Let the Light In

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find? What if that’s actually true?

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in….”

-Sara Bareilles

A high school classmate, someone I haven’t talked to in decades, except for a moment’s greeting at the most recent reunion, emails me, out of the blue, and invites me to lunch.

Sure, why not? But why? Just curious – what made you think of me?

Just reaching out, she says – trying to connect and reconnect, after a divorce.

So I go to lunch with this classmate and another, also divorced, and hear their stories of the loss of their marriages.

And I tell the story of the loss of my husband, and what I was trying to push myself to do now – mainly, find a job, as much like my old job as possible. Close to home, where I can wear those beloved work boots, keep my head down, my mouth largely shut (except for necessary presentations to groups of volunteers) and otherwise do as I’m told, while staying on my feet all day, moving heavy things around and losing weight.

Where am I going to find something like that ever again?

And then the classmate who called me mentioned a place that she had volunteered, which I wouldn’t have known about or thought of if she hadn’t mentioned it.

After lunch I go home and check out the website of said organization, and right there, in the employment opportunities, is THE JOB.

The exact job. Warehouse work, on my feet, presentations to volunteers, the whole shebang.

I apply, writing a nice, not a snarky, cover letter.

Interviews came fast, followed by an offer.

An offer of a job with a regular schedule, good benefits, 10 minutes from home.

“Be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it.” (I can’t believe I’m quoting a Daughtry song!) The job does, however, involve driving, and moving things with, a forklift. So that’s a line in my personal sand that I’m going to have to cross, have already started to cross, like it or not.

How did this happen, and happen so fast?

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find?

What if that’s actually true?

Well, Okay! In that case, I’d like to ask for a big, strong, kind, gentle man, between 5’10” and 6’4″, black hair, green or blue eyes, deep, calm voice, handy, 15 to 20 years younger than I am, and — hmm, now how shall I put this — “energetic?” “vigorous?” “frisky?’ OK, maybe “frisky” is a little too, erm, explicit. But you catch my drift.

That would make me feel fully alive again.

Spring seems to have come at last – today is a sunny day and the crocuses are blooming, the jonquils have opened and the tulips are coming up.  When the sun came out one day a few weeks ago, I found myself opening the drapes, and realizing I hadn’t done that in over a year. Most of the time, we’ve been sitting in a dark house, not letting the light in, muffled, dimmed, in the shadows.

Right when I felt myself sinking into another round of deep grief, which seemed to be happening to our child as well, a year and a half after losing Mike, right when I felt at my weakest, lowest point, right when all I wanted to do was curl up in a little fetal ball and disappear – I unconsciously, almost absent- mindedly, let the light in.

Before losing Mike, I was never one to “hide my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes – far from it. My problem has been much more blaring my light so brightly that it never gives anyone else the chance to let theirs shine.

Part of learning from loss to live with love and laughter is to learn to live with humility – to realize that I’m not really in charge, that if I could just shut it for a minute and be quiet, where I am right now, I might actually hear whispers of God, and feel divine influence, even in the most mundane aspects of my life.

I think God assigns that sort of thing to angels who know your minutiae – who know what you need even if you don’t, quite. So Mike’s involved, here somewhere, I’m pretty sure. (But let’s step up the pace on finding that black haired, green eyed, big, strong, kind gentle man with the deep calm voice, OK, loves?)

I’m not sure why I was whirled right into this job so fast. It sure didn’t feel like I had a helluva lot to do with making it happen – felt more like it happened to me and I was being led by the nose into it. OK, I’ll follow that lead, and see where it takes me.

It already has taken me places I’m afraid to go (e.g. , the driver’s seat of a forklift – but I’m picking it up fast) and reminded me of things I didn’t do so well in the past (see, “making children cry,”) but I’m trying, really trying, to take those things as second chances, learning opportunities, offers to live with humility and kindness, and to get over some of my fears and anxieties, which take up way too much of my headspace. I’m trying (with mixed success, but it’s only been two weeks) to dial it back enough, and to keep my big yap closed for long enough, to hear those whispers of the divine, and to see all those other lights, shining bright, right in front of me.

I’ll keep you posted. Especially about that big, strong, kind, gentle man request. We’ll see how that goes, tee hee.

Until then, I remain, your humble, obedient, loyal, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

The Kindness of Strangers

I asked the advice of about 6,700 of my closest friends, all of whom are strangers….

“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

…Blanche DuBois

Another easy one for Thankful Thursday: today I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

A little freaked out by it, too, but grateful.

Allow me to explain.

I asked about 6,700 of my closest friends, strangers all, for some advice. How can strangers be friends, you ask? Well, it’s a Facebook group of people with a shared interest in my favorite books. I thought they might have some insight as to why my charming profile on those dating sites, which included mention of my love for those books, was getting me nothing. Crickets. Lots of scams (“I’m doing this for a friend. Here’s his email. Contact him, go ahead!”) and and a surprising number of fake or hacked profiles (really? three pictures three different men, in one profile?) but no actual interest from anyone I might be interested in back.

I mentioned I was a widow having lost my husband (first lieutenant, chef, coxswain and most particular friend) to cancer, and I was trying to find someone new to be my boon companion. And my surprise that mention of loving these books got me nothing.

This set off an exceptionally long thread of commenting, where I received much compassion, many helpful suggestions (“perhaps start off a little slow, and introduce the love of  these books later?”), lots of support (“don’t dumb yourself down!”) a few private messages and a long, really lovely compliment to me that would have made my day if it hadn’t been based on a lengthy, unkind comparison to the author’s wife.

And then things veered off into complaint about the off-topic nature of the thread (hey, c’mon, not really – I’m looking for the dating sites you guys would hang out on!) and then the thread seemed to inspire another one in which the author confessed their own cancer diagnosis and in the most poignant terms, asked for help identifying music for the eventual memorial service. I sent my love and prayers, and all those kind strangers sent their support and suggestions not just for great seafaring-related music, but also for not giving up, fighting it, employing non-traditional healing methods, etc.

These two threads have been, in my experience with that group and others, the longest, kindest, most personal and most supportive I have seen in any online environment in which I’ve spent time, ever.  They were filled with authentic concern, great good humor, and personal commiseration.

Which gave me the courage to re-activate one of my online dating accounts and, after softening my profile a bit (I took out mention of using multisyllabic words unapologetically, the aside about never missing a chance to overdress when going out, the mention of my tendency toward sudden outburst of song, and the bonus points for knowing the difference between “effect” and “affect.”), I sent direct messages some likely fellows.

None of them have responded.

So, hell with it. I put all that stuff back in (except the “effect” and “affect” stuff – it really was getting too long). I reminded prospective suitors that I liked to laugh, and had been trained in improvisation, which has weakened my inner censor and causes me to say what I’m actually thinking. Meaning if you can’t take a joke, take a hike. (And, come to think of it, take a hike if you don’t know what the word “suitor” means, in this context. But that’s not in there, because I’m not thinking about getting married again. Just need some kind, respectful, fun-loving male companionship). Honesty is the best policy, Right?

As soon as I published that final version of my profile and made myself visible again, wouldn’t you know it? Almost immediately I got a fake profile response. The one with three different pictures of three different men, and a canned profile (“I used to be shy but now I’m a social butterfly”) that I’ve seen attached to several other guys.

Sigh.

Someday my prince will come, but until then, I remain,

Your devoted, humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculouswoman

The Bulgarian

I bought the wine for its name, which reminded me of the man. I didn’t care for the wine. The man, however…

My book is called “Detour in Cancerland: In Which A Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood Through Remodeling (and Lust.)”

Which is the origin of the name of this blog, and a pretty good description of me. Ridiculous woman.

It is critically important to understand that the only ridiculous person in the book is me. Really, it’s no contest.

So back to the title:

The remodeling was for Mike.

The lust was for The Bulgarian.

Allow me to explain.

A few months after Mike was diagnosed, when the chemo seemed to be working and he felt better, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t let Mike die never having had a decent kitchen in this house. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted to give him a nice one that he could enjoy, for however much time he had left. Here, I’ll show you what I mean – this is “before”:

IMG_20151020_071913540.jpg

Note the peeling paint, and the disgusting black gooey grime on the hideous 1970’s multi-color stripe indoor-outdoor carpeting. The “harvest gold” double sink, which Mike stood in front of for 17 years, washing, washing and washing endless dishes. The fake laminate “butcher block” countertops. The rusting door and drawer pulls. We had duct tape under those hanging cabinets, because if we turned the heat above 64 degrees in winter, water from some invisible ice dam on the roof would drip down behind them onto the counter. Oh, and get this:

IMG_20151020_071924821.jpg

“Harvest Gold” fridge, standing on a piece of plywood. which, when the Bulgarian’s guys demoed the kitchen, I discovered was not completely, not really much at all, covering a hole in the floor that opened into the dirt floor crawlspace below, which must have been the mouse highway. More disgusting gooey black grime on the gross 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpet. You probably can’t see the mouse poo, mouse traps and mouse carcasses, but I assure you, they’re there. The cat did the best she could.

The stove was cheap and newer, because I accidentally set the old one on fire when I turned on the broiler to cook some salmon, not knowing that Mike had stowed a cardboard pizza box in the oven. The broiler was below, so I didn’t have to open the oven door and didn’t see the box Mike had put there. He had gone out for a walk and came home after the fire trucks had left.

OK, so, anyway, I decided to go ahead and do it. Remodel the kitchen.

Enter The Bulgarian, who built the new kitchen for me, for Mike.

And with whom I fell school-girlishly, madly, ridiculously, hilariously in love.

Right in front of my dying husband.

OK, I don’t blame you if you abandon me now. What a heinous, horrible, evil, selfish thing to do. I’ve read about other widows who were overcome by lust for a younger man – but at least they had the decency to wait until after their husbands had died. Me? Nope. When I wasn’t picking up prescriptions or reminding Mike about appointments or trying to help him find a comfortable position in which to rest, or something he could eat without feeling sick, or taking the laundry to the laundromat because the basement has also been demoed, I turned into Sally Brown following my Bulgarian Linus around, with little animated hearts visibly pulsing and floating around my head, every time The Bulgarian walked in the house. And in addition to Mike, all the guys the Bulgarian brought with him to work the job could see it, and they smirked and snickered.

And the Bulgarian, (technically, “Bulgarian-American,” but around here, the “American” is assumed – Mike described himself as Irish, Italian and Polish, not “Irish-Italian-Polish-American” etc.) just calmly carried on, finishing the basement and building the kitchen. And here, look, here’s the new kitchen:

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who could build a kitchen like that? Yes, I chose the cabinets, the light fixtures and the colors, and the quartz countertop, but he put it all together, and told me about the Edison bulbs which create that soft, lovely light,

and with one of his helpers, a silent, grumpy, smirking old Bulgarian guy, applied the very thin, natural shell backsplash tile I had chosen, which had to be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle and nearly drove them both nuts. Some of the seams are visible, and there are a few uneven places, but I don’t care. I find it endearing. It reminds me of the Bulgarian’s amazing endurance, patience and imperturbability. Mike got to cook in this kitchen, several times, before he couldn’t stand up long enough to finish making the soup or the sauce.

And earlier on, Mike was well enough to come and choose the floor tile with me, porcelain made to look like slate (because everyone warned us against natural stone – said it would track little pebbly pieces all over everything) and we both liked it a lot. So much that we used it in the basement, too.

The kitchen was meant to evoke my Grandmother’s kitchen in Maine – the beadboard, the color. No cookie-cutter, white, subway-tiled suburban McMansion kitchen for me, for my Mike. This kitchen has character. Mike even arranged what we now call “the cubbyhole,” placing Grandma’s kitchen drop-leaf table and Mom’s chairs in the nook where a “command center” desk and window seat should go, but which I couldn’t afford – I’ll take care of that part when I win the lottery:

If you’re still here, there are a few other things that must be clearly understood.

I loved my husband, and miss him every day. He knew all about my ridiculous crush on the Bulgarian. He watched it unfold, as did everyone else in the house, and he endured the embarrassment of it, along with the banging and the jackhammering and the sawing and sanding and painting, from his sickbed. It only just occurred to me a few weeks ago that it wasn’t really so awful to put him through all that, because the remodeling kept him out of the kitchen, so he didn’t consume all his strength trying to cook and wash dishes, which he would have done, until he fainted, again.

Mike knew me so well. He understood why it (the crush on the Bulgarian) happened, and he forgave me for it. We talked about it. Eventually we laughed about it. And we forgot about it, during those last few months, when the job was done and Mike made it through, to enjoy and cook in a decent kitchen, at last.

And he liked the Bulgarian, whom he described as a sweet, kind man. Which he was.

Exceptionally patient and kind, the both of them, Mike and the Bulgarian, when you consider the magnitude of the ridiculousness.

By which I mean, the Bulgarian, though a grown man, was a little over twenty years younger than I. And though he was a stocky guy, a more than a foot taller than I, there is no doubt that at the time, I outweighed him. Substantially.

I’m not sure “ridiculous” really does it justice. I looked like a giant middle-aged human beach ball. And the Bulgarian was, if not young, a lot younger, and strong, and capable, and calm, through all the ridiculousness. And his voice, my God. Deep, rich, smooth, steady. Every time I heard The Bulgarian say my name, I tried something else, something more, to make myself into something resembling a woman. Eventually I got a job that kept me on my feet moving around all day, and I started to lose weight, fast. Which I hope in some small way pleased Mike, because I hadn’t had much motivation in that direction for very long time.

The book tells the whole sad, silly, ridiculous story from the time Mike was diagnosed through the year after he died. And I’m telling you this now because, if you read yesterday’s post, I seem to have embarked on my next round of ridiculousness. So I thought I should explain the ridiculous part, because that’s the theme here, along with laughter and love, and it seems that’s just who I am. Ridiculous.

What could possibly have possessed me?

I plead temporary insanity. I really do think that finding out my husband had eighteen months to live sent me over the edge, there. Which is what I told The Bulgarian when I apologized to him for it.

And you know what he said? He said I had nothing to apologize for, nothing to be embarrassed about.

“It happens on every job,” he said. He seemed to be referring generally to highly emotional behavior – all clients lose their minds as a remodeling job drags on and on, I suppose (but not all of them are trying to get a job done before their spouse dies). The Bulgarian made it very clear, though, that he didn’t want to talk about my specific type of emotion.

But because of his patience, his kindness, his listening and his magnificent voice, I could easily believe that “it happens on every job” meant that every fat, middle-aged woman The Bulgarian ever worked for fell madly in love with him. Besides which, he knew how to do everything.

I was comforted when I talked to a few friends, and confessed my absurd crush, and they told me that the exact same thing had happened to them. They fell in love with their electrician, or their carpenter or their painter on their remodeling project, for the same kinds of reasons. They were young, strong, capable and they would listen and talk to you. So, maybe it does happen on every job.

I explained it to Mike, when he asked how this could be, how could I possibly be making such a ridiculous fool of myself, drenching myself in perfume, suddenly using vats of skin products, fixing my hair every day, for this…this…Bulgarian? this way:

“It’s very simple. There are three reasons I am in love with him. First, even though he’s getting paid for it, he listens to and actually remembers everything I say to him. Second, he does what I ask him to do….., eventually; and third, HE NEVER YELLS AT ME.”

“Ha. In sharp contrast to me,” said Mike. (We talked like that. One thing we had going for us was honestly. Sometimes brutal honesty).

I didn’t say anything to that. Which was a way of acknowledging its truth. Mike could remember every move of every chess game and every shot of every tennis match he ever played. But he couldn’t remember a damn thing I said to him, for 26 years.

Widows aren’t supposed to admit this sort of thing, that their marriage was difficult, hanging by a thread. There was nothing remotely normal about our marriage (if there is any such thing as a normal marriage.) And though we had many happy times, shared lots of laughter, enjoyed reading to each other and listening to music and watching hockey and goofing around, there was also the fact that for years and years, Mike’s communication with me see-sawed between sullen silence and terrifying, frequently irrational, or to me at least inexplicable, screaming rage. I learned to manage it, to let him yell it out, and then days later, to go back and talk about whatever it was that set him off, if he could remember, or articulate it, and we’d move on.

While he was a difficult husband, he was an exceptional, fantastic father to our developmentally different child, and we stuck together for that, and we made it through, and we found the love again. And for that (in addition to the new, beautiful kitchen) I will always be grateful to The Bulgarian. Because having him around gave Mike a chance to remember what I looked like when I was in love, and I think to want to be the one on the receiving end of that look again. Once the Bulgarian was done with the job and out of our lives, that look was for Mike alone, and we talked and laughed and enjoyed that new kitchen together for several months before his strength faded.

When I stand in that kitchen now, at night after the dishwasher is loaded and our child has gone to bed, in the soft glow of the Edison bulbs and the rich gleam of that natural shell tile, I can see them both there. Mike cooking his last pot of spaghetti sauce, his last vat of chicken soup for our child, saying, by way of thanks, even if he didn’t mean it, he wanted me to know he appreciated it all, “Wow, look at this kitchen! And Mom did all the prep! Prep is everything!” because I had peeled the carrots and washed and chopped the celery and had everything organized into labeled plastic storage containers in our gorgeous new stainless steel fridge, so all he had to do was put everything in the pot and season it in his way, which is about as much as he could do by then.

And I see The Bulgarian there, puzzling over some newly uncovered, weird remnant of past do-it-yourselfing (we live on the “do it yourself” side of town) and I hear him saying my name in that rich voice, humoring me. No harm, no foul. He just did it to keep the job moving, to calm me down and to try to be as unobtrusive as possible as he toiled away for months, finishing the basement and building that kitchen for me, for Mike.

So there you have it. That explains the ridiculous. I’ve done my best to disguise The Bulgarian’s identity in the book (but not his cultural background – which was an important part of the story) because I really don’t want to cause him any further embarrassment, and I do want to protect his privacy. There is a large Bulgarian community around here – over 150,000 – and a lot of people of Bulgarian origin around here work in construction, so he could be any one of them and I hope to God I have succeeded in disguising which person he is. Because as I have said, he is a good, kind man.

And my beautiful, heroic Mike endured it all, and said that he liked the result (even though before we started he said he liked the kitchen the way it was.) He took his chemo and felt awful, and then got better, and we went to Maine one last time, and when we came home he endured the noise and the dust and the jackhammering and the embarrassment, and in the end he and the Bulgarian became friends in a way, because they spent a lot of time together in this house while I was at work, and when the house was finally quiet again, something about it all seemed worth it. We found our deepest love again.

And I like to believe that Mike, seeing me in the throes of this crazy crush, was comforted in some way, that I might try to love someone new after he was gone. I hope that’s true, anyway.

So, that brings us around to ridiculous, round two, online dating. That is turning out to have a great deal of potential, on the ridiculousness scale.

Oh, geez. Mike, hon, I know you’re there, listening somehow. Thanks for forgiving me for it all. Help me out here. Can you find me someone who’ll let me be my ridiculous self, and love me for it, like you did?

Based on results so far, that could take quite a while. So I’m sure I’ll have a lot more ridiculous experiences, and ridiculous behavior on my part, to tell you about, once the book on round one is truly done.

Until then I remain, your humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculous Woman

(the “humble, obedient etc.” stuff comes from my obsession with the Aubrey-Maturin books, which I’m reading again now, so I find myself lapsing into this eighteenth century parlance from time to time. I do beg pardon…

Thin Ice

This week I realized that I don’t really have much of a back up plan should my superpowers become temporarily unavailable.

“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley…”

-Robert Burns

I was going to catch up on a lot of blogging last week – I was going to do my second Thankful Thursday, my first Fiction Friday, and then swing back around today with Non-toxic Tuesday, plus a brief announcement about how I’d temper the annoying alliteration (oops) from now on, because I really only use that as a device to remind me of what I’m supposed to be writing about on which day of the week.

I barrelled home from my New Year’s Revolution Yoga Class (paid for the whole series in advance, non-refundable, therefore irrevocable – don’t make that wasted money, get your booty to class!) feeling energized and ready to write, and then, BAM, flattened with a vicious (and pretty viscous) cold.

No fever, but chills, and aches the magnitude of which I hadn’t felt since I came down with pneumonia about 8 years ago.

Mike panicked when that happened. (He loved to quote Burns, by the way –
“wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie! Oh what a panic’s in they breastie!”) I never get sick. But I’d been pushing myself too hard at work, a very stressful past job I loved and hated, burning the candle at both ends, etc. and ended up coughing myself blue (literally – Mike said I looked blue) for a week before I finally crawled out of bed and went to a doctor, who said he might as well go ahead and start treatment before he confirmed it was pneumonia, because he was pretty sure it was and it would help the symptoms. It was, and the antibiotics brought me back pretty fast.

But that’s the sickest I’ve ever been, and it scared Mike. He scared himself googling the different varieties of pneumonia and the odds of dying from it, and he realized he had no idea what to do if I died. How would he and our child live? Who would take care of them as I had done? (Mike was a stay-at-home Dad.)

“I’ll get through this,” I told him, after he had finished screaming at me for sneaking off to the doctor in the morning without waking him up.

“I left you a note, didn’t you see it?”

“No! Don’t ever do that again! What if you were too sick to drive back or what if they sent you to the hospital?”

“But they didn’t, I’m home now, and I will now commence getting better. Calm down.”

But here I was last week, every joint in my body aching on top of whatever soreness my first yoga class had caused me, remembering how I had pushed myself into pneumonia back then, and feeling a sudden and awful chill.

What if this is the flu? And if it is, what happens if it turns into pneumonia? Shit! Hadn’t thought about that – who would take care of our child if I had to be hospitalized? Mike’s not here! People are dying right and left from this damn flu! Even a few much younger and stronger than me! SHIT!

And that caused me some dark hours of worrying about how thin my support system really is. How thin the ice I’m skating on here really is, trying to be everything at once for our child, trying to hold our life together and move it forward.  There’s one helper, with a family of their own, available occasionally, but that’s it. There’s my brother and sister-in-law, but they have a dog, and our child is afraid of dogs, especially boisterous ones like that new pure bred puppy. Plus they are facing their own family health issues, with themselves and other family members to care for. And my other brother lives thousands of miles away.

So that leaves church family. The usual suspects who have already done so much for our child and me that I feel reluctant to ask.

But I realized I don’t have a choice.

Every six months or so, or more often if changes in our lives require, I send a list of how to keep our child’s life running smoothly in the event I am out of the picture to my brothers. Lists of important phone numbers, what happens on which day, doctors, dentists, helpers, agencies. etc.

I’m going to have to expand that distribution list, I guess.

As far as the vicious and viscous  cold, or whatever it was, our child got it too, and we lazed and slept and coughed and blew our noses, and drank lots of water, chicken soup and orange juice for a week, skipping all regularly scheduled programming, until it finally seemed to break and fade.

I didn’t have the energy to do much grocery shopping or cooking, much less blogging, obviously, until the very end of the week, when we both had events we wanted to attend and we did, equipped with loads of tissues and several small bottles of hand sanitizer. No hugs or high fives for anyone from us last week.

Back on schedule now, but it sure felt like a close call. And the coughs will linger for a few more weeks, I’m afraid.

I had thought of myself as having everything very well arranged, but last week made me realize that is actually only in the event of my actual demise – not in the case of my temporary incapacity.

So some good has come of this, to wit, a few new rules (more with the rules, already! I have rules for being a Middle Aged Woman, and Rules for Thanksgiving, and even rules for trying to meet someone online for if I ever muster the courage to try to create an online dating profile if I can ever decide which app or site to use). Also came opportunity for our child to develop, out of necessity, some new self-sufficiencies, like making sandwiches in addition to the usual fruit and cheese snacks and creating lists and plans for the upcoming week independently.

So, Thin Ice Rules:

Thin Ice Rule #1: Don’t Get Sick.

Thin Ice Rule #2: Expand Available Support Network in the Event of a Violation of Thin Ice Rule #1.

Thin Ice Rule #3: Continue to Coax Our Child to Learn to Do More Independently

Thin Ice Rule #4: Set a Target Date Goal for Our Child to Achieve Independent Living.

Thin Ice Rule #5: Live Forever, so Thin Ice Rule #4 Need Not Be Effectuated. Not Yet, Anyway. See Rule #1.

OK, I’m so not ready to think of myself aging to a point where it makes more sense for our child to live independently of me (with community supports, of course.) I’m SO not ready for that. But this week made me stare down the need to plan for it anyway.

I got through this, just as I got through the pneumonia, and I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’m much healthier now than I was back then, but this whatever it was (my Dad used to call it the “awful awfuls”) was a good smack upside the head reminder not to take something as important as my health for granted.

I won’t live forever, I know; I want to live well for as long as I can, and I want to do a good job of the one job a parent really has, which is to enable their child to survive without them.

Out of sheer necessity, in addition to preparing more food independently than ever before and writing out a weekly plan entirely independently, our child filled hot water bottles and brought refills of water and tea. Necessity is the mother of invention, but apparently also the mother of progress toward independence for a young adult on the autism spectrum.  I’ve been far more insistent than Mike ever was that our child do everything independently that can be done independently, and every day, learn some new small thing to add to that growing list of self-sufficiency skills.

I think Mike approves – this morning when I got up finally feeling nearly 100%, and our child was ready to return to our regularly scheduled programming, I turned on the radio, and the trumpet tune we used for the processional at our wedding was playing (you know the one, Jeremiah Clarke, The Prince of Denmark’s March), right from the start.

Thank you, dear. Keep those little messages coming, and we’ll keep getting through this.

See you on Annoyingly Alliterative Thankful Thursday!

Some Assembly Required

Whether it is new furniture or a whole new life, there’s some assembly required….

This year, I left the assembly until Christmas Day.

After decades of staying up almost all night on Christmas Eve, to stage the best possible surprise, I decided this year was the year we’d do it the adult way – open the package, see what it is, and put it together later. It gave the same delight, perhaps more, because it prolonged the wait to make use of the new art desk.

There was the usual trial and error (oops, bolts are supposed to go on the inside, take the screws out, go the other way, tighten) and the usual cursing and screaming when the bolts wouldn’t tighten enough, or parts were discovered cracked or broken, but in the end I got it put together with a few hours to spare to set up the appetizers for my brother and sister-in-law’s visit Christmas Day.  And my handy brother got the untightenable bolts to tighten as they should and I got a beautiful adult-coloring-book page of blue butterflies out of it from my young adult, happily coloring at the new art desk.

And when the day was over and our little two-person Christmas feast cleaned up (last year, our first without Mike, I burned the cranberry sauce for the first time in my life – this year my culinary transgression was less severe, but just as disappointing – I made the gravy too thick, and gravy is usually my specialty.  But I aced the mashed potatoes, so there’s that, anyway), I sat “regarding the tree,” after our nightly “candle time” of quiet contemplation and it occurred to me that a new year is coming, and it is time for me not just to figure out what my life is going to be like from now on, but to do something about it.

Each day for the past several weeks, our child has been sighing and saying, “a day without Dad.” And I’ve had to confirm again and again that yes, every day for the rest of our lives in this world will be a day without Dad, but not without his love, because like he said before he died, “Dad’s love never ends.”

Although his love is with us, he is not – not here, physically, to talk to, to joke with, to enjoy music together – and although I do still talk to him all the time (hey, talking to yourself or to your dearly departed is HEALTHY as far as I’m concerned – I may be ridiculous, but I’m not crazy), but I am speaking to a spirit, a memory, a hope that he can hear me on the other side. He’s not here, can’t be here, but I still am. Here. In this world.

So I’m determined not to spend the rest of my life stuck in the absence of his. He wouldn’t want me to. In fact when I do talk to him (HEALTHY, remember, a HEALTHY way to grieve and cope), I ask him to involve himself in helping me move on.

So in 2018, we’re going to put together a new life, a life that will be fully lived, for me and for our child.

Because if I’m trying to learn from loss to live with love and laughter, I probably should find someone to love and laugh with.

Some assembly required. A lot, actually, because I’m not sure where to begin this project of putting together a new life. I know what I want – a meaningful life, fully lived, which means involving myself with other people more, not just sitting at home, or even going out, just to be missing Mike.

That means getting busy doing things I love – singing, improvising, cooking, gardening – and trying new things –  yoga class perhaps, maybe one of those wine education seminars at the big beverage depot. That’s the traditional way of meeting someone compatible – do things you enjoy to meet people who enjoy doing the same things you do.

While the traditional way may still have merit, I know the world has moved on from that hit- or- miss approach.

Now, there’s an app for that. Apps, plural. And some fancy algorithms running behind them, mixing and sorting and making a match, finding a find, catching a catch, so to speak.

So yes, yikes – online dating.

OK there I said it. I’m going to try it. I’m afraid to, and I’m going to do it anyway.

I think I’ve got a good few woman years left in me and I’d like to make the most of them.

This holiday season I’ve been humming to myself, “Santa Baby, put a new man under the tree, for me…one who’ll treat me respectfully…”

We will observe certain rules (this rule thing, it’s getting to be a pattern with me, no? (See “Middle Aged Woman Rules” and “Thanksgiving Rules”). As with the others, I reserve the option to add, alter or abandon these rules. I have rules regarding political views, but I promised no politics in this place – so I’ll keep those to myself. I think my other rules will pretty well take care of them anyway. So here goes (advice on this from those with experience, good or ill, welcome):

  1. Straight male. No confusion there. OK, that’s a start.
  2. No smokers. Non-negotiable.
  3. No married men. Ditto.
  4. No motorcycles. Double ditto.
  5. I will try not to make instant decisions based solely on physical appearance – swiping right – or is it left? – I’m trying to be a better human, one who shows kindness to others, and I’d like to find someone with the same aspiration – there are a few exceptions  (no tattoos, no weird piercings,  no man-buns or ponytails, no ungroomed facial hair – hey, wait a sec, since when am I so special, and so young, that man-buns, ink, pony tails and shaggy beards would be a problem? get a grip, ms. ridiculous!)
  6. All meetings, if any, will occur on neutral turf in public places until further notice.
  7. No man-splaining. Ejector seat on that one.
  8. Must be able to recognize Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart and the original BoDeans on first try. OK, maybe the second try.
  9. Likes the Chicago Blackhawks and the Chicago Cubs.  But see rule # 7 above.
  10. Bonus points: likes, or will at least tolerate, attending the opera and musical theater. And super-spectacular bonus points: has read all of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series, more than once.
  11. Thinks I’m funny, charming, attractive and smart, and likes the roundness of me, and won’t shush me when I sing. Likes my singing.

Like Mike did. Mike liked my roundness. My round head, round face, round bottom. And he took delight in my singing, my ability to vocally mimic the piccolo trumpet descending line in the Hallelujah chorus (BAH! Bah ba ba ba baaaaah!) and my ability to burst out in Puccini along with WFMT when it came on.

I’m sensing the need for a twelfth rule –

12. No trying to recreate or recapture what I had with Mike.

That’s gone. There will never be another Mike and I have to try hard not to impose expectations of a past life on a new man, but instead carry that past life with me, forward into a new future.

Starting from scratch. Starting over, starting again, carrying on, moving forward. Perhaps the best person for me will be someone who has been through a loss like I have, and is trying to carry that loss forward into a new and different life.

Someone who “gets it” about being a parent to a young adult with differences, who understands that this nest isn’t empty and isn’t likely to be for many years to come, long past when others are visiting grandchildren and going on cruises. And who is ok with that.

Good luck with that. I’ll have to try to write an honest profile of myself, the ridiculous woman, that won’t send a nice man running for the exits.

That’s going to require some major assembly – and a lot of hope and confidence. Widow goes a-wooing – in which a ridiculous woman attempts to find new love via mechanical matchmakers.

I’ll let you know how it goes – I’m sure there’ll be some cursing and crying along the way – poorly written or misunderstood instructions, or none, bolts and washers misplaced, the assembled result not quite level, but sturdy and beautiful just the same.

I hope.

Fear and Chickens

It was a conscious decision to do something that scared me a little. To try something a little wacky. And to not let fear (of breaking rules, or germs, or chicken poop, for that matter) get in the way.

Ok, chickens.

Mike and I had talked about it, but I knew we’d never really get around to doing it.

But this summer, I did.

I told a young friend (my millenial boss, actually, at the time) who was way into vegetable gardening and knowing where his food came from, which I sort of am too, that I was serious about trying backyard chickens. I checked the local regulations and by my calculations my yard is big enough, and the coop would be far away enough from any neighbor’s house.

But it was more than just wanting to try it.

It was a conscious decision to do something that scared me a little. To try something a little wacky. And to not let fear (of breaking rules, or germs, or chicken poop, for that matter) get in the way.

Because far too many of my decisions in life have been based in fear.

Fear of disappointing my parents, primarily.  Which guided many of my decisions until I got married, when I finally realized that there was no way not to disappoint my Mom. She was professionally dissatisfied. Don’t try this at home.

When I was about 17 she whinged and whined at me for months about my hair – “oh, you can’t go out like that! Do something about that! Get it cut!”

So I did.

And when I came home from my haircut, literally the moment I walked through the door, she wailed, “Oh, your hair!” Not in a “what a great cut” kind of way. But a “oh my God what have you done” kind of way.

When I started a graduate program that I thought would help me advance in my job, she wailed “oh, but what about your singing? You won’t have time!”

So I quit the graduate program and found a voice teacher.

Whereupon she wailed, “but what about the masters degree?”

So, you get the picture.

Disappointing my Dad was a different matter. The only thing I could do that would really disappoint him was to do something stupid when I knew better. Which I did, with some frequency. And his silent, withering disapproval while he helped me extract myself from whatever muddle I’d made was enough to ensure I’d never try anything like THAT again, whatever it was.

Follow the fear,  I was taught that as an improvisor (oh and BTW, at some point or another, if you are between 15 and 75 years old and live anywhere near Chicago, you will have had at least one improv class. Or like me, completed several of the famous improv training experiences and performed improv regularly for a while).

Because fear leads you to the truth, to what’s real, to what is worth exploring. Forces you to get out and try, fail, try again. To live fully.

And losing Mike made me really want to throw away the fear and live, dammit – which will include, I hope someday soon, trying to find a new relationship. But let’s start slow.

Which brings me back to the chickens.

I said I was serious about it, and I was kind of expecting it to take several months to get it together, but by the end of the following week, I had a coop in my backyard, and three weeks after that, mail-order chickens. Pullets, to be exact – because incubating cute little baby chicks really was too much for me.

So, presenting Blueberry, Cookies’n’Cream and Oreo Cookie, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, (aptly named by my young adult on the spectrum) and Rosie, Rusty and Rosalind, my Rhode Island Reds, named by me. Blurry, I know, but they’re fast when they get their evening romp.chickensfree

Rosie is the runt – the smallest, the feistiest and the first to start laying eggs. Now they’re all in the act, and I’m getting somewhere between two and three dozen eggs A WEEK.

I cannot eat three dozen eggs a week.

So I share them with the young man who built the coop, and I spend a portion of each morning shop-vacuuming chicken poop out of the coop and replacing pine shavings, dressed in my own improvised haz-mat outfit – because it turns out chickens naturally shed salmonella, and I’m still a bit of a germ freak. So gloves, mask and apron. Hand sanitizer and a shower after.

I think Mike would have gotten a kick out of this, but I also know he would not have participated in the maintenance – the cleaning of the coop, the feeding, the water.

So I’m as ridiculously on my own with this as I would have been if he were still here with me.

But don’t think Dad would have been disappointed.