Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The movie had been on our DVR for weeks.  Every time I asked E. if he wanted to watch it, he demurred, and finally I asked him if he wanted to watch it at all, and he said that he did, but had heard it was sad.  It's a 9/11-related movie; there's no way it could be otherwise.  I told him I'd watch it on my own, when he was out of town.  And at 10 o'clock tonight, that's what I did.  Two hours later, I had A.'s picture clutched to my chest and tears rolling down my cheeks.

I remember the quest to find something else to do that would keep the link between us alive in a way more tangible than hope and belief, something I could do for him, something I could do for us, something I could do for me to make him less gone.  As bizarre as the child's search was, I understood it completely.  The desperation.  The frustration of still holding the key, and having no lock to put it in; the key being actions, words, things I wanted to share with him, things I wanted to give to him, things only he would understand; him being the lock I could no longer find.

I understand the bone-deep need to make sense of something that cannot ever make sense, no matter how many times you revisit it.  The only way to make sense of it is to tell yourself that people die sometimes, and sometimes the people that die are people you love.  That is the only part of it that makes sense; it's the only part that can, because there's no disputing the truth of it.  Everyone knows; it's in all the papers, all the time.  You will never be able to make sense of why.  Why him.  Why me.  Why us.  Why then.  Why heart disease couldn't give us a warning shot across the bow before it shot to kill.

In the movie, the boy says he was sure he couldn't live without his dad, but he was wrong, and he thinks his dad would be proud of him.  Sometimes I am a little sad that I've learned to live without him.  I'm also proud that I've managed to get this far, and for the most part, the pride (and the relief) outweigh the sadness.  Until I watch a movie I know will open it all up, and leave me with A's picture clutched to my chest and tears rolling down my cheeks.

Maybe sometimes I need that key for all that I've locked up.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yes. This.

"I will love you forever; whatever happens. Until I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I'll drift about forever, all my atoms, until I find you again."
Phillip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dreaming impossible dreams

I took a nap this afternoon, and had a dream that didn't seem like a dream, because I was only half asleep.  I often end up drifting a long time in that netherworld between sleep and wakefulness, and in that time my head seems to be a riot of half-dreams and images that come from who knows where.  But in this dream, I dreamed that I had found a photo on my computer of A, a photo I had never seen before.  And when I clicked on it, I realized it wasn't just a photo; it was a video.  It seemed like he had taken a video of himself with his phone while waiting around in the eye doctor's office.  (I know--its bizarrely specific, but that's dreams for you.)  And I watched the video entranced, because I have no video of him.  To see him alive and smiling and moving was so exciting, and I had received such a gift, to find this video after 6 years.  I couldn't imagine where it came from, but I was so glad to have it.

When I woke up, I started trying to remember where I could find that video again, and then I became aware that it wasn't real; it'd been a dream.  A couldn't have even taken such a video with his phone; the first iPhone didn't even come out until a year after he died, and those didn't have video capability.  It's weird for me to think about how much has happened in 6 years, stuff he hasn't seen.  He would've had an iPhone for sure.  And then I thought about Skype, and how our long-distance chats would've benefited from that.  I hadn't even heard of it when he died; we used Yahoo messenger, which had a video option (crappy by today's standards) and it was always freezing up and crashing.

What's also weird is how my mind created this video dream out of nothing.  That's always fascinated me about dreams:  how our minds can create things that we've never seen, or even imagined in our waking life.  I think there is more to dreams than we probably realize.

Regardless, I haven't dreamed about A in such a very long time, and even though he wasn't "live" in this dream, it was, as always, so good to see him.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


"I have a million things to talk to you about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning."
Haruki Murakami

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The day I found out

6 years ago this morning, I called the cops in California to confirm the worst.  I had left only the hope of ignorance; I was pretty sure he was gone, but somehow, having it confirmed was a zillion times worse.

This morning, the first thing I thought about when I woke up was my leaky roof and what we were going to do about it.  The above was the second thing I thought about. 

So, you know, progress. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Photographs & Memories

Every July 15th for the last 6 years, I've put up a memorial of sorts on my blog, a picture of A and a few comments, or perhaps a link to a song.  Every year, my regular readers tend to ignore it entirely and say a very loud nothing to me about it, and my widow friends generally don't need a reminder, and have usually already sent me supportive messages, because they're understanding and cool like that.  We are there for each other, and I am grateful again and again that that's the case.

In anticipation of Sunday, then, in search of a photo to use this year that I haven't already used, I was looking through pictures.  I have a hundred and some; I wish there were more.  I intended to have more--I intended to have years' worth of new ones added to the collection.  It's been awhile since I took the time to look at each of them, carefully.  It didn't take long before there were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

He was real.  He was really here.  I have the photographic evidence:  the freckles that covered every bit of my beautiful Black Irish man that ever saw the sun, the wrinkles on his neck, the abundant salt with just a dash of pepper yet in his hair, his sweet smile, and the frown when he was concentrating. 

Sometimes he seems so out of reach, so long gone, more dream than memory.  Sometimes the gap of 6 years and whatever self-protective mechanisms are in play just isn't something I can bridge.  And then I see him in photos as he really was, not the vague ghost in my head, and he's right here, and I fall in love with him at 15 millionth sight.  It happens every time.

He was here, and he was beautiful, and we loved each other so much, and so well.  I miss him beyond the telling.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I've been irritable the last week or so, getting into it over tiny stupid things with E, and feeling even more like a heel because he's been recovering from surgery.  Arguing with someone who's in pain, can't eat, and was hopped up on Percocet is asshole behavior, and I'm guilty of it.  I'd been chalking it up to hormones, but I'm no longer PMSing, and that feeling is still there:  the hair trigger, the feeling of restlessness, the impatience, the inability to just settle down and do something I actually enjoy; I'm adrift and spoiling for a fight. 

I started the morning with a spell in the hot tub, and as I was lying there in the bubbles, it finally came to me:  it's the week before the sadiversary.  That's what this is about.

For some time now, this is how grief has manifested for me.  Not in tears--those come at random, poignant moments that make me misty-eyed; I just get irritable, as if there's a part of me that feels and knows that something is wrong, and it doesn't like it one bit, and dammit, everyone who has the misfortune to come in contact with me and rub me just the slightest bit wrong is going to feel it, too.  Maybe it's vestigial rage from the cosmic wrong.  I felt plenty of rage in the early days.  Not so much now, but I'm generally a content and easygoing person.  There are 2 things that consistently get me to feeling this way.  If it's not hormones, it's probably A being dead that's riled me up.  The bastard keeps doing it; he knows I don't like it, but evidently he's unwilling to resurrect himself for my benefit.

Candice has talked a lot about how, when you're no longer actively grieving, and no longer sad all the time, it's harder to remember that grief is still on your list of things that could be bringing you down.  What was once your "well, duh!" explanation for any bad mood is no longer the first thing you think of, and while that's all to the good, it does mean that it often requires a little more excavation to figure out what's eating you now.  It's July 8th.  I've got just 7 more days to say and think that A's been gone 5 years before it turns to 6.  As soon as it occurred to me this morning, I knew that was it.  So I gave myself permission to sit with it for the next week and not worry overmuch about my mood, because there's really nothing else I can do anyway.  Feel what you feel when you feel it; that's my motto.  It's somewhat easier to do when you've figured out WHY you feel what you feel.

I ran some errands this afternoon, just needing milk and to get out of the house.  As I was driving home from the grocery store, I saw a sign for an estate sale.  I will never go to another estate sale, as I've mentioned previously.  But the sign got me thinking about A's family, and how they got rid of all his stuff, and my stuff, without a thought for me.  And then I thought about his sister.  And then I thought about talking to his sister the day we found him.  And then I thought I was about to throw up. 

Even now, 6 years later, remembering that day provokes a terrible physical response that is only diminished in the avoidance of thinking about it.  When I dare otherwise, it's right there, the aching hollow feeling in my gut.

I don't know what the next week will bring, or whether there'll be a hangover following.  What I do know is that I'll get through it; and that I'm still pissed off I have to.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who says TV keeps people from thinking?

We've been watching the catch-up marathon of the last 4 seasons of Breaking Bad in anticipation of the Season 5 premiere, which just happens to fall on the 6th anniversary of A's death. (I should say here if you haven't watched it, and are going to, there are spoilers ahead. Though I will say if you're newly widowed, you might consider avoiding this show, because it's not really going to do you any favors.)

I was going to say that the show has brought up a lot of stuff for me in light of the impending sadiversary, but I suppose it'd be more accurate to say that the impending sadiversary, and my being a widow in the first place, makes me see the show in a certain way that others may not.

On an episode the other night, the recently relapsed junkie girlfriend (Jane) of the young junkie main character (Jesse) dies (I'll spare you the ugly details). A few episodes later, we see the recently rehabbed Jesse dialing his phone, listening a moment and then hanging up. We see this twice, but don't hear anything until later, but I turned to E and said, "He's dialing her voicemail to hear her voice." E said, "Really? You think so?"

Of course I know so, and as the show progresses, I'm proven correct. A few moments later, after weighing the wisdom of sharing how I knew, I say, "The only thing that kept me from dialing A's phone a hundred million times after he died was that I figured his family had the phone, and I didn't want to bother them." Which is totally the truth. I'd probably still be calling it today, if I could. The last time I heard anything close to his voice was in a dream I had several years ago now, where a hummingbird hovered near my ear and called my name in an approximation of his voice.

I'm 3 weeks out from being 6 years without A. Funny thing about time: for most of the year, I can refer to whatever the last anniversary is that passes without much problem. From July through May, I can say, "He's been gone 5 years" and don't feel the need to add on the months for accuracy's sake. Sometimes I count it up in my head anyway...or rather, the math comes easily to me now, any time of year, but not always. This is a good thing, because I can reckon with the reality of the time that has passed without much of an emotional charge.

But once June hits, I feel it coming, and the time I haven't tolled since the last year starts rolling down upon me, like the beginning of an avalanche. Not a deadly avalanche--I no longer fear it's going to kill me. But the pebbles and rocks that precede it hurt nonetheless. I am so aware of this milestone; this millstone, its weight around my neck forcing my head down at various moments when for some reason there's a hole in my defenses and the truth pierces to my core, and my eyes water.

I figure I'll just wait it out; there's nothing else to do, and I've had 5 years' practice at it.

This morning I woke up thinking again about the show, but this time about the meth addicts portrayed on it, their bodies crumbling as they do anything to return to whatever sweet oblivion meth offers. When I was young, I didn't do drugs, because I had neither motive nor opportunity, and they were bad and illegal to boot. As I've gotten older, I still have no opportunity, and not really the interest, though I will admit to there being plenty of times in the last almost-6 years where I could understand the motivation, the desire for complete and total escape. And at this point in my life, having that understanding, it is not the danger of drug use per se that would scare me off; it's that, once having tasted the high, I'd keep wanting it. Who wouldn't? That is always the danger of experiencing something beyond the mundane: how can they keep you down on the Earth after you've seen the Mystery?

I read, I think in Eat, Pray, Love, about seekers who have achieved states of perfect bliss and understanding via meditation once, and spend the rest of their lives chasing it, suffering in their frustration if it doesn't come again. When you've got it all figured out, and nothing hurts, I could easily see someone going mad trying to regain that somehow; sometimes I wonder if it's better not to know what you're missing. You can't miss what you never had. I tend to think the universe grants us these moments to give us hope, to keep us going, but it's a double-edged sword, because even though it may tantalize us up out of our rut, our deep dark hole our blinders of pain, it doesn't stop tantalizing us when it's done that job. Once you recognize that there's so much more than meets the eye, for all of us, natural human curiosity makes us want to know all of it. And we just can't, it seems. Dog knows, I've tried.

And that led me back to thinking about my experiences with A, and how he communicated with me after he died, for awhile. Not now; not really. And I think about how desperate I was for that communication; how hurt and deflated I was when it tapered off eventually; how I wanted to keep having it forever, having him forever, or at least until we were on the same side of the veil.

It's all the same, isn't it? Sometimes, we get a glimpse of the bigger picture, we see through the veil, we feel real freedom from this earthly illusion, and it is so good, and so comforting, you can never get enough. You just can't ever get enough. You can keep chasing it and run yourself into the ground trying to hold on to something that I can only believe we were never intended to have all the time, not in this material world, anyway. If we were, wouldn't it be easier to achieve, and maintain? The extremes required to attain it, through drugs, or meditation, or near-death experiences, or bereavement--these are, for the most part, not things that are good for a person in large quantities.

I know my experiences are real. I don't doubt them at all. I know people who would do anything to have just one of the experiences I have had and be satisfied that this isn't all there is, that there is some kind of reunion ahead for all of us. And yet I find myself yearning for more. More of him, in whatever way I can get it. More hope, or rather, a regularly recharged hope that can carry me through a few more years at a time without losing faith before the next booster.

I'm clean. I'm healed. And yet my body and my mind will never forget what it was like to feel him running through my veins when he was alive, and to feel his energy flowing through my body and soul after he left. Dog help the meth addicts, but I can't blame them for wanting that high again and again. I get it. If I could buy a few hours of heaven and the man who lives there now, a few hours' release from this quiet, stoic knowing and missing, for a few hundred bucks, I'd do it, too.

I can't, of course. So I come here, and spill my guts.

I'm Phoenix, and I'm a widow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


A funny thing happened on the way to rearranging my home office to become a more usable music studio.

I had to move furniture around, as you might imagine. There was the bookcase that held, among other things, the books I'd borrowed from him that became mine after he died. And there was the little cabinet that held what I like to call an ofrenda, but those of you not familiar with Mexican culture would know better (and probably with a slightly more pejorative connotation) as a shrine. On top of it was a picture or two of A, photos of my two dogs that have passed away since A did, and various mementos, symbols, and the requisite candle that I've lit most nights since I first set the thing up. It evolved organically, but has been pretty static for about a year (thank dog), because no one else in my life has died since then.

I wanted the bookcase out of my office entirely, so I moved his books into the library to join the general book population for the first time. I carefully placed all the ofrenda items into a little case until I could decide where they'd land once I was done moving things around, save for the big picture that wouldn't fit.

I was both impressed with myself and apprehensive as I did it; the books in particular gave me trouble early on. I had a meltdown after I tried to take them out of the box he brought them to me in, and had to put them back. It was a few months before I could try again and succeed. To move them out of my office and out with the rest of my books is a big damn deal. And it only took me 5.25 years (tomorrow, which is also his birthday) to consider doing it.

The ofrenda is another thing entirely, but it, too, has been dispersed. As I've slowly gotten my office back into shape after the endless reshuffling, there's really no home for the entirety of it anymore. I put the small things in the keepsake box I have the majority of the A-related stuff in. The pictures and inlay projects now reside on top of my curio cabinet for the moment, awaiting the coming redecoration of this room, at which time I'll probably add them to the gallery wall I'm planning. The prayer wheel now sits on my desk. I moved the candle into my bedroom. And the beer bottle holding an artificial sunflower, a gift from his best friend's wife who made them for his memorial service out of the bottles from the 6-pack he brought to their last gathering (and which I always thought was a little tacky, though I appreciated the sentiment behind it, which is why I kept it so long) went into the recycle bin, the flower joining the other stuff in the keepsake box. The recycle bin! I can hardly believe my audacity, and yet it is clear to me that it's the sensible thing to do, and the time is right.

I'm still not sure what the final disposition of these things will be, but it will definitely will be different, and on a smaller scale than what I had before, if it exists as a recognizable shrine at all. It may not. And that's the surprising thing; that this was even possible. That I was ready; I didn't even know I was ready. I hadn't thought about it at all, really, until practicality trumped my faded need for unwavering stability in all things A. That's how it's gone all along, though. Things lose their magic over time, and keeping them in their place is no longer an analogue to keeping myself stable and together. And I think it happens when the magic is no longer needed, because when it happens, it's not painful.

In this case, my practical need for a functioning, workable music space is a higher priority than preserving a dedicated mourning space. I can integrate the stuff into my home now, I think, because I have integrated the loss in my soul. It doesn't require a special time, a special place; it's part of me. I think A would be proud, and happy that I'm arranging my life, and my space, around my music, rather than around reminders of my grief. He's probably thinking, "about time, baby."

Every time I think I'm beyond any new and remarkable demonstrations of healing, something like this happens, and I think, "whoa--this is big. Go me." It is, I think, wise to respect the pain, and worthwhile to celebrate the healing thereof. I'm a widow; I still want my damn parade (even a tiny little one in my heart) every time I show myself to have healed, survived, and grown. We all deserve that.

Monday, February 27, 2012


At my massage the other day, I was talking to my therapist (who is also a close friend), and we were gabbing about doctors, and how they chalk things up to middle/old/whatever age, essentially recusing themselves from having to do anything to try to help you. "Useless doctors" is a favorite rant of mine, for sure. I shared an anecdote about A, and how he was a jogger, and when he went to the doctor about his knees that were bothering him on his runs, he basically got a "Whaddayawant? You're 40" kind of response. I commented that what he wanted was knees that were going to work for another 40 years, which actually turned out to be just 15 in his case.

The conversation moved on, as did the massage, and at the end, she wrapped various bits of me in hot towels and left me to relax on the table for a bit. In the solitude, I found myself staring up at the ceiling and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere (but obviously triggered by the earlier conversational topic), my mind was shouting:

You died! How can you be dead? People don't generally die at 55; it's an abnormally young age to die.

It was a visceral reaction, felt more than thought, and stunning for its unexpected intensity, and it's unexpectedness, period. Sometimes it's like living in a dream. Well, not my dreams, which are always bizarre in the extreme, but maybe someone else's, where the oddest things are accepted and taken for granted in the dreamscape when they would make no sense at all in waking life. Time, habit, and a lot of hard work have acclimated me to the bizarre occurrence (in my life, if not in the world) that was A's death. But sometimes...sometimes I wake up in the middle of it like this and realize the shock never really went away; it was just dampened for a long time. Not that I'm complaining; you can't keep going if the edge of that knife is not dulled over time. But it's always, always there.

5 years, 7 months, 12 days later, and this has not changed: I understand that this is; I will never understand why it is. It still surprises me that it's true.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks, but have been so busy DOING the thing that I haven't sat down and done the writing about it.

I find myself in the midst of a bathroom renovation, the second task of which was to gut my shower, pulling down a ton of tile and the drywall behind it. And almost as soon as I began, I was both bemused and amused at how it echoed a detail from A's life.

When I first knew A, he and his wife were living separate lives under one roof, and had been for a few years. He was waiting for her to make a move and get the ball rolling on the divorce she'd asked for, and there were several projects around the house he said he'd do to get the house ready for the eventual sale they both expected as a part of the divorce, the largest of which was a bathroom renovation. He said that as bad as living there still was, he wasn't about to come back and work on a house he was no longer living in. He told me that the wall behind the shower had been pulled down completely, and he needed to put up new backer board and retile it. The shower was currently unusable.

He moved out to his own apartment the month before we finally met in person, my visit being the impetus to make the move at that time, bathroom and other projects be damned. He liked his new place, though he only lived there for a year and a half before he died. He never did finish the bathroom, or any other projects, for his soon-to-be-ex-wife; it was just one of many things he left unfinished. But I think about it and smile, and think maybe he would, too, about the ultimate, unintentional, "fuck you" it ended up being. "Get someone else to fix your shower, lady. I'm outta here." It's kind of like the jury duty he got out of, though I've joked to him (wherever he is) that it's a damnably extreme gambit for skipping jury duty.

As I've stood there sweating, broken tiles flying and a layer of crumbing drywall dust sifting over me, I think of him working on that bathroom, and me being so impressed, because I wouldn't know how to do anything like that, and wouldn't take it on. And I think about who I am now, because I'm doing it. And I think about how I'm finishing the bathroom he started...and maybe it's my job to finish lots of things he started, or at least make my contribution to the inexorable continuation of life.

That is not to say that he didn't complete his own life; by some cosmic reckoning, maybe he well and truly did, however incomplete it appears to those of us left behind. But rather, it's more that, for the first time, I've felt in a very real way how it is on the survivors to take what we learned from those we lost, what they gave us, and how they shaped us into the people we are now, and use that going forward. That this is the best kind of ongoing tribute and memorial to those we love and have lost. Early on, I told myself that I couldn't grieve myself into oblivion forever, because I owed it to him to live, to really live instead of just exist, because that's what he'd want, and because he couldn't. But it was all talk, an intellectual consideration. It wasn't until I had tools in hand, picking up in my own life where he left off in his own, though, that I felt it, rather than thought it. I didn't even feel this way as I've moved forward in playing guitar, probably because I was so far behind him that I may not ever catch up, but this bathroom I can finish; maybe that's the difference.

Many times since he died, I've hoped that A is proud of me for what I'm doing, how I've healed, who I've become in, and because of, his absence. But surprisingly, I find I'm proud of myself when I suddenly become aware that I am doing something he could've or would've done, or said something he would've, because he was a good, and kind, and patient, and brilliant, and skilled man. My life is very much my own; I am not trying to live his for him, nor could I ever succeed in doing so. But it pleases me when I find my life, or my thoughts, running in familiar traces; for in those moments, our lives coincide once again. These are, in a way, new memories I can make with him, connecting my present, a future he could never foresee, with the past he shared with me and that which we lived together. I'd like to think he sees, knows, and it pleases him, too.