Middle-aged Woman Rules, Part Three

Dinah Shore was twenty years older than Burt Reynolds, and they had a hot romance.

Made me hopeful.

Until I looked in the mirror right after a shower.

Which caused me to formulate a new middle-aged woman rule to add to the original and as-amended rules:

  • Even if you have a magic mirror, NEVER, EVER LOOK IN THE MIRROR WHEN YOUR HAIR IS WET. Trust me, just don’t.

Corollary:

  • Do your face before you put the stuff that makes your curly hair curlier all over your hands, to work in to your wet hair. See original rules, “manage hair wherever it occurs. (emphasis added.”) Just sayin’.

Pleased that cooler weather has arrived, permitting the use of a hair dryer in an un-airconditioned environment, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, disheveled,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode 4: Life is a Harold

Life circles back, in complex layers, like a Harold…

I first came across the idea of “synchronicity,” that thing where lots of people all over the planet seem to start thinking about the same thing at the same time, when I became interested in Jung, back in college. (I think the Police song came later. I think.)

As an improviser (after college, but still many years ago) I would experience a kind of synchronicity with my fellow players, when everybody seems to share the same insight or have the same thought or impulse at the same moment. It’s called the “group mind.”

The team I was on performed the “Harold,” from the early days of long-form improvisation. “Harold” is a thirty-minute (or so) performance involving games, scenes and monologues, in rounds of three. Each “scene” would return twice after its first appearance, with each repetition layering over, often in subtle or surprising ways that only come together at the end, on what came before.

It doesn’t work if any of the players try to predetermine or “script” what happens next. It only works if everyone is working off everyone else, and the next thing that happens, happens only because of whatever has happened before.

This sense that everything that happens is somehow connected to everything that happened before has been a theme in my life, and probably in yours, if you stop to think about it. You’ll suddenly remember a past part of your life that seems to have circled back around, but at a new and more mature or complex level. Like standing on a long spiral staircase, looking down at the previous circles of your life.

In my latest round of tidying up, getting rid of piles of old crap that oppress me now, a few moments of this helix-shaped laddering of life hit me in odd and unexpected ways. Which is kind of how it is supposed to work. To wit:

• Someone on one of the Facebook groups I participate in replied to a comment of mine by saying it was “en pointe” – and I said (truthfully) that “Ha! I used to dance “en pointe!” The next day, what did I find in the closet? A box full of old pointe shoes (really, really beat up pointe shoes) that I had saved from my teen years, and forgotten about. Smiled, and tossed them.

• Because I am having a period-style dress made to wear at an upcoming event celebrating the era of my favorite books, I suddenly remembered a dress I had made for myself, by hand. Again, back in college – I was flat broke, but I was one of the soprano soloists in “Messiah” for the Christmas concert, and I didn’t have a dress. So I went out and bought some really cheap red satin (which scandalized the orchestra, angry, I guess, that they had to wear the uniform “concert black.”) IMG_20180910_164019.jpgI ripped apart a sundress that fit me well, to use as a pattern. I laid the satin out on my dorm room floor, and came up with a way to make a criss-crossed bodice that formed cap sleeves without having to cut and sew sleeves separately. I attached that to a long, bias-cut skirt that came to a point in front. Except when I was done, one side of the skirt was shorter than and kind of off-center to the other. So I improvised a ruffle on that side, by hand again, to even it out. I loved that dress and was proud of designing it and sewing it together in a marathon all-nighter, a week or so before the concert. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. And what did I find in the closet? There it was, in the very bottom of a box, underneath old college papers, exam books (really? Why on earth did I save those?) and programs from recitals and performances long past. Tossed the exam books and papers, kept the programs and the dress.

• Very recently I wrote about my late husband Mike’s journals and what they revealed to me, after he died. And what did I find in the closet? A journal of my own that I had forgotten existed, that chronicled the first days and weeks of our romance – how we met, where we went together in those giddy, dizzying first days and weeks, and, sadly, how early in our relationship we started fighting. I found the earliest poems – written for me or read to me. My journal consumed only about 15% of the blank book it was written in, blazing briefly with the astonishment of those long, wild first days of love – a love that too quickly sank way down, beneath the surface, submerged for decades under the responsibilities of child-rearing and the stress of a long and difficult marriage; the love that returned to us in a profound, mature and painfully poignant way, at the end.

There’s nothing sentimental about improvisation. It’s there and then it’s not. It’s ephemeral. You can’t recreate a great “Harold.” You can only experience it while it is happening, and maybe remember how great it made you feel while you were in the midst of it.

Not unlike life.

Still tidying up, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, moving onward one-cleaned-out-closet-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

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.

The Journals

The final journal was a very good read.

Some widows find receipts.

Hotels they didn’t visit. Jewelry they didn’t receive.

Or they find love letters. Not to them.

Shock, anger, disbelief, more grief. Sick with the discovery of betrayal. Embarrassed at having been deceived.

Me?

I already knew about the infidelities, and I found the journals long before he got sick.

He kept one journal just to record his chess games and his thoughts on chess strategy from tournaments he played.

The others were for the others.

When we first met, in the two years we were together before we got married, he wrote poems to me, for me. He refused to save them. Had some artistic, poetical notion of the ephemeral nature of the art, not unlike improvisation, which I was performing when I met him. So I got that. It’s there and it’s gone and you can’t recreate it. I remember only whispers (I first typed that “whishpers.” Ha.)

After we were married, there were poems written for other women. Women he told me about. Women he met in classes he took, or online.

Written in journals he saved.

Twenty years ago, when I confronted him, he raged at me.

Anger at being busted, I suppose. Fear of the consequences, I’m sure.

Once he calmed down and looked at me, he realized he had broken my heart. The heart he loved for its innocence, shown only to him.

He went grocery shopping.

Twenty years ago. I looked out the kitchen window of our townhome in a transitional, slowly gentrifying neighborhood and saw him walking home, down the alley.

Crying.

Bringing me booze (Captain Morgan rum, to be exact – I had never tasted it before. Now, oddly, my cocktail of choice) and a balloon.

Leaving it up to me to decide if he was staying or if he’d go.

I decided he’d stay.

Who else would ever love me? Who else would ever be a father to our daughter?

But he didn’t stop sleeping with other women, until ten years later, when the then-still-unknown illness must have begun to affect his mind, and he came to believe that one of those other women was stalking him. Remotely. From a continent away.

I asked him why he had married me. He said it was because he could see that I needed to be loved.

Not that he loved me, but that he could see that I needed to be loved.

Which brings me back to the journals.

He asked for a journal to write something to our daughter before he died, but became too weak too fast to write much at all.

But he did write something, if not for me, at least about me. And it revealed that he did love me, after all. That he was grateful for our little family, our home and my care for him.

I have included an excerpt of that journal in the Epilogue to my book, because after everything we went through, everything we put each other through, especially after the Bulgarian, I thought he deserved to have a voice there.

As soon as I am finished transcribing that excerpt, the manuscript will be ready to show to my brothers (as a courtesy) and a few friends.

I know those friends, former colleagues, will be brutally honest with me when I ask if I should just dig a hole in the backyard and bury the book forever, never let it see the light of day, not expose myself that way (or any more that way, since this is whole blog is a kind of exposure) or if there might be a story there, some writing they’d recommend to a friend. Maybe even a good read.

Mike’s final journal, found posthumously, though sparse and at times illegible or incoherent, was still a good read. A very good read.

Because I forgave him long ago and eventually came to understand why he had done what he had done, and all the things I had said and done that made him feel belittled. Toxic in a marriage.

And when I found that journal, I found that he had forgiven me. That even with his increasing delirium, he remembered the earliest, best part of our time together.

That he appreciated the new kitchen.

That he still loved my roundness.

“Your head is round, your ears are round, your butt is round,” he wrote.

“Round, not pound,” because he knew I’d find it and that I’d need reassurance that he wasn’t referring to my weight.

He never, not once that I can remember, complained about my weight, no matter how big I got.

I’m grateful that he saw me lose weight, a lot of weight, before he died, and saw me looking more like the woman he married before all of it, and after.

And I’m grateful he left those words behind, for me to find.

Words for the innocent heart he loved.

The heart he broke.

And the heart he mended, through the journal his widow found, after he was gone.

Wishing you forgiveness, amends, comfort and love,

I remain,

Your devoted, broken but healing, struggling but moving forward,

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

How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Are We Having Fun Yet? Or, I Don’t “Summer” Well

I want to use the word “summer” as a verb…

I have long aspired to being one of those people who uses the word “summer” as a verb.

As in, “where do you summer?”

“We summer in at our villa in Tuscany.”

or, “Why, in Provence, of course…”

or, for me, the pinnacle of “to summer, “…

“We summer in Maine.”

No Maine for me this summer. Spent the money on redoing Mike’s room as a computer lounge for our daughter. Money well spent, but I find myself missing the sea, the salt air, the lobster and the star-stuffed sky.

Not to mention the bracing cold of the sea (except that the water has been warming these past years – causing one old salt I overheard to complain, “the fish’ll be cooked befowah you catch ’em!”)

Yes, we could go down to the lake, where the water is reliably cold, even this deep into summer, but there have been lots of shore warnings this year – waves and rip currents.

So, ninety degrees again today and tomorrow, no air conditioning, humid. Feeling like a wet rag.

I don’t summer well, here.

Frizz, sweat and listlessness. After three solid days of digging weeds in the heat two weeks ago, and a little rain, finally, my front garden looks OK. But my vegetable garden is a shambles. Spent too much time on those darn chickens, and neglected to water it during a month long dry spell. So no squash, probably no zucchini (you have to be really bad at vegetable gardening to get through an entire summer with NO zucchini!) and a meager crop of beans – “haricot vert,”   but then, I’m not summering in France.

But I do get to go to rehearsal tonight.

I was admitted into an excellent choral group – serious, rigorous, disciplined but fun. Such a relief to be among singers who get it right the first time, sight-sing like demons, and could blow me out of the water, sitting down, with their voices.

And who actually read and sing the dynamics. Balance and musicality and glorious music, flowing right along. Wow.

I like feeling like I’m a little out of my league and that I’ll have to work hard to keep up.

Mike loved my singing and stoked my ego when I Puccinied or Mozarted along with WFMT, our classical music station here in Chicago. Bless you, dear, for that. It’s a rare man who will listen to “Oh Mio Babino Caro” or “Doretta’s Song” or “Musetta’s Waltz” or the “Allelulia” a couple hundred times without begging for mercy. But you never did. You listened.

And though I’m a diva who never misses a chance to show off a solo high note (Ridiculouswoman, remember?) I’m a real softie for choral singing – there’s something about a large group of voices united in song that gets me every time. I mean I get choked up when I hear the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the beginning of the derby each year (they’ve edited out the bad old lyrics) and I get a real thrill from any good performance of Beethoven’s 9th or Brahms Requiem. A Welsh men’s choir can stop me in my tracks, and I’m a sucker for a good sea shanty, too (probably influenced by my obsession with the Aubrey Maturin books.)

So tonight I get the thrill of singing with a large, talented, serious group of singers. And bonus, the church where this chorus rehearses is air conditioned! Hallelujah!

Wishing you the opportunity to raise your voice in song, with others similarly inspired, I remain,

your still-working-on-being-humble, devoted, warbling servant,

Ridiculouswoman