Death and/or Life?

EE46AC0C-5D33-4419-B476-37CF77781821Some people go through their lives without ever experiencing the death of a loved one. My husband was one of those people. The grandparents he liked died when he was a young boy. He only vaguely remembered them. His other grandfather died before he was born. The surviving grandmother was a person he actively disliked, a woman who was initially uninterested in him and then actually hostile toward him as he grew up. For the most part, his relatives lived for a long time. His father died at 98 and his mother outlived him, dying at 96. Death made him uncomfortable. He didn’t like thinking about it. He hated funerals and memorials. When he got sick with his deadly Merkel cell cancer which was already metastatic, he looked at me in wonder and said, “the first person I mourn will be myself.” I felt tremendous sympathy for him. He was an innocent. I was not.6274CFD7-53B1-4E86-886D-D34F5AF8F249

Death was familiar territory to me. It was always part of my family’s conversation, along with illness and disease. Michael and I always likened our differences to that movie scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen’s family was shouting about diabetes and Diane Keaton’s was talking about rummage sales. Worlds apart.2E0D1140-22B1-47D3-9DD6-49D7C6B87FCC

The deaths which affected me most started when I was thirteen and my baby cousin died on the day I graduated from 8th grade. My parents went off to be with hers.13DE5460-ACFA-4FB2-BBA2-22763F20F9BC

I struggled with emotions ranging from a deep sadness to guilt that I was upset that my mom and dad wouldn’t see my walk down the aisle, with my blue and white ribbons pinned to my dress and my gold honor roll pin with blue writing in its center.FE9435A0-FB2E-4AE4-8C28-FD349462ACC4

That was just the beginning. As I went through my teens, the only grandfather I knew died. That was sort of normal. Then as I entered my twenties, the suicides started.

3A690E82-FA6D-48A7-B2B7-2159D3CBAEA2The first was one of my cousins, Dennis, who shot himself. Next my grandmother died, a normal death from old age.  In my 30’s, it was my other cousin, Eliot who committed suicide. Eliot was like a little brother to me. He leapt from a building in Chicago. I attended his funeral with my baby son under my arm. The year after he died, my friend Fern committed suicide. I have yet to recover from that death. She was a victim whose mental health was destroyed by others. I’d call hers a wrongful death. Despite trying everything I could think of to stop her, it happened anyway.

The year after that, my parents both got cancer. My mother survived but my dad died at 67. At the time, I thought he’d had a long life. My, how getting older changes one’s view of longevity. His death was my first bedside vigil. I cared for many of his physical needs as my mom was still recovering from her own illness. I crossed all kinds of boundaries between a daughter and a father. I knew I was changing from those three deaths in a row but I wasn’t sure how. I reeled from their absences. But there was nothing to do but go forward and recognize that being mindful of what was important in life needed to be something I could figure out. Fast. I think I could call that “afterward” period, just a few years before I turned 40, the time when I honed my best critical thinking skills.DFD6271A-7D12-4A08-B59F-5BDA45192170

I was very intellectually conscious of who I wanted to be, as a daughter, a wife, a mother and friend. I knew that I wanted to be present. I wanted to be available for people who experienced traumas similar to mine. I guess that’s because the process of grief and loss can be painfully isolating. You often wind up feeling like you have a contagious illness that everyone wants to avoid. So on I went.

As I passed through my 40’s and 50’s, people continued to die. There were the uncles and aunts. There were young teens who were friends of my daughter’s, kids she’d known from as early on as day care and grammar school. I wept at the unfairness of life and their wrenching funeral services. There were parents of my kids’ friends. I organized food trains and visited the patients and listened to them and their spouses. I stood in line by myself at their visitations as Michael never went with me. He couldn’t stand those things. My friends’ parents started dying. I went to as many of those events as I could. Dying is part of life, I would tell myself. Of course it is.76B2D2AD-3DC4-4D1D-AAA3-298E71793C0B

Then in 2012, just before my 61st birthday, Michael was diagnosed with his cancer. I couldn’t believe it. Not Michael, the strong, athletic beast, as my kids called him. Not the progeny of all those people in his family who were so long-lived. But there it was. And my grooming in the world of illness and death made me ready for what turned into our 5 year ride on the cancer rollercoaster, up and down, up and down. So many treatments, moments of hope and health, moments of despair and teetering on the edge of death. We talked about everything during his illness. Both of us felt that as devastating as it was, that we hadn’t reached the worst of the worst. That would be if one of our kids got terribly sick. Both of us questioned whether we could survive that. During the few years before his disease exacted the ultimate price, Michael hovered at the edge of life in 2015. My blows kept on coming.

My brother died that April. Michael was weak but pulled back from the brink in June with a new treatment. He was still trying to gain strength when my mother died in July. Her death was followed later that week by the death of our beloved collie, Flash.16BD3234-2490-4C7D-8645-E9C93188C810

I was learning about all types of grief, the sudden, the acute, the drawn out. The surprise grief that bursts out unexpectedly, just when you think you have your act together. And then after a brief respite, it turned out that Michael would never have to face the question of whether he could stand anything awful happening to our kids. After a heroic effort to stave it off, his sneaky cancer returned with a vengeance and took him out, after a grim struggle for life that lasted from January, 2017 to May 28th of that year. I spent myself down to tatters in those months. I stayed with him in the hospital for 32 days and nights. I was able to get him home where through herculean efforts, he survived for close to three months in a blur of home health visits, treatments and eventual cognitive decline. But he died where we’d lived our life, with me holding his hand and our children beside us.B078FD95-2588-4F10-A26C-ECD4BF3C2F58

After that, I was whatever is beyond exhausted. My son departed to his postdoc across the world in Guam and my daughter and her family began to resume their normal life. So I could recover and my son could participate, we delayed an event to honor Michael until December of 2017. That’s when I began to understand that this sadness about Michael had a life of its own. I was going through my days with the spirit of Michael on one side of me and this active pain, almost physical in nature, on the other side of me.E16EDCB7-9369-45E2-ADCC-8748880F840F

Then, about a week and a half after Michael’s death, a dreadful crime was committed in our community. A foreign national graduate student who’d just recently entered the country to begin her work was kidnapped and quickly assumed murdered. The case got a lot of press. An all-out search began, but within a very few days, the FBI had identified the person who they alleged had committed the crime. He was arrested at the end of June. Public outcry was enormous. The student was Chinese and the university in our community has a large Chinese population.FA45DD17-95DB-4B2C-80D0-05876A8EF4E5

My daughter is a federal public defender, locally based. When I heard about the case, my first thoughts were, please, please don’t let this case fall in my kid’s lap. Our whole family was reeling with fatigue and grief over Michael’s death. Something this enormous was terrifying to me for her, just having lost her dad, at a time when we were so stunned with sadness. Then came the welcome news that a local law firm had been retained for the case. I breathed more easily and slipped back into focusing on trying to comprehend Michael’s death at the now early-to-me age of 67, the same age as my dad was when he died, that I’d once considered old. I was working hard to cope as was everyone in our family.145FB729-642A-42A9-8E81-5AFC444F085C

Our little unit of four was always a tight, intimate group. Such a huge piece was now missing and we were trying to negotiate that big hole. Who thought that a new pressing issue could push its way into our void? But that’s exactly what happened.F80996D0-87A0-42E4-9A5E-9F09AB35BB99

Despite the fact that Illinois abolished the death penalty in our state years ago, the federal attorney general, Jeff Sessions, attached the death penalty to this local case in one of his last parting shots in his position. Twenty states have abolished the death penalty. Nine others have a formal moratorium on it in place. That this could happen in a state that clearly banned capital punishment was astonishing. Although most progressive countries have quit this practice, our country remains among the ones where it is still allowed. For me, I have always considered the death penalty to be institutionalized murder. I’ve never understood how family members of a crime victim can derive any solace from the execution of the perpetrator. Their loved one is still gone and will never come back. A personal opinion, yes. But to me, murder is murder no matter who is doing it.481A562A-591D-4256-B7FC-AD22E192F7C3

In early September of 2017, the private firm that had been handling this sensational and ultimately gruesomely detailed case, withdrew from the defense, thereby handing it over to my daughter’s office. Suddenly, barely three months after Michael’s death, my daughter was going to be a primary attorney in a case where the client’s life was at stake. I don’t think she ever thought she would be on a capital case. Why would she, in a state that had eliminated the practice? Suddenly a new heavy weight was thrust onto our family’s shoulders. In addition to carrying our pain about Michael, we now had the burden of wondering what this case would do to my kid, who had to rapidly learn the management of a murder trial with death as a possible sentence.BA90F019-DC62-4488-AA4D-76F3BB16D6FC

As time went by, the demands on her time increased in many ways. She needed to travel to conferences and to receive training. That meant absences from her husband and children in addition to me. All jobs mean that time must be taken away from family life. But this was different. The stakes were high. I knew my daughter was laboring under the onus of feeling that she was now responsible for a life or death verdict for her client. She had other attorneys and investigators on her team but as time moved along, it was apparent that she would be in a primary role in the case. I could feel the pressure on her, pressure that was coming from within. My daughter takes her job and its constitutional definition very seriously. Throughout her life, she has always given everything to the tasks before her. As a serious athlete through much of her life, at the end of a competition, she wanted the ball in her hands, to try to attain a victory. And I knew that she would, as the athletic expression goes, leave everything on the floor. But this case appeared to be a slam dunk for the prosecutors. What would happen to my daughter’s psyche? The grief I was, and still am, experiencing over Michael’s death was like no other. But I recognized that my daughter would really need me to be her mother during this unexpected situation. Not just the sad, lonely mother missing my husband and her dad, but the mother who I’d been in “the before,” in the time when worries were considerably less than in this new combination of nightmares.68CECC1D-B5D4-437F-92B8-DA2C8792145B

How in the world would I negotiate this situation?  I never felt that I lost any part of myself when Michael died. He and I were both strong and independent. Being strong all the time gets old, though, and I was now in a position where letting down could affect my daughter at a time when I felt like she needed me. Her own family needed her. Struggling to be the best attorney, a good wife and a good mom was huge. The last thing she needed was for me to be in some pathetic state. We went through all of 2018 and the first five months of this year, barreling closer to the time when the trial would begin. Because the public opinion in our community was so visible, there’d been a change of venue and while my daughter hoped to come home every weekend, the workload for a trial like this didn’t allow for that. So she moved away for the duration of the proceedings. What a nightmare for all of us. Could there be anything harder than being separated from your loved ones in the most intense time in your life?FAC6CB19-F5AF-4D1D-8309-CA6A2073D01A

That’s what my kid faced as well as those of us who love her. During the guilt phase of the trial which began in early June, the defense admitted guilt on the part of their client due to powerful evidence that the prosecution had assembled. It was ugly. There was an endless stream of negative social commentary from who I call the uninformed haters, the people who don’t understand what the law says and who were vengeance-driven and angry at my daughter for doing her job. There was also support but it took awhile for that to become evident as many people didn’t actually know what was happening. Perhaps they might have been more vocal earlier along if they had. The admission of guilt meant that everything would come down to the penalty phase when the jury would have to decide whether the defendant would receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. This case was like the proverbial dark cloud, hanging over us all and encasing us in it at the same time that we were mourning. Now it was a question of life or death. My daughter who had for almost the duration of this case had been missing her dad, who’d slid into death before her eyes, now held a life in her hands and seemingly in her power. We talked about whether she was prepared for a death sentence and I know she was trying. Last Wednesday, a week after my knee replacement surgery, I limped into our local federal courthouse which provided a live feed of the proceedings to the local community.775DF50E-6E8C-4F9E-9AEE-F61303EC4458

The prosecutors presented their case first and at the end of their statement m, said death was the only correct penalty for the case. Then my daughter stood to present the closing statement for the defense. I was mesmerized by her. She spoke with no notes and away from the lectern in the room. She spoke from her heart for 64 minutes and when she finished, I wept. She spoke for life and I sat there remembering all the deaths and the struggles for life I’ve seen and the complexity of what it all means.  For the first time I thought there was a glimmer of possibility for saving a life. The jury deliberated a day and a half and finally told the judge they couldn’t be unanimous in their verdict.B9825B50-9E62-4287-84AC-EFE4589EF008

That meant an automatic life sentence for the client. My valiant daughter had pulled off a miracle with her genuine and sincere closing statement. I feel terrible sadness for the family of the victim. But I still believe that the client death would never assuage their pain. I am incredibly proud of my daughter for her strength and conviction. She came home Friday and I saw her a little bit then and a little bit yesterday. She is exhausted and needs rest for a long time after this intense haul.4BEB3159-6994-4FF3-8F55-A65FB6BEA4AC

I will always wonder if I might have felt any differently during my process of grieving Michael, absent the extra load of this nightmare. For my daughter too. I’ll never know. What I do know is that today, I feel the relief of this case having ended. To avoid the blistering heat, I sat in my house relaxing, doing busywork and listening to music. My music stream, which plays many artists’ stations at random, managed to play, one right after another, virtually every meaningful evocative song that makes Michael’s face appear in front of my eyes, although I was heaving and sobbing so much, seeing him was difficult.7F2A4326-F24A-47A0-A0F9-1CDD8E4844BB.jpeg

I finally unplugged and fled to my garden where I watered and pulled weeds from a seated position and pondered if I’m going back to that place I might have sealed off right after Michael died. The writhing in agony place. There wasn’t enough room for it as I practiced my mothering skills. Maybe I won’t go back there. We’ll see. But in the death and life moments, emotions and grief are mutable and unpredictable. That is one thing I’m sure I know.C451FBE6-0FDB-4F53-A74A-77B571126D91

1) Medicine

8C0724A1-F017-4FFB-B090-99EA7081CBBCSo if you’ve read anything about trends in modern medicine, you’ve noted that what is imminently clear is that treatments need to be tailored to the needs of individuals and not to broad targets of whatever is “average.” At least that’s what scientists know. But are doctors scientists? Some are. But a great many are not. And the result of that difference is that when most of us are being treated for a condition, we will be looked at in terms of a protocol which likely is intended for what I call, “the great middle.”7F4AE24E-A35E-4687-8CB3-6EAC9F5C2AF6

If you remember being taught what a bell curve is in school, you’ll know that there is a big rise in the center and smaller wings on either side of that rise. Woe to those of us who don’t fall comfortably into that big spot. Our responses to the protocols can surely be less than wonderful. Last Wednesday morning I showed up at my local hospital for a long overdue knee replacement surgery.75F87E88-2359-462B-9BDB-E67BCCC978F8

The first thing that happens is “prep.” The nurses get you ready for your procedure, followed by the anesthesiologist whose job it is to keep you alive and asleep and then alive and awake. The first thing I ingested was an oral cocktail of 4 different pills selected by my orthopedic surgeon. Last year when I had my first knee replaced, I asked the nurse what the cocktail was for and how the drugs were chosen. She didn’t really know so she called to ask my doctor. First he phoned me to explain but then he felt a personal appearance in my room was in order. I could tell he was annoyed, especially when he asked me the following question: “if you boarded an airplane, would you go into the cockpit to ask the pilot what his plans were for your flight?” When my response was that my behavior would depend on the circumstances, he wasn’t amused. This guy likes being inside the lines. After that first procedure, he went out to speak with my kids and told them they’d need to sit on me during my recovery. We’re not a great match. But in my part of the world his surgical outcomes are the highest rated. So I stayed with him for my second rodeo. That meant that this time, I just didn’t bother asking much about the pre-operative cocktail. I’d survived it last October and gambled that I would this time. Next came the anesthesiologist.57078B48-F760-4A61-B494-C1F127FE8815

He was going to give me a nerve block in my inner thigh which would numb the nerves to my knee, offering more pain relief. After all, they do saw part of your bone off. I was given a drug to relax me before this procedure. It didn’t work very well. I asked him to show me how he made his choice of where to inject the rather large bolus of the rather dreadfully named “nerve agent.” As I watched on a sonogram, he pointed out my femoral artery and mentioned how important it was to avoid that lifeline. This, while poking and manipulating the large (at least to me) syringe which he put into a few places in my thigh. After that I was rolled into the operating theater. After some adjusting between my hospital bed and the operating table, I slid over and was descended upon by gowned and gloved people who began to attach drips to my IV. Eventually I said goodbye as I inhaled mystical concoctions from a mask they put over my face.3C830558-7F88-4A3C-AC03-54C26895FFC9

The next thing I knew I was in post-op, looking around at my fellow recoverers and asking for ice chips. When I finally got to my hospital room I had more medicines injected into my IV. I know there were antibiotics and pain meds. I’m not sure how many anesthetics I received that way. Eventually, the nurses began to appear with little clear cups filled with different pills and capsules. I knew they were for pain and blood thinning and stomach problems and constipation. They showed up every few hours. When it became clear that I was doing well enough to be released the following day, a flurry of paperwork was done and I was given seven new prescriptions to pick up on the way home. These seven were in addition to three prescriptions I take on a regular basis. Along with them, I had seven other pills which were supplements of one sort or another, each to either heal, prevent or override one effect or another.263294E9-10C8-4E78-B5CF-C2A71463A2C0

When I got home I actually needed a bag to carry what amounted to 17 different drugs to be taken daily. Oh no, I said, oh no. I didn’t ever fill the big opioid guns I’d been given for my first surgery. I have a high pain tolerance and didn’t want to borrow any potential addiction trouble. My mom was addicted to medication most of her life and I’d rather scream in the street than go through the multitude of issues that her drug use spawned. But I thought I’d try the lower level ones. I was fed up in a day. I was fuzzy, dizzy and lightheaded. My stomach hurt. When I’d wake from a nap, my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. Although I was mobile, I just felt rotten. I started looking up side effects of all the medications. Each, both prescribed and over the counter, had ominously long and scary lists of problems.110FA34C-18AA-4657-92E3-6A6218302562

Of course, I understand that for liability reasons, even if only one person experienced a side effect it would need to be included in the warnings. But many medications had the same side effects – how could I ever know which drug was causing which feeling, with so many introduced simultaneously? I had an interesting chat with my son-in-law, who is a scientist and a chemistry professor. He told me some interesting stories about different ethnic groups who had specific mutations and for whom certain painkillers would have no positive effect whatsoever. No one really knows anything about what makes me “me.”A1D9922B-DE09-4198-A7A1-01DA1F408FFA

So I decided to stop taking all the medications except my usual ones and a few which I considered vital to a healthy outcome for me. I didn’t consult my surgeon. I couldn’t see the percentage in doing that. I’d just be the questioning rule breaker to him and he and I aren’t done with each other yet. So I’m trusting myself and my years of life experience to guide me through this recovery. I went to my first physical therapy appointment today which went very well. I’ve had the same person for both my knees and she told me I was way ahead of the curve compared to her average patient, regardless of age. She did mention that so many people come in foggy from drugs that they’re barely functional. So with a little pain tolerance, I get a head start. The point is, patient beware. Do your homework and be an active participant in your own care. What you know about yourself counts. Doctors don’t know everything. Let’s use our brains while they still work and maybe we’ll be treated more kindly by the rest of our bodies.91A6972F-AF59-43E0-AEFE-C795F83CDDEF

2)Odd Feelings

Life can be so random and serendipitous. Who’d have thought that a person I’ve known since I was a child would wind up marrying one of my husband’s high school classmates? Michael and I found out that happened when we attended my 20th high school reunion, thirty years ago. I’m not sure if we knew beforehand but I remember Michael and his buddy being glad to see each other and catch up on their lives at this event that belonged to their wives.5FA1B8AC-474B-4A56-8D88-78CB6263B155

Fast forward to 2017, the year Michael died and the 50th high school reunion of his graduating class. His friend added me to the 1967 class social media posts. In addition, one of my oldest friends was a classmate of Michael’s and I gave her messages to pass along to certain classmates about whom Michael had told me many stories. His death was very fresh back then and I numbly read through posts written by his old friends and felt the strangeness of seeing him listed on the “In Memoriam” section. Now more than two years have passed. Michael’s classmates have been turning 70 this year. Although I was a year behind him in school, I’ve just turned 68 as I’d skipped a year of school when I was young. So despite having gotten through what should have been Michael’s 70th birthday, I didn’t register that this significant birthday would be cause for another celebratory event. But suddenly I found my membership in his class’s social media groups exposing me to the bash that was going to occur last weekend. My head is certainly more clear than it was two years ago, despite my knee surgery and drug blur. Before I knew it, I was watching live feed Facebook video of all the people who’d gathered to share this event. What an incredibly strange experience. Except for his friend who is married to mine, I haven’t seen most of these people except for yearbook photos. But I know about them. I know the women Michael had sex with when they were young. I know who was a virgin and who wasn’t. I know who drank and who didn’t. Whose homes were broken and whose weren’t. Which person owned what kind of dog. Whose mothers were nicer to Michael than his own. And there they were, having fun, eating, talking while I was a voyeur. Admittedly, although it makes me feel small, a jealous voyeur.94DFACB7-9354-41F9-872C-1B1848743491

Why were they alive when Michael isn’t? Why did he draw the random short straw for a miserable rare cancer? Why did he look so handsome and robust, almost to the very end, despite years of treatment and disease? Why, why and more why? I’m not exactly thick-headed. And yet here I am, still going round and round with so many ifs and maybes and the unattractive willingness to trade so many people if only I could get him back to go through these still vital years with me. Maybe it’s ugly and selfish. But it’s honest. When my sensibilities aren’t flooded by my desire to get that life that was stolen from me, I’m nicer and more kindly to the lucky people. But I’d be a liar if I said this wasn’t a part of me. So here I stand with all my flaws. That’s the way it goes.03240657-D81E-4C1C-AEF3-DBCE5C17DC53

Screech, Stop, Whoa!

CADF74E6-2877-4C58-B8B0-E3AF83D7CEF1 

I am a bad patient. I’ve always been terrible at being sick or injured, ever since I was a little girl. As early as I can remember, I hated being sick. Sickness or injury meant stopping regular life. Staying in the house. Resting. Napping. Taking it easy. Yucky medicine. Maybe even shots. The horror. I don’t really know how this aversion began. Was it when my mom went to the hospital to have my younger sister? I can’t remember that. I do remember a few short years later when she was hospitalized when I was four. That was scary. All I know is that the hatred of being down and out was dug in early.
18E65FF6-6244-499D-B8E6-70A4AA000548
When I was eight I broke my nose in gym class. That day, I was lying to my teacher about not being able to perform forward somersaults on the mats in tumbling. I told him I couldn’t do it because I had bobby pins in my hair. I was actually afraid of being upside down but too ashamed to admit it. He told me to run to his desk in the corner of the gym, take the bobby pins out, run back to the mats and tumble. I followed his instructions and slid on a freshly waxed floor, face first into the corner of his desk. The pain was incredible and I vowed not to cry. But I was so wet anyway. Looking down, I saw my white gym blouse covered with blood. The teacher mopped me up somewhere in a back room and someone brought me a pink sweater that didn’t have all its buttons from my locker. They put it on me and pinned it closed and I went back to class. At lunchtime that day, my dad and mom were away so my sister and I went to lunch at my aunt and uncle’s house on Euclid Avenue on the south side of Chicago. I still remember that lunch. It was a tuna salad sandwich with lettuce and tomato on pumpernickel bread which was sliced in triangles instead of rectangles. There were also potato chips and pickle slices on my plate. I was just getting ready to take a huge bite when my uncle came into the room and and said, “now there’s a broken nose if I ever saw one.” I was panic-stricken. My mom appeared and brought me to Dr. Weiss, whose office was on 75th Street. He pressed and poked my nose and asked me if it hurt and I said no every time. The lying didn’t work. He told us that it would have to be reset the next day. I waited and whined as I leaned into my mother, saying that I wouldn’t do it if I had to have any shots. He told me I wouldn’t need any. They’d use “gas” instead. Then we limped outside and my mom said that since I couldn’t eat anything after dinner, I could have whatever I wanted that night. I worked my way through an entire bag of tootsie rolls.C5350E6C-D40A-42B9-B0B5-7CC0753DAAF3
The next morning, I woke up and had to drink some nasty-tasting fluid mixed into a small cup of orange juice. Then somehow we got to the hospital. The first thing that happened was that a gruff nurse said I needed a “hypo.” I was quick to recognize that hypo meant needle and I explained that I was told I wouldn’t be needing any. As I tried to pull away, she jabbed it into my arm. Then it was clothes off, gowns on and being rolled away on a gurney with lights shining down in my face. In the operating room, it became rapidly apparent that more needles were on the way and under protest, they gave me an IV and told me to count backwards from one hundred. I still remember the cold fury about the adult liars and their deceit about gas vs. injections. When I woke up I was in a children’s ward. I was tired but very hungry. My mom and my aunt were with me.版权归千图网所有,盗图必究

Food trays were being delivered and I could smell hamburgers and French fries. I waited expectantly for my turn. When my tray finally came, it contained a pathetic wobbly square of lime jello. That did it. Enough was enough. First a pack of lies and now starvation. I told my mother I wanted to go home and began pitching a fit of epic proportions. The doctor finally came in and said I could leave, but only if I was able to reach my dress, black cotton with red, gray and white polka dots on it, which was hanging from the crossbar which held my curtain. And I needed to put it on by myself. One minute I was gowned and the next minute I was dressed. I was so proud that I got to go home and sleep on the couch, outside the room I shared with my sisters. I got to eat real food, some salami and eggs instead of that crummy jello.

 

Fast forward sixty years. I’ve been crisscrossing the country, traveling to the east coast and New England, winding up in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. After a drive back home, I stayed put for a week and a half and then boarded a train west for a solo trip to Glacier National Park, a place I’ve been trying to see since shortly after my husband died in 2017. I returned home from that marvel late on July 5th. Then at 5:00 am on July 10th, I found myself in a surgery prep room being stabbed by nurses who couldn’t find a good vein for my IV that I’d need during my second knee replacement surgery.

 

There is something so uncomfortable about watching people try to distract you when you know they have little confidence about placing that needle on the first stick. My slippery invisible veins are a gift forward from my mother and one which I unfortunately passed on to my daughter. I’m awfully lucky that I haven’t had any surgeries other than my broken nose and my other knee replacement which happened last October. My children were born by Caesarean section but I was wide awake for those and they didn’t seem like a big thing as there was a prize at the end. In any case, I could feel my internal snarling as I tried to politely tolerate the bumbling with my veins and just hoped that I’d survive the surgery and get out of the hospital as fast as I could.B79F9609-0475-4695-9196-7E29F4CAAFAA

Finding a room for me after recovery took hours. The hospital likes to be overflowing with patients, a testament to a any profit-driven facility’s planning style. When I finally got a bed, the nurses said they were discharging and replacing patients at a steady clip. I never saw my surgeon after my procedure. My son told me he had a deep and profound 12 second conversation with him. A nurse practitioner and the physical therapy people came in to put me through my paces. I saw a two-night stay written on the white board in my room turn into a one night stay which was my goal. So start to finish, I was only hospitalized for 32 hours including surgery and recovery. I came home in my anesthetic fog, vowing to sleep downstairs for a few nights to accommodate the pain and to withdraw from the painkillers prescribed for me. But the first night, I spilled water all over myself on my recliner so I headed upstairs to my bed. The pain wasn’t bad. I realized that being bone on bone for so many years was actually worse than the post-surgical pain. I haven’t had any of the opioid painkillers since Friday night and have more mobility and flexibility in my knee than I anticipated. Great news, right? But actually…oh no! I feel like I’ve crashed and burned at the end of a highly entertaining road race.

 

Tearing around the country looking at impossibly beautiful scenery, standing in the shadows of historical sites, and feeling free and occupied by an ever-changing landscape agreed with me. Despite knowing that my surgery was waiting, I immersed myself in my moments as I’ve learned to do so well during the years of Michael’s illness. I truly hadn’t given much thought to how I’d feel during the recovery from this knee replacement. My first one happened last late October. The weather then was brisk and being inside was comfortable. I had plenty of tasks that I’d assigned myself and was content with my choices. With my adventuring coming to a screeching halt in the midst of summer, with my number one pool open and constantly beckoning, and my garden of this year, still a riddle in terms of last year’s polar vortex damage, I want to be outside, not picking my way through piles of old papers or sorting through drawers. For a person who prides herself on good planning, I’ve certainly dropped the ball on this one. Only home a few days and stewing away in frustration.

 

Holes to be dug, plants to be replaced and weeds to pick. And though some kind people will offer to help, the healing nature of this work is something I count on to keep myself on an even keel. Nothing like the dirt to distract me from maudlin thoughts. So I have to readjust. Because of good luck, I’ve already managed to slip into the garden, photograph a few blooms and ponder the empty spaces. And I got my kid to take me for a drive in the country today before he leaves town for a few weeks.

 

I have high hopes that I’ll heal the way I did before, quickly and steadily. I prepared for this operation. I swam and swam. I went to my physical therapy appointments to build muscle. Hopefully, those practices will work. Meanwhile, I have to reel myself in and get off that fast-moving train I’ve been riding on. In my zest for tearing around and checking things off my to do list, I’ve wobbled off my hard fought for balance board. I need to re-set. I guess I should’ve thought about that before but as the saying goes, better late than never. I’m going to set about the task of internal housekeeping. Despite all evidence to the contrary, our work is never done. And that’s a good thing. 3B22FA64-0B16-4B70-870B-C958251B8EDE

Pre-Surgery Thoughts

Looking for Dad

C800725C-4197-4DD8-B2C4-C7E632C2FC65
This picture of my dad, taken when he was just under 30, captures his quintessential self – he liked to be on the couch, preferably prone. Don’t get me wrong. He worked really hard in his life. He lifted himself from the west side streets of Chicago, his father lost to early heart disease, an 8 year old who never graduated from high school, to becoming an assistant vice-president of the First National Bank of Chicago. That bank was absorbed so many times that I think it’s part of JP Morgan Chase now, just a piece of an international conglomerate. But he managed to arrive at his prestigious place, far from selling apples from a wagon after his father died,  and helping his mother take care of his brother and sister.74D869E5-42DF-42E8-BC17-614AC63ADE82
He met my mom at 19, married before they were 20 and became a parent soon after that. Dad had a loud bark, but not much bite. Looking back, I realize that he was a very smart but also really scared kid his whole life. He was good at sizing people up but too insecure to assert himself too much. Compared to my mom, he seemed the stronger parent, but I learned long ago that wasn’t true. My timid little mom had a tough core and she was a survivor. She’d complain about dad. She’d say it drove her crazy when he said stuff like, “if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.” She wanted to go out and see and do everything, but he wanted her by his side, sitting on that couch and she wanted to be with him more than anything else. So he’d bluster about things and was a terrible teaser and she’d tell him that he could change and do things differently. But he didn’t change much. In the end, he dominated her, as had her mother before him.
77A5640E-10E8-45E2-A51F-3853DE372F77However he didn’t dominate me and truly, he didn’t try very much. He recognized me for who I was, and to his credit, he encouraged me. He told me to be strong and to never take any crap from anyone. Yes, in just those words. He could see that I was a prober, always looking for an angle. He nicknamed me “weasel” which was fair. I never thought that what was in front of me was the way it had to be. I always tried to go over, around, through anything that blocked my path. I’m glad for that. Recently my grandson was watching Jurassic something or other and I realized that perhaps my real spirit animal isn’t the wise and generous dolphin, but instead the velociraptor, hunting for an edge.

That’s what I’ve always tried to do. The problem is that sometimes there is just simply no way to deal with an obstacle. I’ve always had trouble accepting that. I thought if I worked hard enough, thought hard enough, tried one option after another,  I could conquer anything. Not true and hard for me to accept. In that way, I’m so like my mother. She batted her head against immovable objects her whole life. She wasn’t as aggressive as me but she’d keep going back for more tries until she was absolutely out of ideas. Dad lay still. Mom bustled. I’m a bustler too. I have long lists of chores and I bustle around every day.

But I’m ridiculous. I can’t possibly get done with the tasks I set for myself. I know that but I try anyway. I race against time. Ever since Michael died all I can think about is how short life truly is – this is not some newly discovered revelation. But it seems that reason fails me. I continue to churn away at a ridiculous clip. There is no way I could clear a weedy garden that takes up a great chunk of my 10752 square foot lot, especially after having been out of town for 21 out of the last 28 days. I actually went to Acadia and Glacier National Parks in under a month.

There will be weeds. There will be weeds. Not the end of the world. There’s only one of me to do the work two of us once managed. And I’m older. I get tired faster. And my damnable left knee is bone on bone and it’s been incredibly painful for too many years.

There’s all the rest of life to do as well. House stuff, bill stuff, family stuff, friend stuff. Expanding your intellect stuff. Political stuff. Being creative stuff and lots of thinking stuff. I need to be like dad. Dad, where’s that piece of me that can be like you on the couch and think it’s just fine? It’s misplaced. When Michael was alive, he was more laid back than me too. Being next to him was sedating. I loved it. I spiraled through all my energy at this incredibly rapid pace and then I’d just deflate like a balloon. And I could melt into him and take a break from myself. It’s relentless in here.75B416D3-657D-4584-A084-BCD4ECCA67F4
This nasty left knee has got to go. I remember the first time I’ve heard it creak. I was climbing down an old wooden ladder that I still have and I remember thinking, “wow, this ladder is really getting dangerous,” until I realized the sound was coming from inside my body. Long overdue.
Missing MichaelE28D3C87-4B5A-4842-B8B8-FED419878B50
I’m going to really miss Michael again tomorrow. That’s nothing new but it’s particularly hard on days like these when I’m going to have a procedure. I haven’t had many in my life which makes me very lucky. But I’ve spent more hours than I count sitting at other people’s bedsides, translating doctor stuff, offering ice chips, recognizing that nausea or pain was coming. I sat at Michael’s bedside many times.D10BED9F-9B6E-4782-AAA7-BC6B65C59C0A
As we talked our way through the years of his illness, I remember telling him that I feared I would never have the comfort of him holding my hand after I’d been through a surgery or procedure. He told me that was the saddest thing I’d ever said to him. I’m sad about it too. I would give anything to have that small comfort tomorrow morning. But I can’t. I’m angry and frustrated and I fully expect to wake up crying in post-op. That’s what happened with knee surgery number one. Stripped away defenses will leave me vulnerable. Not my favorite place to be.
Trusty Roger
5FA8D200-BC42-4DA0-8624-1F61AEC62FEA
Tomorrow morning as I lie on a table with my bone being sawed and then a very expensive piece of titanium being placed where that joint once was, my go-to distraction, Roger Federer, will be playing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. When I read back through my journals, I’ll find remembrances of tough times and in their midst will be the line, “but Roger won today” and that helped me. So utterly strange that this faraway individual brings me these moments of delight. I’m actually wondering whether my being unconscious might have a negative effect on his game. But then I reel myself back in and recognize that I’m going a little over the top. I am recording the match on my DVR and the first thing I do when, hopefully, I wake up, will be to watch Roger do impossibly balletic things on a grass court while some machine squeezes my leg to prevent blood clots. In the end, I guess it’s always the little things. Hopefully, I’ll be writing from the other side of knife. C2C1963F-2617-4E5F-A896-D5B948C78D12

Overdrive

10B595FD-7954-4EE4-9D25-9AE674A5B5FFOne of the things I remember Michael saying to me on many occasions was that he thought I was the most singularly unchanged person that he ever knew. I was forever trying to decide if I should take that as a compliment or not. Since I was only 20 when we met, I figured that in the 46 years we knew each other he probably had a fair view of my behavior. In the end, I agreed with him and viewed “unchanged” not in a pejorative manner, but in a positive one. I’m consistent. My belief system has been in place for a very long time. Of course, I’ve grown, developed, evolved. But my core, my fundamental self is pretty much the same as it was when I was teenager. For people who know me well, that means I’m predictable. And complicated.A68B9921-3D9D-4096-B4CD-6B5E2414A558
My brain speeds along at a rapid clip. I’m always processing. As yet, my motherboard hasn’t failed me. Which means nothing is ever just simple for me. I remember when I saw the movie, The Last Samurai. At a moment when the Tom Cruise character was getting his rear end kicked over and over during sparring practice, a friendly warrior came up to him, tapped him on the forehead and said, “too many mind.” I can relate. I’ve been working on slowing down and adopting practices that to help me
when my start spinning too fast.2813888F-C597-4CB0-852C-8ADD714AFEF7

I learned how to do revitalizing meditations to help me stay calm and cerebral when Michael was sick and needed my help. I have the Calm app on my phone and I use it regularly. I’m pretty zen when I swim. Still, a lot of my time is spent thinking, analyzing and considering, often about multiple topics simultaneously. It’s just how I roll. I think all this began when I was really young because I remember these same feelings and thoughts from my childhood.

 

 

And so it was on my long-desired trip to Glacier National Park, which in its essence was everything I dreamed of and more. I’ve been to a good number of national parks, Acadia just last month. Certain ones had more impact than others. I’ll never forget Bryce Canyon, Zion and Arches. I got to experience those with Michael which enhanced their majesty and spiritual power for me. Being on my own in Glacier, it was all about me, with my forever bond with Michael, tucked into my most interior self, like an extra vital organ. But I saw and felt Glacier through the lens I bring to everything, the one when I am simultaneously in my moment while my mind is zipping along, connecting that moment to how I perceive the world.

 

 

I went to Glacier by train which is a great way to travel and really see parts of the country that are off the main road and certainly hidden when flying. I spent almost all my waking hours staring out the window. I don’t want to miss anything. I’ve never tired of seeing cattle and horses, not since I was a little kid traveling up and back between Iowa and Chicago. On an overnight rail trip, there is so much more as you travel from state to state. I saw buffaloes and donkeys.

 

 

Numerous white tailed deer grazing and springing through the fields right next to the domestic animals. I saw a swift fox. I saw American white pelicans, great blue herons, American kestrels, a ring necked pheasant and lots of red winged blackbirds, mallard ducks and rabbits.

 

 

I saw fields planted with beans and wheat and other crops I can’t identify by sight.

 

 

The vistas are endless and impressive.

 

 

But I also saw small towns that looked economically ravished. Aging buildings and others that have already fallen. There’d be this gorgeous green landscape and suddenly piles of junked cars and garbage would appear.

 

 

The shabbiness was a stark contrast to the surrounding lush earth. And then came big sky. Endless miles of beautiful land, absolutely empty. In my mind I was envisioning herds of buffalo and tipis and the native people who made their lives here for countless years before being decimated by the relentless move west by settlers and power brokers. I’m sure that much of the land I saw was owned by big ranching concerns. But it felt so wrong. All the beauty tarnished for me. I can appreciate it but not without thinking of the cost to the people who lived here. Then the reservation appears.EF2BDA0B-4EAE-4BB6-9DAC-6E89B51CAFAE

The Blackfeet  reservation is actually a conglomeration of tribes whose general name is Niitsitapi which means “the real people.” I saw buildings with the words “no meth” painter boldly across the walls. The very idea of reservations appalls me. Would you like to live with your people in a designated area? Me neither.

 

 

The Blackfeet tribe has rights to parts of Glacier National Park which include their most spiritual locations such as Two Medicine. Ceremonies are still performed there such as sun dances, while sweat lodges are built for the transitions and rituals of native life. I took a boat ride on Two Medicine Lake and went through their valley. You can feel a powerful spiritual presence there. I opened myself up to let it blend in with me and Michael and my own belief system. Certainly not the same as theirs but nonetheless connected if by nothing other than the surrounding natural majesty. The natives call some of the mountains the backbone of the earth. It’s not hard to understand why.

 

 

I stayed in East Glacier Lodge which is a beautiful old building with no televisions and sketchy internet. It lends itself well to getting in touch with what this place is supposed to mean to human beings. Their staff all seem to share a common attitude of preserving the nature of the park and its mystical energy. There are tributes to the natives throughout the lodge and the park although for me, it wasn’t enough. Keeping a piece of your ancestral land rings hollow to me. I saw a tall Native American man tending flowers at another lodge. He resembled Will Sampson who played the chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing and had positive interactions with a few people working with him. Maybe his life is happy. Maybe I’m the one with the problem.

 

 

Let me stop and say that I felt everything I hoped to feel at Glacier. As I stood before mountains that are estimated to be between 1600 and 800 million years old, I felt my smallness and the tiny place that I know I occupy, even when things feel huge. I felt the fabric of connection that still binds me to Michael and my love for the earth and its marvels. But then the guide told us that the remaining 20-odd glaciers are expected to be gone by 2030. Unimaginable. Was this destined to happen over a long period of time or isn’t it part of the upheaval we’re seeing all over the world. Climate change. I’ve heard all the arguments from people who say it’s been hot before, we’ve had hurricanes before, we’ve had fires before. Blah-blah-blah. Our planet is threatened. I have no doubt. Blazing hot temperatures in Alaska. Water supplies in India drying up. Europe sweltering. The hottest June on record. Ever. I’m not capable of simply enjoying my good fortune without thinking about all these frightening things. I’ll be dead before the worst stuff happens. But what about all the children and grandchildren? I have hope that brilliant people will find ways to turn some of this around. That we’ll stop burning fossil fuels. That we’ll get rid of plastic in the oceans. That a place like Glacier will still have snowy peaks in the summer. But to ignore it for my own mental well-being? No can do. I had the privilege of seeing so much wildlife in the park. I saw a black bear, a moose, long horned sheep, elk and mountain goats. They’re just doing their thing. But a lot can threaten the ecosystem that supports them and I worry.

 

 

Through the train window I saw the amount of flooding that occurred when the Mississippi overflowed its banks, not to mention the smaller rivers nearby. The wooded area and retaining ponds along the tracks are filled with mile after mile of algae bloom. That can’t be a good thing. As I watched animals drinking from this green pea soup I wondered about the chemical runoff from farms into the water table. Not to mention what can happen to people’s drinking water. Still thinking of Flint over here.

 

 

So yes, I am thrilled that I got to see this incredible wonder for what is likely the only time in my life. I think that inner city kids from everywhere should be brought on field trips to experience this magnificent place or others like it so they can make an early commitment to trying to rescue the earth and each other. I can’t go back and undo the genocide that happened long before I arrived. But I think it should be remembered and never ignored. Another thing Michael said to me frequently was this: “ Great. So as long as you know that somewhere someone might be having a problem or that there are systemic issues, you’re going to be bummed out. Living with you will sure be fun.” Well, we did have fun. But there’s more to life than that.AE3448B9-98D4-430E-AB32-4271169FAE8D

Thoughts from a Train

8507EE2A-3825-42EE-BFA2-8B06D2F30573Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me,
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been. – The Grateful Dead 

Yes. That’s exactly what the last two years and change have felt like for me. A mixture of light and darkness, often a blurry palette, although I’ve come to know that my most essential self is primarily sunny.

I can’t account for how much life is determined by genetics versus environment but my mother told me I was a cheery baby from the start and my older brother said that when I came along he felt truly happy. I’m alone on an Amtrak train, headed out of Chicago, my hometown. I still feel that, despite having lived almost 50 years in my other hometown, the place where I went to get an education, found my partner, my community and raised my children. Two homes. That seems right.

I’m headed north and then west to Glacier National Park in Montana. I’ve been trying to get there since 2017, when the wild effects of climate change caused the park to burst into flames, not just that year, but also the one following. I finally figured out that my wanting to avoid the crowds was putting me into the dry season so this trip will be chilly and perhaps a bit snowbound at the higher elevations. I don’t care. I need to get there. I know that this natural majesty and sheer size will help me stay oriented to my actual place in this universe. I actually took a photo of Michael in Arches National Park to illustrate this concept. 669E0B1E-A4C6-4B30-BBBA-65385FA54267

I am a speck, maybe even less than that. The world and the people around me can easily skew that perception. I yearn for smallness. I felt too important and too needed for a long time. And my tasks were always truly out of my control although I fought furiously to empower myself and wrest some measure of power from invisible forces. In the end I gave everything I could muster from myself. Since Michael’s death, I’ve been grappling with how I ultimately had to surrender the person I most loved and find a way to live without what are for me, the most essential parts of life.

The repository for my trust. The confidante for whom nothing needed to be held  back. The warm body to lean on, sometimes in the day and through all the nights. The person who shared the exact same feelings about our children. Oh my, how I have empathized with those courageous single parents out there. Passionate kisses and passionate sex. Lucky me, lucky me to have had so much to lose forever. Because nothing could possibly compare to any of that.

So I am silent in my little berth. I have Michael’s miraculous old iPod with its 2500 songs. I have his water bottle and my walking sticks to help me experience this glorious nature while protecting what’s left of my battered knee, soon to be replaced when this trip ends.6B4C9958-A5C4-43BA-A450-E21D58DEBA9A

I’m looking out my window at all the views you can’t see from the car unless you travel the backroads. The train has Wi-Fi. I can watch Netflix if I choose that. Maybe when it’s dark. For now, I’m writing down the names of the birds I see and looking at trees and clouds like I do when I’m home. We’re passing through Milwaukee where the temperature sign reads twenty degrees cooler than it was when I headed out early this morning.E9324111-292C-4E01-B43B-98B9C74A90F9

I looked at Facebook a while ago and saw the memories generated by whatever their crazy AI technology is and sure enough, there photos of a trip Michael and I had taken to the Outer Banks in North Carolina on this date in 2014. He was a couple of months out from his mega-chemo cocktail and had one clean scan under his belt following that treatment. The next one would be in August where three cancerous spots would again reappear on his bones. But that June, we were traveling as we’d decided to do between scans. We were going to have a retirement come hell or high water. Michael hated having his picture taken, so I was surreptitiously getting unconscious photo bombs from him while he innocently read his book.

Those photos are a perfect metaphor for right now. I feel him near me just like that, a bit off to the side, doing his thing, but close. As he always said, he was going to be with me forever. I’ll take what I can get.2F6CEED9-DBB2-4BDA-B790-6E566C411CC1

Closets and Boxes

A502B380-0412-4F04-B944-EFD1097BC309Today I was swimming along in my favorite pool, trying to shake off the long hours of driving from my two week long road trip. I did get exercise as I traveled, but my normal regimen was definitely disrupted as I often chose between sleep and workouts.  The older body and screaming left knee make different demands than the body of my youth. I am rushing to get back to optimum strength as my knee replacement surgery looms ahead in the beginning of July. Most people who’ve had both of their knees replaced tell me that their second one didn’t go as well as the first.

If that’s the way it goes for me, I’ll want to know I did everything I could to prevent anything less than success. Kind of my life operating principle. As a genuine control freak, I like to take out as many of the sabotage factors that I can before undertaking anything, while simultaneously knowing there’s only so much you can do. I’ve learned one thing from this year’s outdoor pool experiences. Prior to my first knee surgery I had to use the handicapped ramp to enter the water. This year, I can use the ladder with my one bionic right leg. The one with the titanium is also good for digging holes in the garden. It doesn’t feel like my body but it doesn’t hurt. Who knows? Maybe if all goes well, I’ll be using the high dive next summer. But looking back over my life, I haven’t done that since I was a kid in a healthy pre-acrophobic state. I don’t know how I acquired the fear of heights.  I’ve also been claustrophobic for as long as I can remember and don’t know why that happened either. I think about stuff like this as I swim my laps, up and back, up and back.7706B7A1-28B6-44B4-9AE5-458A41B8564F Sometimes I just find myself looking at Michael’s face as I cruise along. It kind of bobs in front of me, sort of like the head of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. But his smile is more crooked and a bit sardonic. I see his eyes and the way his hair would part as he emerged from below me, as he could swim a couple of lengths underwater, holding his breath for a long time. We spent a lot of time together in water, in pools, in lakes and in oceans.36534841-BBB3-4170-93ED-F7E4F9F05B61
Without fail, that apparition appears to me when I’m submerged and I feel happy and relaxed which is quite odd as he is definitely dead. I have no explanation for it. I appreciate the mystery for what it is, no more, no less. When I write stuff like this, I know that some people find it strange and uncomfortable. Others let me know that they have similar feelings, but they feel guilty about them, as if they haven’t done their grief due diligence, haven’t moved on enough, haven’t found new companionship. They think they’ve failed. When I think of them and how I am, I find myself thinking about boxes and closets.

Seems to me that too many people spend time feeling boxed in or closeted. I don’t like this. Why do people feel the need to organize others into understandable, identifiable places? So they don’t feel confused or out of order in some way?  This kind of categorizing has bothered me since I was quite young. There were the cool kids, the nice kids, the bad kids, the nerdy kids, the athletes and on and on. The weird people, the smart people, the phonies and posers, the outcasts and the in crowd. I hate all that. Now I spend time worrying about closeted celebrities who I read about and can’t understand why people can’t be who they are without fear. Why does anyone care about what anyone else does as long as it doesn’t put someone else in danger or at risk? So many inexplicable rules.1DBDAAE7-B934-4F8E-99A4-0EE67DC83D33

I try to understand what threatens people and I’m hard put to land on any reasonable explanations. I worked with a woman for many years, a woman who had a completely irrational hatred of lesbians. I would try to reason with her. She felt like every gay woman she met was interested in her. I asked her if she thought every straight man she met wanted her. When she said no, I tried to get her to see that there was no more reason to feel threatened by a lesbian than a man. But I’d get nowhere.76C152BA-E097-475F-9CBC-19F92A299D67
“Other” seems to be a problem for a lot of people. I spend hours trying to find anything that resembles logic in that alienation from anything other than sameness. But I always find that no matter how hard I try, there’s just nothing rational about the urge to be with “like.” I felt those compulsions when I was young because there was a time when fitting in felt critical to me,  as I think it does to most people for at least a certain part of their lives. When I left high school, I bolted away from the group mentality I ostensibly shared as a teenager and moved fast to establish my independence. I didn’t have to stretch very much to get there. The truth was I felt like I could “pass,” in the group scenarios but I always felt “other.” I didn’t want what my youthful friends wanted. I didn’t want to move in a pack. I always had trouble with the expectations of the crowd. Too much judgment, too many rules and my flight responses kicked into high gear. Being what other people expected of me was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to be what I expected of me and that was and is a lifelong occupation.066DA4D2-D6BE-42A0-A426-561044B59196
At this stage I certainly have a solid center and a coherent belief system. But I don’t want to be done. I don’t want to stay only in a comfortable zone for whatever time I have left. I want to see what else I’ve got. And I wish everyone could be in that same frame of mind. It’s easy to get pegged. Let’s see. I’m now the widow. I’m aging. Those two factors alone shove me into a pretty marginalized space. Except I don’t want to be in there. I know I have certain limitations.9AFBA9D8-9DFF-46ED-B5B8-F5207D159FD5

But in the immortal words of Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, “nobody puts baby in the corner.” I always want out. I don’t want to be predictable. My parents lived in Chicago for most of their adult lives and I think they ate at five restaurants. They astonished me. They lived small. I always wanted to live bigger. And it doesn’t have to be expensive or wildly adventurous. It just had to be outside the boxes that people seem to find themselves in without knowing exactly how they got there. Recently my son pointed out that he thought my behavior was unusual.

I’ve been getting tickets to see live rock and roll music, some shows out of town. We went to a Pete Yorn show and wound up spending the night with old friends of his from his teen years. Me and the kids. I got the best spare room and he had to sleep on the couch but it was really fine. I think they were ok with things and I was too. I surprised myself a bit, being willing to crash with the kids, but I couldn’t think of a reason to not do it other than it wasn’t typical. I suppose a hotel room would have been more the norm but the truth is, being around young people is energizing and interesting. I’d like everyone to step outside their closets and their boxes.AB09602D-F692-40B9-9C43-B62CE547C1B8
I know that some people only stay in them because of fear and anxiety. That makes me sad. I imagine what it could feel like if I just did the aging widow thing. To me, it’s not an attractive vision. Being alone is hard enough when it sometimes feels like everyone is either paired up, or trying to get that way. I think I’d become a genuine closet case if I lived in those narrow parameters.

So instead I’m hopping a train this Sunday for my solo trip to Glacier. I think this trip is going to work, unlike the previous two times I tried when the park burst into flames. I changed the travel season this time. Precisely my point. If the time frame isn’t working, better try a new one. Isn’t the definition of insanity to do the same useless thing over and over again? I’m trying to stay flexible, to adapt and to squeeze as much as I can get out of this life as I can. I’ve already had my future change when Michael died. Now I have to change it by myself. During the late sixties and seventies, one of my favorite slogans was “out of the closets and into the streets.” I think I’m going to stick with that one. I hope I can convince a few folks out there to bust out and pick a new way. With the boundaries you select instead of the ones thrust at you by someone else. Off I go. Surgery soon after. 42E09ABE-3723-4F7D-8322-C1425EB83635