The Bulgarian

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

(Update:  I have edited this post substantially since I first published it – it was way too long, and included too many huge photos – blog and learn. Hope you like this streamlined version.)

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

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

Ridiculous woman.

The remodeling was for Mike.

The lust was for The Bulgarian.

Allow me to explain.

A few months after Mike was diagnosed, when the chemo seemed to be working and he felt better, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t let Mike die never having had a decent kitchen in this house. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking for, and cleaning up after cooking for, our autistic daughter.

He washed dishes in a harvest-gold double sink, under peeling paint, atop striped, multi-colored, 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpeting blackened with decades of grime. He toiled before a cheap department store stove that barely concealed the mouse highway running behind it.

I found a contractor and signed.

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

And with whom I fell school-girlishly, madly, ridiculously and very obviously in love.

Right in front of my dying husband.

I’ve read about other widows who were overcome by lust for a younger man – but they had the decency to wait until after their husbands had died. Me? Nope. When I wasn’t picking up prescriptions or reminding Mike about appointments or trying to help him find a comfortable position in which to rest, or something he could eat without feeling sick, or taking the laundry to the laundromat because the basement had also been demoed, I turned into Sally Brown following my Bulgarian Linus around, with little animated hearts pulsing and floating around my head. Mike saw it. So did all the workers who came and went, and they snickered and sneered.

Mike understood why it happened, and forgave me for it. We talked about it. Eventually we laughed about it. And we forgot about it, during those last few months, when the job was done and Mike made it through, to enjoy and cook in a decent kitchen for a few months, at last.

What could possibly have possessed me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While he was a difficult husband, he was a fantastic father. We stuck together for that, and we made it through. And for that (in addition to the new, beautiful kitchen), I will always be grateful to the Bulgarian. Having him around gave Mike a chance to remember what I looked like when I was in love, and, I think, to want to be the one on the receiving end of that look again. Once the Bulgarian was done with the job and out of our lives, and the house was finally quiet again, something about it all seemed worth it. Mike and I found our deepest love again.

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

We’ll see.

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

Ridiculouswoman

(the “humble, obedient etc.” stuff comes from my obsession with the Aubrey-Maturin books. Other devotees will understand.)

Thankful Thursday: Good day, Sunshine

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time….”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

Today I’m just grateful the sun came out.

Because if it hadn’t I might have spent another day in bed.

God, I hate January. It drags on and on, first frigid, then gray and damp, mushy, slushy and then frigid again, grey, fog, rain, snow, slush, mush, on and on and on, seemingly until the last syllable of recorded time. I feel days lost and lost, time passing with no purpose, no joy (except the joy of our child, the best human on the planet, and the person for whom I must go on, keep the chin up, keep calm and carry on etc.)

Depression runs in the family on my Dad’s side, but I never thought I’d be the one. And I’m fighting it.

But I did quit a really good job because of it. I found myself crying spontaneously at unpredictable moments in a job that requires a lot of public contact. So nope, no more of that.

I suppose I could give myself a break and stop beating myself up for doing that – I really loved the job but I really did need the time. The reason I keep bursting into tears is that I missed my best work buddy, who died about 7 months after my husband Mike died. Mike was two years younger than I. (Yes, “I,” not “me.” You wouldn’ t say “he was younger than me was.”) My work buddy was eighteen years younger than I at the time he died. That sucked.

And I realized I was also letting other stupid things at work get to me in a really outsized way, and I knew I needed to do what Mike told me to do before he died. “Take some time, Anne,” he said.

He was right, as usual, and I didn’t listen to him, as usual. Until I quit.

Which was at the end of July.

I set goals, many of which I achieved. Start this blog, clean the house, write the book. Not quite done with the book yet, but getting close. The book explains ridiculousness, phase one and is the reason I named the blog ridiculouswoman.

But I was also supposed to try and have a new job by January.

Not even close. Haven’t even really tried at all. Not feeling it. But I have to, I have to, one foot in front of the other.

Why do employers make it so damn hard? Every online application is different.

Hey, if colleges can come up with a common application that a kid only has to fill out once with all the usually required stuff, why can’t employers?

There, app developers. I just made you a billion dollars. Come up with the common job app and sell it to employers to make applying less like driving knitting needles into your eyes. Let me know when you’ve got it ready. And hey, gimme a cut of the IPO. I gave you the idea so t’s only fair.

But Tuesday it just all sort of caved in on me. Cabin fever, loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like each day is just the same as the last.

I had every intention of writing my “non-toxic Tuesday” blog post that day. I dropped our child off at the train and received the text that confirmed safe arrival at the destination. I ate a quick mess of eggs, drank my coffee and went to yoga class.

And I came home and sat down in Dad’s chair. (Dad’s drinking chair. Now mine. But never in the day, except the day I found out my work buddy had died. He was such a good guy, who had faced so many struggles, and he would not have approved.)

No, no day drinking. But consumption of mass quantities of chocolate. Not good.

And I got up an hour later only to go upstairs and go to back to bed.

And I got up only to go back and pick up our child at the train station, and to cook the tacos for taco Tuesday. (Chicken this time, really good. I think I’ll use chicken from now on with Rick Bayless’ pre-packaged sauce for chicken tacos. So there’s that, anyway. Some left over for lunch today, too.)

What brought this on? Just the endless drag of January? The grey, the slush, the fact that the chickens hate it too?

I don’t think that was it.

I think it is Ridiculousness, phase two. (I’ll tell you about phase one tomorrow, if I can get my courage up.)

I put myself on Match.com and OurTime. Which has turned out to be pretty ridiculous.

I don’t think I was ready. But not being ready to do something hasn’t stopped me lately from doing it anyway. (See chickens, above.)

And it has been SO, so depressing.

Misspellings and semi-literacy galore. Guys of a certain age who put shirtless pictures of themselves on their profiles. Guys who didn’t read my profile and seem oblivious to the geographic range I’ve specified.

No less than 6 scammers who wrote to me claiming to be representing a friend who either can’t figure out how to use Match.com for themselves or who is too shy or some such bullshit, giving me an email address to contact said friend, which would only then give the scammers my actual email address, which Match.com does not do. How stupid do I seem? Apparently identifying myself as a widow tags me as that stupid and makes me a scam-magnet.

Smokers, bikers and guys with haircuts from the ’70s.

I tried “Plenty of Fish,” but they required me to disclose income, which I found really offensive, and then they wouldn’t let me delete my profile for 24 hours.

And wouldn’t you know it, right before I deleted it I saw a wonderful profile of a wonderful guy, a guy who quoted Lewis Carroll, but it was too late. Please, Lewis Carroll guy, join Match.com so I can find you again.

But then this morning the sun came out, and I took my vitamins yesterday, including my vitamin D, and I’ll be able to go for a walk today and get some naturally-generated vitamin D.

And I decided that if a guy I like doesn’t quite have the balls to contact me, I’ll go ahead and contact him, and I did. Two guys. Both educated, liberal and funny. And I’m not going to let it get me down if they don’t reply. I’ll just try, try again until someone who likes the same kind of music as I do, who doesn’t mind my frequent use of multi-syllabic words, and who defines himself as liberal but likes to treat a lady like a lady, is willing to talk.

I’ve revised and shortened my profile on Match.com about eight times already. I put the “I’d like to ski again and I’d love to learn to sail” back in, because a guy who seemed kind of OK wants a woman who skis, and his pictures indicate he likes to sail. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Because I remain, your humble, obedient etc.,

Ridiculous woman.

Fiction Friday – Obsession and Possession: Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Some books … become part of me…

The best times of my life have been spent in imaginary places. Or real places that have been populated with imaginary people. I’ve learned more from great novels than from any history book or non-fiction treatise I’ve ever struggled through.

Humans thrive on narrative and storytelling – we make sense of the world by telling stories about it. The stories may be true, or myth or some combination of the two, but a narrative will always stick with me where a dry list of facts may not. Tell me a story, though, in words, or words and music, and I’ll remember.

Some of my best friends are fictional characters. They’re always there for me when I need them, getting into and out of the same scrapes and adventures, saying witty or silly or profound things, expressing their hearts in a way that touches mine. I’ve been a nerd a long time, and often a lonely one, and I’ve always found a friend in a book.

Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I used to be unable to get rid of books at all. I’ve gotten more ruthless about it, especially with new books (or books new to me.) If they don’t grab me right away, I ring the bell and shout, “Next!” (See the latest entry over there in the Snark Tank.)

But if the book grabs me, holds my attention, makes me stay up all night to finish it, well, it’s MINE, MINE I tell you! And will be for life. Nothing can induce me to get rid of books that have befriended me, helped me through hard times, and give me something new every time I reread them.

I love historical fiction and speculative fiction, and there are a few books in these categories that have changed my life, or, more accurately, become absorbed into my life – become a part of me.

There is only one series, however, that has very nearly spoiled me for all others. Reading anything else is really just a break from rereading these – the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series: the extended tale of a British Royal Navy captain and his particular friend during the Napoleonic wars.

These are not easy books. The first especially requires a leap of faith – just suspend disbelief and trust that you’ll get it eventually.

I first came upon these books for kind of a silly reason – I have a strict “read the book before you see the movie” rule. Back in 2002 or so, I heard that Russell Crowe (and back then I was still in the throes of a pretty serious Russell Crowe problem) was to star in a film called “Master and Commander.”

So I marched off to the library and that book. And something told me I’d better take the next two in the series as well.

I sat down to read it, and I didn’t budge for about 14 hours other than to address basic needs. I remember thinking it was complex, the language hard to follow, but something about it just captured me. The book had a helpful diagram of a ship in the front, and a helpful scene where one of the seamen explained to one of the characters what many of the ship’s parts and the sailor’s expressions meant.

And as I got into I came to care very much about the characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and struggled to savor the writing while fighting the impulse to read ahead quickly to discover what would happen next.

Here was a world recreated in great detail; here was honor, duty, adventure and a great deal of humor. Parts of these books made me laugh out loud, sometimes laugh so hard I cried.

I confess I haven’t read all of Jane Austen, but I know Patrick O’Brian was a fan of hers, and his books are like, you should pardon the expression, Jane Austen with balls.

I don’t know why I like books that contain famous battles or details of military history. I’m pretty much a pacifist – but I just love stories of brave people doing brave things in pursuit of what they perceived to be honorable goals.

I finished those first three books in less than two days and raced back to the library to grab the next four or five, because I couldn’t imaging the agony of having to wait for the next one.

The devotees of these novels who started with them when they first began to appear often had to wait two years between books. I think that might have broken me – I just had to know what would happen next. And while I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I never really understood the impulse to wait outside a bookstore at midnight for the next installment – but I would have camped out for a week for the next one of these Aubery-Maturin books.

I’m a member of a Facebook group devoted to these books, where no one thinks it is weird that you use eighteenth-century language (“Give me joy!” or “I have the honor to report…” or “grass-combing bugger!” or “would one of you learned coves explain, in terms amenable to the meanest understanding?”) I’ve read the complete Aubrey/Maturin novels, all twenty of them, five times. (They are now mostly available as a complete set in a 5 volume hardcover, but you might be able to find the 20 individual paperbacks used online somewhere, and there’s a 21st, but it is unfinished and sad). I just can’t get enough of Jack and Stephen’s world, and I find something new in these books each time I reread them.

So, Jack, Stephen, you have spoiled me for all others; you have stolen my heart and earned my loyalty for as long as my eyes can read.

When I finished the series from the library, I was able to locate an online bookstore devoted to all things Aubrey-Maturin, and at what was then far too great an expense, as I was grossly underemployed at the time, enduring a sad and difficult time in my life, I purchased the entire set. They now occupy the shelf formerly occupied by my Mike’s chess books. When Mike was unable to read them or concentrate on them anymore, he piled them all into the car and drove them off to give them to a young man who was supposedly trying to start some kind of chess club or school, but who was unhelpful and singularly unappreciative of the effort this dying man took to deliver those books to him.

I kept a few of Mike’s poetry books, the ones that contained poems he shared with me and that we could discuss together, but a great many of the rest went to the hospice chaplain, who shared Mike’s love of poetry and whose friendship, right at the end of Mike’s life, was a great gift to us both.

That made room for me to bring my books downstairs, into our little library room. The speculative fiction I enjoy now has its own separate bookcase filled mostly with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (Neuromancer my brain to entirely new places, as did Snow Crash. Sharing the shelves with Patrick O’Brian are Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series (absolutely hilarious – someone Fraser has managed to place his hero at every major British and American military engagement of the nineteenth century). Those are good and a nice diversion from the next go-round of O’Brian. McCullough eventually starts writing more like a Roman historian than a novelist, so for me that series kind of wore out, but the first two, The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown are especially good.

These worlds the authors have created or recreated refresh me, comfort me, keep me company and help me through hard times. When I have to come back to the world I actually live in, I feel refreshed, strengthened, but also supported, knowing that there are a few, a self-selected few thousand people on the planet, who love these books as much as I do, and the human connection that results from just knowing they are out there gives me hope and gets me through my days.

You’ll either get completely hooked on Patrick O’Brian, or you won’t get through the books at all. There really is no in-between that I’ve ever heard of with these.

So if you set sail, I give you joy and wish you fair winds and following seas. Let me know if you decide to embark, and if you sign on as crew for life with Captain Jack.

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 2

This week’s easy: I’m grateful for old friends, and a hometown that guarantees that I will run into them every decade or so, if not more often, and we can pick right up where we left off.

This town, my hometown, has its issues, just like anyplace, but I brought Mike and our child back here for a simple reason: I knew that there are some things in this town that will never change, and that for the rest of our child’s life, there will be people here that have known and cared about our child since elementary school.  Any visit to a regular destination like a local grocery or pharmacy is a pretty sure bet that we will run into someone we know, and every Fourth of July dozens of peer-aged people will return here, and our child will have a happy reunion or two, if only for a few minutes. It’s worth it for that.

This is the kind of place where people you have known since kindergarten, people you grew up with, who share history and memories, will be around, even if you don’t see them often. When you do see them, you’ll take right back up again, wherever you left off, and it just feels good knowing that can happen, at random, any given day.

I’m grateful for the reconnections I made in the summer at my high school reunion (the decade marked to remain unspoken here!) and that I’ve managed to sustain. As my classmates and I cross into new decades, aging into numbers I’m still in denial about, losing parents and spouses, watching kids grow up and leave, or adult children with disabilities take on new challenges, gnawing our nails with nerves but enduring, because we have to, because it is our job as parents, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this – that we remember what it used to be like, whose house that was, what the kids looked like when they were small, what the parents looked like when they were young, how they partied, how we did, and how we survived. How we keep going.

And how many of you are thriving. I’ve seen old girlfriends recently who never looked better – who have endured loss, grief and estrangement but who have rallied, reinvented, not just endured but gotten better and stronger. I’m so proud of you, and so grateful that you call me friend. I admire you and hope to be more like you if I can.

So here’s to you, old friends – see you ’round town, soon. Keep up the good work, the strong living, the moving forward. I’ll try to keep up!

We Interrupt This Program for a Brief Dive Into the Snark Tank

I have a few quibbles to get off my chest before my Thankful Thursday post. I’ve spent a lot of time reading during the last week and came across some of my pet peeves – misuses or misspelling of words. Which reminded me also of a few of my pet radio peeves, mispronunciations of common words, suffixes, etc.

So before I get rolling too much on that stuff I think I’d better dive on over into the Snark Tank to take care of it, OK? Back in a few.

Thin Ice

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

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

-Robert Burns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I realized I don’t have a choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Thin Ice Rules:

Thin Ice Rule #1: Don’t Get Sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on Annoyingly Alliterative Thankful Thursday!

New Year’s Revolutions

It probably came from one of our child’s word mash-ups; this year I’m taking it seriously.

Resolution implies an exertion of will – “I am resolved to do, or not do….” whereas revolution implies action; not just action, but irrevocable action. (“Do or do not….there is no try” as Master Yoda would say.) Crossing the Rubicon, so to speak. Leaving a relationship or starting a new one. Getting rid of old things. Doing something you’ll never be able to reverse. You can’t take it back. Even failed revolutions create irrevocable change of some kind, for better or worse (often worse, for the rebels.)

Mike and I used to joke about what our “New Year’s Revolutions” would be. “Revolution,” instead of “resolution,” probably came from one of our child’s cute word mash-ups, not unlike the wonderful word “belongage,” a mash-up of “belongings” and “luggage” which our child started to use after a first airplane experience. “Please keep your seat belts fastened and stow your belongage in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.” “Keep your belongage with you at all times.”

Our “revolutions” were the usual kind of stuff – I’ll finally read that book, ride my bike more, get back to a low-carb diet, etc. So really more resolutions than revolutions – lists of things we’d have to will ourselves to do.

This year, after our second holiday season without Mike, I decided it was time to take the “revolutions” seriously, meaning that I would do something, or somethings, I couldn’t take back. Change something, however small, to acknowledge that my life, our lives, our child and me, have had a revolution imposed upon us already. Our lives have been irrevocably changed, and there’s nothing we can do about that, other than, well, go with it. Keep changing things. Move forward.

I always wait until Epiphany to take the tree down – to “undecorate” everything except the wreaths and outdoor lights. (It’s supposed to be over 50 degrees (F) Thursday, so if it isn’t pouring I’ll take care of the outdoor stuff then). So the tree is down and we stuffed it in the Subaru and hauled it to the forest preserve for recycling into mulch – earth to earth.

The decorations are put away in the colorful holiday boxes stowed in the “club” at the top of the basement stairs. It’s the “club” because when our child was a preschooler, Mike would sit in there with our child, at the top of the stairs under the shelves on the little ledges on either side of the stairs, and tell stories or play games. It was their clubhouse. Now that our child is grown, the club has reverted to storage on one side and a place for kitchen towels to be tossed into a waiting laundry basket until there’s enough to justify doing a load on the other. But we still call it the “club.”

I woke up on January 6, Epiphany, feeling centered in a way I had not felt since Mike died. Instead of feeling so incomplete, so exposed, as if I’d put on a one-sleeved jacket, or left the door unlocked or something, I felt whole – singular, but whole; not happy, exactly, just determined (I almost said “resolved” or “resolute” – kinda blows the theme here, though – HA!) , in a “get-on-with-it-Annie,” practical kind of way. Maybe that’s the ancestresses in me – calling from “our” chair, telling me to pick myself up and get busy, work to be done, no sense in moping, life goes on, grab a mop or a needle or a shovel, do something.

I’m not alone, of course, because I have our child to care for and help take on adulthood on the spectrum. But that mother-child relationship exists on a different plane entirely, and is entirely separate from my singularity as a woman, as a widow, and a former half-of-a-pair. Now I’m the remaining half, trying to be whole again.

So after all the decorations were put away, I was unloading the dishwasher, and I picked up the last of the wedding stemware – a lovely wineglass with seashells etched on it, and gold around the rim. There it is, in the middle there, between the coffee cups, in front of the urn with the fern.IMG_20180109_144344.jpg

But it was chipped in two places. And it doesn’t have a mate, a counterpart. It is the last of its kind, and now, serves only to remind me that the other glass, and the man who used it, is gone, forever.

So I did something I can’t take back, now. I threw that wine glass out.

Next came the coffee cup from the eighteenth-century inn on Deer Isle in Maine where we stayed, twice. (A bit of advice? If it was magical, fantastic, the first time, don’t go back).  That cup is also chipped, cracked, and the last of its kind. Missing its mate.

Out.

Between now and summer, the closet full of clothes that I’ve kept for purely sentimental reasons (the dress I was wearing the night we met, the second date dress, the dress from our walk in Lincoln Park) and the old “skinny” clothes from before we met, before I had a child, that no level of devotion to low carbs or yoga will ever get me into again, are going. Out.

Perhaps a small blessing from the autism spectrum, our child is not at all sentimental about things – clothes, objects, toys, etc., so I should get rid of a lot of this stuff while I’m still able, so no one who comes after me will have to shovel it out of here. That’s my job. Tidy up.

I’m also going to move the bird bath. No small task – it is made of concrete.

When we first moved in, the spot where it has been was the perfect spot for it. It covered up some old concrete-anchored post hole, too. We could see birds splash in it, perfectly, from the deck.

But in the last year of Mike’s life, I finally had that rotting deck rebuilt. And the carpenters rebuilt it to “code,” meaning that although we opened the front side of the deck that faces the yard, removing the railings and installing steps so we could walk right down into the yard, the railings around the outdoor table, around our little pentangular “poop deck”, were made higher than the old ones. And we couldn’t see the birdbath from there so well anymore.

Mike loved watching birds in the yard – in May and October, it’s an active aviary, with migrating birds coming to visit annually. We seemed to be a kind of way station. Cedar-waxings, finches, and once a year, a bright orange Baltimore Oriole.

But what’s the use of keeping the birdbath where it can’t be seen well from the deck?

Come spring, that thing is going closer to the middle of the yard. And maybe a new table and chairs that our child and I will actually use for summer dinners “al fresco.”

The second round of holidays without Mike showed me that I can’t live in rituals of the past and I can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Those days are gone. The first year, yes, it was all about remembering him, how he would have liked this, or how we used to do or eat that.

And I did get a new ornament for the tree, as I do annually, to symbolize the year – a glass monarch butterfly – it was a really good year for monarchs, after decades of decline. The monarch is a symbol of Mike to me because of the first poem he ever left on my answering machine…”Sail, monarch…” I hung it close to the little snowman with the shovel from the winter of 2000-2001 when Mike seemed to be outside shoveling constantly, and near the clip-on glass hummingbird from the “bride’s ornaments” collection I bought for us the first year of our marriage.

Those objects are now quieter, gentler reminders – things I try to be happy about, but not to ritualize.

Our child continues to sigh and say, “I miss Mr. M” almost every day, and every day I have to say again that while he cannot come back to this world, he sends his love from the next.

I hope he’ll send his support for my efforts to forge a singular but complete life this year – there’ve been a lot of good signs already. Dreams, books I’ve finally picked up and read and found very resonant of Mike – as if he led me to them, as if he were saying, “there’s something I want to say to you in here, Anne.”

I’m listening, loves. And hoping in your way, from the next world, you’ll be my co-revolutionary, my invisible comrade, in my New Year’s Revolution of living singularly but completely in this world, with you gone, before me, to the next.