A Visible Woman

Patrick … saw me – he treated me like I was actually there…not …invisible

For Patrick, from Erie, Pennsylvania

A young man struck up a conversation with me as I was waiting outside by myself for a table at a very tiny, very crowded Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville.

He looked a lot like a young Jason Bateman (not that I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman – it just bugged me so much that I couldn’t think of what actor this guy reminded me of that later that night, I thought of a movie trailer I had seen that guy in, and Googled it by the little I remembered of the plot, even though it wasn’t the type of movie I’d ever go see,  and I lucked out by finding it on the first try).

We’re going to let it slide that the younger-Jason-Bateman-look-alike’s initial purpose in talking to me was to encourage me to accept a table outside on a hot, muggy night, so he could show his visiting Dad and Uncle the very quirky décor inside the crowded little place. He was afraid they wouldn’t get in, and because his visitors were from out of town and might not have another chance, he wanted them to see the inside. Fair enough.

I didn’t care, because I was just hungry, for Thai food specifically. I’d sit anyplace if I could get fed. The hostess was true to her word in seating me in about five minutes. During that five minutes, another nice couple put in for a table and waited, this young man showed up with his guests, and two huge parties of 8 or so all left simultaneously – so the other couple, the young man and his guests, and I, all got to sit inside, under the impressive collection of toy robots, street signs, Cubs paraphernalia, etc. And I ended up sitting at a two-top right next to younger-Jason-Bateman guy, diagonally from his Uncle, who sat opposite his Dad.

After checking with me to see if I was a person who liked to talk (HA! Ok, stop laughing now, followers who know me) he skillfully apportioned his conversation between me and his Dad and Uncle, and managed to engage all of us in comfortable conversation for the duration of our meals.

I introduced myself and he told me his name was Patrick, that he was from Erie, Pennsylvania and had been in Chicago for about two years. The rest of it was pretty light stuff – how he ended up here, his educational background and job, and then mostly baseball and other sports, recreational opportunities on the lakefront, the relative severity of winters in Erie (regular snowfalls of 6 feet or more) and Chicago (regular bouts of subzero temperatures) etc.

When I had finished my meal and settled up, I told Patrick as I was leaving that it had been nice to meet him and wished his Dad and Uncle a pleasant visit.

And as I did this, Patrick stood up (well, sort of half stood up, but hey, it was a tiny, crowded restaurant) and shook my hand good-bye.

Let that land for a minute.

When was the last time you met a young person (I’d say he was maybe 26?) who had been raised to observe often forgotten courtesies, like rising when a lady (or anyone older than you) was arriving or departing? I was touched, and charmed, especially because it seemed like an unconscious habit – this is something Patrick does for ladies and his elders, I suspect, without really thinking about it.

But what really made my day was that Patrick saw me – he treated me like I was actually there, not as if I was an invisible woman. He just marched right up to me and started talking (about me maybe sitting outside, but we’re letting that slide, remember? He was gracious enough to keep talking to me once everyone was seated.)

I’ve seen posts by women my age, or even quite a bit younger, who wrote that they felt a kind of freedom in their invisibility, knowing that because of their, erm, maturity, nobody would really pay much attention to them in public (unless they made a spectacle of themselves, and as we know, I’m the one who specializes in that – see the latest episode related over there in the “Snark Tank”) and they could go about their business without worrying about what anyone thought and without being accosted for attention from others. They were fine with whatever attention they got at home. From their still-living husbands.

Invisibility doesn’t work for me – while I have always enjoyed my own company and have been happy in solitude when I have chosen it, I still crave social contact with adults who are not emotionally dependent on me to help them cope with shared grief.  So a casual conversation with a good-mannered person (ok, man, but as the supply of them is inverse to the age of the woman, I’m trying to enjoy the company of women, more, too) who may only have been talking to me because he had good manners, can make my day.

So thanks for treating me as visible, Patrick. It made the difference between a day that might have included weeping and a day that didn’t.

(And thanks also for seeming genuinely surprised that I was old enough to have had my heart broken by the Cubs in both ’69 and ’84 – things your Uncle remembered in detail, but that certainly occurred before you were born).

Looking forward to my next encounter with a nice man (ok, person) with good manners and the grace to seem surprised by my age, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, lonely but hopeful,

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

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

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

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.