Turndown Service

I sleep with Hilda. Not sorry.

I sleep with Hilda.

Hilda is a lavender stuffed hippopotamus.  Go ahead,  laugh. I’m your neighborblog sixty year-old widow.  Hilda makes me feel better, so get over it, OK?

Every night when the leftovers are put away and the dishwasher is loaded and running, I haul myself and my creaking knees up the stairs, and find Hilda, looking adorable, tucked in under the covers, waiting for me, the bedside table lamp aglow.

Angelic Daughter’s turndown service.

I take it as a sign of Angelic Daughter’s deep emotional intelligence, and her ability to pick up on cues I didn’t know I was sending about needs I wasn’t conscious of having.

Ok, that’s a flat out lie. I know I have NEEDS, primarily for the calming, anxiety-curing, panic-attack abating hugs Mike gave, and for the comfort that his very presence provided.  While people on the autism spectrum might have difficulty making eye contact, demonstrating “focus,” decoding facial expressions, or understanding tones of voice, it would be a mistake to assume they lack emotional intelligence. It may not be obvious, but it’s there.

“I miss Dad.”

“I miss him too, sweetheart.”

Angelic Daughter knows Hilda is a comfort to me, both because stuffed animals are comforting in general, and because Hilda has been a comfort to her, too.  I created a voice for Hilda (a sort of “bless your heart” kind of Southern accent – not sure why) and Hilda comforts Angelic Daughter by conversing with her that way, from time to time.

I found Hilda at a local toy store, a really good independent toy store that Angelic Daughter and I liked to poke around in. Its narrow aisles had shelves of stuffed animals, baskets filled with quirky fidget toys, bouncing balls and toy soldiers, racks of costumes,  arts and craft stuff, board and card games, books and a large section of model trains.

So naturally it went out of business. But not before I found Hilda.

I seized on her immediately.

Hilda righted a childhood wrong.

When I was about three years old, I had a stuffed hippo. I loved that thing, but I don’t remember naming it, or who gave it to me. It was grey. One day I decided to add some color.

I took a set of markers and drew a rainbow of parallel, curving lines all around that Hippo. Encircled its eyes and traced its tummy, big face, back and legs with a multi-colored, multi-lane highway of marker love. I was proud of my artistry.

When I showed Cruella DeVille my mother my gorgeous design, expecting praise and delight,  she snatched that hippo away and screamed at me for “ruining” it.

I had no idea why she was so angry, and I never saw that hippo again.

So Hilda was a second chance at hippo happiness.

Never mind that actual, living hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet – they can bite a crocodile in two, run at speeds 35 mph or more and have huge teeth and powerful jaws. They’re very aggressive on both land and water. They kill around 3,000 people a year.

But my stuffed Hilda hippo is a skwooshy, lavender beanbag of love.

She doesn’t complain when I squeeze her tight, or squish her giant jaw-face, or take up too much room in the bed. She’s just there for me, if I need her.

And something deep in Angelic Daughter gets that I do. Need Hilda.

Everyone has a comfort item.  I hope.

I still have my baby blanket. My uncle borrowed it for my infant cousin, and never returned it. On the brink of heading off to college, I suddenly decided I needed it back.

Unc was living in my late grandfather’s grand house, an English manor-style home with a huge living room and a huge dining room opposite, across the front hall, where Grampa’s cook (yes, his cook) would call for us that it was time to “go through,” meaning, cross the front hall and find your place at a dining table that could seat 12.

Around the time of the disappeared decorated hippo, our family dog was a  black and white malamute (like a husky, but bigger) named “Buddy.” Because he was my brother’s buddy.

My cousin, Unc’s son,  named their red and white husky “Scary.”

When I asked for my blanket back,  it was discovered at the bottom of Scary’s huge chain-link cage.

Unc gamely retreived it, filthy and full of holes. I gladly washed it and took it to college with me.  I’ve had it ever since.

So you won’t hear me laughing if your self-care includes your bwanky, or dolly, or your teddy bear. Or your stuffed hippo.

Grateful for my amazing Angelic Daughter, I remain,

Your about-to-find comfort in a cuppa and a nap (with Hilda),

Ridiculouswoman

Salute for Sophie

Sophie’s backyard friends held the gathering I could not.

He wouldn’t have dared, if she was still with us. That was her spot.

She’d sit there in the evening, Mistress of All She Surveyed.

I think he misses her. He loved to bait and taunt her, and she loved to ignore him more often as she got older. He’s actually probably the child or grandchild of a previous rodent provocateur. But it’s game over, now.

The house, and the yard, have been very quiet since Sophie went. The scritching in the wall next to my desk, which drove me nuts for weeks, has stopped, with no corresponding smell that would indicate demise. Just a cessation of sound, signaling that whatever had been making it has finally chosen to vacate the premises.

The neighbor’s-from-two-streets-over cat, a wide ranging tabby, had taken up residence under our deck. This cat has been coming around for a few years, and looks exactly like a cat that showed up at my Mom’s house all the way on the other side of town shortly after Mom died, acting like she owned the place. Like we were supposed to open up and let her the hell into HER house. It could be the same cat, for all I know. The neighbors said she really gets around – had to chip her because she kept turning up so far afield.

I’ve found her on our roof from time to time, or up on the deck railing (also Sophie’s spot – where she’d come to the kitchen window to ask to be let back into the house.)

But a few days ago, that tabby came out from under the deck (better her than the former resident, a huge skunk, or the raccoons before that) and she hasn’t been back.

I  honestly think these creatures know that Sophie is gone, and are mourning her in their way.

As I was regarding that chipmunk, sitting where Sophie sat last Saturday evening, her last, as it turned out, I decided to take a picture rather than shoo him off the deck. He looked forlorn.

Just then, the hummingbird that my daughter had reported sighting several times appeared, closer to the house than the chipmunk, and lowered itself elegantly into the cupped petals of the tulips I had planted for Mike, so he’d have flowers to look at during his ceaseless rounds of dishwashing, before the kitchen was redone.

And here was that hummingbird, a symbol of Mike to me, sinking gently into those tulips, and of course zipping out and out of sight, when I tried to creep silently (not so silently, I guess) out of the house to get a closer look.

The chipmunk took off as soon as my footsteps sounded on the deck’s planks.

Somehow I found comfort in these creatures this morning.

It was as if they were paying their respects.

My daughter continues her daily, sighing expression, “I miss Dad,” now recited as, “I miss Dad and I miss Sophie.”

But a few days after we said goodbye to Sophie, she also said, for the first time in the nearly three years since Mike died,  “I went to the gathering for Dorothy Elaine (her grandmother.) I liked the gathering for Dorothy Elaine. When is a gathering for Dad?”

I dissolved. How was I going to explain to her that it was much too late for that? That, because of decisions Mike had made and because of how he had chosen to circumscribe his life, it was already too late for that a decade before we even knew he was sick?

There were four people at Mike’s burial – me, our daughter, our pastor and the hospice chaplain, who had quickly become Mike’s friend in the last week or two of his life, through a shared love of poetry, discovered in the first few minutes of their first conversation.

“Remember that beautiful day, sweetheart? The day we put the stone box with Daddy’s ashes into the ground at his gravesite? We read the poems, and you and I both chose beautiful flowers to leave for Dad? That was his gathering, sweetheart – there won’t be another one.”

And there won’t be one for Sophie, because I said no when the vet asked if we wanted the ashes. Didn’t think about processing time for her, to ask, and me, to decide. So too late for that, now, as well.

But I will tell her about the chipmunk, and the neighbor’s cat and the hummingbird, who seem to have organized a “gathering” of their own – one that seemed to me to be an acknowledgement of Sophie’s absence and a kind of farewell.

Didn’t sleep much last night, so we slept away today’s gloomy, grey, rainy, quiet, almost peaceful, morning.

So long, Soph.

With this final farewell to my feline friend, I remain, your struggling but starting to surface again,

Ridiculouswoman