Unlikely Tearjerker: Crying at Catalogs

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

(FYI: I mention brand names sometimes. I’m not getting paid for it. Not that I don’t hope to get paid for it someday, to be honest, but please be assured that I wouldn’t accept payment to endorse something I don’t like or don’t use. There’s a name for that. I’m not that.)

Labor Day Weekend. So far, it’s been a weekend of funerals and public mourning here in the US  – Aretha. John McCain. Rainy here in Chicagoland. But Labor Day weekend is still and always, regardless, the informal “official” beginning of the fall season.

My favorite season.

Break out the pumpkins and gourds, the red, orange and rusty leaves, the deep blue October skies, the fall excursions, the clean, brisk chill.

Here come the catalogs.

For a while there, I was the catalog queen. I delighted in finding obscure, funny or “just right” gifts for family and friends in the deluge of catalogs that start arriving in the mail this time of year, anticipating my other favorite season, Christmastime.

The volume of catalogs in my mailbox has decreased markedly, probably because I don’t buy so much stuff from them anymore.

I used to buy Mike a lot of stuff from catalogs.

Clothes, mostly. Like many men, Mike hated shopping, couldn’t stand having to make decisions about which shirt or what color or how many pockets. So I bought most of his clothes for him, primarily from catalogs.

Mostly from the L.L. Bean catalog

I get catalogs from L.L. Bean regularly, I suppose because I buy stuff from them regularly. And the fall L.L. Bean catalog is one fat-ass catalog.

These catalogs are usually neatly divided into women’s clothing, footwear, outdoor gear and men’s clothing.

When I first collect the catalogs from the mailbox, I still find myself reflexively flipping to the back half, where the men’s clothing is featured.

That’s when the tears start.

It used to be fun, joyful, even, to peruse, study, contemplate and even agonize a little over which shirts, what pair of shorts or trousers or which color sweater I would buy for Mike this year. Always something muted – he liked misty ocean blues, olive greens, greys. He surprised me once, on our annual pilgrimage to Renny’s, an old-fashioned all-goods mini-department store in Bath or Damariscotta, Maine, by choosing a bright, rosy orange t-shirt. But for the most part, navy, dark green and greys would do.

Now, looking at the L.L. Bean catalog just feels sad, incomplete. Diminished.

What do I need with a new flannel shirt? Another expensive (always v-necked, I’m short, it helps) cashmere sweater? I’ll only forget and toss it in the shared laundry basket at the top of the basement stairs, where Angelic Daughter will collect it and with her beautiful, helpful, eager-to-please, utterly innocent heart, wash it in hot water and put it in the dryer, to emerge, a pint-sized shadow of its former self.  I have hundreds of dollars worth of such boiled-wool sweaters. I’ll cut them into squares and stitch them into a blanket for my grand-nephew, one of these days.

That raggy sweater up there in the picture was one of Mike’s stalwarts. So much so that it got snagged and torn during bouts of fall yard work. I kept it and, submerged in it, used it in the deep of winter on sub-zero mornings when tending the chickens. Those birds are gone now, but I still have the sweater.

But the catalog. There it sits, on top of my “mount to-be-read” (an expression I am borrowing from a member of a a listserv and website for Patrick O’Brian enthusiasts), half of it now dimmed, shrouded in sad irrelevance.

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

I’ve learned to give these catalogs a glance, anyway, silently thanking L.L. Bean for their neat organization, making it easy to avoid the back half of the book, where the men’s clothing is grouped. There might be something there my daughter needs. I’ll  give it a look for that.

Boots, hats, gloves, socks. Perennially unprepared for winter before it comes, I’m determined to fix that this year. We’ll have enough to muffle ourselves up in when we go to hang an autumn decoration, obtained on a fall excursion, on the shepherd’s hook by his gravestone, and when the time for winter wreaths rolls around.

Muffled, with that ever-empty space beside us, where Mike, the anchor of our little family triumvirate, should be.

We walk with that empty space beside us, inside us, now, through every moment of our days.

The tear-dampened back half of that catalog flaps limply as I fold it under.

Recycle.

 

Hoping for a hummingbird, to remind me we’ll be OK,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, I hope not-too-self-pitying, incomplete but trying to recycle and carry on,

Ridiculouswoman

Fly Away – It Will Be OK

Because of that preening bird, I know Mike thinks it’s OK…

My oldest brother warned me about this: there would come a day when I didn’t think about Mike at all.

And I’d feel guilty about it, but it would be OK.

In truth it has already happened a few times, and I did feel guilty.

But yesterday was the first time I had a really surprising, truly upsetting lapse of remembering Mike: I forgot that we had planned an observance of the second anniversary of his death.

I scheduled the installation of new carpet, in what had been his room, on that very day: tomorrow, the 24th.

How could I?

I was caught up in a project for our daughter.

Who last week suddenly declared she wanted to turn his room in to a “computer lounge.”

I had already taken his bed (yes, separate bedrooms, long story, you’ll have to read the book if I ever get it published) out of there so we could make it her “art room,” and I hauled her art desk and her electric keyboard up from the basement to put in there.

The room is on the other side of her bedroom wall.  They had communicated to each other through the thin drywall barrier, like kids after the adults have gone to bed – knocking on the wall, whispering and laughing together, buddies, pals.

But now she wanted to take the art and music stuff out of there, and get a laptop, a desk and a chair for her new “computer lounge.”

I think she’s trying to recreate the quiet “break room” from the day program she just quit. That’s ok. It’s what she needs now – a space like that, but at home.

So, back to the basement go the keyboard and the art desk and back into her bedroom goes the guitar.

The carpet guy called as we were driving to the hardware store (phone on Bluetooth, both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, no worries) to get another paintbrush and a few more of those little angle-tip spongy things that get the paint into the edges of places but not beyond.  He said they could come pretty much anytime.

“Do  you want to do it sooner rather than later?”

“Well, we’ll be finished painting today, so sooner, I guess…”

“We have Friday or Monday.”

“How about Friday?”

It wasn’t until I had parked the car at the hardware store that it hit me – we were supposed to picnic at the gravesite Friday. We were going to blow some bubbles and maybe let go of a balloon to symbolize setting his spirit free – letting him know that we wouldn’t try to hold him here anymore, that we’d be OK with our memories and his whispers from beyond – the songs, the hummingbird, the butterflies.

Our daughter saw the panic in my face.

“They’ll call in the morning to tell us when they’re coming, and after they’re done, we can go see Dad, like we planned.”

She was disturbed: somewhere in her over-connected, autistic brain, she must have realized that she also had forgotten, for a moment, the significance of tomorrow.

I cried when I was prepping the room for paint. The project felt like a kind of erasure, like we were obliterating something about Mike. Tears were streaming down my face as I brought the supplies into the empty room.  As I set everything down, I looked up for a moment – and was startled by a really bright red, fat, young male cardinal, fluffy and preening, in the branch of the big maple tree, very close to the window.

Mike loved birds. More of them came to the birdbath in the back yard when he was here. It wasn’t just hummingbirds, he was interested in all types of birds.

So it didn’t seem out of place to ask, “Mike, is that you, hon?”

I swear to you, that bird looked right at me. And then it opened its mouth wide, the way baby robins do while chasing their exhausted parents around the yard – “feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”

That was a running joke between Mike and me, when it seemed our daughter could never stop needing more food – cook for me, more for me, feed me, feed me, feed me!

“Oh, hon, I’m sure that’s you! I hope you’re OK with this, with us changing the room!”

That bird looked right at me again, sideways, with a look that said, “of course it’s OK – about time!” And then it flew away, up over the top of the house.

It is supposed to rain tomorrow. That forecast was why we scrambled to get the paint done, so we could keep the windows open without the damp slowing the drying. But we also wanted to get it done so we could visit his grave on the anniversary day.

But the carpet is coming instead.

So we went there today. We blew a few bubbles.  Most of them sank to the earth quickly, but one drifted high above the trees, into the clear blue of today’s rain-free sky.

We came home and ordered a desk, and began looking online for a laptop and a chair.

Claiming that room as her own is, I think, a sign that our daughter is beginning to understand she can live, maybe even happily, without her Dad physically here. She can keep him in her heart and memory, even as she comes to accept that he will never again be right there on the other side of her bedroom wall.

And it’s OK.

And because of that fat, preening, joking cardinal, I know Mike thinks it’s OK too.

Wishing you relief from sadness, and joy in little moments of progress, I remain,

Your loyal, grateful, starting-to-heal, trying-to-hope,

Ridiculouswoman

Move over, Miss Jean Brodie

Am I delusional..about love with a younger man?

Got the all-clear from the radiologist (mentioned toward the end of “Divestiture, Episode One,”) who thought he saw something, which once snipped and biopsied turned out to be nothing, which made me feel, if not “young” again, at least “younger.” Ready to roll. New lease on life, and all that.

Time to dive back into the ridiculous pursuit of online dating!

Or not.

“For Online Daters, Women Peak at 18 While Men Peak at 50, Study Finds.”

Wait, what?

OK, I can understand aiming a little out of one’s league. Maybe even a little beyond the ballpark altogether. Study says everyone does that.

But a 50 year old man preferring an 18 year old girl?

That’s just creepy.

What the hell would they talk about?

Get real. The man in this equation is not much interested in talking. In fact, such a man likely finds intelligence and advanced education off-putting. Unless you’re as gorgeous as Amal Clooney. See end of article, referenced above.

Now look, I admit, when I tried this online dating thing before, I aimed a bit below my senior league, age-wise. A little bit more than the average “25% more desireable” below, as it turns out.

But for me, seeking men in that range still puts the guys well into their actual “prime” (e.g., into full-blown adulthood) and seems way less cringey than a 50 year old guy looking for a girl who could easily be younger than his youngest child. That’s just gross – and ridiculous. And dangerous for the fragile, still-evolving self of a teenage girl.

(And if you haven’t watched “Nanette,” as the NYT article recommends, do so now. Like it says, I’ll wait.)

Anyway what teenagers actually go on online dating sites? Don’t they have a name for how they intend to mislead and make fun of whoever pursues them, if they do? Catfishing, right? And aren’t they too busy Instagramming or Snapchatting each other? To make fun of the ancients they caught in their catfish net?

What the hell are these middle-aged men thinking?

Well, the same thing they’ve been thinking since the dawn of time, apparently. They are thinking about mating. And having some arm candy that won’t argue with them, won’t challenge their ideas about themselves, or challenge any of their ideas at all, or have any ideas – coherent ones, anyway, I guess.

But then, what was I thinking? Am I as delusional as these fragile-egoed guys? Covering up my mirrors, believing that my inner beauty, when I can access it, on those rare occasions when I can keep myself from being a patronizing, superior smartass (see previous paragraph in re: challenging ideas, or ideas at all, etc.,) will create a glow that can erase twenty years from my face and attract a  much younger man? (hey, c’mon, even I’m not ridiculous enough to believe that I could erase those years from the rest of me – just, you know, HEY! MY FACE IS UP HERE! kind of thing. It’s just that my face looks a helluva lot more like that cartoon up at the top there than I seem to think it does.)

Remember that magnificent Maggie Smith film performance as Miss Jean Brodie? Where she was always strutting around, announcing, “ay-ee em in my-ee prrr-eye-eem” and “give me a gurr-ul at an im-preeshnable a-yeege, and she is my-een foreverrrrr” – which doesn’t work out so well – turns tragic, actually, because in addition to harboring an unfortunate admiration for fascists and a penchant for inappropriate love affairs, she has a disastrous tendency to encourage same in her young students.

Miss Jean Brodie was truly delusional. Please don’t let me go full Jean Brodie  (of course you don’t have to worry about the fascist thing, just the inappropriate love affairs. Or more accurately, the pursuit of them.  The delusional, ridiculous pursuit, or hope, or belief in, the possibility of love with a younger man. In my defense, however, Mike was two years younger than I am. So there’s that anyway. But two years. Not twenty.)

But I digress. I was talking about inner beauty, radiating from the face.

From the face you get the smile, the intelligence, the spirited repartee.

Oh, I forgot. Spirited repartee need not apply.

It gets worse. The study suggests that for online dating, the level of interest in women declines precipitously based on age, and that the men on these sites, while dipping way down to the teenage shallow end (snark) rarely look more than a year or so above their own age on the deeper end.

OK, hell with that. I elect to believe that Real Men Don’t Use Online Dating Sites, and I intend to take my business (and my inner beauty) elsewhere.

Perhaps to organizations with “silver” or “senior” in their names.

Places that have shuffleboard and shuttle buses, God help me.

I’ll be the hottest babe there!

Hell with that. Break out the Oil of Olay and get me to the gym.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, I remain, your devoted, not-really-humble-enough, and certainly not-very-obedient, servant,

Ridiculouswoman

Rules of Attraction, or, Love in a Time of Confusion

Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed, anymore?

I’m not ogling, I’m…I’m…appreciating!

But when does a smile become a leer?

Is there, now, any appropriate way for one adult human to indicate attraction toward another adult human? Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed anymore?

Must we revert to formal introductions, chaperoned courtship, and a kind of Regency-romance style of communication? (with apologies to Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, whose cynical proposal of marriage to Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, is echoed in the image above – credit where credit is due). “My dear sir, it cannot have escaped your attention that I find you to be the embodiment of male pulchritude (translation – “damn, baby, look at that butt! And those sculpted arms!”) and that I would greatly enjoy appreciating you more closely, you gorgeous hunka…”

Oh, wait – I digress. That’s not exactly Regency style, and is clearly off-limits. If you say it out loud.

What if you say it with your smile and your eyes? Bad? Wrong? Certainly ridiculous, in my case.

But if online dating is just too creepy and scary, and when merely striking up a conversation with a person to whom one is attracted feels perilous, how is anyone going to find love?

Or more to the point, how are adults to find each other to share (after an appropriate period of “getting to know one another,” probably vetting by trusted friends, and maybe a background check and some medical testing), erm…. how shall we say this? to share, erm, … mutually consensual physical affection?

There’s a chapter in my book called, “God Help Me, I’m Turning Into Betty White!”

No offense, Betty, I love you – everyone loves you – I’m just referring to that shtick you do, where you look sideways at a much younger man – with obvious, intense and substantial appreciation.

The chapter in the book recounts a fleeting incident of that kind of thing, where the younger man almost certainly didn’t notice me noticing him, and I noticed how ridiculous I was being anyway.

But Betty has been doing that bit, or playing characters who behave that way, probably since she was younger than I am now. And it is (was?) funny because women of a certain age are not supposed to feel, and certainly not supposed to display, desire. Because that would be ridiculous, right? Hilarious?

Well, it may be ridiculous, and maybe hilarious, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

Is the Betty bit ok, anymore? Or is that not OK? Seriously, I’m asking. I used to think this sort of thing was utterly harmless. And for God’s sake, Betty White is pretty damn harmless. And funny.

But if women object to being objectified, men get to object, too. It’s a goose/gander thing, right? Equal is equal.

Does that put any form of appreciation for another adult’s physical beauty off limits?

Case in point: I was in the local drugstore (pharmacy, or “chemist’s,” for you users of British English) the other day, looking for this little loofah thing I could have sworn I bought in that store, but I couldn’t find it.

So I went looking for a store clerk to help me find it – and as I turned toward the sound of someone asking an unseen clerk for help, I saw a stunningly handsome man striding around the corner of the aisle, toward the unseen clerk who was trying to help him find what he wanted. They later resolved the problem by ordering the item for him at the desk.

Where I waited, at what I hope was a decent, respectful distance, for my turn to speak to a clerk to help me find what I needed, which, it turned out, they also didn’t have.

But I waited long enough to ….um,….appreciate this guy. Trying to be discreet, but still. I appreciated him long enough to notice that he was the embodiment of my current (unattainable, I suppose, much to my regret – but see, “lack of youth and beauty finds recompense in experience and enthusiasm,” above) ideal – jeans, work boots – obviously made his living working hard, and from the look of him, working mostly outside. Black hair. Good natured with the clerk. A nice, nice looking guy, who appeared to be the kind of guy who knows how to do stuff.

And look absolutely amazing while doing so.

I mean, this guy could stop traffic.

(And actually did, later, when we both tried to pull out of the parking lot at the same time. You know how that goes – you go and stop, because you see another person pulling out, and then they stop because they see you, and you both wait a sec, and then you both start going, until someone makes a decision about who gets to go first. In this case, he backed his pickup truck – my new favorite vehicle, when driven by the likes of him – out a little, saw me coming, and stopped, but I stopped too, and then we both started and stopped again, and then I waved him on, laughing).

He was laughing too, flashing a blindingly beautiful smile. A smile that suggested that he knew I had appreciated him, and (sadly, to me) thought it was funny.

He turned right, I turned left, and that was that.

And the day just continued like that – it was a lovely, sunny day, I was in a good mood, wearing a bright rose-orange t-shirt, jeans and shades, and my hair was blowing around, fetchingly, I thought, in its naturally curly state, and good-looking men were walking, biking and working outside, all over the place.

And I smiled at them.

That’s OK, isn’t it?

Or isn’t it?

The more I think about it the closer I come to another panic attack.

The men I smiled at that day weren’t seeking attention from me. They were just out and about, doing what they do.

Was I wrong to smile at them, appreciatively?

Seriously, I’m asking. Was that wrong?

Because I’m not very good at hiding my, erm, appreciation for good looking, talented, kind, effective men who look like guys who know how to do stuff – fix things, build things, open things that won’t open, close things that won’t close, etc.

Handy man. In the practical and the James Taylor sense (“I fix broken hearts, baby I’m your handyman…”)

What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do?

Get me to a nunnery?

Still hoping to find affection, somewhere, and awaiting your sage advice, I remain, your humble, devoted, confused, anxious,

Ridiculouswoman

Trading Fear for Flow, or, Middle-Aged Woman Rules, Part Two

Go for the flow….

“It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive….”

Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Max Martin

Bon Jovi? Seriously? I’m quoting Bon Jovi?

Well, the thing is, for the purpose of this post, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Allow me to explain:

For most of my adult life, I’ve been on the brink of a panic attack.

I remember the exact moment my mind cracked, my OCD kicked in, and nearly every minute of my life became fraught with usually low-grade, but sometimes extreme, stress and anxiety.

I was waiting at a stoplight to cross Michigan Avenue and head back toward the law school. I was holding a fast food diet soda in a flimsy paper cup, with one of those plastic tops with the straw through it.

I remember tossing the remains of that diet soda into a municipal garbage basket (basket, not can or bin – this is significant) right before the light changed and I crossed the street.

In those days, the garbage receptacles on the streets in Chicago were like big steel baskets – a kind of steel crosshatch mesh, which would contain paper and boxes and bottles, but not the liquids within them. Needless to say, that’s not the design anymore.

But that day, decades ago, I tossed that drink, and it burst open in the basket – the plastic top popped off  and a lot of the liquid and ice burst through the not very fine wire mesh and splashed onto the sidewalk.

And because law school had already warped my mind, sapped all my youthful bold courage (the courage that allowed me to drive cross country, alone, from Illinois to California and back twice a year, starting at 18) and turned me into a quivering, spineless blob of little-miss-worst-case-scenario, the first thing I thought of was, “what if someone slips on that ice cube, and injures themselves on this sidewalk?”

And I ran across the street, pursued by the terrors of the inevitable lawsuit that would result. Never did result, but still. The fear and anxiety were real.

I became a classic OCD “checker.” Is the iron off? Is the door locked? Did I turn off the oven? Did I remember the tickets?

Now, securing the domicile and remembering the tickets and making all the arrangements was always my job in our marriage anyway, but I took it to ridiculous extremes.

To the point where Mike and I came up with a ritual for it – when I was doing something I knew I’d feel compelled to check on, I’d say aloud, “THE IRON IS OFF- THE IRON IS UNPLUGGED!”  Ditto the stove, the lights, etc. “THE DOOR IS LOCKED!” You get the idea.

It worked – I allow myself one “check” on things and that’s it. After one check, I require my circular mind to find closure and let the chips fall where they may.

But this didn’t work at work. Every “real” job I’ve ever had has been accessorized with  consuming anxiety – usually just the usual constant, low grade anxiety I’ve felt ever since that soft drink blew open. But often enough, a withering, crippling stress about whether the right thing was in the envelope I was about to send out, or if I copied the wrong person on the confidential email, or if the file cabinets were locked. Geez, I’m getting heart palpitations right now, just writing about that.

The only times I didn’t, and still don’t, feel that constant current of near-panic are when I’m singing, when I’m on stage speaking for an audience (which gives most people the heebie-jeebies – but man, that’s home to me) and when I’m writing.

So, DUH, do that!

Doing it, though,  involves a leap of faith that abandoning something (like a job) that is killing you but providing conventionally defined “security” (financial, usually) won’t result in ruin and disaster.

But, you’ll never know unless you try, right?

Life is short. Only God knows the number of our days.

So I’m going for “flow,” that feeling of absolute contentment, total engagement and pleasure in what you are doing. Do that, the self-help gurus say, and all will be well.

In my previous post, “Fatherless Days,” I referred to a plan, to help me and our daughter get all the way to the other side of the fear, grief and anger, to the acceptance of Mike’s death and the start of our new lives.

So I’ll go for the flow.

That’s the plan.

Helluva plan, right?

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too. This is probably the latest in a series of potentially disastrous financial decisions.

But hey, it’s my life, it’s now or never, right? I just wanna live before I die.

So I’m hangin’ up my warehouse boots, trading them in for high heels (well, kitten heels usually, about the most I can handle anymore, but don’t count those glittery gold numbers pictured up there out just yet) probably for good. Driving a forklift was, um, interesting, but too damn dangerous, which made me anxious, and I’m not going there again.

I’m expanding the middle-aged woman rules to include:

  • Sing (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Write (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Speak (and get paid for it, if you can)
  • Hire someone to clean your house (if you can afford it – see “sing,” “speak” and “write,” above)
  • Do that “intermittent fasting” thing, because it works
  • Wear whatever makes you feel pretty, vibrant and alive even if it’s kind of, or really, costume-y and probably too “young” (see, “dress like you’re expecting someone,” in the original “middle aged woman rules,” and gold glitter heels, pictured above.) Making a spectacle of yourself this way might even get you some gigs as a professional party guest – why not?
  • Find someone to love

Dammit I’m going to do it. Ridiculousness will ensue, no doubt. Finding the new man will be tough – the online dating thing didn’t work our so well, first round.

And I’ll have to clean the house for the cleaners before I can ask them to maintain it. Divestiture of mass amounts of accumulated crap will be necessary. That’s going to take a while, but I’ll keep you posted. Deja vu – I think I said that last year, when I started this blog. So I call do-over.

Once I finish shoveling out closets, washing floors, vacuuming, dusting and divesting (and blogging in between) I’ll be looking for love, for singing and speaking gigs and someday maybe even for publication of my book.

Until then,  I remain, your most devoted, humble, grateful

Ridiculouswoman

 

Fatherless Days

Exhaustion, like grief and panic, comes in waves.

Days like today, sunny, not too hot, I’ll pop out of bed, get breakfasts and lunches ready, do necessary chauffeuring, and then head into the yard to get dirty.

Generally I’m of the opinion that there is no bout of sadness a good round of yard work and gardening can’t cure, or lessen, at least, and today is the day of the week the yard waste bin must be filled, to make it worth having at all. So dig, prune, divide, transplant, mulch, weed and…..collapse.

Father’s Day hit us both hard – it’s nearly six weeks ago now, but somehow this second one without him seems to have magnified the impact of his absence.

Our daughter (I’m dropping the pretense of referring to her in a genderless way, because I think it must be blindingly obvious to any reader that the only reason I’d try to protect “our child” by doing that is because “our child” is female, therefore blowing that cover anyway) began to act out in rare ways around Father’s Day, and developed a severe case of “Mommyitis,” as my sister-in-law used to call it. Calling me far too often when I was at work (and you can’t really safely talk on the phone while driving a forklift – in fact there’s really nothing safe about driving a forklift at all); needing me to sit by her for hours at night, when she used to be able to amuse herself just fine with music, TV and drawing.

It is not for the neurotypical among us to know or understand how an autistic mind conceives, or tries to conceive, of something as abstract as death, nor how long the autistic mind will need to process the permanence of the absence of the missing person. Where’s heaven? Why can’t Dad come back? I know his love never ends, but how do I feel it with me? You’re here, right? You and I, we are here on this earth, right? You’re fine? We’re living our lives, days without Dad. Sigh. BIG sigh.

Dad used to (insert “cook this,” “take me there,” “play this CD,” etc.)

Which I hear as, “do I really have to be here with just you, Mom? Just us two? Because you’re not him. And you’re not enough.”

Yes, hon. I’m what you’ve got. Yes, you’ve got uncles and aunts and cousins, but they are occasional visitors (or visitees). I’m the one who is with you most of the time.  I know I’m not enough. And I miss him too. But I think he would want us to find a way to be happy, here on this earth, without him.

I’m honest with her, though, because she’s an adult and I think I owe her that, the stark truth: there is nothing that will ever fill his absence, for either of us. You only get one Daddy. And even if I find another man, I will always be Mike’s widow. We will have to carry the presence of his absence around with us for the rest of our days. I try to help her imagine putting the weight of it in a beautiful decorated box, keeping it somewhere special in her heart, visiting the sadness when she needs to, and then putting it back in the box, and turning to a happy box of memories that make her smile.

We still try to find some joy in the Steve Perry songs she seems uncannily able to tune in to every time she plays the radio in the car; I tell her that I think of monarch butterflies as little “hellos” from him from the next world, because the first poem I remember him reciting to me was a Robert Duncan poem that begins, “Sail, Monarchs….”

I planted that garden up there, with the two chairs from our first tiny townhouse patio, now on the new bluestone patio he never got to see, as a sort of memory garden, with flowers and shrubs that are supposed to attract butterflies. And look who showed up:

IMG_20180725_101019189.jpg

He liked hummingbirds, too, which is why I buy the fuschia every year, and though I couldn’t catch a photo of it, the hummingbirds he loved visit it occasionally:

IMG_20180627_104731735.jpg

But it still seems so lonely for us both to be in this house, on the deck, or looking at that fuschia, without him.

I quit my job. Because even though I’m not enough and never will be, the Mommyitis says to me that I still haven’t given our daughter enough of my time and attention. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet, all the way down through the fear and the grief and the anger and the bargaining to the acceptance – and she needs me with her to help her get down there, and to climb back up.

I need to get there, too.

I have a plan for that. But that’s enough for today. I’ll tell you about my next move in my next post.

My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.