Scents Memory

Fragrance, femininity, faith and fairy godmothers….

The other day,  I unconsciously picked up a bottle of perfume and did my “spray, stay, walk away” routine (learned from Carson Kressley, original Queer Eye episode).  I hadn’t used that perfume for a long time. It was the same kind as the last bottle of scent Mike bought me for Christmas.

He’d buy perfume, often with matching bath stuff and lotion, at Christmas.  I’m not sure I ever made it clear to Mike that I got the message in his choices – “Joy,” or “Mon Tresor.”  That last Christmas, he didn’t have the energy to find something on his own, so he just asked me what I wanted: “Modern Muse, please. Estee Lauder counter, I think.”  I found that scent in one of those samples that fall out of catalogs, that you peel open and sniff. I loved the scent, and I especially loved its name. I hope Mike took it as a message that I still wanted him to have a muse, that I still loved his poetic soul, and that I hoped he’d write poetry again, before he died.

His last journal was lyrical prose, about having cancer, and about rediscovering our love for one another, when cancer made everything else irrelevant. He also wrote about his embrace of suffering through his unconventional faith and his trust in the path he was on.

The perfume I used the other day is the same kind but not the same bottle. I used that up in the first year of widowhood, when I oscillated from screaming, sobbing grief one day to timid hope about a new kind of life the next.

I worked in warehouses during and after Mike’s illness. I’ve been wearing jeans almost daily ever since. Jeans express my physical strength and my determination to take on projects that involve some combination of power tools, dirt, ladders, chainsaws, paint and work boots.  The perfume is for when I wear empire waisted, v-necked, pajama-soft, print knit dresses that, I admit, show too much cleavage.  I own three of them and wear them any day it is warm enough, when I’m done getting sweaty with my workout or my redecorating or dirty with my gardening and yard work. As fall and winter progress, the dresses yield to deep-v-necked, soft wool sweaters.

The dresses and the sweaters say I’m not ready to let go of  womanliness. I’m not ready to become a crone. I’m not ready to dry up and grey out. I need to feel gorgeous and touchable. More than touchable.  I’m unwilling to accept that I’ll never be regarded that way again.

My Dad told me about a weird house in his home town. Legend was that it had been owned by an old lady who kept adding on to it, believing that as long as she did, she would never die. He may have said that kids in town believed the house was haunted. It made a good ghost story; the house was near a school.

Between the euphoria of being nearly done with redecorating and the panic that I’m still unemployed and running out of money, I wonder if I’m turning into that lady – the crazy old lady with the never-ending projects, trying to ward off aging and death.

Angelic Daughter’s Halloween costume arrived yesterday, and she looks adorable in it.  I can’t tell you what it is because she wants to keep it a surprise. But she keeps asking me what I want to be for Halloween. It’s never been worth dressing up to answer the door here. We get very few trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, unless Halloween falls on a sunny Saturday. I usually just throw on a drugstore witch hat and light the jack-o-lanterns. It’s typically all over before 7:30.

Looking online for this year’s costume, among the princesses and movie characters, we saw a Fairy Godmother costume. I hadn’t seen one before.  I thought, “I could use a Fairy Godmother.  Bibbiddy-bobbidy-boo, a book deal, a job and a handsome prince for you!”

Maybe my semi-insane determination to finish decorating this house, even it bankrupts me, is about belief in magic, as a metaphor for faith. As a reason to hope.

Wednesday was a perfect bright-blue fall day. Feeling down about job prospects and writing, I impulsively took Angelic Daughter on a surprise outing to a local pumpkin farm that, until last year, I hadn’t known existed, even though it is less than 10 miles away.

Sitting in the haywagon waiting for the ride to start, I checked my phone, and found an email saying “impressed…would like to schedule you for a phone interview.”  For a writing job. With health insurance.

Do you believe in magic?

Waiting to hear back about an interview time, I remain,

Your faithful, fragrant,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by czarownica from Pixabay

Gravetending

A walk with grief is a walk with love.

It was a gorgeous day, very like the day we buried the urn  – blue, sunny, breezy.  The third anniversary, marked with a picnic at his grave, peaceful under a huge willow tree. This time it felt less like a ritual of grief, and more like a simple, everyday gesture of love.

The rose we planted that first year didn’t do well this year. Too many Japanese beetles  pockmarking the leaves, same as they have done to the roses in my butterfly garden at home. The vortex didn’t help, either. The soaked, soggy spring caused me to underestimate the importance of getting out there to water the fuchsia that hung from the shepherd’s crook by the stone. I removed it in July, shriveled, brown and twiggy, and so lightweight with the dryness that it jerked upward when I lifted it with too much force, expecting more weight.

Before the picnic, we went to the big-box hardware that has a good garden department. I wanted to get him a new hanging basket to ride out the summer, and a new shrub to replace the rose. As we browsed, a monarch butterfly kept landing on plants in front of us, as if making suggestions. When we came to the butterfly bushes, there were several monarchs flitting around our heads and enjoying the shrubs named for them. Angelic Daughter noticed they kept landing on specific bushes, and staying to enjoy the fragrance and the pollen, I suppose. We bought a dark pinkish-purple butterfly bush, and a hanging basket of impatiens that matched that color exactly. Back home I loaded the shovel and some gloves, then we picked up salads from our usual spot, and headed out to the cemetery.

The breeze made it difficult to spread the blanket, but I used its direction to help, and we enjoyed a quiet half hour under the willow, lunching while gazing at the new plants and decorations Mike’s eternal neighbors had received from their loved ones since the last time we were there. After lunch, I dug out the failing rose bush, and, predictably, stabbed myself with its thorns, right through the gloves. I planted the butterfly bush and hung the impatiens. I lugged four gallons of water over from the pump.

Two more gallons to rinse the stone, and highlight his name and his title, “Father.” That was his job, and he loved it, and it’s perfect to have on the stone to describe him.

I talked to him, and told him how much we both miss him. I asked him to try to find a way for her to really feel he is with her.

On the way home from her job Monday, we talked about missing him. “A day without Dad. I miss Dad. He can’t come back.” Repeated at least twenty times through the day, through most of our days now,  her last grains of hope and disbelief slowly dissolving into certainty, finality, consumed by the permanence of loss.

I told her again it was OK to be sad, but Dad wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time. Hypocrite. Inside I was feeling my own extreme loneliness, and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, a trick that keeps me from crying.

As we pulled into the garage, I noticed the song on the radio was “You Are Not Alone.”

You are not alone
I am here with you
Though you’re far away
I am here to stay

Lately I’ve been changing the channel when a Michael Jackson song comes on.  Just can’t, anymore. But we listened to this one. I relaxed my tongue and had my tears.

Anniversaries are so hard; marking them with rituals probably makes it worse. This time, though, was more about how remembering, yearning for and missing him is a normal part of every day, not just anniversary days.

It finally rained, a good long soaking rain. Choir practice started last night. This choir has an uncanny ability to conjure precipitation. It always rains on Monday nights.

New phone for Angelic Daughter yesterday. New, substitute caregiver last night.

Sun today. But almost every sunny day has a few clouds.

The weight of this anniversary forced me to realize that this third year of widowhood was about accepting the normalcy of grief, and how carrying it and walking with it is permanently woven into each of our days, and will be in every day to come.

Tending the grave and talking to Mike as I did reminded me that grief can’t exist without love. If we walk with grief, love is walking right beside it, holding its hand.  Balanced, but too subdued. I hope this walk will lead us someday to peace, even back to joy.

Until then, I remain, your hollow yet hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

800 Words

There are signs, and then there are Signs….

The day I wrote about losing confidence in my writing, I discovered a television series called “800 Words.”

“It’s a sign!” I thought.  The show is on the Acorn channel (British-y programming). It’s about an Australian columnist, a widower with two kids, whose column always comes in at exactly 800 words.

That’s a game I love to play, too. He even uses the same trick of hyphenating-things-to-count-as-one-word.

It’s more about grief and the stupid impulsive decisions (often stupid financial decisions) you make when coping with loss.

Sound familiar?

I watched the first episode of the first season and was hooked.

And then I discovered I had to pay a subscription fee to watch the rest of it.

Curses! I coughed up my Roku account and subscribed.

More money spent that I shouldn’t be spending, without a day job.

That sent me into another spiral of anxiety and doubt.

How could it be a sign? Yes, I like to write blog posts of exactly 800 words –  but my book is 60,000 words.

The protagonist on the show actually had a job as a newspaper columnist, left it, and was coaxed back.

I’ve lost or had to leave jobs I wanted and was never, ever “coaxed” or asked back. It was more like “don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Buh-bye.”

My recent job search experiences make me feel like I couldn’t buy a job – if I had any money to spend – which makes me more anxious about getting a job.

I’ve got an idea for a business, bought the domain, and I’m hoping to get a website designed and the business going by September.

But the numbers for this blog (over 5,300 views and 2,300 visitors, but only 162 followers) indicate I suck at social media self-promotion.

I’m going to have to force myself to return to Facebook to build pages for this blog again and for my new business. AAAAAK!!

I’d rather curl up in a little fetal ball and pull the covers over my head, but as I lie there whimpering, I’d be picturing myself wearing a name tag, saying things like, “would you like fries with that?” or “have you tried our new spicy shrimp?” or “can I get you that dress in another size?”

Between the morning workouts and the yard work and the house work and grocery shopping and the meal preparation and the caring for and helping Angelic Daughter, I can’t seem to find the time to write more than one or two blog posts a week, and no time at all to search for other places to submit writing for a chance to get paid.

Much less apply for that glorious future name tag job.

All the job search engines I’ve got going keep sending me jobs that have nothing to do with me.

LinkedIn seems to think I’m a nurse or other health-care worker, just because I’m looking for jobs in non-profits, and there’s a big non-profit hospital near me.

Glassdoor keeps sending me technical writing jobs that I probably could do but I’m sure I’d never get hired for, and the idea of making a mistake writing technical manuals or pharmaceutical label information sends me into paroxysms of anxiety.

All the NPO’s want fundraisers (“development” people) but asking people for money makes me squirm, and researching how much money people might have to give makes me feel like a creepy voyeur.

I indulge in silly rescue fantasies, typically involving younger men who know how to do things, and who are willing to do them for me, for free.

And who then move in and pay for things.

While also making wild, passionate love to me.

Hey, I said it was a fantasy.

I’ve figured out what’s wrong with me, and what went wrong in my career, but I can’t fix the past and the past follows me everywhere I go.

I try to focus on the now – on the incredible, cool air we have today, on the squash blossoms growing in the former chicken run, on the green beans starting to come in.

But I spend more time feeling frustrated by the dozens of bean seeds I planted that haven’t sprouted at all.

I’m a whiny, self-doubting mess.

The ancestresses are getting restless – I hear them telling me to get my ass outside and weed something. Not self-improvement, but yard-improvement, at least.

Perhaps other improvements will follow.

And as for signs?

Just as I was editing that line about anxiety and doubt, a monarch butterfly fluttered down and landed on the beans.

The ones that are growing.

Thanks for the Sign, Mike – of love and understanding – and the reminder to enjoy this beautiful day and stop taking myself so seriously.

Because what matters is now.

About-to-get-sweaty-and-dirty-and-feel-virtuous-about-it, I remain,

Your calming-down,

Ridiculouswomann

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

A Hose, Two Fans and a Thunderstorm

I grew up in a brick house with no air conditioning.  We used box fans in the windows and a sprinkler in the back yard (usually surrounded by neighborhood kids in bathing suits, waiting their turn to “run through.”)

For the past twenty years I’ve lived in another house without air conditioning. It has thick plaster walls, two layers of siding (some past owner just slapped vinyl over wood, and we left it alone) and a floor plan similar to that childhood home, where my brothers and I could run or ride a tricycle in circles around the ground floor while Dad played “Sweet Georgia Brown” on the piano. We called that “the running song,” and thought it was fun to zip past Dad, through the hall and kitchen, dodge the dining room table, scream and laugh our way through the front hall and then back past Dad in the living room.  After I became a parent myself, I realized Dad played “the running song” to tire us out so we’d go to bed. He was a genius at stuff like that.

When Angelic Daughter was a toddler, I bought her a Red Flyer trike, so she could do  circles in this current house – past the living room fireplace, through the kitchen, left through the library/dining room, across the front hall and then around again.

We’ve just come through three days 94-98 degrees (F) and very high humidity. No joke and very dangerous if you live an a brick-oven building in the city without air conditioning.

But we’ve got a yard, a garden hose and two fans – one box fan:

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and one newer one, that stands on the floor and rotates.

Upstairs, there are three smaller ones, each with two fans that can be switched from “intake” to “exhaust.”

Friday night, the “exhaust” setting just couldn’t keep up with the heat.

So I set up the cot downstairs –  the cot I bought for Mike to use, if the heat became too much during that last summer. But he couldn’t lie down flat without excruciating pain, so he tried to use another “lounger” I bought, a cheap bench sort of thing, that could sit up like a pool chaise. But he couldn’t get comfortable on that either, no matter how we adjusted the pillows. It was rock hard.

The visiting hospice nurse took one look at him on that thing and said, “this is not under control. I’ll send an ambulance and get you into the hospital.”

So Mike got two days of blessed relief in air conditioning, adjusted pain meds, and a good break from the stress of being home and needing my help all the time.

That damn rock hard lounger was one of the first things to go. But I kept the cot, in case  a brother or a guest might need to stay over one night.

Last night, that cot gave Angelic Daughter respite from the upstairs bedroom heat. I slept on the couch, where I slept while taking care of Mike, in the front room where we had set up his hospital bed when he came home after his brief stay, so he could watch TV and eat dinner with us.

Around 2 or 3 in the morning, still sweaty and not sleeping, I stepped outside on the deck and noticed that the breeze had picked up.

It’s coming, I thought – relief.

It cooled off enough for me to open the ground floor windows (and still feel secure, since I was right there) and use the fans to draw in some fresh, slightly cooler air.  The forecast said it would be 85 by 7 am, so I shut them again and closed the drapes by 6:45, when the temperature began to climb.

Smoothies for breakfast: frozen yogurt, berries and cream in the blender. Voila.

Salad bar in the air conditioned grocery for lunch.

And the garden hose after 3, in the shade from the cedars outside my desk area window. Blessed lake water still icy cold in July. Squished around in a wet bathing suit for half an hour, and then the storms hit – torrential rain, thunder and lightning – and a temperature drop of 20 degrees within an hour.

Windows back open, despite the downpour, to take in that delicious, rain-cooled air.

Memories and moments like these free me from obsessive worry; they help me remember Mike (inventor of all our strategies for keeping cool in this house through the hottest heat waves) with love and gratitude, instead of pain, grief and regret.

For now, the heat is gone, the storms have blown over, the birds are singing and the yard is green.

May you stay cool and find your calm after whatever storms blow over you.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman

Fan image by Katie White from Pixabay

Hose image by Renee Gaudet from Pixabay)

 

Twenty-nine Years

The snow will melt tomorrow. But my heart melted tonight.

“April is in my mistress’ face,
And July in her eyes hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December…”

madrigal by Thomas Morely, 1594

Mike and I met twenty-nine years ago today, on a warm April evening.

I was wearing a pink spring dress, no jacket necessary.

Twenty-nine years later, here I sit, under a winter storm warning, wearing a flannel shirt and Mike’s winter scarf.

Ironically, we met at a meeting of a ski club, held at a then quite new, but now very well established, brewpub. The event purportedly was to showcase the next season’s planned trips, but it was actually a thinly-disguised singles thing.

Mike didn’t ski. Neither did his buddy, who dragged him along as his wingman.

I didn’t know that then.

The girl pal I dragged along didn’t ski, either. Bad back.

Turned out I was the only one of the four of us who had a legitimate excuse to be there.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone skiing. It’s on my bucket list, if my knees can take it. Maybe next year.

As for today, I can feel my ritualizing of anniversaries fading. This is the third without him, and he never made much of them anyway.

So today I’m thinking more about whether my just-emerging snow peas will live up to their name.

I’m not sure the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets I planted two weeks ago, in a burst of April-faced gardening enthusiasm (“this year, I’ll finally get them in the ground early enough!!”) will make it.

When the snow started, I ran out and cut several small bunches of hyacinth and daffodils and brought them in the house to enjoy.

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But I left that snow-shrouded bunch pictured up there, and a few of the daffodils, to fend for themselves. I think they’ll make it.

As for the spring flowering trees, and the trees in general, this snowstorm brings a whole new meaning to “nip it in the bud.”

From the height of them, though, most of the trees around my house have been there for much longer than I’ve been here. On this planet, I mean.  Definitely “old growth” trees.

They might lose a branch or two in this heavy, wet, spring snow, but clearly, if they’ve been here that long, they’ve been through this before. They can get through this now.

It’s all supposed to melt tomorrow, anyway.

Annually, I remind people I meet in grocery or garden stores, people who couldn’t resist wearing shorts and flip-flops on the very first warm day in March, that it always snows again in April.

How sweet of me.

Cold December heart.

Obviously, I called the last storm too early this year.

I should have known better. Like the trees, I’ve been through this before. I have a distinct memory of myself on a June afternoon, sitting on the screen porch my father built, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt (hey, I was fat, but I was 5), coloring, when a sudden whoosh of wind swept the warmth away in a nanosecond and blew snow flurries through the screens.

And I should have known better than to think that Mike wouldn’t send some kind of  recognition of this anniversary to me in this world, from his timeless place in the next, as a little rejoinder to that remark about him not making much of anniversaries.

Because, just now, as I am writing this, an ad came on the radio.

For the brewpub where we met.

The snow hasn’t melted yet, but the December in my heart just did.

Missing Mike and grateful for a good, carthartic cry, I remain,

Your broken-open-hearted,

Ridiculouswoman

Blue and Happy, Empty and Full

I do my “forest bathing” on the prairie or the savannah.

The prairie has the empty spaces I find soothing.  The savannah has the trees. Both have birds, flowers, grasses and ponds or streams. For the past few weeks, the spring peepers have been singing near those ponds, very loudly, rarely stopping even when the paths I walk come close.

Blue sky, yesterday and today.

That bench, or one just like it, had a small engraved memorial plaque on it that, in addition to the names of the persons it commemorates and the family members who commemorated them, has the phrase, “carpe diem.”

Around here in April, if you see the sun and the sky, you better damn carpe that diem.

Yesterday, a walk through the savannah on my own, marveling at how abundantly life returns in spring. Even with the grasses still winter-flattened into brown, dry straw, the “controlled burn” areas still blackened, the birds are everywhere and the roaring chorus of spring peepers is occasionally augmented by the deep croak of a bigger frog. The ice on the ponds is finally completely gone.

Today, I got her to come with me, for a walk on the wide open prairie. She has a habit of stopping to sit at any bench we come near, but that helps me take a moment to really take it in, and read the information on the poster-stands, strategically placed to help visitors appreciate the rarity and fragility of what they’re seeing. A good long walk, under a blue sky with clouds my Grammie called “horse tails” and “lambs.”

I remembered what a pill I was, when Grammie or Mom would point things like that out to me: bored and unappreciative.

But now, it’s me exclaiming, “Oh! See the hawk! See the ducks, in pairs, the Mom and the Dad! See the chickadees!” And there were tiny finch-like birds, as small as hummingbirds but fatter, curious and unafraid, not creepers, just flitting from branch to branch, close enough to see a little yellow above the eye and wing.

She hurries forward, almost out of view, trying to get it over with, but I don’t care. I got her outside, at least.

Somewhere along there she’ll wonder why Mom stops to take pictures like this:

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or this:

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Someday when she looks at these photos she may remember the spring day we walked together here, the happiness of a blue Midwestern sky and the slope beneath it bursting with crocuses. She may remember Mom smiling as the birds flitted and sang over and around us, on the open prairie, shoots of green among the straw.

Tomorrow’s forecast includes rain, snow, wind and thunder.

April.

Back in the car she says, “we had a great morning, Mom.”

Today, blue means happy.

And empty means full.

Wishing you a soothing forest (or prairie or savannah) bath, I remain,

Your I-told-you-it-always-snows-one-more-time-in-April-but-I-planted-my-cold-weather-crops-yesterday anyway,

Ridiculouswoman

“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

It’s not a problem, it’s a gift.

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman