Grumpy and Distracted

The four of us – 1990

I found the photo above yesterday. I’ve spent more time looking at it since then than I’d like to admit. Way back in January, 2018 when I started writing this blog, my original goal was to tell the story of Michael’s five year Merkel Cell cancer ordeal. That effort took longer than I expected. I was distracted by the dystopian political climate initiated by Trump’s administration. At other moments, remembering how hard those five years were, was simply too much. Over time, I expanded my blog goals to include memoir, both mine and Michael’s, so our kids and theirs, would have a more complete picture of who we were, before they were old enough to remember more than a few fleeting glimpses into us when we were younger. I’m finally up to the year 1990. I feel pressured to write every day, trying to plumb my mind for as many stories as I can, before I get too old, before my memories fade, before I’m gone. But I’m often distracted from my goal these days.

Fluffy women’s slippers

Here’s a recent distraction. For the second time in a just over a week, Amazon has delivered two packages to my house, addressed to Michael. Over the course of the past 4 and 1/2 years, an occasional piece of mail will arrive with his name on it. I always assume those mean that there’s been a failure to purge contact lists from within some bureaucracy. Ignoring those isn’t hard for me. But the packages mailed to him at our home address made me uncomfortable. The first contained a box of twenty white plastic hangers. Really? Today’s bag held a pair of women’s fluffy winter slippers. Trying to solve the mystery behind these sudden deliveries, I made my way through the maze required to speak to a human being at Amazon’s customer service department. After a mostly futile conversation with a person, I was only able to make sure that no one was using our credit card for these orders. I remembered canceling Michael’s Amazon account, along with all his others, shortly after he died. Now I worried that maybe I’d missed this one. To be sure, I emailed another death certificate to ensure his account would stay closed. My effort to find out who sent the orders was fruitless. I was told all information on their end was encrypted. I can’t even return these packages to whoever is sending them. What a creepy intrusion into my efforts to have a productive, albeit a bit modestly, organized life. There’s always a new loose end.

Amazon logo from Amazon

On some days I feel like I’m drowning in loose ends. Every time I think I’ve tied one up, two more emerge from what must be a black hole with my name on it. As I swivel from one task to the next I have concern that I’ll never really finish anything. Cursed with the unfortunate habit of list making, I have a hard time ignoring those tasks which have no line through them, as they remain undone. But I keep trying to move forward. Another unexpected task this week also stems from Michael’s life. When he was forced into retirement by his cancer with the bleakest prognosis, a scholarship in his name was established at his school. The senior student recipient was to be a person who wrote an essay demonstrating a passion for history along with a keen interest in civic responsibility. Michael lived long enough to award the first one himself and was still alive for the second award, presented by our daughter. During this time, the school principal and the school district superintendent were close friends with Michael. Since his death, both of them have left their jobs. The scholarship has been bumped around within the social studies department. Last year, the only essay nominated for the scholarship was about the film “The Polar Express.” That topic was so far away from what had been Michael’s original intent for the honor, that I was compelled to intervene. After a recent conversation with the school counselor, who informed me of big changes in the building caused by both personnel and the pandemic, I now find myself retooling Michael’s concept. I need to ensure that his scholarship becomes part of the school’s honors awards, part of the institution rather than dependent on the whims of individuals. Before he died, I promised I’d make sure his special project would go forward. I hope whatever I implement will meet with his standards. A loose end that wasn’t loose five years ago.

STR | NurPhoto | Getty Images

I think that facing down another Covid winter is getting on my last nerve. Like so many other people, I find living cautiously every single day to be oppressive. But I hate myself when I whine. I feel selfish and spoiled. I remind myself that life could be much worse, and that it is for huge swaths of humans and animals all across the world.

Photo – Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger
Photo – Ed Ram – Guardian – giraffes dead from drought in Kenya

I guess my awareness of how the choices and behaviors of those who’ve refused to comply with scientific recommendations, who are ultimately affecting the lives of me and everyone else, makes me sour and impatient. Throw in the relentless efforts to undo the Biden presidency, uphold insurrectionists as patriots, and make voting an uphill battle for millions in 2022, and I am in the vortex of distraction irritability. I start thinking about all I need to get done. I still have too much stuff in my house which I’m supposed to be paring down. Ditto for the garage. I keep lugging donations to charities, but living in a place for over 40 years means daunting accumulation. While I should be focused on those big chores, I go off on small tangents. For example, there’s the case of the missing bookmark.

Ten years ago, Michael and I attended a wedding which had an oldfashioned photo booth as part of the celebratory reception. We climbed into it and came away with the four-shot strip that spews forth from the machine within a few minutes of sitting for pictures. I took the finished product to a bookstore where I found a plastic bookmark jacket with enough space for the photo strip. I can’t describe how much pleasure I’ve gotten from seeing the two of us from that happy time, poking out of my current book’s pages, an additional pleasure to reading itself. But now it’s missing. Periodically I’ve gone on short hunting missions for it, through the bookshelves, under the bed, in a travel bag or two, trying to figure out where that thing went. Finding it has been on my list for so long it’s pages back on the chores clipboard. I may never find it. I can’t give up hunting though, at least not yet.

The pendant Michael had made for me when hr was given a prognosis of 2-3 months survival.
Mom’s broken chain with my pendant.

Then there’s my broken gold chain which was my mom’s, the one I’ve used for the pendant Michael designed for me when he thought he was going to die quickly. The pendant is engraved with a lovely message in his handwriting. He lived long enough to see me wear it for a few years, always hanging on mom’s bequest to me. In the past few weeks, I’ve broken the chain twice, both times after getting it stuck on my puppy’s crate while tucking her in for the night. I hate breaking the few things I imbue with sentimental value. With jewelry-making tools I used frequently at another time in my life, I fixed the first break. After the second one, I ordered a part to make a stronger repair. The truth is, I’m not sure I can make the correct fix. In my inertia about attending to tasks, both the chain and the pendant have been lying on my dresser for about a week. I feel naked without them. Only a few weeks ago, I realized I had a broken prong on the ring which was my 30th anniversary present from Michael. I brought it to a jeweler who asked for an astronomical amount of money to repair it. I took it off and put it away in a drawer for a month, trying to decide if I needed to get it fixed. I did. After investing money in that repair I just feel rotten about paying for another. How long will I let this go? I’m not sure yet but it’s definitely a distraction.

The almost two years since the pandemic arrived didn’t feel as lousy to me as the past couple of months. I’m one of the lucky people who got to take a trip between Covid waves. I’m so glad I got to Yellowstone but the trip was intense and physically demanding so I came home tired. As the walls close in, my coping skills are taking a beating. I miss Roger Federer. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him play tennis again after he’s spent so much time recovering from his injuries. Coupled with his age, I’d say the odds are against him. For twenty years, I’ve enjoyed his grace and athleticism. I need to move on.

Another big help for me in navigating the pandemic was the generosity of Pete Yorn, who gave 17 free performances on Instagram over the first year or so. The sensation of being at a live concert was remarkably restorative. Eventually he played several of his albums in their entirety for a fee which ranged from minimal to a lot, depending on which extra perks were in your package. Recently as life got easier, I know from social media that Pete is cutting a new album. He was reluctant to tour for a long time because of Covid. I don’t know what’s on his agenda. I’m grateful for what he gave. I miss him a lot, too.

During the first two years after Michael died, I easily fell into moments of loneliness and despair. I remember a conversation I had with one of my oldest friends, who seemed certain that after five years, my yearning for the decades of partnership I’d had, would be allayed by time. In truth, I can get through my days without constant awareness of being bereft. But I’m still focused on the power of our relationship which remarkably provides sustenance despite his absence. I think that makes me lucky, while simultaneously being reminded of my singleness, a hard state to manage during the pandemic. The world us skewed towards couples. Try making a reservation. Prices are quoted for double occupancy. I’m not interested in another “occupant.” My marriage was a one off – I’m not going there again. Most of my friends are still partnered. Yes, I have family nearby, but those relationships are not the same as the one I shared with my best friend, lover and husband. I think the cumulative forced distancing of these past months has taken its toll on me. I hope to regroup but I think my success will largely depend on circumstances beyond my control. Hopefully I haven’t run out of internal resources. I think I still have them. But for the moment, I’m grumpy and distracted.

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