Monday, July 15, 2013


Today marks the 7th anniversary of A's death, and it's that number that's probably giving me the most trouble today.  Sure, he's been on my mind more front-and-center (though he's never far from it), and I've been more prone to being farklempt at various moments during the day, because I'm more inclined to allow myself to feel all the feelings I generally push past unless I have no choice, because it doesn't do much good at this point to indulge in them.  And I'm more likely to do memorial things today, which are often the key that opens Fibber McGee's emotional closet where I keep all that stuff.

But what weighs on me, what I can't get over, is that it's been 7 years.  If you'd asked me 7 years ago if 7 years was a short time or a long time, I would've said a very long time.  If I'd filed for bankruptcy when A died, I'd be free and clear now.  Widowhood offers no such clemency.  I got through high school and most of college in 7 years.  It seems like such a vast amount of time; or at least, it used to. 

But now, in this one thing, it seems insignificant.  As I've thought about it as this sadiversary approached, I was often simultaneously impressed with myself for putting myself back together so well over this time, and wondering where the time went.  How did I get here so quickly?  How I went from talking to him multiple times in a single day, every day, to having not heard a single word from him in 2,556 days.  How I swore in those early days I'd never survive this, never be happy again, and (whispered only to myself) didn't want to be, only to still be here, reasonably content with life.  Reasonably, but not entirely; but then again, who is ever entirely content with life?  It's probably too much to ask.

It was a bit of a rough early summer, and I find myself frequently wandering old, well-rutted paths of ennui as I look at my life, and think, "Well, this is all fine and occasionally amusing and delightful, but is it interesting and fulfilling enough to warrant another 40 years of it?  Really?"  I never did manage to come up with a whole bunch of new dreams after he died.  I have no bucket list, and whenever I take two minutes to think about making one, nothing comes to mind. 

Theoretically, I've lived only half my life.  In the first half, I've been born and had chicken pox and measles and a catastrophic accident before I hit puberty that left me half-blind.  I've had and fought with and lost friends.  I've fallen in love a number of times, been married just once and done pretty well at it (knock wood), but we've been on the edge a few times, so I know what that looks like, too.  I have had my heart broken horribly, once by family and once by A when he died.  I've been widowed, and come back to the land of the living.  I've had a bunch of jobs and two careers, and I've already retired.  I've suffered chronic pain for well over a decade.  I have to seriously ask, what's left?  The only things I've missed are having kids (and I wouldn't say I missed it, Bob), being famous, divorce, and terminal illness.  The first two aren't going to happen, and the last two I'm happy to avoid if at all possible.  But if that's all I haven't experienced, if that's all I have to potentially look forward to...sigh. 

I don't know how to stop feeling so old, tired, and, more often than I care for, bored with it.  Often I pull in my focus to only look at things closely, so I can appreciate a random bright red leaf in a muddy brown lane, or a sweet, simple harmony in a song, or the white hairs in E's beard that didn't used to be there.  Like I've had to set my mental camera on life to the little flower setting just so I can enjoy it at all.  It's not that I don't know how to enjoy things; I'm actually pretty good at it.  It's just that sometimes, I feel like I'm just keeping busy in this thing called life just for the sake of keeping busy; there is no sense of purpose, other than what the moment requires because dinner needs to be made, dogs need to be pet, and laundry needs to be folded.  And I don't know if there's some kind of slippery Zen wisdom in such a life, or if I'm doing it wrong.  Thing is, if it's the latter, I don't know how to do it right.  I used to think I was doing it right, and when the bottom fell out of all my various notions and coping mechanisms after A died, I realized that it was just all mere magical thinking.  I didn't know half the things I'd previously thought I was certain about.  And living your life any particular, imagined "right" way may benefit you as you're living it (though there's no guarantee of that, either), but it offers no protection whatsoever when the shit hits the fan, when life hits you so hard you collapse for a long time.

But if I'm doing it wrong, is the wrong in the action or the attitude?  What action must I take to make sure my inner-childlike wonder isn't drowned out by the old, tired, bored widow?  Or, how do I cultivate my natural appreciation of the beautiful minutiae to have more patience and acceptance that truly, this is all I need to do, and there's nothing else to be done, or pondered, or worried about? 

If I could walk away from my penchant for existential musing, that might be a really excellent start.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

9 years ago I met the man I loved and lost

Nine years ago today, A and I "met." E-mailed, really. Neither of us had the faintest inkling of the relationship that would develop between us that day.

He loved me to the end of his days. And I love him still; every single day of my life for the last nine years has been affected by him: by his presence, by his love, and for nearly seven years now, by his death and absence. It kills me that the years I loved a living man are already so dwarfed by the years I've been in love with a dead man. But the love is the same, if not deeper.

An anniversary remembered, and marked, by one alone, is one of the saddest things in the world.

I watched an HBO movie, Mary and Martha, while I ironed yesterday. In it (spoiler alert!), two mothers, both of whom lose their sons to malaria while in Africa, meet. There were all kinds of sad in the movie, but I didn't start crying until Martha comes to the school where her son worked and meets his African girlfriend, and takes the young woman in her arms. I have never been a mother, so while I sympathized with the mothers, it was the young widow that I empathized with. I always do.

I was reading a magazine tonight, an article that quoted a woman named Lillian Smith, who said, "The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making."

And here I am.

When I let myself really miss him...when I really look at the photos hard...god, it hurts.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Curse my excellent mix CD skills

Earlier this month, I took a roadtrip to California, to help my friend P settle in to her new place. She retired 6 months before I did, at the age of 75, and had been in the middle of a long run of ill health with few answers when she did that continues unabated. Last summer, a year after her retirement, things had gotten bad enough that she had to go live with her daughter, which is where she's been until this recent move. Until now, she hasn't been well enough to live alone again. I helped her kids pack up and move most of her stuff to storage at Christmastime, and moved it all onto a truck Easter weekend so it could join her in California. Her kids were going to drive the truck out and get her reasonably set up, and I was going to follow a week later to continue the settling in.

It's been twenty years since I took such a long solo road trip, and I was a little nervous about it, because I have a horrible propensity for falling asleep at the wheel on long drives. Fortunately, or unfortunately perhaps, the wind was so terrible on the highway that it required all my attention and effort to keep the car on the road, so falling asleep wasn't ever a consideration. Keeping me company was my iPod, the music's volume cranked high above the wind and road noise.

For the last nine years, a group of my fellow bloggers and I have swapped mix CDs every year at Christmas, and I decided to listen to all 9 of them in a row in a bid to not be fiddling with the iPod while driving every time an album ended. Safety first and all that. The thing about these mixes is that they are, in their way, a time capsule, both in the annual theme and the songs themselves, because they reflect what I was listening to, and living with, at the time.

I was tooling down the highway, happily singing along to the mixes, including Year 3, which was the Christmas five months after A died. The theme that year, the organizer told me, was chosen in part because of me, and what I was going through. I faltered a little on "A Dream Goes on Forever," but recovered and was going strong right into the penultimate song on that mix, "I Know You by Heart," until, somewhere in the second verse, without warning, I had an instantaneous meltdown. The words were strangled as my throat closed up, tears ran down my face, and I began to sob. None of these things are good things when you're going 80 mph in a dust storm down the interstate, but there was nothing I could do, and no place, really, to pull over.

I don't know if it was because I was headed to California; I wouldn't have thought so, because I was headed to SoCal, and all my memories with A are in NorCal. Maybe; it was probably the song itself, because I'd sent a section of it in an e-mail to A as part of a love letter when he was still alive. But I cried harder, and felt his loss more immediately and more deeply, viscerally, than I have in quite some time. I can't remember the last time I cried that hard for him, or ached so much for missing him, but it was all right there in that moment, reminding me how glad I am that I don't feel all that very often anymore. At the same time, it was reassuring, because sometimes I feel like he's "so long ago and so far away," like I've forgotten too much; forgotten more than I ever wanted to.

The outburst didn't last long. I cried hard for maybe five minutes; probably less. But the melancholy stuck with me for many miles afterward, and on and off throughout the three days I was in California. Because the fact of the matter is, my friend is dying. There is no cure, and the treatments are burdensome, exhausting, and seemingly not of much help to her. I am astonished at how tired, frail, and elderly she seems now, something that was not at all evident previously in our friendship, despite our 30-year age difference. It's not happening in a terrible hurry, but what P is suffering from is no doubt going to take her life eventually. And there is not a damn thing she, or I, can do about it but appreciate the time we have, and expect the inevitable. I remember telling E that he, A, and P were my best friends in the world, of my whole life, and now I was without one. I dread the future where I'm surely going to be without two of them, and all the jokes about their being at my gigs "in spirit" will be all too true, and not a bit funny anymore. I selfishly contemplate my own heartbreak, and fear going through it again, though I am resigned, because I know too well there's nothing I can do. I know that wishing and loving cannot keep someone alive. And I am once again angry in the face of my ultimate helplessness.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Take a decade, leave a decade

Last Friday should've been A's 62nd birthday, the 7th birthday now he's missed. I thought I was getting through the day all right, but by dinnertime, I realized I was kind of out of it. Not as much sad as distracted and finding it hard to concentrate. I was trying to put together a complex dinner of grilled burgers and baked French fries, and was just scatterbrained throughout. As I thought about it later, I realized that it was no doubt the birthday doing it. When these milestone dates come up, or something triggers some subconscious grief, it now manifests more often as more brain flatulence than usual, or irritability, or both.

Two weeks ago, we were back in E's hometown, and while we were there, we visited his aged great-aunt, who is pushing 98 now. She's been ready to leave this world for at least 5 years, maybe more, and frankly, I can't blame her. She's been widowed for some years. She has macular degeneration, dementia, and is so physically frail, she's not supposed to leave her chair, even to go to the bathroom, without assistance, lest she fall...again. She spends all day sitting in a chair, watching TV or her birds at the feeder outside her window, and wonders aloud frequently why she's still here. She does it frequently, because she forgets she just talked about it; she mentioned it at least 5 times in the 45 minutes we were there. She's taken to quizzing her pastor why she's still here when he visits, and he tells her that God has a plan for her. She is lucid enough to ask him what is the point of plan involves her sitting in a chair all her waking hours, unable to move, alone in the world but for an aging niece and the people who work at her facility, barely able to see, her body and mind largely non-functional when it comes to daily living, but not broken enough to get on with dying.

I think it's a fair question. She is not having new experiences. She is not learning new things. She is not meeting new people; neither is she able to enjoy the ones she knows--after a little prompting, she finally remembered E, but as a 4-year-old boy; she didn't remember all the times she'd visited with him as a man, as recently as 5 years ago. And she had no idea who I was, other than a friendly face she could talk to. She is merely waiting for her body to finally give out, and frustrated that it hasn't yet. I can't blame her.

I'm not a "God's plan" person to begin with. If there is a rhyme or reason to this life, to this universe, (and I'm willing to accept the possibility that there is), it is irrelevant to my living my life if I'm not privy to what it is. If there is one, then I suspect it is something along the lines of us experiencing, learning, growing, and loving in ever-expanding consciousness throughout our lives; if we aren't doing that, for whatever reason, then we are dead, regardless of our breathing lungs and beating hearts. I tend to operate under the idea that if I'm still alive, I still have work to do in this life. But I look at her, and I see no work left to be done, and even if there were, no ability remaining to her to do it. If there are lessons to learn, and insights to come to, they will have to arrive clear as day in front of her in her tiny room; she will not find them in the books she can't read, or the experiences she can't have, or the housemates she can't communicate with because of her problems, and theirs.

Ever since, I have been nagged by the question of why someone whose life is so obviously at an end, whose experiences have contracted down to televised golf and mealtimes, who is so very ready to go, gets so many years she doesn't want, and sees no end to, and why someone like A, who was in his middle-aged prime, a new grandfather, with a new love in his life, and enjoying his work and his family and me, didn't get even the average number of years humans can expect? He would've gladly had the years that my great-aunt-in-law would gladly dispense with, and those of us who loved him, and her, could not object to the trade, for both their sakes. In this, I cannot ask, "What is the plan?" I can only ask "What the hell is the point?" I find it staggeringly cruel and unjust that the reward for living to a very old age is to lose all your friends, most of your family, your physical and mental faculties, your freedom, such that you yearn for death, even as others are cut down, robbed of years they could've put to better use.

Like all the rest of such questions, I don't expect any kind of answer. But as I see this play out in my own life, it makes me less philosophical and more angry, in a "WTF?" kind of way. It is this kind of thing, as much as anything, that makes me think there couldn't be any kind of plan at all; a 4-year-old wouldn't come up with a plan this illogical, let alone a higher power.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day 2013

On February 10, 2007, I was sitting in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, A's sister to my immediate left, and several of his closest friends beyond her. We were there together, wearing shirts with his beautiful face on them (a picture I took), in his honor, to attend a Tommy Emmanuel concert. Tommy was a favorite of A's, and a topic of some of our earliest conversations. He told me that he'd just gone to a show at the invitation of a friend and seen this Australian guy who got more out of an acoustic guitar than A had ever thought possible. He gave me the name, I looked him up on iTunes, and was an instant fan. When he died, he had tickets for two different Tommy Emmanuel shows waiting to be used within the next month or so; obviously, he never used them. Which was the inspiration for our group outing to the show in February.

Six years to the week later, this past Tuesday I found myself sitting in the Fox Theatre in Tucson, my new boyfriend to my immediate left, my best girlfriends to my right, and my guitar teacher and his wife in the same row right across the aisle from us, to see Tommy Emmanuel. It was my 8th time, my friend B's second, and everyone else was seeing him live for the first time, and I was excited for them, because Tommy has to be seen to be believed; he's that amazing. I knew when I bought the tickets, the timing of Tommy's first show in Tucson was auspicious, resonating with that tribute show we all attended. But as I sat in the audience among my friends, I pondered the particular appropriateness of this collection of folks with me at this show.

There was my dear friend B, whom I met at guitar camp, a guitar camp I chose in large part because it brought me to northern California, and therefore closer to A. I flew into his town and he drove me to camp that first year, stayed up there with me the second year, and it was she who told me she'd take care of me if I fell apart when I went the third year, 6 months after he died. After he was gone, and she and I became such good friends, I couldn't help but feel that A wasn't the only reason I was supposed to go to that particular camp; I was supposed to go there to meet B, too.

There was her partner, P, who has become another dear friend in her own right, and has taken care of this broken, problematic body of mine for years now, easing my soul in the process with her kind ways and generous heart. It was on a trip to visit the two of them, when I was 15 months out, that I had the first feeling that I was going to be all right. Intellectually, I knew I would heal in time (though what that would look like, I hadn't the foggiest). But they took me out, and they loved me through it, and as I sat on the back of the motorcycle of a friend of theirs, riding past a beautiful lake as aspen leaves floated down upon and around us like confetti, I thought, "Life IS good." And I felt the truth of it in that moment. A always said "Life is good." It was hard for me to see that up until that point, and to be honest, at many points thereafter. But with them, I always come away feeling better: filled up, healed; not just on that trip. They're that kind of people. And now they live in my city and we see each other all the time, so I'm very lucky.

A had been my guitar guru, my cheerleader, the one who got me playing the guitar after I'd completely given up. If not for him, I wouldn't be a musician today; I'm always sure of that, and I told him that often, though he would never accept credit for it. A year or so after he died, I bought a set of guitar lesson DVDs, in a fit of pique, actually, angry that he was no longer here to guide me in my learning to play guitar; one more loss on top of a mountain of them. But I never did anything with them, and ended up passing them on to a friend years later. Two years ago, however, I'd realized I'd run up against my own limitations as a self-taught guitarist, and I needed a new teacher. And I was ready for one who wasn't A. As it turns out, I couldn't have picked a better one. So for him to be there with me at the Tommy show, his lovely wife at his side, enjoying a guitarist that A had introduced to me, and I had introduced to everyone there with me, including my guitar teacher, seemed apropos.

And finally, my boyfriend. I started dating again this past summer, somewhat accidentally, but it wasn't until then that I could even consider it. Of course, being married makes it less imperative to even think about trying, but that aside, I wasn't ready or interested. I have had the two great loves of my life, and didn't expect another; it seemed greedy, somehow. And I love him, but it is very different, as it must be. It is not the same kind of relationship I have with E, or had with A. He is different. Circumstances are different. And I, too, am different. And as lovely as it is, it makes me think often of A, of the things that were so effortless with him, the way we clicked and always understood each other. I still miss that so much. I still miss him so much. I sometimes wish he hadn't been so wonderful, such a delightful human being, and a great man; then maybe everyone else in the world wouldn't suffer so much by comparison.

Still, the fact that I have made another positive, loving connection in this life is all to the good, and certainly beyond anything I dared to imagine in the early, or later, days of my widowhood. I'm sure we all say that, though I should've known better--I was poly before he died, whereas for most widows, this is a new concept, loving more than one person infinitely and equally. And for him to be there at the Tommy show with all of us, it just kind of felt like the circle was complete in a way. Because not one of those people, not the one on the stage, nor the ones sitting with me, would've been in my life if not for A. It is both strange and amazing to contemplate.

So here we are again on Valentine's Day. I was disappointed on Valentine's Day 2006, because A totally spaced getting me a card. He totally spaced a lot of things that spring, and in hindsight, I think the heart disease that would kill him just 5 months later was having an effect on him already; he was moody and snappish and forgetful; totally unlike himself. Out in the backyard this afternoon, I heard a hummingbird making a considerable racket, and I said hello, to A, thanking him for the little winged messenger, and razzing him that he didn't get me a card this year.

Valentine's Day, 7 years later. Nothing, and everything, has changed.