Spluttering

FF2CBD2F-29EA-4E3E-B2D4-A77F50752215Dear Michael,

Well, here I am again. There are those who find this habit of my writing you letters to be a bit bizarre. The good news about that is that I don’t care. What a relief to be able to ignore the judgments of others. One less thing to worry about. I haven’t found any other place to lay my problems which provides significant relief.  I just need to spill this stuff out to you because my brain is spluttering right now. You know how it goes with me. Too much thinking, too much stimulation and I start boiling over with anger, disbelief, indignation and rage. You were my safe, peaceful place where I could purge myself of such toxicity and eventually slow down, let go, sink in, feel still. This time that’s happening is so over the top crazy that I have no idea how to process what I’d refer to as next. It’s not like I haven’t had my share of issues which required hard choices, or rough patches, or confusion and pain. But this atmosphere is just so utterly bizarre and isolating, both literally and figuratively. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been dead three years this month. I’ve found nothing to replace that cushiony place between us, that retreat from the rest of the world where we could soothe each other and make ready to tackle what’s next. So here I am, with another addition to the hundreds of notes I’ve written you these past few years. 

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A couple of things set me off last night. Here we sit in the midst of the world pandemic. The divisions in this country are so profound. You know how many years I studied and puzzled over the Civil War. Well, effectively, it’s still raging. I’ve always known that. But the overt ugliness rearing its head across the country is hard to take. There have been demonstrations all over with protesters demanding their freedom from “house arrest.” That’s how they view the quarantine. Not a mandatory safeguard to protect human life. Rather an interference with their personal agendas.They want to be free to come and go as they please. They don’t want to wear masks and practice social distancing. Some splinter,( at least I hope they’re splinter), groups with multiple axes to grind have shown up at state houses armed to the teeth. I saw a photo of one guy at a store, carrying a rocket launcher and two handguns. The nuances of this complex virus elude so many people. The country is expected to experience 100,000 deaths by June 1st. In mere months. There’s no universal treatment, no vaccine and inadequate testing. The economy is approaching depression level statistics in terms of unemployment, closed businesses and generalized hunger. The pressure to reopen the economy is being pushed by the government. Unemployment is crushing for people and they need to work, to have incomes. But do they also have to get sick and maybe die? The stimulus package from the federal government was too small. I have no idea if the Senate will pass a Democratic bill that will cost a lot more money. The alternative? Open the country and gamble with public health.  It’s an election year and Trump is incensed that the pandemic has tanked the economy he hoped to ride to reelection. He has lied to and misled the public on so many occasions I can’t count them. Human life is not at the top of his list-that’s about power. This recent comment, circuitous ignorance, drove me over the edge.  
“Don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said. “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They [the media] don’t want to write that.”
I thought I’d lose my mind.

Then late last night I got an email from the park district with this disappointing news.

Aquatics – There will be no summer pool season at Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center or Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center. All aquatics programs (swim lessons, swim teams, exercise programs) canceled through July 31.

I’m so sad about this.  And I hate myself for letting it get to me. I know that there are infinitely worse things happening to all kinds of people which are so much more challenging than losing your exercise venues. There have been these memes going around which have really resonated with me.  Like the one about Anne Frank and her family living silently in an attic for 25 months to try staying alive. Or the one from George Takei about being rounded up to live in internment camps, victims of xenophobia in their home country. Not to mention the underdeveloped countries always hovering on the edges of war, famine and natural disasters. I get all this and remain conscious of the bigger picture. But I can’t help it – I’m still bummed out that I can’t swim. I don’t feel as good without the water, mentally or physically. The endorphin release that I get in the water isn’t replicated by walking. I’m glad my knees work but hitting that concrete isn’t exactly forgiving. I go to the water because it soothes me and now I have to do without it. And I will. But I don’t like it. Today I was pathetic. I drove over to the pool and just stared at its locked gates and emptiness. It’s so gorgeous there, big sky, plants, twittering birds. Sigh.

It’s hard to figure out what life will feel like when everything “opens up.” I don’t trust anything right now. If I go out wearing my mask and gloves I sometimes see people who aren’t doing that looking at me disdainfully. I guess they don’t know or care that in my mind, they are potential enemies, the people who could be the silent purveyors of the virus. It’s still spreading in our state. No one has any clue whether the summer will bring a respite as is the case with influenza. This disease is not influenza and continues to bring surprises like a new manifestation of dangerous symptoms in children. Previously they were thought to be safe. What if I could be a danger to our grandchildren? How can I know?  I hope we can all get tested soon. That would be helpful although it’s not clear whether antibodies to the virus are temporary or lasting. Am I just going to continue to lead the quarantine life just to be safe? That’s a huge change from how I’ve been trying to live since you died. After a few months passed, I realized that your valiant efforts to stay alive were what would inform the way I would live without you. After all the talking about what you wished for me, new partnership and intimacy, I knew you didn’t really get it. I could never settle for anything less than our cataclysmic, cosmic connection that defined our whole adult lives. I know you meant well and that you wanted me to be happy. But what I felt was that I wanted to live as big and hard as you did. So I started doing that pretty fast. I started traveling, mostly on my own. You and what lay between us empowered me, as it still does.

Tonight is the evening before I was to be headed to see the sights in these photos – the Mendenhall Glacier on a whaling boat and the town of Sitka. Yup. The trip of a lifetime, two and a half weeks in Alaska,  starting in Vancouver, cruising for a week and then disembarking for a land journey into Denali National Park. Can you believe it? Other than another scuba diving trip, I know you would have loved that I was going to have this adventure, something we often talked about doing together. Ironically, one of the ships that carried Covid19 passengers and wasn’t allowed to dock anywhere for a long time, was the very one I was booked on – classic, right?   So as this pandemic continues, what are the odds of my replanning that trip? Will planes and ships, effectively Petri dishes for rapid disease transmission be something I’ll be willing to risk, at least for the foreseeable future? Right now, my answer is a resounding no. And in the meantime, I’m getting older. Smack in the middle of the Covid19 death group.

I hang out in our garden, working away. Your herbs have come back every year – they smell heavenly and make me feel you’re rising up and through me, starting with my feet. I’ve already used the chives. Yes, in this lockdown time, I’ve gone back to cooking after all that time of minimal kitchen duty. I’m making your recipes, a bit fearful that they won’t taste as good, but so far I’m doing ok. I listen to music for hours. For the most part, it’s nourishing for me. Only 50 years’ worth of songs remind me of us. Every now and then I get emotionally ambushed, as my playlist is random, and then I have these great purging meltdowns on our dirt. One of your posthumous musical gifts to me is Pete Yorn who’s been doing live shows on Instagram. Did you even know what Instagram was? I know you’d be amazed to see me using Zoom for long distance family get-togethers and even meetings. Doing my civic duty like you always did, I’m now on the city’s Historic Preservation Committee. Seems fitting as I sit in our home, built in 1893. 3327551D-A817-4D1C-B7A0-835DAD446C56I’ve been doing some self censorship these past few months which I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do with this blog. As the world got overwhelmed by the pandemic, I stopped writing about your cancer. I felt like it might be too dark a topic when people were being subjected to this new global stress. But as I wonder how long I’m going to be around, I really want to get back to finishing our story. At least that part of our story. Having an orphan cancer and everything that goes along with it is an important topic to share. I know it’s harsh. I was looking through some of the photos that go along with it and they’re pretty brutal. How did I even take them? But they’re only part of our story. A lot came before and to my constant amazement, a lot has come after, even years after you’ve been gone.B1FCFEE8-59AB-49FF-A362-3CA025F0C428I took the pewter tag you left on my mourning quilt and put it on my keychain. I have the other X-rated one hidden away. I use your favorite towel and still sleep on my side of the bed. People tell me I’m lucky because I have my kids and grandkids around me. I know that’s true. But I don’t get to sink into them at night, and most hours of my days are silent while they blare your absence. How exactly does that work? I am without answers. All I know is that what was and is you and me still surges inside me. Just having written this provides me incredible relief. Who knew, Michael? Actually we both did – we talked about it often enough. I’m glad you’re still with me although in all candor, I wouldn’t mind something a little more concrete. But thanks for sticking around. Love you.
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