The Isolation Age: Masked Ingenuity

There had to be a way to remove that drawer. I WOULD NOT GIVE UP.

My brother the scientist mailed me two high quality masks, one for me and one for Angelic Daughter, back in March. Two regular surgical style masks, and two sealed in plastic coverings, that supposedly block pathogens on the inhale, as well as the exhale. Their labels say they expired in 2015, but hey, under the circumstances, who cares?

At first I was afraid of the mask police. I didn’t want to wear those very recognizable blue/green surgical masks, because I was afraid of being berated in public by someone who thought I should have donated the mask to medical workers. I felt guilty. Why should I have a mask to wear when doctors and nurses are DYING because they don’t have them?

But these weren’t the N95 masks that are supposed to protect medical workers in addition to patients. They were just ordinary medical masks, and after a few weeks I noticed everyone was wearing them and no one was giving anyone crap about them.

I started with the regular surgical mask, with an added t-shirt made mask on top, tied with bows (adorable!) tightly around my head, sealing the underlying surgical mask closer to my face.

Those masks are supposed to be disposed of after one  use, but I hung mine up after each wearing, to air out and (I hoped) rid itself of any nasties it picked up while I was out grocery shopping. But that flimsy thing had reached its limit, so I was going to break into that allegedy anti-viral mask.

I had tossed the envelope into the big bottom file drawer of the desk with the hutch that I splurged on, knowing the moment I saw it online that the green of it would match the willow green of my Bulgarian built kitchen cabinets. I just crammed it in the back, behind the files, and left it there, for a rainy day, when the mask police might back off and the ordinary mask wore out.

And then that envelope slipped behind the back of the drawer, and I couldn’t reach it.

DAMMIT!

OK, there HAS to be a way to remove these drawers. I WILL NOT GIVE  UP. Rubbery thingees on the side of the rails that the drawers run in and out on – ok, that must be something. Press down. YES! That seems to get one side past the rail stop thingee that keeps the drawer from falling out of the desk.

But WTF? It didn’t work on the other side.

I jury-rigged a number of tools that I thought would help me drag that envelope back up out of the void behind the drawer, most involving coat hangers and duct tape, but none of them worked.

DAMMIT!

OK, think, Annie. There HAS to be a way to remove that drawer. Back to rubbery bendy things in the rails that support the drawers.

AHA! One goes up, but the other goes DOWN! Oh, you diabolical bastards! You WILL NOT DEFEAT ME! I figgered it out! Press down on one side, up on the other, and VOILA! The drawer lock stop thingee is defeated – the drawer pulls out far enough for me to see behind it and reach my tiny child-sized hands back in there to grab the envelope and retrieve those high quality masks. HA! DID IT! MOMMY WINS AGAIN!

I wanted those masks because I had to go to the garden center to get the plants my scientist brother, my sister-in-law, Angelic Daughter and I traditionally plant on my parent’s graves on Memorial Day Weekend, and the fuchsia basket for Mike’s grave. And I was damned if I was going to go to a garden center on the Friday before Memorial Day when there was a good chance of encountering someone without a mask, or wearing a mask that didn’t cover their noses.

I got the geraniums and the sweet alyssum and some kind of blue impatiens that aren’t the right kind of bluey-purpley flower we usually get, but it was crowded and Angelic Daughter was waiting patiently in the car, so I had to get out of there.  We headed out to plant on Friday afternoon, on behalf of ourselves and my brothers and me on my parent’s grave. Angelic Daughter carefully placed the flag for Dad,

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and on the way  home, we hung a fuchsia like this by Mike’s grave:

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gravestone

I didn’t cry this time, like I usually do. That came today, and I’ll inflict my writing about it on you tomorrow. Until then, I remain,

Your never-give-up, no-retreat-baby-no-surrender (hey I’ll add that to my bouncy playlist stat, how could I forget that one?), looking forward to mask free shopping someday,

Ridiculouswoman.

Image by DoomSlayer from Pixabay

Milestones or Millstones?

We met April 27, 1990. Thirty years.

We married May 2, 1992. Twenty-eight years.

He died August 24, 2016. Three and three quarter years.

Angelic Daughter remembers every significant date, and reminds me of them. But observing these dates does nothing for me now. Mike’s gone. The past is past.

The first widow year was filled with rituals. All the firsts without him. I never looked better. I glowed in the back of the limo on the way to the opera. I stopped the pastor in his tracks, shocked him with my my red fit-and-flare dress and dewy, ivory skin on Christmas Eve. Maybe he was thinking, “isn’t it a bit soon to look that good?”

The second year was ghastly – filled with bleakness, and “what the hell do I do now?” and far too much booze.

The third year, little glimmers of hope. Maybe I can have a full life again. Maybe there is a kind of freedom in this. Maybe there could be another man. I got a good job and a sense of emergence, a feeling of metamorphosis, into another phase of life.

Now, three-quarters through the third year, contraction. Everything has imploded, for everyone. My only role now is survivor, planner, bequeather – get her sorted, make arrangements, develop a back up plan, prepare. Stay home, gain weight, lose hope.

The ruby crowned kinglet came to the yard last week. Seventeen years ago, when Dad died, that bird came right into the flowering plum tree just outside the kitchen window, and flirted with me energetically as I rinsed the dishes. A very curious, very nosy little bird. I hadn’t seen him since then.

This time, he was more elusive, flitting branch to branch, from the crabtree to the cedar, not as close as before. But still, he was there, for two days. Where the hell have you been?

Just passing through.

It was windy, twenty-eight years ago. My hair wasn’t as perfect under the headband and veil as it was when I rehearsed it. The ceremony was short. The restaurant lost my bouquet, or my mother purloined it, so when it finally came to the toss, I used a makeshift bunch of tulips the waitstaff pulled together.

Ten years later, Angelic Daughter watched the reception DVD (the church didn’t allow recording during the ceremony) so many times that it jammed in the old DVD player. I think I recycled that machine with the wedding DVD in it. I don’t have another copy. That’s a relief. She wore out the honeymoon swimming with dolphins video, too. Another relief. The hotel staff seemed dispirited, forlorn – and no one swims with dolphins anymore.

Our wedding was on derby day. His family was annoyed. They liked to place bets. This year, the derby was cancelled.

Mike chose the ring, but I paid for it. I paid for the honeymoon, too. Yay me. Empowered. Deep inside, the fat girl felt devalued and desperate. I loved Mike. But I thought, did I really have to buy a husband?

I’m tired of marking these anniversary dates. They hurt now. They remind me of failures, compromises and defeats. Mike and I were often out of balance, out of synch. Nothing went according to plan. Twenty three years of mutual simmering resentment and his explosive rage, followed by cancer, reconciliation and a too short good bye.

Fuck. Happy fucking anniversary.

I did love you, Mike. I don’t understand why you chose to hurt me as much and as often as you did, but I know I didn’t do a good enough job of forgiving you.

We planted grass in the tiny backyard of the city town home I bought for us in ’93. You called me downstairs to see it sprouting. The rain came, a deluge, and you stood there in the basement, water rising around your ankles toward the outlets, looking up through the sliding doors at the stormy sky, saying “cool!” while I panicked about electrocution and plotted my revenge against the builder who left us with a patio drain sticking up too high, and ground pitched toward the house.

Mike planted grass his final spring, on the lawn below the new deck, meticulously digging out dandelions and gently depositing grass seed along about a six foot line, before exhaustion took over. The grass he planted spread, fighting off weeds for a few additional square feet each spring.

But the dandelions are back, and I like them. The rabbits eat them and they subside when the hot weather comes anyway.

I ordered a new battery powered lawn mower today. Seems stupid to pay someone to do it, when they never listen to what I say and I don’t really care how it looks, anyway. I’ll finally get to do it my way.

For whatever that’s worth. Or however long that lasts.

The Isolation Age: Cryin’ Songs Playlist

We never socialized much, Mike and I, and when social opportunities arose they were almost always relevant to just one or the other of us, but not to both. Mike had his interests I and had mine, so when something came up, we went solo and the one not going stayed happily home with Angelic Daughter.

I enjoyed my own company just fine for all those years before I met Mike, but I had lots to do – I lived in the city and I could fall out the door and go take an improv workshop, or perform in an improv show or children’s theater, or sing in a chorus.  I met Mike when I wasn’t really looking, not desperately, anyway.

This present aloneness, even though I’m not all by myself, feels very different. Watching Angelic Daughter lean in toward the webcam with her arms outspread to give her Uncle a virtual hug during their first Zoom talk, and the sense that every trip to the grocery store is life-threatening, or when my responses to prompts in Teams chats, intended to boost WFH spirits, get no reaction – these things, silly or profound, make this isolation feel a lot more… isolated.

When, toward the end of the work day, the music on my classical music station turns too loud or atonal for my tastes, I turn to Spotify to find music that will get me through to clock-off time.

I wasn’t intentionally looking for a good cry when this change-the-music habit began – I was actually looking for something more upbeat. I found plenty of great oldies to bounce to in my bungie-cord office chair while I finished my last written piece for the day. But for some reason, a lot of the songs that turned up on the artist-based “radio” stations I chose were ballads that turned on the waterworks. Maybe they reminded me of long-lost youth, or the intense emotions of long-lost youth. Or they made me think of my Dad, or of Mike, or past, unrequited loves.

But mostly, something about these songs drills right through to the core of the isolation and I find myself staring at a future where going solo is a permanent condition. Because by the time the masks come off, if I’m still around, I’m pretty sure any chance I might have had to find love again will have passed, for good.

These songs remind me that a few years from now, when I sing along, I’ll still be singing alone.

The lantern in the photo above was one of the very few material things Mike brought with him into our marriage. Angelic Daughter and I light a candle within it during our evening “music time,” when we sit together in the dark, sometimes with music, but often without, until she has repeated “Dad can’t come back, it doesn’t work that way” enough times to bring herself to internalize that truth. She says it over and over again, until she feels sad, and until she has heard me reassure her many times that Dad’s love is always with her, and that while I’m not Dad, and I’m not as fun as Dad, and I don’t cook like Dad did, tonight, I’m still here.

Recently, when Angelic Daughter has sensed that I’m sad, or cabin fever has dented my patience and I have gotten upset with her, she somehow, from the mysterious place within her where her extraordinary emotional intelligence resides, knows how I hate myself for my lapse of emotional control, and she says, “don’t worry Mom. If you need anything, I’m right here for ya.”

Who needs a playlist to have a good cry when you have that? But I’ll share my playlist of cryin’ songs anyway. I think you click on my face there to play it, or open your Spotify app and search for the playlist by name, “Ridiculouswoman’s Cryin’ Songs.” I don’t know what will happen in this link if I revise the list, and I can’t do anything about ads that might play, but you get the idea, anyway. Hope you’ve got enough Kleenex in the house.

In the meantime, singing solo at home (because Angelic Daughter likes to sing solo, too) and looking for the tissues, I remain,

Your grateful-for-some-sun-this-morning-and-thinking-about-throwing-in-some-cookies-and-cannoli-with-our-Friday-pizza-and-wings-delivery order,

Ridiculouswoman

When I Dreamed of Working From Home, This Isn’t Quite What I Had in Mind

I just attended my first online church service. The sense of community was as strong as ever, although the congregation experienced each other’s presence as words on screen in the comments column rather than handshakes of greeting in the pews. To me, it was every bit as comforting as a live service, and good to feel the virtual presence of “church family.” As usual, our pastor came through with a message of love, kindness, common sense and respect for science, that comes from the brains God gave us, to think and take care of one another.

So, first, gratitude. For health care workers on the front lines, and for everyone doing their part by practicing “social distancing,” hand washing and taking care of themselves, which in turns reduces the risk to others.

Gratitude that, although Angelic daughter is tired and sleeping a lot, she’s ok. I think the sleep is a manifestation of her exceptional emotional radar – she picks up on the anxious vibes, and how they come from worries about illness.  That goes straight to the core of her grief and worry – if Dad got sick and died, and now lots of other people are getting sick, what’s going to happen to Mom and me? Are my Uncles and my friends and my pastor and my church family OK?

I’m trying to be a source of calm for her.  I’m OK, so far. I’m allowed to work from home starting tomorrow. I filled the freezer two or three weeks ago, stowed bins of canned and dry goods and some olive oil over the last week. I already had enough toilet paper stashed to give some away to a home in need. I keep hand sanitizer around the house anyway. I keep reminding myself to be careful, not to cut or sprain anything, because the ER won’t have room for me right now.

Then I get on Facebook and see local bars and restaurants urging people to come out for St. Patrick’s Day and making unsupported claims about alcohol and coronavirus.

What fresh hell is this? What madness, what impenetrable level of science denial, could possibly be behind people actually encouraging others to go out and infect themselves, so they can merrily move on to infecting others? Is it fatalism, or just stupidity? I understand business owners who fear losing their businesses altogether, but are you really willing to put the economic survival of a bar or restaurant above actual survival of human beings?

At least the message about “flattening the curve” has reached a lot of people. Why bars and restaurants haven’t been ordered to close yet is beyond me. Must I link to op-eds by medical professionals pleading with the public to stop buying masks, stay home and stay the hell out of the way?

OK, I guess I must:

Young and Unafraid of the Coronavirus? Good for You – Now Stop Killing People

Boston Doctors Plead Don’t Be Cavalier About Coronavirus

In my area, good ideas about how to support local businesses have circulated – things like buying gift certificates online, etc. One local business has figured out a way for patrons to make a donation that they will then use to purchase gift certificates from other local businesses and to hold a place on a list for a future “all clear” party.

Hate to break it to you, guys, but as far as I know (and I’m not a doctor or scientist – but docs and scientists, chime in here – oh, wait, you won’t have a spare second to do that until at least September) there is no such thing as an “all clear” on a virus, until an effective vaccine is ready and everyone has been inoculated. Or until everyone who is going to get the virus gets it, and most survive it and become immune, thereby conferring “herd immunity” on those who remain. If you have the medical credentials, please correct me if I’m wrong about that.

So where does that leave us? All I can say is where it leaves me:

I’ve been a germ freak for years. So I was already really into washing my hands, and giving dirty looks to people who don’t cover their coughs and sneezes.

Then came the caregiving years – I found myself performing previously unimaginable personal tasks for my parents and my husband. Gloving up and sanitizing for them, not for me.

So now this: I feel reasonably calm. If I learned anything from losing Dad, Mom and Mike, it’s this: “in the end, only kindness matters.”

The sun is still there, behind the shadow. Sending love and hope and prayer for strength, safety and stamina for health care workers, affected families, and those at greatest risk, I remain,

Your uncharacteristically calm,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Jan Haerer from Pixabay

In the Meantime, Carpe Diem

How better to spend whatever remaining minutes I may be allotted than to participate in an open mike night of storytelling. Since it has become apparent the apocalypse has begun, at least in part (I think we can tick the boxes for war and plague, anyway), I chose to carpe the damn diem by getting up in front of an audience of about 80 or so Friday night to tell a story – a compressed mash up of pieces of my memoir – one incident among many of my ridiculous moments during Mike’s illness. I wrote it out beforehand, memorized it and signed up as the first to brave the open mike at our local community center to “tell,” as a “teller,” which are what people who do this kind of thing are called, apparently.

I had an absolute blast – I hit a few bumps, when I didn’t realize the “ting” of the gong was just the one minute warning and not the cutoff, but the takeaway is, I could get used to this.

I decided to do it because last year at the Midwest Writer’s Conference, I pitched my book to an agent who ultimately didn’t offer representation, but told me my pitch was the best she’d heard in a long time and asked if I did spoken word performance. So, OK, pivot – I’ve always loved performing live in front of an audience and if I can’t get an agent for my book (haven’t even had time to try sending out queries, much less essays, lately – got to get back to that discipline) I might as well try packaging it for live performance.

Below is the “script” of the story I told Friday. It really is written for live “telling,” but you’ll get the idea. It’s longer than my usual posts, so I leave it to you if you choose to read through it.

I did get some compliments and expressions of astonishment that it was my first time storytelling. One woman flat out asked, “did you f–k the Bulgarian?” No. Twenty one years older, fat, husband dying – remember? Not that I didn’t fantasize about it, but come on, seriously?

Anyway, here’s the tale. I’ll definitely be signing up for the next open mike as soon as they have one, to relate another of my ridiculous incidents . Hope you enjoy.

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I told Mike, “do not, DO NOT, shovel that walk.” Mike had an extreme obsession about shoveling. He would set his alarm for every two hours during blizzards, suit up and go outside to shovel the driveway at 2 am, 4 am, 6 a.m., even during Snowmaggedon, when the wind was blowing 60 m.p.h., so hard that it would all just come right back again.

The “do not shovel” morning was in 2016, when we had three inches of snow followed by rain followed by a hard freeze. The driveway and walk were coated with a kind of heart-attack broûlée. And it all was due to melt the next day. So I told Mike, “don’t you do it.” And I hopped in the Subaru and left for work.

I worked five minutes away at the time, so I could come home for lunch. That day, when I did, I saw that Mike had shoveled the front porch and the walk to the driveway.

I was furious.

Because Mike was 13 months into the 18 to 24 months he had been given when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Exertion like that could kill him. Why would he risk dying before he had to die?

Maybe it was an Alpha Male thing.

Because a year before, when I was 54 years old and weighed 35 pounds more than I do now, I fell madly, schoolgirlishly and very obviously in love with a 35 year-old Bulgarian carpenter – right in front of my dying husband – which was reprehensible, ridiculous, sad, embarrassing – and funny.

When we were confronted with the certainty that Mike would die within the next two years, I thought, what are we going to do?

I know! LET’S REMODEL THE KITCHEN!

Mike spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking for and cleaning up after cooking for our angelic, autistic daughter. He was a stay-at-home Dad. He spent his days toiling away on hideous, multi-colored, striped, 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpeting, blackened with decades of grime. He spent hours washing dishes in a harvest-gold double sink. He cooked on a cheap department store stove with no hood that barely concealed the mouse highway running behind it. I just couldn’t let him die without ever having had a decent kitchen in our house.

So, I found a contractor and signed the checks. I hadn’t figured on falling madly in love with the crew chief. But I did. I don’t know what came over me – I couldn’t help myself. He was young and strong and he knew how to do everything, He had black hair and green eyes and a magnificent deep voice. And I didn’t care that he was getting paid for it – it still mattered to me that he listened to, and actually remembered everything I said to him . He did what I asked him to do- eventually- and he never yelled at me. Anyone who has been married for more than twenty years knows how rare that is.

The day of the Alpha Male shoveling, when I got out of the Subaru at lunchtime, I grabbed my cheap plastic grocery store shovel and tried to shovel the driveway, just to keep Mike from doing it.

And the Bulgarian appeared, and grabbed my shovel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to shovel a path, just a path on the driveway for you, Annie.”

“Oh no you’re not. You smoke. Nobody who smokes lifts a snow shovel on my property. Don’t you do it.” And I was sort of dancing around in front of him (and he’s at least 14 inches taller than me) trying to block him from shoveling the smoking-man-killing heart-attack snow with the ice on top, but he shovels right by me, and then he stops and looks at my plastic grocery store shovel and says, “Dat’s not a shovel.”

And he marches right back into my kitchen and through the door into my garage and grabs my good stainless steel garden spade and starts hacking away at the smoking-man-killing heart-attack snow with the ice on top while I’m following him down the driveway shouting at him, “please, please stop! It’s upsetting him – (meaning shoveling was meant to be Mike’s exclusive domain, even if he intended to die doing it). Please stop!”

“God Dammit! The both of you! I can’t come home from work and find the two of you face down in the driveway and neither one of you with enough strength to call 911! Jesus! Everyone wants to give Mommy something more to worry about!”

And I jumped in my Subaru and drove off, back to work, still cursing. And as I drove away I saw the Bulgarian turn around and give the strangest look, as if he didn’t understand – or as if he did, all too well.

He knew I had a crush on him. At first he was embarrassed, and then he played along, and then he just started openly making fun of me, in a subtle, Eastern European kind of way.

Like the time his drawers came off.

Three weeks after the kitchen was finished, I had loaded the heaviest pots in the middle, rather than the bottom drawer, because that’s where Mike wanted them. When the drawer fell off its rails, like I knew it would, and then the bottom one did too, the Bulgarian came to fix them.

When he squatted down to look at the drawers that had fallen off, he looked up at me with his gorgeous green eyes and he said with that magnificent voice, “Annie, what have you done to my drawers?”

Which is quite possibly the best set-up line I had ever been fed.

But did I say, “Why, my dear, as you well know, to my infinite regret, I haven’t done a damn thing to your drawers. These kitchen drawers, on the other hand, came off all by themselves.”

No, I didn’t say that. I just blurted out, “You didn’t stop smoking!!!” Because it was after New Year’s and he still smelled of cigarette smoke, even though he had told me it was his resolution to quit.

The Alpha Male incident was the last time Mike shoveled, but it wasn’t Mike’s First Last Thing. There was his last birthday, his last Thanksgiving, his last Christmas.

The first time I realized I was witnessing a last thing was before all of those, in the fall, when I came home and found Mike on the roof.

He could barely stand up for ten minutes and he had hauled the ladder out of the garage and climbed up to the roof, intending to clean out the gutters – one last time.

Mike lived long enough to cook his last pot of spaghetti sauce and his last batch of chicken soup in the new kitchen.

And now, when I rinse dishes in the big new white farm sink, before I load them into the new stainless steel dishwasher, I see Mike there, by the new stove with the new hood, doing what he loved to do – cooking something for Angelic Daughter. And I also see the Bulgarian there, puzzling over how to cope with some weird previous do-it-yourself modification from some past owner.

That kitchen is filled with memories of love, kindness, bravery, humor – and forgiveness – for, and from, two men I loved.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman

Shipwreck

Over the weekend, as I was polishing what I hope will be the final and definitive version of the query letter for my memoir, Detour in Cancerland, about caring for my husband as he faced his terminal illness, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in decades, and I heard it in a new and shattering way.

My book is about my ridiculous behavior during Mike’s illness – when some kind of temporary insanity gripped me and I developed an absurd infatuation with a carpenter 21 years my junior, who was in our house to build Mike the new and beautiful kitchen he should have had all along, the kitchen that I was desperate to give him before he died. This crush was some wild form of deflection or denial about what was happening – that Mike was dying, would definitely die, and leave our daughter and me, without him. Mike knew and understood that, and he forgave me for it, as I had forgiven him, over an over, for things that he had done that most women would have used as grounds for divorce.

As I was trying to condense the complexity of all this into a “hook” in the query letter, Spotify played me Heart Like a Wheel. I had only ever heard the Linda Ronstadt version of it, and not the recording by the writer, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna, so I was hearing that version for the first time that day.

As a lonely, self-pitying teenager – the fat, smart girl who was never asked to the prom – I played Ronstadt’s version (which omits the second verse, about death), over and over, a bazillion times. When I heard that second verse for the first time this past weekend, I suddenly understood the song from a completely different perspective – that of a person who had loved me, out there on that sinking ship, feeling alone and lost and full of regret. I felt my late husband’s love for me and our daughter tearing him apart, as cancer tore him from us, too soon, and how this love left him floundering on the sinking ship of his incurable, merciless disease:

“Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean

They say that death is a tragedy
It comes once and it’s over
But my only wish is for that deep dark abyss
Cause what’s the use of living with no true lover

And it’s only love, and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out

When harm is done no love can be won
I know this happens frequently
What I can’t understand
Oh please God hold my hand
Is why it should have happened to me

And it’s only love and it’s only love
And it’s only love and it’s only love
Only love, only love
Only love, only love”

Kate McGarrigle

Love can wreck a human being and turn him inside out.

No true lover.

For years, Mike and I both felt left without a true lover, for all the complicated, personal, tangled, hurtful reasons a long and difficult marriage can engender. But we stuck it out. And the toughest thing of all was that we found each other again with so little time left – each on our own sinking ship, out in the middle of an ocean of regret, reaching for each other one last time.

Our love survived the shipwreck, and carries on, a slow, steady current streaming through an ocean salted with pain and yearning.

Mike used to say he wanted to be buried at sea. I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to do that for him. But after hearing that song in this new way after all these years, I’ll never get the image of Mike on a sinking ship, and me reaching toward him, but not able to save him, out of my head.

Staring at the sea in my mind’s eye, cherishing every piece of the wreckage, I remain,

your steadfast, loving, forgiving and forgiven,

Ridiculouswoman

Ship image by ArtTower from Pixabay

______________________________

I have updated my new page, “27 Things,” with a list about widowhood. My head’s been there these past few days, after that song, and revisiting the book and querying, and not knowing if I even want to anymore, and all of it.

Hot for Handyman

Apparently it isn’t just me.  Falling in love with your carpenter (electrician, handyman, whatever) is a thing. (Spoilers coming).

Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson’s protagonist in How Hard Can It Be? (sequel to I Don’t Know How She Does It – women of a certain age will enjoy both) has flashes of lust for her kind handyman, or as much of him as is visible sticking out from under whatever he is crawling around fixing. Grace, from Grace and Frankie (Netflix), the story of two older women whose husbands leave them – for each other – after 40 years of marriage, fell in love with her remodeling contractor years before, while still married. After I had begun writing my memoir of kitchen remodeling and falling in love with the Bulgarian while caring for my terminally ill husband, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, where there is a brief but striking, and very moving (to me) portrayal of how the central character, Dominick, reacts to his Mother’s terminal diagnosis by deciding to remodel her kitchen, and a more in-depth portrayal of his life trying to manage care for his mentally ill twin brother.

Kate’s handyman knew long before Kate did that her husband was cheating on her. Grace actually consummates her love for the long-lost-and-found contractor, but he is caring for a wife with dementia. And the Mother in Lamb’s book puts a stop to the kitchen remodeling project after her son removes just the first panel of wainscotting, asking for something smaller – time and companionship – an ice cream sundae, instead.

The lives of these fictional characters resonate with me, because aspects of their imaginary experience reflect my real experience, and help me feel less alone.

I studied Jung in college, including the idea of “synchronicity:” that “meaningful coincidences” or simultaneous thinking occur between people who have no real connection to each other.  I got deeply into the idea of archetypes and the “collective unconscious.” Later in my life I experienced a kind of real-time “collective unconscious,” when performing improvisation – we called it the “group mind.”

I’ve written before, I think, about how I don’t believe in coincidences. I think people come in and out of each other’s lives for a reason, and that we encounter animals, things and events in our daily lives that signify more than just their objective descriptions. Those “events” may include the sudden impulse to turn on the TV or radio, or change the channel, only to find a song, or a program, or a line of dialogue that has special, surprisingly familiar meaning. Mike used to refer to the energy behind all this as “the gods,” and we would share with each other frequently what we thought otherwise unremarkable things were trying to tell us.

One thing the universe sure as hell is telling me is that “hot handyman” is an archetype, and there’s synchronicity going on about older women, cancer, grief, loss and resilience. It’s saying jump-start the stalled querying, Annie, and go for it. Collect rejections for your memoir proudly and keep going, because older women are having a significant moment. “The gods” (that loving, creative energy that Wayne Dyer talked about on those PBS specials) have hit the reset button on the the archetypes of the “widow” and the “crone” and freed older women to reinvent and redefine how they are perceived and what they can, and will, do. And what Grace and Frankie do in the two and a half or so seasons I’ve binge-watched so far, with lots more to go, is variously hilarious, shocking, and empowering.

I’m halfway through the first year of my 7th decade, and I never felt better. I’ve got a fantastic job and a great new haircut that makes me feel fab (and I don’t even care about how it reveals the bald spots – it’s so easy – just skwunch and go!) I haven’t been working out since I started the job, but I have a cool stand-up desk and make a point of taking the stairs a few times daily. I’m hoping to get back to the dumbbells next week.

Angelic Daughter is still having a very hard time processing the things I say about “carrying our sadness about Dad with us while moving forward to have happy lives.” Sad and happy, simultaneously? Hell, it’s hard enough for me to understand. But we’ve got things settled so she’ll be getting out more, meeting new friends, looked after by kind people at a place that is bright, beautiful, and welcoming. She’ll have lots to do to keep her busy, and, I think, happy, while I’m at work. Whew. Cue great night’s sleep and corresponding ten years off face, plus a few points shaved off the blood pressure.

Now where’s the handyman?

With hope, I remain, your

Ridiculouswoman

Image (I cropped it) by skeeze from Pixabay