Divestiture, Episode Three: Boots, Barn Coat, Bike

Empty, yet still full…

These three have been the hardest.

The coat is just called a barn coat. We don’t have a barn, and even if you could have called the big red shed a barn, that’s gone now, accused of harboring racoons. But he liked the coat – great for fall yard work, lined with wool and warm.

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His coat is the beige one on the right, bigger, but made for a man’s flat, rectangular shape. I drown in it, but I can’t button it around me.

It stood up to buckthorn and other hazardous greenery. He’d trim the bushes in the in the summer, and wear that coat to trim them in the fall. I don’t have the gift, or the height, to trim them as well as he did, but now I have to try.

Doesn’t matter that I can’t use it. I love that coat and have held on to it for two years because, along with the boots up there, it forms an image of him in my mind that I don’t want to forget: bundled up, heading out to Home Depot to get something or other, weakened from the illness but determined to show me that he could participate in the manly art of bashing and rebuilding things going on all around him during the lunacy of kitchen- remodeling-while-husband-dying-of-cancer.

I bought him the boots the first winter of his diagnosis, when the infusion made him exceptionally sensitive to cold. At the time, his feet and ankles were so swollen with edema that I was afraid he was already actively dying, when the doc said he should have another 18 months. He hadn’t had the experience with dying people that I had, helping with Dad, then Mom, so he wasn’t afraid of the edema, just inconvenienced and perplexed by it. He couldn’t, or didn’t want to, try the boots on and asked that I take them back. He wore the size-too-big slippers I got him instead, that winter.

But by the next fall the edema was under control. He wanted to go outside, but he only had a shredded pair of walking shoes he refused to let me replace.

Which is when I told him that I had lied to him, I didn’t take the boots back. I hid them in the front hall closet.

“I knew you’d make it, and you’d need them.”

I fetched them, and they fit. He wore them occasionally that last winter, when he had just enough strength to drive himself to his infusions. He wore them the day of the trip to Home Depot, along with a sad, resigned, slightly apprehensive expression that is burned in my memory forever.

The tandem is is the hardest. Mike and our daughter became local celebrities on that bike, riding three miles to and from school every sunny day. He loved that bike.

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Mike and I had a huge fight about him giving a photo of himself and our daughter to a woman he met online. I had good reason to be furious, then. Now, I explained to our daughter that this picture shows just the bike, her feet, and Dad’s feet, but anybody in the world could see it. She said that’s OK.

It’s huge. When he found it at a bike shop 15 miles from home, it wouldn’t fit in the car, but he was so taken with it that he rode it home, solo. We went back to get the car the next day.

From then on, the two of them rode the tandem everywhere, befriending crossing guards, and charming other parents who were picking up and dropping off in cars.

It’s too big for me. I can’t sling my leg over it, and even if I could, I wouldn’t trust my strength or balance to ride her on it, now that she’s fully an adult woman.

Fall is a great season for biking, and as we all know, “winter is coming.” I’ll try to find a church or shelter that will give the coat and boots directly to a person in need. Or I’ll drive around with them in the car as I did last year, trying to spot someone of the right size on the street, who looks like they need them.

A local charity specializes in fixing up bikes and giving them away to people who need them or want them but can’t afford them. People bike a lot around here, some of necessity to and from work, even in the winter. That bike could be a sort of “bike pool” for two people who work at the same place.

Or maybe provide another special activity for another father and child.

I think I’m ready. I’ll always have the pictures – the physical photograph of the tandem, now in the one of our daughter’s “memories of Dad” photo albums, and the other, a memory only, but etched always in my mind, of Mike setting bravely off to the big box hardware store, wincing a little, just to show me he could, wearing that coat.

And those boots.

May they clothe the person who receives them with the love that infuses them. Amen.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman.

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

Divestiture, Episode Two

We sit quietly in the dark…with no chickens to feed..finally, truly absorbing his absence.

Is there any such thing as “Empty Coop Syndrome?”

The chickens are gone. Deliberately. I gave them away to a nice couple, who have much more land than I do. The lady of the pair teaches others how to have backyard chickens, so she knows much more about them than I ever bothered to learn. She may even help me find someone willing to buy the coop and take it away.

I can’t eat three dozen eggs a week. Six chickens for two people, one of whom doesn’t really eat eggs, were way too much.

Plus, although frozen chicken poop is much easier to clean up than fresh, I wasn’t looking forward to another winter of dark, 15-below mornings, and worrying about if I had kept both the chickens and their water from freezing.

So, buh-bye, chickens.

And I miss them.

Wha?

How could that be? I found them amusing, but also pretty disgusting, and I was getting lazy with them. They are better off where they are. And the nice lady who took them let me know that they have already adjusted very well.

I guess it is just a habit I developed over the last year, looking out the window to check on them – replenishing water and food, tossing them the occasional treat, letting them out for a romp in the yard.

But I also know that I got them in the first place sort of as a way to hang on to Mike – we had talked about it, but he got sick before we got around to it. And even if we had done it when he was well, I know I would have been the one dealing with the water, the food, the bedding and the poop.

Thinking about that got me thinking about how I’m spending my time: spinning my wheels. Getting and leaving the same kind of job I had when he was sick. Doing the same kinds of things. Occasionally trying to make the same kinds of food he made, for our daughter.

August 24 will be two years since Mike died, and it is time to stop doing backward-looking things in memory of him, for him, and start looking forward, figuring out how to live complete lives, for the of the rest of our lives, without him, for us. With joy, love and laughs – for where we all are, now. Mike in the next world, and as our daughter keeps anxiously repeating, the two of us, still here in this one.

Certainly not doing things that only remind me of things he would have left me to do on my own, anyway.

He might not even have eaten the eggs. He never was that into the fresh vegetables I grow in the back yard, either.

The chickens were a distraction, a form of “displacement activity,”  from the things I’m trying to focus on right now – love and laughs, and my adult child, who really needs my time.

Because as soon as I quit my job, she decided to quit her day program. The “Mommyitis” I wrote about in “Fatherless Days”  has intensified – she needs me to sit by her, stay by her, be by her, all day.

Her other caregiver, a wonderful woman who is a genius at getting her to get out, do stuff, play, shop and interact with the outside world, went on a well-deserved vacation. Should be back now, but we’ll give her some time to recover.

But that made my daughter very nervous. Was this another abandonment?

And then the horse she rode most often at her therapeutic riding center died.

How much of this is she supposed to endure? Life is full of loss, but c’mon, this is kind of piling on.

So, that sing, speak, write thing? We’re going to have to figure out how to do that very early in the morning, or in the evening when other helpers are available to keep her company.

In the meantime, we, together, she and I, must learn to sit with Mike’s absence in this house. Something she didn’t really get the time to do, two years ago. I thought maintaining her routine would comfort her. She had so much to go through – leaving her transition program, learning to use public transportation, starting her day program, getting a job. But she never really got the time to just feel the grief, the sadness, the starkness of his departure, and his absence, from this life. From ours.

She deserves that time, and I need to give that to her.

It’s working, I think. She has started to think about what an independent life might be, outside this house. She has started to think about ways we can update her spaces in this house, until she’s ready for that next huge step (although she seems to want to replicate a space from the abandoned day program – a quiet, computer-lounge kind of space – but that is a more adult kind of thing than a play space, and I want to support her in that.) She’s become open to rearranging furniture, or getting some new carpet,  and she wants a new desk, if we can afford it.

Because she can’t live independently outside this house until she learns how to live without her Dad in this one, I don’t think. Not without the happy memories, the Journey songs, the butterflies and the hummingbirds – but without the expectation that he will ever be here again, that anything we do can bring him back or that things could ever be the same, that we could recapture him here, somehow – conjure him up like some immortal interactive hologram to keep her company. Not going to happen.

So we sit quietly together, in the dark after sunset, with no chickens to feed (but with a sad-eyed, fat, arthritic, aging cat that Mike had a sort of love-hate relationship with), the two of us (well, the three of us, because the cat seems to miss him, too) finally, truly absorbing his absence.

And maybe just starting to get a glimmer that, even carrying that absence with us, life can go on. And that it will be OK.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then I remain, your humble, devoted, struggling but trying,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode One

I want to stick with what matters, now…

The pink dress I wore, the night I met him.

Recycle.

The red two-piece outfit I wore, on the third date, when we sat and talked under the statue of Lincoln in the park.

Ditto.

I kept the dress from the second date, because I love that dress, and I hang on to the vain hope that someday I not only be able to wear it again but that I’ll be able to get the massive coffee stain out of it, the stain that can’t be passed off as just part of the pattern of the dress, which is kind of like an abstract expressionist painting done in dark reds and light browns on a cream surface.

The dress he bought for me as a present – modest, navy blue and soft pink floral, feminine, kind of prim, the sort of dress I didn’t think I’d look like anything in. But I think he wanted me to realize that it was about me, not the dress.

Skirt suits. I’ll never wear suits again, I swear. Out.

A box full of old guidebooks and pamphlets from places in the UK and Europe I had visited in high school, or after law school. I kept them thinking I’d read them later. Not.

My law school notebooks, for God’s sake – why on earth did I save those?

I saved a few cute stories I wrote, illustrated with photographs of me as a very little girl, and handmade chapbooks of poems I had written when I was in elementary school. I was charmed by who I was as a child – boldly creative, funny and unafraid.

Even with this, I’ve barely made a dent, in the bedroom closet that doubles as the attic in this house.

Then there’s the wedding dress.

Why do I still have that? There is no possibility of anyone I’m related to ever needing it, wanting it or fitting in it – it was fitted to me, short and fat. I suppose I’ll have to see if I can sell it.

Wedding shoes. My daughter and I wear the same size shoes, but nah. I’ll give those away.

Boxes of books from college and papers I wrote while “up at Oxford,” on a program of study abroad. I’ve visited them once or twice and I’m always impressed with my younger self – the intellectual passion that comes through in these long-ago essays. But those are next.

The Mom box. It’s a box of stuff my eldest brother saved when he was shoveling out her house. Turns out Mom saved her school papers, too, and in just the snippet of them I’ve read, I discovered an ardent early feminist who wrote about the roles women should be allowed to take up and the unfair limitations imposed upon them. That was in the ’40s. I’ll give my brothers and niece a chance to take the box, but I don’t think they will.

Shoveling out Mom’s house took six months of arduous work, research, sorting, categorizing, selecting, selling, distributing, etc. I hope I thanked my brother for that.

But I’m going to be the one doing that for this house, while I still can.

Because other than photographs, which she needs and loves to look at, there really is nothing here that will be of any service or meaning to my daughter after I’m gone. And I feel oppressed by all this crap. I want to feel the “joy of tidying up” Marie Kondo wrote about. I want to get out from under it all, clean up, get minimal. Breathe.

I want to stick with what matters, now, and tone down the sentimental hoarding of old stuff that will be of no future use or meaning to my daughter or anyone else.

I had a little medical scare two weeks ago – went to the doctor and got the all clear from the ultrasound tech.

And then they called me back.

Radiologist thinks he saw a little sumpin’ sumpin.

In my previous post, “Trading Fear for Flow,” I wrote about how law school somehow seemed to have switched on a kind of generalized anxiety disorder, that expressed itself primarily in OCD type behavior – checking, checking and re-checking. I described how a perfectly mundane, everyday experience blew up into a near-full on panic attack, about an inevitable lawsuit that never was filed.

You get to a certain age and the medicos seem to have an urgent need to explore, poke, prod, test, image, scan, scrape and centrifuge bits of your bits, and yes, check and check again. (See, “fear of inevitable lawsuit,” above).

So I can’t blame them, really, for wanting me back. I’m pretty sure it a mere shadow of things long past and gone, and that it is nothing.

But it could be something.

All the more reason to go for the “flow.”

And to divest this house of all the crap, so others (far in the future, I hope, but still) won’t have to.

The appointment is just under two weeks from now, and I’ll be writing about other stuff before then. But I’ll keep you posted.

Now, about all those boxes of old newspaper clippings (remember print? Ha!) and programs from concerts and shows, and scraps of fabric I’ll never make into anything….I’ll get my shovel and have at it.

Until then, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted,

Ridiculouswoman