Friday, October 30, 2009

Guess it won't cost me that much after all

So the VCR we've owned since before there was a “we” has finally proven to be kaput, despite my best efforts at head-cleaning. We haven't used it much in recent years because everything has been on DVD, but we still have a small collection of beloved VHS movies that I'd like to play. And now I can't.

I sent E a text message tonight that the VCR was dead, and wondered if he'd like to replace the machine, or just replace the tapes with DVDs, which might actually end up being cheaper. Out of curiosity, I went through the titles and pulled out the ones I was sure I'd want replaced. It was a smaller number than I expected, but what was interesting were the ones I had loved, but that I didn't think I would watch again. Or rather, I didn't think I could watch again.

  • Untamed Heart—Christian Slater dies, living his girlfriend Marisa Tomei behind.
  • City of Angels—Meg Ryan dies spectacularly awfully at the end, leaving her love Nicolas Cage behind.
  • Heathers—Wanton murder
  • Fargo—Gory wanton murder
  • Sommersby—Richard Gere is hanged on principle, leaving Jody Foster behind.
  • Dead Poets Society—Suicide of sensitive young man.
  • La Bamba—Untimely death of Richie Valens
  • Fried Green Tomatoes—Mary Louis Parker dies, leaving her partner Mary Louise Masterson behind.
  • Somewhere in Time—Christopher Reeve wills himself back in time for love, only to be forced back to his own time, where he wills himself dead in his grief.

That last one I've probably seen 50 times, maybe more, since it came out in 1981 and I was just a child of 10. I have long loved that movie, and thought often of Christopher Reeve's character sitting unmoving in a chair, staring blankly out the window after losing his love, until he finally died of grief, in the early days of my own grief. But I have not watched the movie since well before A died. I haven't dared. At some point, your grief becomes largely under your control, and you become reluctant to create your own ambushes. You cannot avoid all the triggers, all the tiger pits, but you can be smart enough to avoid the ones that announce themselves with big flashing neon signs. Which is why I haven't watched Titanic in years, either.

I saw most of these movies as a much younger woman, before I was ever married, long before I ever met A, before I ever knew that people I loved could die far too young, and I cried through them then. I was sobbing so hard at the end of Sommersby that my chest hurt, and I couldn't see through the tears and my swollen eyes. I was a mess. And I was just a 22-year-old college kid, happily engaged, not a care in the world. Now I'm a 37-year-old widow, and I don't even think I could get through any of them without falling apart. It's just too much. It's just too close.

I have found that my sensitivity to death and violence in my entertainment has increased a lot since A died, even though he didn't die a violent death; he just slipped away, as far as I know. But the senselessness of it was—and remains—so hard to wrap my mind around. I can find no entertainment value in death now, and I wonder how I ever did.

I used to be really into vampires. Loved vampire shows and movies. For many of the same reasons, I loved mafia movies, too. Mobsters and vampires seemed to operate by similar codes, and maybe that's why I liked them. But since being widowed, I just have no taste for either. Empty, meaningless death inflicted by selfish animals is how it comes across to me now; there is no romance in death. Not now that I've suffered the death of a romance.

It's not that I avoid, or can avoid, death in everything I watch. But I feel it so sharply now. I comment on the violence, the gratuitous gore, of what some people refer to as “murdertainment.” And in storylines where someone just dies of an accident or a disease, I just cry through it all. Because even for a fictional body, I imagine a fictional family to go with it, one who feels the horrendous pain of losing someone they love, and I wonder, “This is entertaining?” I've spent years now trying to recover from such a pain; I haven't found a moment of it entertaining in the least. Death isn't funny; it isn't amusing; it isn't diverting; it isn't glamorous or glorious. It is, for the survivors, nothing but sheer misery for a long time, and then a pain that never entirely goes away thereafter.

I understand that the stories we tell are the lessons we as a culture must teach, and learn; we must confront death in our art, because it is the scariest unknown we face. It's not really that that I object to; it's the exploitation of it, the numb, unthinking acceptance of its commonality with no consideration for the toll it takes in so many ways, that bothers me.

Maybe I'm just hypersensitive now. Maybe there's no maybe about it. And maybe that's the natural result of being touched by death, and I couldn't avoid it if I tried. I don't know. I know my mother has been the same way since she lost her mother and her sister over 25 years ago now. But it's a change I've only recently recognized in myself, as I questioned why I wasn't interested in the latest vampire craze. I am just now beginning to recognize the seismic shifts that have caused permanent changes in me. Previously, my emotions changed so constantly as I grieved, that I soon realized that to assume any feeling or observation or thought I had should not be taken for the new status quo. And as that all swirled through and around me, I couldn't see that my foundation was settling in new and very different ways. I assumed it was, but I couldn't see the topography of it until the dust settled. There are cracks, to be sure, and whole sections of me have shifted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It’s funny, the things that get you.

Today, it was Brad Pitt and Sarah Vaughan.

If you haven’t seen Brad Pitt lately, you might not know that he’s sporting a longish goatee that is far grayer than the hair on his head. As a junkie, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of him like this lately, and it’s always been striking to me. But it wasn’t until today that it became clear why. His goatee looks like A’s when he’d let it go shaggy and it needed a trim. That earned a silent “Aha.” Not much of a reaction; just a mental acknowledgement.

Not so the Sarah Vaughan song, “Make Yourself Comfortable.” It triggered a flashback where A and I were sitting at his dinner table eating, like normal couples do every day, except that we weren’t a normal couple; or rather, we were, but our circumstances weren’t. When you live in two different states, you don’t get to sit down to dinner every night. So when we did get the chance, it was magical. To me, anyway. He was far less likely to gush about things, including dinner at the same table, so I don’t know what he thought about that. But because we only got to do it every few months or so, I tried to soak in every minute of being close to him, to memorize him for the times in between when we were apart.

I guess it worked, because the flashback wasn’t just a memory I was having here; I was also there simultaneously, sitting in that chair, with him within arm’s reach, steaks cooling on our plates. And then my eyes felt hot and prickly. It’s not the loss of it that hurts me; I cannot lose that dinner. It’s remembering how good we were together and cannot be anymore that is the knife’s edge. It’s the good stuff that gets me most often.

I’m long past the point where everything is a trigger for tears and hurt, but I guess I’ll never be to the point where nothing is a trigger. And I whined in my journal about the unfairness of it—again. Still. 50 years of missing someone seems cruel and unusual punishment for the offense of loving him. I’m just 3 years into a life sentence, with no chance for parole. What do I do with that?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

About the title of this blog (with respect to Roger Daltrey)

What’s it like when your sweetie dies?

It’s like this:

This is a picture of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and it is more than a little apt. When you’re widowed, everything you thought you knew is now a smoldering ruin. Like the people in the street above, you’re still there, still breathing, but you cannot even begin to comprehend the devastation. You cannot begin to guess the thousand things beyond the obvious that were lost in the fire, one of which, you come to understand in time, is yourself. And you have no idea what to do next, let alone where to start rebuilding. Your eyes are red and your lungs hurt, and all you can do is hold your hand to your mouth and whisper “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

You do that for a long time, taking tentative steps through streets littered with obstacles and emotional hazards. You sift through the wreckage and see what can be saved. You recriminate about the past and mourn the future. You have days where you can carry the usable bricks from your life before he died to a fresh pile intended to make a new shelter, and days where it hits you again and knocks you to the ground.

Oh my god. Oh my god.

The aftershocks are never-ending and sneaky, the wobble in your step seemingly permanent as a response to the shaky ground you realize you’ve been living on all along. There are no guarantees. Safety is an illusion. You can live right and decently your whole life, and all it gets you is the same roll of the dice each day that any loser or criminal gets.

It’s a long hard slog, one I’ve amply described elsewhere, to get to a place where you can see through the smoke, where you can start to rebuild. You do it a little at a time. 3 years out, I can look back and see where it happened, gradually, and the quantum leaps of healing I took at various points along the way. I am grateful to be alive, to have survived. In the early days, I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it out on the other side of the fire of grief. And I didn’t know who I’d be if I did…or didn’t. That was probably the scariest part of all.

But despite the loads of perspective I now have on life, on love, on death, on planning, on priorities, the marks of that fire are still on me. The flames have long since subsided, but in my mind and in my soul, that fire still burns. And that is what I deal with now. Because he’s not going to stop being dead; best-case scenario from a reunion standpoint is that one day, I’ll be dead, too. I know it’s better for me not to think so much about all of this; but how do you not? How do you forget things you never wanted to know?

The city of San Francisco has been rebuilt. It’s a beautiful, strong, thriving city. And no one who lives there can forget what can happen. No one who lives there can forget that they are vulnerable; that a tremor can bring it all to the ground again; that life is a precarious business and every castle we build is upon sand and rubble, destined to fall in its time, whether we’re ready for it or not.

I have a deep love for San Francisco, and maybe it's in part because its story is my own. I do not fear the unknown; I fear the intimately known coming to pass again. It's easy enough to dismiss the former fear as wild imagination; not so the latter, which I know is real. I am widowed again two, three times a week when my husband is home later than I think he should be; I live whole miserable lifetimes in those waiting minutes. I know I do it to myself, but I don't know how not to. I know too much now.

I have been through the fire. I have rebuilt my city. But I am ever on guard now, and that brings its own troubles.

3 years, 3 months

I really thought I had nothing left to say on the subject of surviving the death of my sweetheart. I thought I was done blogging about it, because what more could be said that I hadn't said a hundred times already in print, and a million times in my head? But I find myself isolated lately, both in that the passing years have made the reality of my continuing grief, such as it is now, seem, I would guess, stubborn to those who have to put up with hearing about it still, and in the fact that I have disengaged with previous sources of support, namely, the widow bulletin board. And I find I am still struggling on some level, still trying to make sense, to make peace, with this bit of reality that is never going to leave me. And so I turn once again to words, because I do need to talk about this thing that doesn't go away. Ever.

Regarding the bulletin board, I was an active participant there up until a week ago, when a young new widow was broadcasting suicide threats across the internet. I tried to help. A lot of people did; and she brushed all suggestions and offerings aside. And I struggled with the conflicting ideas that here was a true tragedy about to happen that all of us were helpless to stop, and here was a manipulative, dramatic kid who thought this is how you get attention. And while I knew her pain was real, I wanted to shake her, regardless of whichever was true, because you just can't just choose to die. Well, yeah, you can, but it's a bad, wrong, sick choice, which is to say, it's no choice at all. Even at the worst of my grief, I never made a plan to kill myself, no matter how many times I thought it wouldn't be so bad if I just didn't wake up the next day.

Life is hard, and you just don't get to give up, dammit. That being my feeling, and the constant drama of the board suddenly becoming too much for me, I've pulled back. I peek in once a day or so, but it is more of the same, and right now, I just can't deal with it. It was this girl who was crying out for help, but refusing to hear the answering cries, that was the last straw, I think.

I kind of feel like a jerk for walking away, even though I think I have given back to that community. But you can't give what you don't have, and right now, I don't have much. I'm pulling my energies inward and trying to cope with my own stuff. It's not overwhelming, but it is October, and I'm feeling it. October was when my sweetie came to visit my town; we'd hoped to make it an annual event but didn't have time. October was when I traditionally started planning for my January trip to his place; now there is no trip to plan. October is when the days get shorter, and the darkness lengthens until it can reach in and touch your heart. It is a time of melancholy and memories, at least for me, though I doubt I'm alone in this. I guess we'll see.