Fly Away – It Will Be OK

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could I?

I was caught up in a project for our daughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have Friday or Monday.”

“How about Friday?”

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

Our daughter saw the panic in my face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the carpet is coming instead.

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

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

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

And it’s OK.

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

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

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

Ridiculouswoman

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.