Twenty Years Ago Today, Less Three

A home now more beautiful is yet less whole.

It was Mike’s idea do the “American Gothic” pose in front of our new (old) house. We stood side by side, beyond the concrete sidewalk in front of the kitchen door, where that tall grass is now. Back then, that walk had been tightly lined with yews.

Mike’s parents entertained Angelic Daughter at their place through moving day. We were ready for them now, the movers gone. Standing with an upturned pitchfork between us, we waited for the laugh. We got it.

Anniversaries come close, this time of year. Today, the twentieth anniversary of the day we moved in. Next Saturday, the third anniversary of Mike’s death.

Both days were hot. The house isn’t air conditioned, and we didn’t have fans when we first moved in.  Exhausted from the closing and the move, we opened the windows and saved shopping for the next day.

That first morning, we heard a rooster crow. There was a small farm at the end of the road, with a horse in the field. I came downstairs around six, and saw a red fox in the front yard, looking right at me through the bay window, one black paw lifted. After about a minute of mutual stillness and staring, he trotted off, apparently satisfied.

The second day, early in the morning, someone knocked at the kitchen door, below the master bedroom window.

Mike went down and answered. It was a woman asking to buy the house. She had grown up near an orchard (there was barely a tree left of the one that had been across the street, decades before) and dreamed of a house like ours. Her prayer group was praying for her dream to come true.

I guess they didn’t consider they were praying for the destruction of someone else’s dream, hard earned through years at a job I loved working for a boss I didn’t, a savvy townhome purchase  (I seem to have an eye for real estate that will appreciate) and urgent timing. When I heard her story, I was loudly unkind.  “My God, we just moved in!”

“She hasn’t slept in four days,” Mike said to the lady, by way of apology.

Ten years or so later, he came around to my way of thinking – that to show up on someone’s doorstep two days after they moved in, whinging about how your purchase thwarted their dream when yours had just come true, was not a nice thing to do.

Our elderly neighbor, now long gone, got it right; she showed up with a plate of cookies and stories about what the house had been like before, and who our predecessors were.

We knew that the previous owner had died in the driveway, shoveling snow or trimming bushes. We welcomed his lingering spirit. We could smell his pipe smoke from time to time. It’s gone now. Perhaps he, like the fox, approved of our plan to live in this house rather than tear it down to build something bigger, which, in 1999, was what people did.

The executor left a watercolor portrait of the house on the wall that records the trees that were cut down before we moved in, the tree I had cut down since, and the yews I replaced three years ago with a bluestone patio and front walk, bordered by azaleas, ferns transplanted from my mother’s yard, sedum, catmint, Russian sage, yarrow, wildflowers from seed, milkweed (for the monarchs), buddleia and bee balm. Landscapers installed the walk and patio, and ripped out the yews. They put in boxwood, to grow into a privacy hedge, a serviceberry tree and a thick layer of organic soil, to get me started.

When we moved in, Angelic Daughter adapted instantly. I was stunned. Transitions had been so hard for her. But that evening we showed her to her new room, and her real, up-off-the-floor bed.  She climbed right in and fell peacefully asleep.

Twenty years in the house today. Nearly three without Mike. Previous “moving in” anniversaries went unnoticed or unremarked, but this milestone magnifies Mike’s absence. He should be here to enjoy the anniversary and the new patio and the garden, planted specifically to attract the hummingbirds and monarchs he loved.

Three years as two-thirds of a family. Peaceful sleep has been hard to come by.

Angelic Daughter yearns for him. I ache for her. “His love is always with you” isn’t enough. She wants to know how to know that. She want to find him.

She wants to know what he wants for her, now.

“All I can tell you is to listen. Something in you will tell you Dad is near.”

Will it?

“It’ll get better. Remember the happy times.”

I hope it will, and she can.

As next Saturday approaches, I remain,

Your trying-to-stay-strong, tearful, hurting, hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

Turndown Service

I sleep with Hilda. Not sorry.

I sleep with Hilda.

Hilda is a lavender stuffed hippopotamus.  Go ahead,  laugh. I’m your neighborblog sixty year-old widow.  Hilda makes me feel better, so get over it, OK?

Every night when the leftovers are put away and the dishwasher is loaded and running, I haul myself and my creaking knees up the stairs, and find Hilda, looking adorable, tucked in under the covers, waiting for me, the bedside table lamp aglow.

Angelic Daughter’s turndown service.

I take it as a sign of Angelic Daughter’s deep emotional intelligence, and her ability to pick up on cues I didn’t know I was sending about needs I wasn’t conscious of having.

Ok, that’s a flat out lie. I know I have NEEDS, primarily for the calming, anxiety-curing, panic-attack abating hugs Mike gave, and for the comfort that his very presence provided.  While people on the autism spectrum might have difficulty making eye contact, demonstrating “focus,” decoding facial expressions, or understanding tones of voice, it would be a mistake to assume they lack emotional intelligence. It may not be obvious, but it’s there.

“I miss Dad.”

“I miss him too, sweetheart.”

Angelic Daughter knows Hilda is a comfort to me, both because stuffed animals are comforting in general, and because Hilda has been a comfort to her, too.  I created a voice for Hilda (a sort of “bless your heart” kind of Southern accent – not sure why) and Hilda comforts Angelic Daughter by conversing with her that way, from time to time.

I found Hilda at a local toy store, a really good independent toy store that Angelic Daughter and I liked to poke around in. Its narrow aisles had shelves of stuffed animals, baskets filled with quirky fidget toys, bouncing balls and toy soldiers, racks of costumes,  arts and craft stuff, board and card games, books and a large section of model trains.

So naturally it went out of business. But not before I found Hilda.

I seized on her immediately.

Hilda righted a childhood wrong.

When I was about three years old, I had a stuffed hippo. I loved that thing, but I don’t remember naming it, or who gave it to me. It was grey. One day I decided to add some color.

I took a set of markers and drew a rainbow of parallel, curving lines all around that Hippo. Encircled its eyes and traced its tummy, big face, back and legs with a multi-colored, multi-lane highway of marker love. I was proud of my artistry.

When I showed Cruella DeVille my mother my gorgeous design, expecting praise and delight,  she snatched that hippo away and screamed at me for “ruining” it.

I had no idea why she was so angry, and I never saw that hippo again.

So Hilda was a second chance at hippo happiness.

Never mind that actual, living hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet – they can bite a crocodile in two, run at speeds 35 mph or more and have huge teeth and powerful jaws. They’re very aggressive on both land and water. They kill around 3,000 people a year.

But my stuffed Hilda hippo is a skwooshy, lavender beanbag of love.

She doesn’t complain when I squeeze her tight, or squish her giant jaw-face, or take up too much room in the bed. She’s just there for me, if I need her.

And something deep in Angelic Daughter gets that I do. Need Hilda.

Everyone has a comfort item.  I hope.

I still have my baby blanket. My uncle borrowed it for my infant cousin, and never returned it. On the brink of heading off to college, I suddenly decided I needed it back.

Unc was living in my late grandfather’s grand house, an English manor-style home with a huge living room and a huge dining room opposite, across the front hall, where Grampa’s cook (yes, his cook) would call for us that it was time to “go through,” meaning, cross the front hall and find your place at a dining table that could seat 12.

Around the time of the disappeared decorated hippo, our family dog was a  black and white malamute (like a husky, but bigger) named “Buddy.” Because he was my brother’s buddy.

My cousin, Unc’s son,  named their red and white husky “Scary.”

When I asked for my blanket back,  it was discovered at the bottom of Scary’s huge chain-link cage.

Unc gamely retreived it, filthy and full of holes. I gladly washed it and took it to college with me.  I’ve had it ever since.

So you won’t hear me laughing if your self-care includes your bwanky, or dolly, or your teddy bear. Or your stuffed hippo.

Grateful for my amazing Angelic Daughter, I remain,

Your about-to-find comfort in a cuppa and a nap (with Hilda),

Ridiculouswoman

Grief Is A Time Machine

Grieving in a grievous world

Grief alters time, eradicating now with then. It flares up, prompted by insignificant things.

Except for the significance the insignificant things invoke.

Grief doesn’t recognize magnitude relative to other, more recent, shocking and violent horrors, affecting many more people, all at once.

Should I be ashamed of my grief? Of writing about grief, today? Is it small, selfish? When grief bursts inside my chest, brought on by a radio ad for some long forgotten music venue we visited only once, stealing my breath, and I blink and flutter and try to control my voice, is that trivial, comparatively?

It happens at the intersection I can’t avoid when driving Angelic Daughter home from her once-a-month fast-food indulgence: grabs me by the throat and transports me to the merciful end of Mike’s final fall excursion, five years ago. It was way too long a drive, longer than I thought it would be. We didn’t know about the cancer yet, but he was uncomfortable, he was angry, he just wanted to get home.

I was tense, because I knew he was on the brink of exploding, close to raging at me for choosing the wrong road, the wrong destination, that everything I had done that day was wrong, that I was crazy. He did that when he was in pain, physically or emotionally.

I drifted left too soon and bumped up over the rumble-stripped median, before the turn lane began. A jolt. A bad ending to a bad day.

There’s the place near the grocery store where he finally got pulled over, after driving on an expired license for ten years. He had failed the written test and stomped out, refusing to wait any longer for another chance. He got caught because I had forgotten to renew the sticker on the license plate. He thought I did that deliberately.

The spice jars I gave him: one of his few, final Christmas presents, to use in the new kitchen, hoping he would find them inspiring, cheering, life-extending.

I can’t seem to keep them organized the way he did. But I see him arranging them.

The long-lost chess piece from his little magnetic traveling set, deep in the bottom of a box in the closet. How?

The rugless, blank place on the living room floor where the hospital bed had been.

“Missing Dad with love. Dad can’t come back. We have to live without him because he can’t come back.”

She has stopped repeating how things went the night he died. Now it’s “Dad used to…” Used to take her there, feed her that, play.

Basketball, tag, hide and seek.

The red shed is gone now, where he kept the large riding mower he bought just days after we moved in, twenty years ago. He would put it in neutral while it was off, and push her around on it. I still see it, right there at the edge of the yard, when I look out the windows by my desk. I see the tractor and her on it, him pushing.

Summer was his time. I see him sun-browned in his tennis whites, serving, volleying, hitting passing shots, my Dad gleefully niggling his tennis buddies – Mike was his ringer.

The lamp I bought, afraid he’d hate it.

IMG_20190804_131429837.jpg

I bought it because I liked the shade, the color, and especially the shape. I thought it looked a bit like me.

He said he loved the lamp, and I loved him for that.

These things hold memories, but they don’t blindside me with intense flashbacks, like the radio ad, or the fall excursion intersection, or when I look up at the clock and find that the time reads as the date we met, or his birthday.

They don’t draw sudden tears, like the monarch butterfly that flitted by my desk windows, very close, for several seconds, just as I was writing about the bad end to the bad fall day.

She waits for me, to be as entertaining as he was.

I’m not.

I don’t cook like he did. I don’t shoot baskets or play tag. I couldn’t ride the tandem and finally sold it.

But I took her horseback riding, in a state park an hour away.

The horses were ornery, reluctant. They wanted to graze on the grass. They wanted to turn around and go home, like Mike did that fall excursion day.

But they responded when I spoke to them gently, and when we sang to them.

We saw more monarch butterflies along the trail than we have seen all summer.

She said, “Dad rode Jesse.” In Arizona, on vacation, more than ten years ago.

Then she said, “I really enjoyed going horseback riding with you, Mom.”

Anticipating our next trail ride, I remain, your time-traveling, tearful,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Now I’m A Twit With A Face

If you’ve been following the saga of my twice-disabled Facebook account, because The Empire Facebook thought I was impersonating myself, you know I’ve been questioning the value of going through this frustration just to try to pick up a few more followers and broaden my community of readers.

I said if they disabled me again I’d give up, but I’m not the type to admit defeat so easily.

This time I think I’ve got it, and I can get back to the purpose of the blog: writing.

I’m not going to tell you how I did it because I don’t want to provoke Soulless Algorithm again. I just behaved in the ways Soulless Algorithm seemed to want me to behave, and took it slow, and followed some suggestions I Google-found about what to do and what not to do.

So fingers crossed, my next post (Soulless Algorithm knows all, don’t poke it) which will be a real post that is actually about something human, should end up shared on both Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook page should be found by searching for Ridiculouswomanblogger. The Twitter account is @Ridiculouswidow.

Sheesh!

Your slowly becoming slightly less socially impaired, I hope,

Ridiculouswoman

TweetFace

Resistance is futile. I’m required to twitface.

Alright, already! I did it – connected this blog to a Twitter account (@ridiculouswidow, because someone already had ridiculouswoman) and Facebook, where I recreated a page for it, which was no small feat, because Facebook’s soulless algorithm didn’t believe I was me.

It thought using my logo as the profile picture on my personal page, which I have to have to have a Page page, which is the only way WordPress can be connected to Facebook to automatically post your posts on a Page, was “suspicious.” It said the first post I added, which said I created the account so I could have a Page, violated “community standards.”  It seemed to think I was impersonating myself and locked the new account. It asked me for a photo that looked like me, and I sent one, and it still didn’t believe me, and disabled the new account, thereby destroying two hours work in setting up the page.

Facebook, dear, I am not some Russian bot loosed upon your bandwidth to wreak havoc across the land. I’m a short, stout, suburban widow who writes a blog. Is that so hard to believe? I almost decided not to bother trying again.

But resistance is futile.  I must have a “platform,” that virtual thing you stand on to convince literary agents and small publications that you’ve got something people might want and your writing is worth a look. Ergo, I must have a social media “presence.”

Things haven’t been going well on the job front or the query front, so I figured I’d better get serious about building the “platform” –

I’m working to overcome my social impairment enough to think of something to tweet and people to follow, and to gather some new readers, commenters, and “likers.” I hope to build a larger community of wonderfully,  um…eclectic people (that’s enough italics for today, old girl) out there who actually enjoy reading what I write, even if the subject matter is a little all over the place.

Because in addition to the problem I identified with my book (no grand social themes, except cancer and autism, which affect more and more people every day, and love and death, which affect everyone), I’m not the “marginalized voice” they all seem to want (except for my age).  I have also belligerently deliberately avoided strictly confining myself to a “niche” like all those “how to succeed in blogging without really writing” pundits demand – I want my “niche” to be 800 words of something worth reading. Oh, and a few published books, so I can legitimately add “author of…” to my bio (and someone will add it to my obit, when the time comes).

I decided when I started this blog that, although I would write about grief and life as a widow, I didn’t want to be a “professional widow” – I want to be a writer – an engaging, entertaining, occasionally heartstring-plucking and often, I hope, funny, writer.

So, the “Twitterverse” and the Empire Facebook will now have the benefit of my blatherings, or links thereto, at least.

Starting with my next post (I thought we decided enough!)

Because I’m pretty sure if I post this to Facebook, their soulless algorithm will shut me down again, just for saying I don’t like Facebook. Today as I was setting it back up, it thought it found “suspicious activity” in my account again, and made me prove who I was two more ways before it let me back in. So I put the actual photograph I cartoonified to make my logo on there as my profile picture. See, Facebook? That IS me! (oh, all CAPS now?) Take that, Facebook!

There are a lot of not-nice people on social media. But by avoiding politics and “niches”  I hope to interest a few of the nicer people – people who like words, reading, gardening, stargazing, redecorating, failing and trying again, laughing, crying, loving their kids, remembering their lost loved ones, and being gentle in the face of human foibles and frailty.

I hope we can learn something, or share something, or just commiserate along the way.

So, welcome, Tweetie birds, and hello, again, Facebook friends, if you manage to find me.

After my next post (well, the CAPS were too shouty!)

But this one is just for you guys – current followers of this blog, some of whom have been with me since the first few posts – it’s a comfort (and a bit of a thrill) to know you’re on the receiving end of this, and, I hope, actually reading it and enjoying it from time to time. And liking, commenting, sharing with others who might.

Stepping reluctantly, tentatively and fretfully into, or back into, the social media morass, I remain,

Your skeptical, resistant, but biting-the-bullet and getting it done,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by ijmaki from Pixabay