Whirly Woman

F12E879A-077B-43AC-A15F-377C04FA62E5

When Michael and I were expecting our first baby, we spent lots of time talking about the type of parents we wanted to be, along with the kind of atmosphere we hoped to create in our home.  I think that’s what most people do. Michael in particular wanted to build a space where our children felt totally accepted for who they were, where their friends were always welcome, a home that was a truly secure haven. So what was one of the first things we did when we brought our little girl home from the hospital? We put her little downstairs daytime bed right underneath the stereo in the orange room which was our combination music room and library. After ten years of rocking out at mega-decibels, we wanted to make sure she could get used to sleeping with the volume turned up. The photo above shows her lying there, angelically asleep, with Michael smiling as one of our dogs gazed at this novel little creature. I’m there, too, my top half missing from the shot. I’m sure the whole room was vibrating.E6DE1A57-F065-403A-A4D3-F55FCA6727AA

Our plan worked. We created a little rocker who fit right in with us. Her early musical tastes were focused on a lot of one-hit wonder tunes, like Mickey and Come On, Eileen. Michael, who through his record store had access to all kinds of music, started making House Favorites tapes and then, CD’s, first for all of us, and then eventually, just for our little girl.
E804F084-6B07-4932-ADEA-8D8392E00CEE

In early 1983, a pop song named Whirly Girl by the group OXO was released and climbed into the top 30 records on the Billboard Charts. Our baby was crazy about it so we played it all the time. The other day as I was working out in the yard, it popped up on a random shuffle in my headphones. Initially, I was swamped with memories from that time but ultimately I focused on the song title because that’s how my mind feels right now – whirly.

There’s a certain amount of time I spend every day thinking about either the masks war, in which people absolutely refuse to wear a mask because doing so stomps on their individual freedom, or the fact that so many who do comply, wear them incorrectly. When I venture out into the world, invariably I run into either one or both of those types. I absolutely do not get any of this. Absent the financial means to afford one, I don’t understand how anyone who is a member of a community greater than one, treasures this freedom of theirs as more valuable than public health. I wonder how they’d have felt if they had to sew yellow stars on their clothes so they could be easily identified by their religion. I get pretty roily inside when I think about how small and selfish their minds must be. Especially when they wrap up their righteous rage in the flag or the Constitution. Grrr. Then there are these folks who are actually wearing the masks absolutely incorrectly. Their noses aren’t covered, the mask is below their chins or hanging off one ear. I find this particularly maddening when I go to pick up food from an institution with a big sign touting all the healthful protocols their business is taking to protect everyone’s health. Do these owners check on their employees? I mean, is slipping two loops over your ears as complex as solving a Rubik’s cube? Rocket science? Should I gently point out their mistakes? Or just continue to fume away about the level of stupid and selfish I see around me? I guess the pandemic is turning me into an intolerant, crotchety old lady. Or maybe that’s who I’ve always been without the old part. BF1F0932-107A-43D3-B004-9A0988C9E985Of course, there is the daily dose of Trumpian dystopia which relentlessly  escalates, despite the feeling that each awful revelation from the day before is the zenith of his horrors. The bigotry and racism seemed hard to top, along with the denial of the Covid19 crisis,  but now we find ourselves in the midst of a new madness, which essentially put the lives of American troops into a dark marketplace of murder and headhunting for bounties. Do I feel incredulous? Sadly, no. Truly, this person seems utterly devoid of any interior moral foundation. He is the definition of self. I don’t know whether his simple fascination with tyrannical leaders is just wishful dreaming, or whether Putin really does have the ultimate blackmail item in his back pocket which he can pull out at any time. Right now I’m glad that the EU has banned travel from the US into their countries. Given everything, that action seems fitting.  My mind indeed is a whirly place.

Final approval of your loan is in progress…You have conditional approval on your loan application. We’re currently reviewing the remaining documentation required for final approval.

In the midst of the outside big world jumble, I managed to complicate my life a little further. Back in 2012, when Michael got diagnosed with his cancer, we refinanced our house. We were looking to pay off outstanding bills, get extra cash for out-of-pocket treatment costs and enough money to take some trips. When you get a diagnosis with an almost certain prognosis of death, you try to stuff in as many life experiences as you can, especially the ones you thought would be part of a retirement that would stretch out for years, given the longevity in Michael’s family. The best-laid plans, right? During the five years that Michael survived, we took advantage of that strategy. After he died in May, 2017, I wasn’t in the mental space to give much thought to mortgages and the like. I was in survival mode. During the last three years, I’ve done my own traveling while trying to adjust to my highly undesired new life. But during this time of isolation, I have swung back around to the business of my big old house. I’ve done a lot of physical fixing. Noting that interest rates for mortgages  had dropped well below what we’d gotten 8 years ago, I decided to refinance, shortening the term and saving lots of money. Sounded like a good plan – everything was moving along nicely when I suddenly realized that an appraisal was required. After the sordid housing crisis of 2008, the lenders have tightened up the requirements from appraisers. They now take photos of every room in your house, all the mechanical items and even the basement and garage. Uh-oh. I’ve made a few sporadic efforts at cleaning the garage, Michael’s domain, which is full of intriguing stuff. The only time I go into the basement is when it’s time to change the furnace filter. It’s actually a dark, creepy cellar with awful stairs which is accessible only from the outside. Years ago, one of my son’s friends was making a horror film. He asked if he could shoot part of it in our basement as it was one of the scariest places in town.

What a nightmare. I spent hours down there, sweeping, sorting, finding a few treasures and mostly ancient junk like carburetor parts and old lawnmower engines. The garage wasn’t much better. This business-y idea turned out to be grindingly hard labor. I stashed aside some potentially salvageable 45’s and albums that were somehow overlooked when we divested ourselves of Michael’s collection. Most of everything else went into the garbage. The appraiser came and went. She said things were fine. If only she’d seen it all before my massive efforts. Ah, well. All that’s left is my exhaustion and a who-do-I-think-I’m-kidding-at-my-age hangover that’s making it hard to get up from my chair.

Whirling back to the outside, life in the yard is good. I have nesting house wrens, cardinals and robins. They’re making good use of my birdbaths and cubbies for raising their hatchlings. The monarchs have found the milkweed. I could do without the big influx of rabbits along with the omnipresent squirrels who’ve eaten too many plants, denuded blossoms getting ready to open, and vandalized vegetables for no good reason that I can discern. I’ve engaged them in a race for the black raspberries, though and have chalked up a minor victory.

The flowers of course are magnificent and bring me great joy. The labor involved in urging them out of the ground is worth it. Just looking at them helps ratchet down the constant whirling thoughts that flit from subject to subject in my clicking head. Today, I put my coping skills to good use by enhancing my personal relaxation space with an outdoor mini-spa for myself. I don’t see getting back in the water any time soon. This will do for the present. As the saying goes, “adapt or die.”

As I mull over this life, so different from what I ever thought possible, I did have one recent experience that was delightful and satisfying. One of the hardest issues I’ve faced since Michael died was the collective responses that people have had to me and my feelings about my future. I’ve always known that I would never want to have another partner. That attitude was met with different reactions. Some people thought my grief was too fresh for me to know what I’d want. They’d say, give it some time to go through the stages following a big loss. Then we’ll see if you change your mind. If I talked about the challenges of being alone, they’d say, but you have your children and grandchildren. And that means what? They have their own lives. We intersect, as always. But it’s not the same as climbing in bed every night with your best friend and lover. As the months have passed, I’ve concluded that there’s just a lot of discomfort in these kinds of discussions. Unless you’ve lived the same life as someone else, you just don’t know what will work for them. And everyone’s relationship with their partners is different. I believe mine was an aspirational love that was rare. I had it for 45 years. I’m still in it. I feel my relationship every day, deep in the core of me. I don’t believe I could ever have that again and anything less is irrelevant. I have a number of people, most importantly my kids, who get this.Often, I draw a blank stare. But I had a great thing happen with one of my oldest friends, someone that both Michael and I’ve known for over 50 years.  Our lives have been closely connected all that time.

Glenn and Michael met at college in 1967 and lived in the same fraternity house, although Michael moved out after a year. I met Glenn when I came to college in 1968, through a high school friend of mine. I didn’t meet Michael until 1971, but he and I both always knew Glenn. We all socialized, but initially, with different groups of people who ultimately became blended. Glenn and I had a date once – the most memorable part of that for us both was really enjoying the album we were listening to – Tea for the Tillerman. 83BC27D4-6080-4D0F-BDF5-696B372F7ECFWhen I was arrested in 1971 at an anti-war demonstration, Glenn bailed me out of jail. All three of us worked at the record store which ultimately became Michael’s career for the 27 years before he became a history teacher. When Michael and I became a couple in 1972, Glenn would visit us on a regular basis to enjoy the verbal sparring and bickering we engaged in, very different from his non-confrontational style. Glenn told me he was afraid that I’d overpower sweet Michael with my combat-boot personal style, but that  never happened. We were with him through a series of his relationships up to and including his marriage which has now lasted decades. We shared life events together, from having kids to losing family members. He and Michael went on white-water rafting and canoe trips. We played Hearts and Spades together on a regular basis and wound up going to a lake in Michigan every summer for years with a group of old friends for family camp. Glenn worked for the city for which Michael was an alderman and later, head of the city’s planning commission. They were both involved with the local food bank. When we had our daughter, Glenn gave her more gifts for her first birthday than we did. Twenty-five years later, he became a certified wedding officiant and performed her wedding ceremony. When Michael was withdrawn into the last stage of his life, he saw Glenn once, the only person who got into our house besides medical professionals and our family.

Last week, I went to see Glenn and his wife Colleen for an outdoor social distanced visit, the first time I’d seen them in many months. We had a lot to catch up on, what we’d all been doing, what was happening with our kids, how we felt about the current state of the world. Glenn asked me how I was managing, going through this weird time on my own. I told him that I never really felt alone, as Michael’s presence is just here, all the time. In the most normal, conversational tone, he said, “you know, it feels like your relationship with Michael right now is a lot better than it was right after he died.” I was startled, delighted and I laughed a lot. I’ve been laughing about it periodically. I told him that I was so utterly drained and devastated after Michael’s death that it had taken me awhile to recover from the expensive emotional price wrested from me by those challenging years. Now I’ve had a lot of recovery time and the way I feel with Michael is like the majority of our life together, wonderful,  rather than those painful, stressful times. So, yeah, we’re good. Still arguing in some of my dreams, though. I was really delighted that for the first time, someone acted normal and accepting of me rather than awkward or judgmental. That meant a lot. D8C9BDC0-49BC-4DA7-BEB0-04C0296A37EDI’ve covered a lot of mental turf in this post. As I said, these days, I’m a whirly woman. Actually that might always have been true – it’s just that these days, everything feels exaggerated. On to the next set of thoughts. ACBA8B2E-6051-4209-AAE4-D1EA773D30DE

Elsewhere

1369469F-8C73-4030-BA30-709D79456429I’m getting tired of here. By here, I don’t mean any actual physical space. I mean the internal here I occupy most of the time. My internal here is noisy, virtually never quiet. Even my dreams make a racket, at least the ones I remember. They are vivid and seem based on problem-solving efforts, although sometimes,  I can’t figure out if I’m working on one problem or many. I view my internal here as practical and realistic. That’s how it seems from my point of view. My family sometimes says it’s negative and depressing. I understand why. I don’t leave a lot of room for flights of fancy or long-range plans these days. For the present moment, which I’ve fought hard to learn to stay in, I can’t see much out there to inspire optimism. For the time being, I believe in the power of Covid19. Based on everything I read, it still seems to be working its way at will through a complicit populace which has clearly not bought into the concept of delayed gratification. The desire to assert individual autonomy against an organism which is currently unpreventable makes no sense to me. But as a person who lives in a community, those people’s desires impact my life. Those who love me want me to stick around for awhile. That being the case, I have to decide how risk-averse I need to be as I don’t trust the behavior of folks out there, most of whom I don’t know, who have the power to alter the course of my life or even my death. I expect to be social distancing for a long time. It may become even more pronounced than it is now.

0A7CB6B1-DFC8-42E1-A0DD-797CED73399B

I live in a university community. A looming influx of over 40,000 students is expected for August. Although there are measures being taken to mitigate the potential spread of the virus, I know that many of these young people won’t be following all the rules. Seeing how many older people have opted out of the simplest action of wearing a mask doesn’t bode well for limiting community disease transmission. That being the case, how do you convince young people to employ best practices? It’s college. Ostensibly the best years of their lives. Social distancing and masks? Good luck with that. My son-in-law teaches at the university. Exposure will be an issue. My daughter is an attorney whose job will ultimately require her to see prisoners in the petri dishes called prisons, where Covid is spreading like wildfire. I’m fearful for them and their children. If the kids return to school this fall, they’ll have exposure to their classmates, their classmates’ families and all the personnel who work in their building.

BCD209F4-4072-41ED-AABA-1AD07D25ECE7

My eldest grandson told me today that he didn’t want to be exposed to anyone with the virus. He has lots of thoughts about how to safely attend school. Oh my. He sweetly said that the time he gets to spend with me every week is one of the highlights of his life. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the advent of school would likely change the time we spend together. We can address tgat when the time comes. For the time being, we’re living in the now, as I said.

A418A62B-05AD-4AE6-8607-D9E6E6D4EACB

But I do have an eye toward the future because of this time, unprecedented in our lives. Right now that future holds no travel plans. My son and I have spoken several times about the possibility of visiting Greece. For many years, Michael and I had hoped to make it there, but his unexpected illness and death foiled that dream. My son was eager to help me scratch that trip off my bucket list, and was also interested in exploring that country himself. Recently, he mentioned to me that he was anxious about making our plans for the trip. Greece? I can’t imagine leaving town for even a day, much less a lengthy, complex journey like that one.

C192BBB6-AD1B-47EC-98C4-B69CE9C672A6

So yes, I’m significantly tired of here. The positive news is that I’m getting pretty good at distracting myself from the daily me. I’m going elsewhere. Elsewhere is an undercurrent humming along inside of me. A frequency that I tune into, most often unexpectedly, but lately, with intent. Not surprisingly, it feels mostly like I’m tapping into the strength and power of what Michael and I built between us for 45 years. It’s kind of like a 24 hour all music radio station. I’m quite astonished by what it feels like as its presence is so unlike my usual solid, grounded self. I float there like a balloon attached by the most slender filament to here. I wish there was a more corporeal element to this place. But I’ll take what I can get. This space is really safe. I get to be exactly who I am and there’s never anything but acceptance all around me. I’m worry-free.  I breathe the relaxing, liberating feelings in, deep gulps of air that seem so visceral they appear to be infiltrating my blood vessels, enriching them. I’ve been hunting for the endorphin rushes that I’ve been missing without swimming and without the physical intimacy I lost when Michael died. Somehow, in this ephemeral way, I’m able to immerse myself in this almost inexplicable, buoying stream coursing through me.F31018A5-0B69-4117-B92C-6985F6AEB11EThe other day, I found a handful of ripe black raspberries in a patch that Michael planted behind our garage years ago. They’ve been pretty sparse in recent summers. The birds or other yard visitors would get to them before I did. Or maybe I was too diverted by bigger issues to notice them. In any case, this year I’ve paid attention. I harvested a few at the end of a gardening day, rinsed them off and indulged myself. Eating food fresh from your yard is one of life’s sweetest moments. Just putting them in my mouth took me out of this time into other hot days when Michael and I filled our colanders with them, drizzling the berries with a bit of sugar while our lips and tongues turned a dark purple-y red from the juice which ran down our chins. That was elsewhere. I hung out in that space for awhile, appreciating how Michael was managing to nourish me despite his absence.

Father’s Day came. Late in the night, I sat in our bed, poring over years of photos, ones of me and my dad, my dad with my children for those oh-too-brief years. And then there were all the ones of Michael and me and our babies. I don’t really need the photos to remember. I vividly recall the births of both of them, with Michael at my side, talking me through those moments, especially those scary ones before you get to know if everything is alright.

You don’t really get to know how things will work when you decide to go from two to three and whatever lies beyond three. I remember thinking long and hard about if I’d be able to parent in a way that I’d find acceptable when I looked back over time. I have a significant problem with regret. I wanted to be sure, as sure as anyone can ever be, that I’d be a mother that my kids would be glad they’d gotten. I think Michael felt the same way, even more so, since his family of origin was far from an ideal experience. The one crystal clear baseline was that both of us really wanted to be parents together. There were bumps in the road, as we were far from perfect. But I can say without reservation that making a family with Michael still feels as thrilling to me now as it did when that part of our lives began, ten years into our friendship and passion, now inching up to almost forty years ago.

 

This is elsewhere. I am drifting with this current through these places in my interior. My body is still here. So is my internal engine, which I can still hear and feel, although it’s distant. I’m indulging myself and eliciting all the feelings rolled up in this other time. I’m enjoying the respite. Perhaps when I sleep tonight, I’ll have more Covid dreams which will yank me out of this magic space. But I intend to take more of these journeys. Apparently I can straddle more than one place in time. I’m so glad. Survival skills in the era of pandemic are not to be taken lightly. Maybe they’ll float me to the other side, whenever, wherever that may be. BEF4F42C-4EB4-41A2-BCCF-218FE1E8AB3E 

Summer Solstice

 

This evening I went outside at about 8:20 pm to take my recycling container to the curb for early morning pick-up. There was still plenty of light for this time of day and I suddenly realized that the summer solstice would arrive this weekend. The longest daylight hours of the year. And that from then on, we’ll lose a minute of daylight every day until the winter solstice arrives in December. The year is halfway over. I felt astonished by that fact while simultaneously, I recognize that for the most part, in recent months, time has felt like it’s running through my hands like water. How is it possible that during this time of pandemic, quarantine and limited choices, that hours melt away while the lines between days blur? I’m sure there’s a psychological explanation for this phenomenon, although there haven’t been many moments in history like this one. Perhaps for other people, young ones in particular, the days drag on, seemingly endless in their monotony. Frankly, I don’t know much about anyone but me and those few people who are close enough to share their thoughts and feelings with me. I feel like I’m racing to keep pace with everything, from the little changes happening daily to my mind and body, to the news bombs dropping, lighting blazes that should keep my focus for a long time, but don’t because there are too many flaring everywhere.8D854780-826C-4E30-8022-C43DDD8DE84C
I’ve had an internal app for that which goes back to my twenties when I was trying to figure out how to rank what I needed to do in order of importance. I visualized this big ball of life, not particularly a smooth circle, but with bits of tasks protruding at the oddest angles. Eventually I learned that seeing the overall picture was one thing – trying to work with it as a single entity was bad news. So my inner voice repeated over and over, “break this down into smaller manageable pieces and do the most important ones first.” That rule has always worked for me and I’ve passed it along to my family and friends, even when they didn’t ask for my opinion. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to stick with the program. Everything feels really important right now. So much so, that I feel a little lost in the rush of events.

This year I’ve had a lot of friends’ deaths and illnesses that have left their painful marks on me. My friend of 50 years, Julie, finally died after a long decline from cancer. Hers was the most challenging for me, part of a small group of women from my youth with whom there was still a deeply intimate bond. And there was sweet Nick who worked for Michael, victim to the demon depression, and Lidia, an artist and part of my social circle when my kids were young, taken by the coronavirus.  There were lots of famous  cultural icons who’ve died too. Kobe Bryant, John Prine, Little Richard.

The talented musician and lyricist David Olney is gone as is the comic, Jerry Stiller and Kenny Rogers, a musician from my childhood years. I started realizing I can’t remember all the deaths as they’re lost in a faceless sea of Covid19 victims. Is the virus the top priority? It’s still here and still actively tearing through our society. As with everything else, there’s a division between those who are taking it seriously and those who are basically done with it. I’ll never understand why wearing a mask which can potentially protect the vulnerable is so controversial for people. Impinging on their individual freedom. That says a lot to me. For a huge swath of the population, selfishness is the credo – not community responsibility. Right now I know four people who are in cancer treatment. The idea that simply crossing paths with an asymptomatic carrier could make them sicker during their time of being immunocompromised enrages me. ABC51E5B-D915-4D45-9789-C8D9C430AECBBut talk about lives lost. What about the boiling rage that’s poured into the streets all over the world? George Floyd could never have imagined what an international furor his murder would ignite. The centuries-old oppression of people of color is a deep stain on humanity. So much barbarism and so many lives taken. I can barely assimilate it all.  While the virus carouses and people of different colors and genders demonstrate for fair treatment, below our feet, in our waters and the air, climate change is churning away, threatening the existence of everyone and everything on this planet.
Climate change

World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert

International Energy Agency chief warns of need to prevent post-lockdown surge in emissions

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Thu 18 Jun 2020 00.00 EDT

Yesterday, I read the article with the above title in The Guardian. Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  So here we are. Volatile and at risk. Every day there’s something new to think about. North Korea blows up a building where negotiations for cooperation are taking place. A warning is given internally in the US about not resuming nuclear testing. India and China are warring on their border. Oddly, the Supreme Court handed down two unexpectedly liberal decisions which inflamed Trump who thought he’d effectively rigged that court. Frankly, so did I. What a blitz of wide-ranging topics. Swinging around mentally from issue to issue, I suddenly began thinking about Captain Brett Crozier. Remember him? 41BDC983-CF80-402D-BA55-5498B87E290FHe was the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who got fired for writing a letter about needing to dock the ship to prevent widespread transmission of Covid19 amongst his crew. They wound up in Guam, where many, including Crozier, tested positive and were quarantined. The way he was treated created blowback. The person who fired him resigned and there was a recommendation that Crozier’s commission be restored. But then, at least for me, he vanished from the headlines. I looked him up and found that in the beginning of May, he was reassigned to San Diego in a temporary position as assistant to a Naval Air Forces chief of staff. He is still being scrutinized in a further investigation. A big story that got little in a hurry, like so many others. Whew! What an exhausting whirlwind.

I’m slowing this cycle down. There are a few things in my control.  When I go out in the world I wear my mask, sanitize anything I can and wash my hands. I’m home almost all day every day, still practicing social distancing. I went to a supportive march for the Black Lives matter movement. I’m growing food organically in my garden and creating a welcoming habitat for threatened pollinators. I donate what I can to organizations that support hungry people and that are working hard to restore ecological balance in the world. I’m hoping we have more than six months for such a massive effort. I’m an ally to oppressed people of all colors and sexes and think often about how to do better in that position. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of writing to a young woman who won the scholarship named for my husband, which is annually awarded to a student who excelled in history and social sciences at the school where he taught. She wrote an insightful paper about Alexander Hamilton and plans to major in journalism in college. She was president of her Habitat for Humanity club and editor-in-chief of the school paper. She wrote that she has a social conscience. I’m so happy that I can in a very small way, carry on Michael’s engagement with young people and pass on his messages. I’m hoping to keep on with this tribute to him and those students as long as I can.

But I’m also going to be still.  I’m going to try to keep my head on straight. I’m going to enjoy my garden. I’m listening to new music every day. I’m watching the birds with my binoculars and enjoying their behavior as they cohabitate with me. I’m writing more. I need to draw more too. 2D4F0D35-3FAC-46DE-9F4D-1DC8EEC5B854When I’m with my grandsons, I want to have fun with them, but I want to teach them too. Making a contribution to their growth is important to me. Life is certainly busy, but I can contain some of the overwhelming parts. F9387339-C31A-4EC5-BBB6-DA23BB069EA1I ordered myself a little pool. Years ago, Michael and I had one and sometimes it was just great to loll around in cool water. I miss swimming and dream of it, but for now, this will have to do. Sometimes I just close my eyes and visualize Michael from head to toe, which has a remarkably comforting effect on me. I toy with writing a book on the sexuality of older women but so far my kids have begged me for restraint.

No matter what happens next, I want to savor these small moments. I have no idea what catastrophe may appear next. I do know how I’m not getting any younger and that my future will be filled with challenges. Time to practice self-awareness.  You can find me in my yard if you’re looking for me. Yell. I won’t be able to hear because of my headphones. I’m hoping I can use the outside as often as possible during the last half of the year. I don’t know how many years I get.  Not going to squander any time if I can help it.

 

The Nature of Friday

2B39F690-FD6F-4169-90FA-CA8015263DD4I am filthy, sore and hot. This day has been long. I actually know what day of the week it is, but usually, for all practical purposes, they are mostly interchangeable. An unfortunate task separated this one from the others. My daughter and son-in-law had concluded, after long deliberation, that it was time to euthanize one of their Boston Terriers, Radar, the younger of their two dogs. Age and its incumbent problems had caught up with him as it does with everyone. This was a tough one for them, as these two pups were my son-in-law’s first pets. And although my daughter had lived through the losses of our family animals, this was her first as the primary owner. My job was to take care of my two young grandsons while their parents took the dog to the vet for the always heart wrenching goodbye.B8D8354C-44AF-4767-B0D0-6AFBA91FAA07

Long before the quarantine, I’ve had an erratic sleep schedule, to put it mildly. Over the years since Michael got sick, sleeping more than a few consecutive hours has been a challenge. In addition, going to bed as dawn approaches is all too common for me. Going to pick up the boys at 7:45 am brought me back into a lost time frame of a life I left behind long ago, when my days were structured, and I spent more of them experiencing active mornings. I took the littles for a car picnic, a time when they get to eat their pancakes and hash browns in their seats while we chat. They were both sad but the resilience of being kids was evident as they processed our conversation and prepared to move on. A3F30858-22EE-4EB7-A710-2ADFBE8ADFECAfter reuniting them with their parents, there I was, wide awake and ready for action, hours ahead of my usual random schedule. There’s nothing like gardening to rejuvenating a life-affirming feeling, so I headed over to my favorite nursery which is one of the few open retail spaces that’s nicely set up for the social distancing and other safe practices needed during this virus time. Because of the early hour, the place wasn’t crowded and I had plenty of time to choose my plants. I hurried home, flowing with ambition, ready to plant, weed and perform all the chores a big garden requires. I would shove away the dog death with my physical energy. But when I arrived in my yard, I found a crew of destructive vermin – read : squirrels and rabbits.

The squirrels really run the show around here. They routinely attack my bird feeders and garbage cans, chewing through dauntingly thick plastic to forage for treats. I’ve tried every primarily benign deterrent to keep them contained, and have given plenty of thought to those methods a little less gentle. The squirrel featured above has taken to lounging every morning on my kids’ former climbing structure, which is now used to house both climbing vines and potted plants. I’m sure that little rat with a tail is simply exhausted from its herculean efforts to tip my feeders, so half the birdseed falls to the ground where the rapid ingestion occurs. Anyone would need a rest after that. Note the suspicious, irritated expression on its face as I have the audacity to interrupt its meditative moment. All that carb loading couldn’t offset the energy it expended in trying to break through my pitiful attempts to save the suet for the birds. After hurling a metal suet feeder hanger to the ground, it was simply too spent to undo the safety pins and clamps I’m currently employing to prevent rodent theft. Maybe another day.

And I mentioned the rabbits. These innocent-looking bunnies with their white fluffy tails and their radar-like ears spinning in endless circles are beginning to resemble Volkswagon beetles in size. What is hardest for me to understand about this body expansion is that for the most part, they seem more interested in defoliation than consumption. They deal in wanton wreckage. They shred everything and leave the evidence. A real in-your-face set of defiant actions.

They freeze when I come out the door before spritely hopping away, knowing with certainty they’ll be returning as soon as I disappear. Recently, I’ve been digging up one of my most miserable mistakes, a lovely, (for at least two weeks), but totally invasive plant called spiderwort that has been steadily marching across my entire yard, growing a complex root system that is backbreaking to wrench from the ground. I’ll admit I took an evil delight in noting that the rabbits had at the fruits of my labor, but gave up carrying away the heavy clumps. Ha, I thought. They’re not so tough. I know it was them because nearby, I found a denuded bee balm plant that had yet to make it into the soil.

 

I know I shouldn’t complain. I believe that we arrogant humans have absconded with so much of the natural world, twisting it into what’s suitable for our own uses. We’ve changed so much that animals live in an out-of-balance world. My garden has encroached on the wild. There are no natural predators to control the populations of what I see as pests. Sometimes when I pull into my driveway, and see all the creatures busily living their lives, I feel like the invader. Their turf, not mine. Not really. As time slips away so quickly, I’m keenly aware that I’m sometimes living above my physical pay grade. Six hours outside, digging, hacking, twisting and bending require a lot more recovery time than they once did. I’m gardening defensively right now. Trying to create a haven for wildlife that remains somewhat static so I don’t age out of my ability to care for it. Long ago, we wrested this land back from years of neglect. The idea of having it slide back to what that was is hard to contemplate. But who am I kidding? Isn’t that really the way of all things? As Radar, once a frolicking lively pup ran out his string this Friday morning, eventually so will I. I should lighten up a bit and stop hurling myself at certain inevitabilities. Ah, but that’s easier said than done. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to shove past all life’s obstacles, inevitable or not. And as the saying goes, old habits die hard. 6254ACB3-4C0B-4B19-A4D5-A5F63492B6BD

So far, I have a lot to be grateful for, like my vigor as I approach seventy. My sturdy peasant stock heritage hasn’t faded yet. My garden is beautiful, despite those critters who are in my way. I get the avian visitors I love, and I watch them go through their mating dances, splash in my bird baths and nurture the next generation in the shelters I’ve provided for them.

 

I’ve begun to see the bees and butterflies which need their supportive spaces to survive. Some of them already look bedraggled. As my plants begin to reach their full flowering states, I hope to supply their nutritional needs well into the fall, as I’ve done in recent years.

 

Sometimes it’s good to pull back from my personal space, to just go and appreciate the natural world that requires nothing from me other than respect. In the last few weeks of Michael’s life, our world was very tiny. Aside from trips to the hospital for treatment, we were primarily housebound which was so different from how we’d lived our lives. A community improvement project to manage a previously dirty and foul creek had become a little haven for us, close to home but with such a different and relaxed affect than the medical world or our own four walls. We went there during his treatments, with our family and alone together, many times, for the comfort of nature.

So I went back there myself to walk around, observe the animals and the insects, and to set down the load of sadness, of work, of worry about things I can’t do much about at this point. I don’t know what’s ahead for me, despite all my efforts to be prepared for anything. Watching these gorgeous dragonflies called common whitetails skitter feverishly through the air, while a large turtle, true to its reputation for lack of speed, languidly slid through the water, while geese families and ducks sprawled on the sidewalks, was so soothing. The sound of rushing water helped too, as right now, all pools in my area are closed down, leaving me sorely missing the endorphin release I feel every time I’m submerged.

 

The nature of this Friday, and actually every day. Death, life and all that lies between them. Good to remember and acknowledge as I navigate this section of my life.2E1BD3D4-00B6-4D92-9891-E3D18EEF5250 

A Simpler Time…Maybe

A couple of days ago, an old friend of mine sent me these two photos in an email under the subject title “Memories of a Simpler Time.”  They were taken in 1971, outside a place called Earthworks, a grocery store which was the center of an effort to build an alternative community in our college town. There was an Earthworks Garage and a bike shop and a restaurant called Metamorphosis, and Strawberry Fields, which still exists in my community as a natural food and dry goods store. There was a drug counseling service called Gemini House just down the street. I lived across from it. We were part of a somewhat loosely connected and yet often, intimately connected group of people, who had basically decided to divorce ourselves from the culture at large to live within a more progressive society of our own design. On campus, there was Record Service, a music store which provided economic fuel for a great number of projects like a community health center, and there was a homemade clothing store called Thimble and Threads. Eventually there was a community resource guide which listed all the services that mushroomed out of that valiant attempt to turn our backs on the heartless culture which was racist, sexist and classist, and which spawned the Vietnam War that was killing our peers.  The resource guide was called The Earthworm. My friend who is in the photos wanted to see if I could identify people on those Earthworks steps, aside from the few he remembered. That was ironic because Michael and I are standing about four people away from him, but with our backs to the camera.

Here is the final cover of The Earthworm. I labeled us as I brought that catalog with me to the exhibit I prepared as part of Michael’s celebration of life which took place in December, 2017, seven months after his death. I needed that time to recover from the last months of his life and in fact, the five plus years that preceded his death. FD35AE1D-CF68-44BA-BC03-0C7A41752BBBA simpler time. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that might mean in this era when in the U.S., every day for the past three and a half years, staccato bursts of hard-to-assimilate news stories rattle the mind from morning until night. Some people limit their intake of them, attempting to stay calm. For people like me, who can’t look away, there have to be other methods of trying to cope with the madness. But wasn’t there always madness of one kind or another? Is this time any more complex than other times? Is it just that as we exit our youth, life gets more layered which makes coping more complicated and strenuous? That may be partially true for those children who grow up in safe, stable environments. But I know that can’t possibly be the way it is for kids who from the earliest times in their lives, are scrambling to survive amidst all kinds of challenges and dangers. 35372BE6-E1A7-4F14-B1BB-4FD22F17A175My mom, a fun-loving person and inveterate storyteller, wove an interesting and evocative tapestry of her life which she readily shared with me and my siblings as we were growing up.  Her tales ran the gamut from humorous, entertaining and exciting, to treacherous and frightening.  Her childhood was filled with deaths, embarrassments and neglect, and wasn’t very long as she married my dad at only nineteen. Her perceptions of that youth depended on her age at the time she was telling her tales. Sometimes she romanticized being a young girl and talked about how much less complicated life was back in those days. At other times, she bitterly decried all her hardships.207D6809-5623-46D9-B841-D9444E6B87E3 Often, her tales were dramatic and harrowing. When I was a young kid, when she crossed all kinds of parent/child boundaries while sharing her tales. I thought her life was impossibly complex and scary, as she seemed a living miracle for having escaped so much trauma to become a mostly “normal” grownup. And so, inadvertently, she added a pile of worries to my young life, which required me to navigate some significantly adult issues while I was still a kid. I guess that’s why “a simpler time” doesn’t really resonate with me. I’ve always thought life was complex and way more problematic than not. Ironically, the wife of my friend who sent me the photos which sent me off on this train of thought was Julie, who died in March after a lengthy struggle with a stubborn cancer. Over 50 years ago, when I was still a teenager and Julie a scant year older, we dubbed the murky, below-the-surface mysteries of our lives, the “deep debris.” It still seems like an apt description for what life is really like for most people.

Right now, life for me is still that curious mixture of simple and complicated. On one hand, for the foreseeable future, my days are pretty much the same, and fairly limited. I spend most of my time at home. I’m lucky because I can work in my garden instead of being trapped indoors. I’m out there for hours, laboring away. It’s a big yard, too big for me, but here I’ll stay as my daughter and her family live across the street. Another good thing, being able to see them rather than being separated by many miles. I have no idea when I’ll be able to travel anywhere again. The world is full of questions right now, so even though it’s simple figuring out what to do every day, it’s complicated trying to look down the road, wondering how long I’ll be healthy, if I can reach for the goals I’d set for myself, post Michael’s death and pre-pandemic. The advent of the social justice furor of the past few weeks created the only decision-making  situation for me – should I as a person in the most vulnerable group for Covid19, leave the safety of my home to participate in a demonstration for a cause I believe in or not? That turned out to be an easier choice than I thought. I absolutely felt the weight of my moral responsibility to attend so I did. But demonstrations won’t be happening every day. So how to maneuver through this deceptively simple new world that is here to stay, whether I like it or not? All I read tells me that in order to stay safe, this limited life is likely to stretch out for much longer than most of us hoped it would. My cost/benefit analysis about staying healthy keeps leading me back to staying close to home. I’m trying to figure out how to readjust my outlook, absent the ability to make plans, so I can avoid sinking into unproductive frustration. 9236C376-15E8-402F-B882-8D37454940BFLooking ahead is murky. My hard earned skill of living in the moment is still fairly effective. I think about all the people who’ve navigated the horrors of living in a single cell, with no way out, for years on end. I don’t want to be a spoiled whiner who thinks that this current situation is that big a deal. How did we ever get so entitled and self-centered? I don’t want to become someone I don’t like.  So I’ve decided I’m going to look back for awhile. I’m making a personal anthology of both the big and little experiences in my life that have gotten me to where I am today. The national parks I’ve visited are part of my tapestry. The travels I’ve been able to experience and am missing now are great memories. But I’m also interested in thinking about the little bits of life which flesh out how we become the people we are. So far I’m working on lists of the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen, the television shows I loved throughout the years. But what’s really been fun is digging around for the small stories and buried facts that don’t often come up in conversation.

My first story is about the fact that I’ve driven over one hundred miles per hour. Which feels really fast, I suspect, to anyone who doesn’t drive race cars. One of the big enticements I used to convince Michael that the institution of marriage wasn’t inherently awful, was to promise that if we actually did it, we’d get enough money to buy a decent vehicle. We wound up with this green Chevy Blazer with a white roof. In the almost ten years we shared before having kids, we took a lot of long road trips. Michael, a born speed demon who didn’t want to be ticketed, bought both a CB radio and a “fuzzbuster,” or radar detector, as must-have equipment for our new vehicle. The CB radio, which we primarily used to communicate with the semi-trailer drivers on the highway, required that we have “handles,” names that we used to identify ourselves to those who’d give us warnings about where the police were hiding to catch speeders. Michael chose, “Swamp Fox” which was the name of an American Revolutionary War officer who was credited with being an impetus behind the development of guerilla warfare, tactics dear to his heart. For the sake of simplicity and easy identification of our vehicle to those with whom we were communicating, my handle choice was “Lady Fox.” When we’d take turns driving, whoever held the wheel handled the CB. I laugh out loud as I remember the lingo that went along with this – “breaker 19 for a southbounder on I-75.” But I did it. Miraculously traffic would move along at 90 mph and higher, so as Michael napped, I’d just press the accelerator, hang on to the wheel and hope for the best. I developed steely nerves bombing away down those roads. Good times.

inflatable raft floating
Another story that I recalled had to do with our visits to a lovely state park located about 30 minutes away from our town. This park has over twenty deep ponds that were reclaimed from strip mining many years ago. While people could canoe and fish there, swimming was prohibited. So of course, swimming is what we decided to do. We brought along some inexpensive floating rafts and our two dogs who were always with us. My little border collie, Ribeye, was extremely sensitive and very attached to me. We found a secluded spot with no one else around, stripped off our clothes, hopped onto the rafts and pushed off from the rocky shore to sun and dip ourselves into the water. Ribeye, who was anxiously pacing the shoreline, decided that the separation was too much for her, leapt into the pond and swam out to me and attempted to join me on the raft. Of course, her nails punctured it, thereby dumping both of us into the drink, just as a group of people were approaching our hidden corner. I can still hear Michael’s uproarious laughter as I swam frantically for the shore and some cover, dragging the crumpled raft with Ribeye happily splashing along beside me. I hadn’t thought about that in years.

As I muck around in the garden, my isolation-reliever, I’m going to practice letting my mind wander back through incidents like these, which collectively, add up to the bigger picture that is my life. Tiny oases that provide temporary escape from the present and which help hold the uncertain future at bay. We’ll see how long this approach lasts. 470CEF33-3A68-4F19-B783-90595B83A552

Cancer Drops the Hammer – Part 2 – Chapter 10 – Be 278

EDB68011-AA12-4BF4-B391-3982D53238C1

February 28th, 2015

Michael woke up feeling nauseous and vomited bile. We waited a few hours – then he tried an Ensure and some applesauce. Those came back up so off we went to the ER for dehydration and anorexia evaluations. Neither was found and his blood work was all within normal limits except one liver enzyme which is still recovering. He is still taking oral pain meds-are they the source of the nausea?

We roll into early March, getting ready for the next scans. There are times when the pain abates and Michael experiences occasional hunger which we try to maximize, stuffing food into him to in an attempt to keep him as strong as possible for whatever lies ahead. On these good days, we go out for a meal or try to see a movie. During one of these rare forays into regular life, a romantic song from our very beginning pops up in the film. We both get chills and squeeze each other’s hands tightly, as for a moment, we drift back to that exquisitely innocent time. Meanwhile, our oncologist Dr. Luyun, has decided to have M try a fentanyl patch for pain. Michael is ready to try anything at this point. He experiences immediate relief and feels great for a day or so, but the pain returns fast. We received little information about how long it takes for the drug to build up in the bloodstream so we didn’t realize that he’d need supplemental oral meds until it did. We are so overwrought and frustrated. When he’s hurting and tired, I am as well. He’s tired of reminders about food and drink and I’m tired of feeling impotent. Our personality differences serve us poorly  during these stressful times. When I get quiet, to stop being a bother, Michael doesn’t like that personality either. Finding a balance is hard as I am imperfect and certainly not saintly. Neither is he. At night, I lie in our bed, feeling him twitch and have tremors. We never sleep apart – there’s no room for that distance even if we’re both irritable.

March 9th, 2015

I lay here, wondering what the scan results will show, where the cancer is now, if it’s hitting his spinal cord, whether he will have permanent damage, become a quadriplegic, lose control over bladder and bowels. I want to know everything and nothing and I want both to hurry up.

By mid-March, we have scan results that show that the cancer spots are all growing but still reveal no clues about the cause of the intensity of Michael’s pain. We asked for a referral to orthopedics where there’s a very smart doctor out of Harvard. After checking all the scans, he recommends MRIs for the lumbar spine and both hips. He thinks those will provide the best diagnosis which can’t come soon enough. I’m still writing to principal investigators running Merkel cell trials across the country. The idea that you can get into a trial easily is completely false. The bureaucratic aspects are truly maddening, especially when there’s blatant evidence of a terminal disease. If a person is going to die anyway, why not let him have a chance? But that thinking is for another time.

0BBE51FD-1978-4F22-A022-C266AFA1434B

The MRI results are terrible. The cancerous lesion that has been sitting in the disk at T-12 for months has permeated the disk wall and is compressing the lumbar spine. All the nerves in the cauda equina, the nerve bundle in the thoracic spine are being squeezed. Big pain.  We are now in a medical emergency and in need of a neurosurgeon. Our radiation oncologist tells us that the disk has to be removed and that an artificial one must be inserted in its place. This would be a lengthy, complex operation. We quickly acquire an appointment with the most experienced neurosurgeon at our facility. He reviews all the MRI images and informs us that in his opinion, this compression is not a medical emergency and that we should return to oncology for radiation and chemo. We sit dumbfounded. There’s no time to go hunting for a different doctor. We realize that his pronouncement is code for either 1) his not being able to perform the procedure, or 2) that there isn’t any point in trying. We head back to Dr. Stanic, our radiation oncologist, who takes a deep breath and designs a radiation plan for the lower thoracic and upper lumbar spine which he warns carries the risk of paralysis. The treatment will be coupled with the chemo drug Topotecan, the second line of defense for MCC. Michael and I are both terrified but he continues to be willing to do whatever what might possibly keep him alive. For me, I bounce between admiration and despair.  The appointments are scheduled. 

C34877A9-F191-459D-A7C8-12C0EFA32C2C

The beginning of April starts with the first of 15 daily rounds of radiation. The chemo will be given once a week. This beautiful spring month will be consumed by treatment. When Michael isn’t too fatigued, we decide we’ll just enjoy spending time with our family. Our world has gotten very small. Michael is inner directed and focused on trying to stay alive. I’m committed to helping him in any way I can. The stress is punishing. On April 6th, the fourth day of radiation, we are entering the Cancer Center when I receive a phone call from one of my nieces, letting me know that my brother was found dead that morning by his wife. The cause was determined to be congestive heart failure. He was a troubled guy and in the previous few months, I’d been so consumed by Michael’s cancer that we’d barely spoken. There was nothing to do but go forward, sitting in the waiting room during the radiation appointment, contemplating life and death and everything in between. My goodbyes to Fred would have to play out as I kept plowing through what was in front of me. No more big brother. DFFA7F69-46CB-4F71-A1BD-C50AAD22523FThe days went by, blending into each other. Every time there was a chemo treatment, Michael would have blood drawn to see if his counts were stable enough to cope with the infusion. When the time for the third one came, his platelet count was so low he was at risk for a stroke. The chemo was withheld and instead he had a platelet infusion. Then he started a course of steroids to try preventing any potential bleeding in the brain. Another stunning blow. April is ending.

We head into May, trying to achieve some stability, physically and psychologically. There are days when Michael feels okay – we head outside to appreciate the weather and the garden. Throughout his entire ordeal we have managed to stay intimate. On May 6th, during the process of running my hands over his familiar body, I find a lump in a new spot near his spine. The next day, I call our oncologist to request a scan and find out that he’s resigned from the clinic. We are now without an oncologist – every original member of Michael’s treatment team is now gone. We go back to Dr. Stanic who quickly orders the scans for the next day. The results show stable disease. I can’t understand it. I remember that PET/CT scans don’t show any masses smaller than a centimeter.
Now it is May 11th. Our May 1st wedding anniversary kind of slipped away. After running an errand, I came home and found flowers, anniversary cards and Mother’s Day cards from Michael which make me weep. May 18th. Michael seems to be getting weaker. His appetite is poor and he is deconditioned. Sleeping a lot and getting breathless just walking through the house. I’m reading books for widows. I don’t find them very enlightening. Michael talks about death with dignity, although he says he feels stable. He doesn’t look stable. He is weak but trying to act normal.


What is happening inside me? I feel like pieces of who I am slough off every day. Like silt.

May 24th, 2015

I am lying in my bed on the morning of my 64th birthday. Michael’s hand is on my leg and I’m listening to him breathe. I fear this is the last birthday he’ll be next to me. Forty three birthdays shared. This one feels meaningless. There is a lump on his neck at the base of his skull. Last night I felt one in his left groin. Scan or no scan. These lumps are real. I am walking through this life, feeling mostly dread. My hope is dwindling. I have used myself up.

4B2FC54F-89C3-4B1B-873C-EA2291068BD6 May 29th, 2015

This morning I found 3 pea-sized lumps on Michael’s head, very close to the site of the excision of his tumor on February 25th. The lump at the back of his neck is a tumor. I just know it. On Monday there will be biopsies of his head. This time, the surgeon is too busy to see him and a physician’s assistant will do the cutting. We know it’s Merkel cell. We’re only going to let him biopsy one growth. Then we’ll finally have the soft tissue requirement that kept him out of the Barnes clinical trial. We are still hanging on, albeit by the proverbial thread. We meet with a palliative care team on Tuesday to see if they can help keep Michael comfortable, both physically and mentally as this all unfolds.  So much darkness while we fumble forward.

D17E3B22-9131-486D-B65D-302D2C4FCDAC
June 2nd, 2015

I am visiting mom at the nursing home. She has about run out of money and I am trying to get her Medicaid in the midst of my nightmare. She always remembers that Michael is sick. She asks me, “if Michael dies, do you think we should try living together?” I remind her that we already did that. In the midst of her dementia and my grief, we both laugh.

June 5th, 2015

Michael is getting weaker and less hungry. Today is his birthday. We spend a lot of it crying. Michael’s emotional pain is finally bursting out of him. He says he’s never lost anyone before, that the first person he’s losing is himself. The kids come over and we all sit in the yard for awhile. We all act just like ourselves which is both bad and good. The weight of what’s ahead of us is like a massive tsunami getting ready to wash us all away.

June 8th, 2015

SCAN DAY.

June 16th, 2015

The week has been madness. The scan of the 8th showed widespread disease including a pleural effusion which is one of the reasons Michael’s breathing is so labored. Dr. Stanic soberly tells us that malignant infusions are virtually impossible to get rid of so that we should be prepared. Lumps are pushing out everywhere, neck, collarbone, both rib cages. I have no idea how Michael is still breathing. We now have a new oncologist, Dr. Zhang, who we’d seen a few times when Dr. Luyun was unavailable. He is smart and aggressive. We go to see him the day after the scan. Michael is so weak he’s in a wheelchair, but eventually has to lie on a bed in the infusion suite for his appointment. Miraculously his recovered platelets, plus the soft tissue disease finally qualify him for the trial at Barnes. Dr. Zhang goes to call those awful people in St. Louis to clear a path for us. Now all we have to do is gather up all the records, forward the scans and move into the trial. At last. Michael is resting at home while I run around gathering all the information. Again, I’m communicating with Dr. Linette and his nurse. A few days pass and there is no action from Barnes. When I call in again, I’m told that Michael isn’t in the trial, but rather that we have to come back so they can do their own scans. I am enraged and feel like I’m going to have a breakdown. I vow that when this ends, I will eviscerate Dr. Linette and his harsh nurse Joanne. Meanwhile we are to see Dr. Zhang tomorrow.

June 17th, 2015

Dr. Zhang is infuriated to hear that we are not in the trial. He asks us to sit and wait for awhile. When he returns, he tells us that he has managed to order pembrolizumab (Keytruda) off-trial for Michael and that he will receive an infusion immediately. This drug is in the same immunological family as the trial drug at Barnes and has been used for melanoma patients. This is an outside the box move. We are grateful for anything as we get ready to leap into this unknown, untried space. Unless this drug is a miracle, we have to face Michael’s death. Can we find a way to walk this path without crashing into a thousand pieces? Michael has suffered agonies. I am as close to him as anyone can get to another human being. Off to the infusion suite.


June 20th, 2015

I am lying in bed with Michael while I still can. The days are the same. I wake thinking of his death and the horror it will bring. I go away to the park in the morning and cry. Then I run errands and on good days, I swim for awhile. Then I go home and wait for him to come downstairs so we can begin the endless battle over food and protein. He sleeps a lot. We are next to each other, often in silence.

June 18th, 2015

Although it seems crazy, the day after the Keytruda infusion, the visible tumors on Michael’s body seem inflamed. The immunological drugs are supposed to remove blockades from the body’s killer immune cells, releasing them to kill your cancer. This sudden release produces an inflammatory response. Michael’s fatigue is profound. But I decide to start measuring what I can see to track the potential progress. Within two weeks, the tumors which initially looked worse, are visibly shrinking.

Michael is dragging himself through this process. Even though his style is so different than mine, I am awed by his stubborn courage. The Keytruda has impacted his pleural effusion. Twice in July, he has had to be “tapped,” to have fluid drawn from between his lungs and body wall. This is done by inserting a needle into his back. Dr. Zhang doesn’t want to chance having any tubing inserted permanently to stave off the risk of infection. The first tapping fills a 2 and a half liter container. The fluid is blood-red and is 100% Merkel cell lymph fluid. The second tapping fills 3 liters – as I look at it, I think half of it looks more amber colored than red. It appears the drug may be having a positive effect. 7F4505EF-2FDD-4B8B-91C8-5C75F2AEAB42July 12th, 2015

Mom has fallen in the middle of the night at the nursing home and has broken her hip. I run to the hospital where she tells me that she doesn’t think she can “make it through this one.” I an worried about surgery for her but the orthopedic surgeon says the pain without intervention would be intolerable. What he doesn’t talk about is the hospital delirium that accompanies dementia patients after general anesthetics. Mom survives the procedure but is in a dreadful mental state in addition to having post-surgical pain. For eight days, I run back and forth between her and Michael – finally I request hospice for her and a return to the nursing home before she forgets it altogether. I have to fight for hospice but she actually recognizes my conflict with the staff and supports me. Four days after she’d been returned to the home, I receive a call from a staff member saying that she’s asking for me, just as I’m walking Michael into the cancer center. My daughter swaps places with me. My sister joins us on that July 24th afternoon and we sit with our mother, watching her slip away.

She died on July 25th. We had a rapid funeral with those of her family who lived in town. The heat was blistering and I was terrified that Michael would keel over at the cemetery.

Four days later, our beautiful dog Flash, who’d developed a cough, had me very worried. I took him to the vet and asked her to diagnose him before I left. I didn’t think I could stand to bring him back there again. Bloodwork showed nothing but then she X-rayed his chest. Poor Flash had lung cancer and a pleural effusion, just like Michael’s. I held him as he was euthanized, went home and sobbed with the whole family. What an impossible time.9CF7FC5D-AAB3-410B-B6EA-4D29BE33D963August, 2015

Michael was still fatigued but slowly improving. The physical part was challenging but so was the mental exhaustion. I was utterly spent too, but continued to push forward. Day by day, he began to recover in teeny increments. We went out to eat. He worked in the yard. We tried a staycation at a hotel where he sat bundled up and wasted, but was grimly happy to be out of our house. We went to a rock concert at our local sweetcorn festival.

September, 2015

Scan month. Living between scans may be the hardest challenges we faced those many months. As time went by we got smarter about them, scheduling the follow up appointment for the day after the scan so we wouldn’t have too much time to worry. The early September scan was no exception – we went in for it one morning and by the next were getting the results. Which were spectacular. Between June and September, 80% of Michael’s cancer had vanished, including the pleural effusion. Dr. Zhang brought a colleague in to see the results as he was so excited he was barely contained. Michael was one of the exceptional responders to this new class of drugs, one of the 30-40 % whose bodies were just waiting for help in unleashing their cancer-killing cells. We were thrilled but still cautious. Every three weeks, there would be more treatment, more blood tests. But Michael was almost over the precipice and now, was back in his life. And mine.  

Endless

26C7A748-5760-4A3B-9A96-102059B8F543This photo of me was taken in 1968. I was a little bit shy of my 17th birthday which would arrive in late spring. My country was reeling. Martin Luther King had been assassinated and furious protests roiled through cities which were literally on fire. That was only the beginning. Just before my high school graduation, Bobby Kennedy was killed. The war in Vietnam was escalating. The Black Panthers were rising. I was wide-eyed and questioning authority, processing my political views  and choosing my future ideological path. That summer, I worked downtown in the Chicago Loop. The Democratic National convention came to town, and with it, streets became lined with police dressed in riot gear. “Tumultuous” feels like a relatively mild adjective to describe the city’s affect. I’d come out of my office at the end of my work day and pass the officers in their blue helmets, holding their billy clubs and slapping them against their opposite hand. A force designed to intimidate.  There were raucous demonstrations and  rollicking concerts in Grant Park in which the atmosphere turned violent. I wasn’t beaten or arrested, but just the same, the adult I was evolving into was molded by all these events. By the time I started college that fall, I was working my way into a political ideology, built on a mostly liberal home education, which ultimately led me to more radical views. It’s no coincidence that 1968 has been studied and restudied as a pivotal moment in modern history. The issues of racism, sexism, classism and anti-war activities occupied my college years. Who I became, the principles at the center of my essential humanity, were forged during those years. Becoming an adult, a wife and partner, a friend and parent, and an ally for victims of oppression, all stemmed from the central philosophy that I chose for myself back then. I participated in demonstrations during that convulsive time and beyond it. I ran, so fleet footed back then, from local and state police in my community and also in the nation’s capital. I was arrested. I remember a great about those heady days in which I thought me and those who agreed with me would change the world. 309F2676-2F46-4DEE-BC78-AE6313AC6C73It’s 52 years later. The world is in the grip of a viral pandemic. I’m approaching the end of my seventh decade on this planet. My life has been crammed with a great deal of beauty and joy, ugliness and sadness, fulfillment and disappointment. Luckily for me, my little personal life has been a source of all that is positive. I’ve had great love and a wonderful family. I’ve not been hungry or unclothed or homeless or unsafe. But my social justice aspirations have fallen short many times over. The battles waged back then, and the struggles to achieve fairness, equity and respect throughout my country and the world, still loom large. In fact, in many ways, the mountain of problems seems even higher to me now than it did way back then. Maybe it’s because the time ahead for me is shorter, which makes things seem so daunting. Daunting and repetitive. How can the same wretched issues remain so deep and unchanged? Maybe the pandemic has made things seem worse, given the scary claustrophobic nature of this time. I’m not really sure. All I know is that the murder of George Floyd, on top of all the other murders of black people which have continued steadily throughout my lifetime, has unleashed a fury and an anguish that’s hard to stop thinking about. That makes sleep hard to come by. That brings empathy, sadness, questions and more questions. That brings the intense need for systemic change in our damaged and eroding democracy to heated urgency. I’m wishing I could talk with Michael, my passionate partner and teacher of American history, with whom I shared the same world view, and who could help me navigate this incredibly complex time of both physical and health challenges which feel so overwhelming.

I’ve been looking at my Civil War bookshelf. I got started studying that war when I was about twelve years old. Someone gave our family books about Abraham Lincoln. I read them over and over. I remember the admiration I felt for this smart, self-taught man who represented my home state and wound up freeing the slaves. Or so it seemed. I still can recall that he died at 7:22 am on the morning of April 15th, 1865, not even a week after the surrender of the Confederate army, the end of the war. “Now he belongs to the ages,” they said. At my own tender age, I thought the Civil War had really ended. But as years went by, and I began to read more books, and to witness the inequities experienced by black Americans, I realized that the war never really ended and that in fact, it was still being waged, sometimes more overtly, sometimes more covertly, but waged just the same. That in fact, it is endless. Despite everything that’s been written about states’ rights and other random motives for the war, to me it’s always been about slavery. Pure, simple and unrelentingly true. I kept on reading, book after book. I could never fully absorb the fact that people stood opposite each other for four years, blasting each other to bits because one side wanted so desperately to retain control of its work force, looked upon as no better than subhumans. Granted, there are complexities deeper than that for some of those long ago people, but in the end and to this day, racism is as American as the proverbial apple pie.

9A3DC50F-239B-4BF7-BEBC-0E6286F9C517

In the spring of 2016, Michael was four years out from his initial diagnosis of his relentless Merkel cell cancer. He’d been through 55 radiation treatments, 20 injections of chemotherapy, a hideous oral targeted therapy and ultimately, immunotherapy. All of these assaults on his body had bought him periods of time when he was healthy. We both knew that his cancer would reappear eventually. After he got through his treatments in 2012, we took a trip to Sanibel island after he finished school in June, 2013. When fall came with its wicked metastasis, he went through 18 weeks of chemo. With no idea how long he’d be cancer-free, we headed back to the Florida Gulf Coast for restoration of both soul and body. But once that was over, we decided that he should think carefully about all those dreams on his wish list, the places he’d hoped to have time to see in his future retirement. One of those bucket list items was the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Luckily for us, our shared appreciation for history made these trips a simple get. Off we went to Memphis in the spring of 2016 for the profound history, the music and the barbecue.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like approaching the Lorraine Motel if you were a cognitive person alive when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I can’t count how many times I watched the scene on that balcony after he was shot, when Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and others stood pointing in the direction from where the bullets had come. As with the scenes from the Kennedy assassination, those images are burned into my brain. I barely got through the front door when the weeping began. The barbaric weapons of slavery on display, along with the texts, photos and actual artifacts of oppression are powerful and painful. Our time spent there wasn’t as much learning something new as it was being forever altered by the proximity to the instruments of horror. I feel lucky to have shared that experience with Michael.

And now here we are today. Michael is gone. Endless racism is still here. Only a week ago, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. The country is teeming with rage and the current administration is behaving like we’re headed toward a police state. I truly fear for democracy. The surreal nature of this reality, coupled with the still-circulating virus, is hard to describe. To say things feel pretty weird is a serious understatement. I spend a considerable amount of time feeling I’ve time traveled back to the 1960’s and I know I’m not alone. Sometimes because of the lockdown measures, it kind of feels that way. Today, a protest was planned for my community. At first, I thought I’d go, as I’ve gone to other demonstrations throughout my life. Too-many-wars protests, women’s rights protests, anti-gun protests, and now a black lives matter protest. Then I was worried about being in a crowd with the virus concerns as I’m old enough to be in “the most likely” death group. What about my kids and grandkids who would be devastated if something happened to me just a few years after losing Michael? Thirty minutes before the gathering, I was still pulling weeds in my garden. In the end, I realized I needed to be there, virus or no virus. Sometimes you just have to live your principles no matter what. As I walked the few blocks to the meeting place, I realized that most of the people around me, headed in the same direction, were young enough to be my grandchildren in addition to children. That was okay. They get to see that the gray hairs still have something to say. I found my own family there and we had a shared political experience which I’m proud to say, wasn’t the first one. What I wish is that it could be the last one. That the endless time of protesting could finally come to an end.

 

Grief Love

901771EA-B25F-45F2-801E-21FC0A599D0DI’ve been trying so hard to figure out how I was going to frame the description of my grief on this three year anniversary of Michael’s death. Such a difficult topic. Sometimes I’m afraid to talk about it at all. Despite my independent nature and combative streak, I get tired of feeling like my emotions don’t fit into other people’s expectations of what grief is supposed to be. Like anything else that will ultimately affect everyone, apparently there are rules and measures. Or maybe “an app for that.” When I talk about my sadness, I often feel resistance, discomfort or sometimes disbelief. Mostly it feels like people think I’m supposed to be done. Which I definitely am not. Ultimately, I really don’t care about anyone’s opinions. The responses are often tiresome, though, and make me feel even lonelier than I was in the first place. I need to acknowledge myself and I intend to do just that. And funnily enough, I found an avenue into my current mental state by thinking about this book I read decades ago, one that made such a huge impression that I’ve never forgotten it. Geek Love. D265D4D4-FB7A-4878-946F-0952A05BA49EIn the early 1990’s, Michael and I were on our first trip to New Orleans. He was attending a National League of Cities convention as he was an alderman on our local city council. His flight was free and he had a per diem for expenses. We decided to spring for my ticket and grab a mini-vacation. We farmed out the kids and were so excited to be getting away on our own. Almost always broke, we felt like we’d be in the lap of luxury at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, right next to the French Quarter. Unfortunately, the day before we left, the clutch went out on Michael’s truck to the tune of $1100. I was so anxious about money but pushed that aside and decided we’d deal with everything later and just have our good time. 554C8C8C-CC92-4C39-B63D-0FDD9991BA87
On our first night we had a fabulous dinner at a famous restaurant and blew  our entire four days’ per diem on that first meal. Kind of classic for us. We were off to a great start. Michael attended his meetings while I went sightseeing. I hopped on and off the trolley cars and visited shops on Magazine Street. I went to the Museum of the Confederacy which was small but stuffed with incredible artifacts. When Michael was free, we hit all the classic city highlights.


Beignets and hot chocolate at Cafe du Monde. Jackson Square and The French Market. The Aquarium and the Audubon Zoo. The Historic St. Louis Cemetery and the famous praline shops in the Quarter. We stopped at a pub well-known for muffuletta sandwiches and brought them aboard the Natchez for the requiste steamboat ride on the Mississippi River. We went to Preservation Hall and saw the Neville Brothers and Maria Muldaur. We ate at more famous restaurants including the brand new NOLA run by Emeril Lagasse who’d recently left his chef post at Commander’s Palace. We ate there too. Those few days were a gluttonous affair on every level and we headed for home with a surfeit of food and experience tucked away into our mutual memory bank. On the way to the airport, we stopped at a freestanding Borders bookstore because I’d already finished the book I’d brought to read on the plane ride. That’s where I found Geek Love, a brilliantly original eye-popping metaphorical novel about human nature which I just couldn’t put down. The perfect cherry on top of the rich sundae of our trip. 5DB80FB4-F8BC-4B0C-8D81-D18870B6B30FIn looking for the way to describe how I feel at this point in time, the title of that unforgettable book turned up in my mind and led me to my description of my emotional journey. I am living not in geek love, but in grief love. After three years as a widow, I feel fundamentally the same as I did right after Michael died. I am still in love with my partner and that love is wrapped in a grief that I expect will be my lifetime companion. I am not the person who will move on to a new companion with whom to spend however long the rest of my life will be. I’m still with Michael. Obviously his physical being is gone, much to my regret. But his essence is a discernible presence and its tangle with mine is still alive and palpable to me. In certain ways it’s quite marvelous and stunning. I had no preconceived notions about what I’d be like on my own. As it turns out, I’m exactly myself. But that self grew, entwined with Michael’s for so many years. And it was a mystical connection. We both felt it from the very beginning, when we first met. I can no more separate from him than I can from me. I was digging around in my journals, trying to locate the beginning of this whole melding deal that happened between us. I found a particularly embarrassing entry dated October 20th, 1971. I was a pretty dreadful writer back then, prone to excess verbiage and these vague, ill-defined sentences meant to sound pretty cosmic. I was just twenty years old. I’d met Michael in August of that year. As a former English major,  I wasn’t too surprised to find some references to William Wordsworth in my notes, having read his ode above Tintern Abbey, where he had felt “the joy of something far more deeply interfused, a sense sublime”… After all,  I was feeling deeply romantic. Here are a few excerpts that 49 years later, strike me as remarkable things for a young person to know, to believe and that actually formed the basis for a rich life with someone that actually lasted.
8FF43957-CDC6-4E33-BB9B-A661A201E83D”The heightening joy in achieving an understanding, a relationship beyond the rampant superficiality, a connection that is omnipresent…transcending the physical, traveling to remote areas of consciousness and with that utter knowledge and depth, comes total relaxation and easiness that fill me with pleasure and bring me close to ecstatic tears.”
We are not lovers, except in our minds. I don’t know if we’ll ever share ourselves in that lovely physical passion, but, suddenly, how irrelevant. For there, I know him, too. And that is enough.”  Big thoughts, indeed.
71A2FE02-52E2-4317-9786-508CEB899C00

And the rest, as they say, is history. By April of 1972, we’d taken the step past our magical friendship and moved in together to start the rest of our lives. We never broke up or took time away from each other, even when we got into the issues that are common in sharing everything. When things got tough, we went back to that initial remarkable experience of our friendship which helped us navigate everything. Even death.AA30CE5F-322C-4B57-A816-F868E6D7611DSo here I am, three years out from that death. I wish I could talk with Michael all the time, sharing all my thoughts with him and listening to his in return, especially in this most stressful moment in history. But I can only send my words out to the universe. What I can do every day, is follow the advice I gave myself long ago and still share with anyone who’ll listen – find a small beautiful thing to love every day. Develop excellent coping skills because the bulk of life is about problems that require coping. I’m doing a pretty good job. But it turns out that the powerful grief I feel, although easier to manage daily as time goes by, is as much a part of me as Michael is. I’ll never put it away because it’s an intricately connected part of whatever is the thing called a soul. Inside me is a blend of wailing, ecstasy, fury and gratitude about what I was lucky enough to recognize when I was just a baby. I’m also glad I can understand the power of my newly titled “grief love.” In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “ …The girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.” That’s what I am thinking of on this eve of the third anniversary of Michael’s death. For as long as I’m still here I’ll carry those feelings and Michael inside me. I could’ve done a lot worse in this life.

Whelmed

5C0294C2-9083-41CB-AB06-881AD306A3A9I’m feeling whelmed. Not overwhelmed, certainly not underwhelmed. Just whelmed. Engulfed by thoughts and feelings. The current state of lockdown life has altered for me. My grandsons have reached a new level of discomfort in their quarantine. They miss school and their friends. The electronic life, although better than nothing, has lost its novelty. Their mom and dad, both working full-time while teaching, parenting and running a household, are very tired. And here I am, right across the street, retired and wanting to help out in some way. The boys see me as a nurturing alternative which is lovely. So coming to my house is an attractive option. My eldest one in particular, was nagging my kids about coming to see me every day. My grandsons mostly think I’m just at home, doing nothing other than being available. It’s kind of like when you were a little kid and you saw your teacher at a store or the movies and you thought, “I thought they just lived in their classroom.” Who knew they had outside lives?  Hah! So we had a family meeting. I explained that I had lots of work to do and that dropping by whenever the impulse struck wasn’t possible. I also wanted the littles to stop hassling their already busy parents. We decided to create a structured visiting schedule, a time when each kid could come over and get some special attention, not just affection, but also some different activities than their home ones – a change of pace. I’m going to see each of them for a couple of hours several times a week. I’ve done the babysitting gig before. I took care of my eldest grandson from 7 weeks old to almost 3 years of age. I’d intended to do the same for kid number 2, but Michael’s cancer interfered with that plan.  

I really loved that baby part of life.The boys were portable and I was definitely directing the agenda in those days. Now I have one guy who’s entering double digits in a few months and another whose physical activity level is a challenge. My kids and I decided that their time with me would be a mix of them being garden-variety spoiled grandkids, along with doing creative projects, dictated by their interests, to supplement their online schooling. This past week was our first in the new plan.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was confronted with lots of my own issues, which were lurking in the quarantine background. C4C02B4A-0C4A-481A-AE2B-B45C7C086290  The beginning session with kid number one started out simply enough. He likes art as do I, so we sat side by side, creating. We did a little spontaneous brainstorming and came up with some ideas that he found interesting. He wanted to explore old memories and family history. We talked about making a 2020 coronavirus time capsule and a family tree. He likes the garden and willingly participates in chores outside. At least for awhile. All great ideas, right? We started with the family memories. I knew just where I’d stashed the bulk of the folders and binders in which I’ve been depositing all the information I’ve sporadically collected for years.

I’d forgotten how much I’d acquired. Birth certificates, census papers, gravesite locations, ship’s passenger manifests. I have my own DNA information and correspondence from a number of people who are supposed to share my DNA. G was enthralled by everything for about 15 minutes. I was anxious. But we were on his time so we moved on to the next thing, which happened to be a DVD of his parents’ wedding. 9D42BDE5-F77D-4633-8459-BD7304BEE620

Finding that was easy too. I have a storage container with family videos and DVD’s. Some of them still need to be transferred off old VHS tapes to DVD’s. My anxiety increased. Have they eroded so much over time that they’re lost forever? I put the wedding DVD into my computer and was delighted at the clarity of the movie. That is, until it stopped abruptly about 10 minutes into the tape. Oh no! That IS on a DVD!  Was it low quality? I have a few other copies. I decided to try a few others in the player. Some were unreadable. Others started and quit. I did manage to transfer one video and 24 photos from the DVD into the cloud. I got some great shots of my son playing soccer while he was in high school and one oldie of Michael and me. 

I was grateful but felt obsessed with sliding every CD or DVD into every device I have, to try figuring out if the defects are in them or my equipment. But by that time, my grandson was ready to move on to something else. The family history stuff is now piled on the dining room table and the videos are on the living room floor in front of a DVD player we stopped using after the DVR entered our lives. Groan. Whelm.

The next day was kid number 2’s turn, the very active, physical guy. I suspect he’s destined to become a speedy, natural athlete. When he wants to sit still, he’s incredibly focused but he loves to move. I decided to be strategic about our time together. I planned a breakfast picnic in the car, which is always popular. Then I thought we’d take a drive through the country. The skies were filled with puffy cumulus clouds and I know where to find the cool horses, donkeys and steers. The food worked. The drive in the country? Oh well. He found all that stuff exceptionally uninteresting. Within a few minutes he was begging to go home. I did manage to get a few photos for myself.

When we came home, we’d killed an hour and I decided he could watch a favorite show on Netflix. I left the living room to get him his favorite drink, “ice cold fresh water.” When I came back he’d moved a pretty heavy piece of new exercise equipment I’d purchased and had shoved under a chair. He was using it properly, explaining that when he grew up, he planned on being a “muscle guy.” So I watched while he worked out for the rest of our time together. That was much easier than having to run after him if he decided he needed to be outside.

Ordinarily none would of this would seem like a big deal. I’m happy to be with the boys, for myself, for them and their parents. I knew I had lots of projects that were hanging around, started but unfinished. I’m actually still quite interested in them. But I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. A big house and a big yard means lots of big work. I need to make time for exercise and other personal needs while trying to stay sane during this pandemic time, which, by the way,  I think is going to be a longer experience than some people might like to believe. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic and other times, nervous about all the scary possibilities. Death and disease during this time have already affected me personally. I’m still actively grieving for Michael which feels more like a permanent state at this point. Lots of people are facing tough challenges. Why should I be more whelmed now than a few days ago? 17C55EC2-12BB-4326-B544-AC2641BAD2A3

I think it’s a combination of my age and experience, in tandem with the knowledge that it’s likely I’m not going to finish as many projects as I wish I could. I no longer see a limitless vista ahead of me. Will I outlive this “new normal?” I have no clue. I got used to living in each day when Michael was sick because we had no other choice. But as determined and open about that as we were, the moments came up when we’d both acknowledge the frustration of not being “done,” “being ready to let go.” Michael never got there. To his last cognitive moment he was saying he still had so much he wanted to do. I think when I added structured time back into the amorphous life I’ve been leading since he died, I realized that I’m still so, so un-done. Will I ever finish? That’s the mental and emotional current that’s risen up to engulf me.  

I was outside admiring both my front and back yards today, with G here for a spontaneous unscheduled visit. From a distance everything out here looks so lush and beautiful. But as I step closer, I see all the weeds that don’t belong and the hours before me, working away, just trying to feel a bit accomplished, staying ahead of the game. An apt metaphor for my whelmed state. Things seem ok, tend to be much more challenging than you thought, and are most likely, never done. I’m just going to have to keep trying to come to terms with that. Be well, universe.1A42CB64-2685-4DF6-B19B-20FFF8B7852E

About the Music

F5D8B148-E2FA-4433-A513-4ACE3940FCCDI have a podcast library on my phone. It’s a mix of politics and current events,  personal stories and interview shows. On occasion, I listen to one. A lot of people I know, my kids included, listen to them almost every day.  And I don’t think it’s just a generational thing. My peers recommend what they think are good, or even essential podcasts to me, on a frequent basis. I just can’t seem to get with the program. I feel like I might be missing a lot. But my head is stuffed with thoughts all the time. And I read constantly. How many more voices do I need – that is, ones who are speaking? 5BC3D20D-C3BB-444E-8304-3EDF125DCEB3When Michael and I took long road trips, we primarily listened to music, but changed things up by adding in history books or humor. I remember a number of our choices which were really great when you were driving on a two week long trip.


But interestingly, music was always our first choice. Whoever was driving got to choose whether we’d listen to a random playlist or specific artists off the iPod. The passenger usually read or just enjoyed the passing scenery. Often we were silent for hours, drifting along in the comfortable rhythm of us and whatever was playing.9ECEC10D-C44D-4081-AD90-4663F7BB9AA4

Back then there were still CD players in cars. Last year, I rented a car for a lengthy trip to the East Coast which was a mom-son deal.  I spent a lot of time at the library, choosing a widely varying selection of books on CD, figuring we’d take turns picking genres. Imagine my surprise when the brand-new car was player-less. I guess everything’s on Audible or Sirius radio or whatever. Miraculously, the first generation 30-gig IPod that was loaded with 2500 songs from Michael’s iTunes was picked up by the sophisticated technology of the car so we had good music.

During this quarantine time, I’ve been spending as many hours as I can, weather permitting, outside in my garden. The work out there is endless, my attempt to create a beautiful habitat and natural space while dueling with the weeds and the uninvited creatures who laugh at my efforts to contain them. At least I think they’re laughing – I know I would be if I was one of them. As the line from Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.” When I’m out there, I have earbuds in and I’m listening to Pandora, usually set to random play. I like to hear old favorites and am also happy to hear something new. I’ve been led to hearing new artists and feel like I’m not getting totally stale as I age. One of the things that really annoyed me about my in-laws was that they called big band music from their youth “our music.” I thought then and still do, that having one small segment of all the art that was available in your life, define who you were forever, was not a good thing. I still feel that way. So here are some of my station choices on Pandora. I don’t include classical music or my new age options on these as I prefer those as my indoor nighttime sounds.

 I get a lot of variety out of these. The music keeps me moving and sometimes I just have to stop and dance. Having let go of caring what I look like as I’m enjoying myself is a plus during these episodes. The only time things get a little weird is when I’m working in the front yard and can’t hear when I’m being greeted by a neighbor. Or when someone is trying to get by me on the sidewalk which I’m dominating with my moves. But here’s the thing that’s been driving me a little nuts in this already bizarre time. When I hear a song from long ago, my mind prepares itself for the next cut on the album. And of course, that doesn’t play. I still have so many whole records tucked away in my brain. I’m sure there’s not a single Beatles album I couldn’t sing by heart. Those are still going strong in my memory as I inch closer to the end of my seventh decade on this planet. I think I heard my first Beatles song when I was twelve in 1963. Lucky for me, I was ahead of their curve because of having a penpal from Liverpool in 1962, when she told me about a “boss” local band called the Silver Beetles. That’s a real thing – you can look it up. Anyway, back to the albums.  I know vinyl album collecting is again a “thing”  in the music world. Just months before he died, Michael sold our massive collection to an independent store in St. Louis. I miss the album covers,the feel of them and the sorting of them, in our house in alphabetical order by artist, not genre. But they took up a lot of room, our kids didn’t need them and his expert knowledge was necessary for the sale. I still have a few here and I also have a turntable. Perhaps that’ll be a collector’s item some day. I even have a machine that converts vinyl into CD’s but in today’s world that’s a technological dinosaur.BACC7B96-D123-4A4D-B29B-08C6EC941C91

I still have my Beatles CD’s, classical CD’s, Michael’s Grateful Dead collections, his house favorites compilations and many more. A tiny portion of the amount he amassed in 27 years of being in the music business before becoming a teacher. But it’s still plenty and I’m not ready to part with them. In the past few days, as I’ve been mulling over my daily choices, music, podcasts, reading and other ways to stay busy and relatively sane, I zeroed in on my early years with Michael, when our lives were low key and we could spend hours lying around together, listening to albums and just staring at each other in amazement at our good fortune at finding each other. Some who know me well would have doubts about my ability to spend hours without saying a word. At least one that was anything other than vocalized. But I was actually talking to Michael with my mouth shut, as he was to me. May is my hard month – in a few days my birthday will be here, while my wedding anniversary is already gone. Then it will be three years since Michael’s death. So hard to assimilate when he’s still so alive to me. And so polite of him to not die on my birthday which would’ve been just awful. So. I was thinking of all that music and those tunes which roll through my mind every time I hear one of them from Pandora, waiting for the next one.  Those albums still fill me with the same thrills they did back in the day. So here’s a selection of some memorable ones. There are just too many choose from.

Some other day, I’ll talk about the ones that caused total melting for a lifetime. I’m going to stop thinking about this topic for now.