plus
  • some article I read said you don’t really need to baste it just lets the heat out of the oven so OK I won’t and then
  • my god that looks really brown and where are the juices in the pan? so I basted it once anyway then
  • I noticed it really looked like it was drying up even though the timer said it needed 45 more minutes so try the meat thermometer but
  • what do they mean by “the thickest part of the thigh” anyway? and don’t touch bones? how do you do that? so
  • I tried the thigh and it was 180 so that meant overdone but I wasn’t sure so I poked the breast with it and
  • that’s when juice squirted out of the breast which made me understand why they tell you to poke the thigh, dumbass, now it is sure to be too dry, so
  • I take it out of the oven and “let it rest” like they say to while I finish prepping sides but then I notice
  • the juices look really pink, and it got cold really fast, so I’d better
  • put it back in the oven to make sure it is really cooked and won’t make us barf with salmonella, so now I
  • get all the pre-prepared sides out of the fridge and up to room temp before I put them in to warm and now it’s
  • time to carve the thing but the wings and legs would not come off, I never could find those joints anyway and the crispy skin on the ends of the legs tastes awful WTF? and I start to worry that maybe this particular bird was accidentally coated with some sort of foul industrial grease that was meant for machinery and I start to worry that we’ll both be paralyzed if we eat it but I’ll decide to wait and see for a week and if we make it to next Friday OK, I’ll call it on that particular bugaboo but still I should have basted it with butter and orange juice and
  • the breast is dry as a bone, even though it won’t come off as easily as it should dammit is it still not done? oh what the hell she only wants potatoes anyway but
  • what good are potatoes with gravy that looks sort of grey-green? How could the gravy be awful? I’m really good at gravy, so I decided that it must be that
  • this accursed obscenely expensive greasy organic turkey and the giblets I used for the stock are a con and the scrawny, gamey, greasy damn thing ruined my perfect fantasy island dinner and by the way
  • I’m exhausted and sore – maybe it was
  • bending over the garbage can peeling 10 pounds of potatoes, 5 of which I threw out because I did it early in the day but I didn’t think I should cover them with water because that would make them too soggy but they turned brown and looked gross and does that mean they’ve gone poisonous too? but fortunately
  • the pumpkin pie turned out OK and my sweet potato carrot puree was delicious and the stuffing, cooked separately from the probably poisonous greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive bird was OK and the cranberry sauce was delicious and when everything was put away and I mopped the floor because I dropped the greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive turkey on its way to the garbage can, I plugged in the Christmas lights and then
  • took a hot bath hoping that Dr. Teal and his epsom salts would work their magic, and even though I was feeling flat and disappointed and missing Mike and had a good cry, I ended up feeling
  • OK. I forgave myself. I decided I will never do this again. If we don’t go to someone else’s house, we will have a modest little meal, with rational portions just for two, and I will buy
  • a CHEAP breast-only major brand turkey with one of those pop-up things that tells me it is done and makes it their fault if it pops up and it isn’t done and it poisons us and I’ll make the gravy with less of my fresh herbs and more pan drippings from that cheap commercial turkey breast which I will baste liberally even though that let’s the heat out of the oven and there will never be a gentleman caller but, we will be

OK.

Grateful for whatever food is put before us and for the roof over our heads and heat and fat old whiny Sophie cat who I forgot to get food for so she got the canned clams I was going to use for some future pot of chowder but chowder has to have potatoes which are carbs galore but I’m not going to worry about that anymore because after our perfectly delightful meal at the brother’s in-laws even though I had potatoes and pie I actually lost 2 pounds, which I’m sure I regained yesterday so now I’m trying to muster the energy to paint, because painting counts as working out, I remain,

Your devoted, disappointed but realistic, grateful and determined to do better tonight when I’ll cook a chicken and make great gravy so she can finish her leftover 3 pounds of potatoes,

Ridiculouswoman