“…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.”
As the year’s end approaches, I find myself doing what so many people do, evaluating what I did and didn’t do these past months. For the most part, I feel like I’ve done as well as I can do. I’m still angry that Michael died. I’m in the third year of this unexpected and undesired widow business. The fact is, that after 135 and a half weeks of his absence, I still turn to him to lay down my emotions and thoughts. I’ve found no other outlet that provides the peace I’d feel after he absorbed my confidences.
I could never have imagined that I’d still be writing him letters, still be feeling surges of love and lust when I think of him or when I look at photos of him. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve gotten much better at living with grief as my companion as time has passed. I’ve found ways to be engaged in life and I’m actually pretty busy with projects and hobbies. I don’t cry much any more. But I’m getting through my third set of holidays on my own and being me, I’m continuing my intense inner cogitation about death and life and what everything means. The brain that keeps on ticking. Although I had no idea how￼ I would adapt to being single after those 45 years of being a life partner, I must say that the fascinating internal shifts I’ve experienced during Michael’s absence, have been simultaneously, totally surprising and incredibly normal. I mean his “sort of” absence.
His body is definitely not here. Somehow, though, without my being conscious of the process, the essence of him, and what that is when it’s with me, seems to have taken up permanent residence in my body. He’s basically just here all the time. I feel alone occasionally but not lonely.
It’s ironic because he told me many times, and wrote me on that heart I wear around my neck every day, that he’d be with me forever. I just didn’t think he meant that literally. This development has been subtly evolving after the initial shock and devastation from his death. I have￼ a hard time finding language to adequately describe this interesting state of being. And I ponder what accounts for me being able to accept this other-dimensional dynamic I appear to have going on with him. It certainly isn’t in keeping with my usual grounded, realistic approach to life. How does this fit with my practical self? I’m able to make room for this mysterious connection without blinking twice. As Michael would say, it is what it is.
I think there have been clues all along in my life. Despite being the least romantic of the two of us, I could never deny the power of the intangible connection I’ve felt with him and a handful of other people in my life. And despite my appreciation for facts, for science, for critical thinking, I realize that at the very least, my literary leanings have always been a window into my openness in accepting things that are outside the mainstream.
Let me explain. I love to make lists. I’ve gone beyond the task-oriented ones of the past. Since Michael died, I’ve been keeping lists of all the books I’ve read and all the movies I’ve seen. I have lists of his funny quotes, goofy nicknames and favorite movie stars. I’d been thinking of trying to make a list of every book I’ve ever read. Every movie, too, but mostly every book. What a daunting task that would be. I suppose the first ones would be the Dick and Jane series which I can actually remember from my school days.
I have photos of myself as a toddler, turning pages of books I can’t identify. But I can visualize Dick and Jane with Spot and Puff, having their daily small life experiences. I can’t imagine how many books I’ve read through the decades. More interesting than the number of them is which ones have stuck with me over the years. There are some that I read dozens of times when I was a kid. I can quote text from those verbatim. And then there are the ones which were so powerful affective that they instantly felt like part of me, that were instantly unforgettable. Many years ago, I made lists of the twenty five books and twenty five movies￼ I’d take with me to a deserted island. Despite having piled hundreds of new titles in both categories, the top group has never changed. And the book category is led by One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, master of the magical realism genre. I’ve read lots of books from this genre, books filled with characters who could float above the earth, stay silent for years, predict all types of events and who didn’t die, but simply got smaller and smaller as time passed.
When Michael and I decided to reduce the massive number of books in our house, I held on to those as essential. I still needed them to be in my space and knew I would read them again. I still think about them. I’ve identified with their characters. I’ve felt like Tita in my kitchen, attempting to infuse what food I’d be preparing with all of my emotions and good health. These are the books that live with you and stay your whole life. Those reads are just an intimation of my capacity for the unexplained cosmic part of my life. But I think they’ve been an indicator of my openness to the inexplicable. In reality, I still sleep on my side of the bed. I don’t feel the need to sleep in the middle to prove anything to myself. I still wear my wedding rings because for all practical purposes, I’m still married. That’s how I’m rolling along and I’m good with it. I know what works for me.
But aside from those intimate reflections, there are the other pieces of my life that show up on my lists. I’m not happy with my book consumption this year. I’ve only managed an average of a book and a half per month. Writing has eaten into my reading time. I’d like to read more and I need to do something about my time management. Lately I’ve been reading three books at a time, doing a chapter or two each day in each one. My list seems endless and time is growing shorter. Big sigh.
I’ve taken eight classes during the past two years ranging from Jazz Masters to Molecular Biology. I’m signed up for three more beginning in January. I’ve seen 68 movies in theaters, the last of which was “Little Women,” which took me back to the days of reading the same book multiple times. I got to see some fabulous concerts, Pete Yorn, Jeff Tweedy, The Indigo Girls and last, Paul McCartney. Live music is rejuvenating.
I was fortunate to have taken four trips this past year. One was in early January to stay with old friends on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
The second was a long road trip to the East Coast with my son, which passed through 12 states and beautiful Acadia National Park.
The third was my long-coveted trip to Glacier National Park, a dazzling place which makes me fear the damage of climate change.
And the last was a trip south with my sister, as I work toward my goal of seeing all 50 states before I die. I only have a handful left to see and am hoping to knock that aspiration off my to-do list.
I became bionic this year – I had my second knee replacement this past July. I am now the proud owner of two Stryker Triathlon joints and moving pain free for the first time in over 15 years. I’ve recovered a normal gait instead of my penguin one and have taken to supplementing my swimming with long walks. This is an incredible gift.
Although I wish I could take a stroll with Michael-in-the-flesh, I’m grateful to be moving freely and intend to make the most of these knees while I can. I’m going to love gardening in the spring, bending when I need to and being confident that I can stay balanced while I work. I had a great year in my yard, despite losses to the polar vortex in January. I’ve already hustled to replenish the areas that took the worst hits. I’m looking forward to getting back into the dirt.
The last focal point in reviewing this year is this blog. My whole life, I’ve scribbled away, filling notebooks with reminiscences, ruminations, poems and tirades. I rarely shared any of it although I always felt I had things to say which might resonate with at least some people. When I launched myself onto this platform on January 1st, 2018, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say or how a blog worked. At the very least, I hoped to codify some life events and memories for my family. Beyond that, I had few expectations.
Life is full of surprises. I’ve heard from old friends that I’ve known since I was a little girl. People I’ll never see have sent me comments and notes that are both heartfelt and heartening. I have subscribers although that’s hard for my to wrap my mind around. Perhaps the most amazing thing that happened to me this year as a result of this blog, was receiving an email from an unknown reader. She told me she was worried about my spirits with the holidays looming. So she forwarded me a New York Times article about Roger Federer to lift my mood. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have remembered that I was his fan, much less bothered to do something about it. So I’ll keep at this. I’m part way through the story of living through Michael’s orphan cancer and part way through the stories of my youth. Then there’s what’s happening in real time. I suspect that if I run out of words, I’ll have run out of me. Happy New Year. And thank you.