Best Friends

I’m coming up on the 5 year anniversary of writing this blog and looking back to see some of the ones that still resonate from the early days. I started the habit of writing letters to my deceased husband shortly after he died. He was my favorite confidante for 46 years. Here’s one of those I wrote a few years back.

Dear Michael,

When you died it would’ve been nice if you’d have found a way to leave my best friend behind. But you took him with you. Of course, since you and he were one and the same, I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised. And that is really unfortunate when I’ve had a few days when a best friend is exactly what I need.

You know, most of the time I’ve got my act together. My successful installation of the essence of us into the core of me, generally suffices for the wear and tear of the daily grind. But every now and then there are one too many negative events. The cumulative effects of them feel too big and I become frustrated, angry and overwhelmed. I want my best friend. If I can’t have you in the flesh, the habit of writing you letters that I developed almost immediately after you died will have to do. So here I go.

I started feeling rankled a few weeks ago, just before New Year’s. I bumped into that portfolio of greeting cards you and I’d exchanged over the years, the one that was displayed at the museum exhibit of your life which passed for a memorial. I really think you would’ve liked how that experience was structured. Anyway, after that was over, I slept with that thing in our bed for about six months. Having some palpable evidence of us felt right and necessary to me. Eventually I moved it to your nightstand where it promptly got buried under an avalanche of photos, the ones I’d lifted from 45 years of albums and used to make the slideshow which spooled at your event.

I lost all control over chronology of those pictures when I assembled that slideshow, and for ages, I just let those photos sit there, too exhausted and lazy to refile them back where they came from. Shortly after the two year anniversary of your death, I felt established in some of the new behaviors I’d developed for life without you. So I decided to attack the photo pile, several at a time and put them back in the albums, no matter how long it took. That’s when I unearthed the greeting card collection again and thought, huh. I hadn’t looked at it in awhile. So I opened it. I didn’t get past the first card.

You don’t get to know when you’ll be leveled by grief. At least I don’t. I was flooded by it, literally and figuratively. Not my normal. You know I’ve never been much of a crier. But I couldn’t stop and really, I didn’t think I should. I store a lot of anger and hostility by nature and these current times are feeding my rage on a daily basis. I’m furious at the governmental sideshow in this country, not to mention the blatant disregard for the need to address climate change. I spend too much time seething even as I try to make some sort of impact on my community, small though it may be. Holding in my sadness over how much I miss your company is not a viable alternative with all those emotions roiling around. The kids were worried about me when this round hit and wanted to help, but it’s hard for them when I can’t cope. It took me a couple of days to get myself back together. I thought of my mother and the twenty five years she spent without my dad. I’m telling you, I don’t want to replicate her experience. You and my dad, both gone at 67. Ugh. Sometimes telling myself how lucky I was to have had our relationship just doesn’t work. Yes, I’m sorry for people who weren’t and aren’t as fortunate as we were. But I’m also angry and jealous that some couples whose relationships I can’t respect, get to have the extra twenty years I thought we’d have. Not a pretty thing, but the truth. So that’s one piece of this whine. For the most part I’m good at self-reliance and independence. I’ve always been that way, certainly when you were still here. We were always separate individuals, whole people not halves of each other. I wouldn’t have wanted to be any other way. But sometimes it gets old, being the sole resource for everything all the time. We both know I’m not great at asking for help. After all the years of taking care of my mom at a time when she should have been a capable person, going down that road is not my first choice. But my competence is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it feels good to manage mostly everything on my own. Every now and then, though, it would be nice if someone would check in to see if I needed a hand. That hermit life I predicted for myself sometimes feels pretty real and harder than I anticipated. 

There are practical realities aside from emotional ones. Even though you taught me how to do a lot of things, there’s some stuff that’s beyond my skill level. I’ve done a lot to the house in the past two and a half years. I got a new roof and gutters. I also had the garage re-roofed in addition to siding it. Last summer, I signed a contract to have the house sided too. I’m still waiting for that contract to be fulfilled. The company which was supposed to do the job is family-owned and operated. The daughter of the owner had a medical emergency last summer which effectively stopped all work. When jobs resumed, mine was at the end of the line. First it was to be completed by November. That month came and went. A conversation with the contractor elicited an offer to take 10% off the price if the job wasn’t done by January 1st. That date also came and went. Two weeks ago, I started sending inquiries about dates by text and email which received no response. I finally called the office and was told l was still on the list and someone would get back to me with specifics. I’m still waiting. As you well know, a house built in 1893 has its issues. Our ancient kitchen drawers are getting ready to die. The middle one has caved in and won’t slide in and out any more. I emptied it and have an idea of how it might be repaired. I also know I’m not talented enough to do it. Same for a storm window in the blue room where a piece of wood has detached from the glass. The window is behind the large record rack you built. Lots of labor to get everything moved before making repairs. Groan. You could do all of this without blinking. Paying people to do these small jobs gets too expensive which subsequently makes me very anxious. One thing after another. The garage door decided it didn’t want to stay closed. It kept going up and down, up and down, as if possessed. Fixed that problem after a process of trial and error. Then a carbon monoxide detector fritzed, over and over. I finally fixed that too. When a piece of the gear shift on my car fell off, I duct taped it back together, but finally caved and brought it in to the mechanic for a legitimate repair. Endless chores. So wearing.

I know I need to push past the small stuff. After all, in the overall scope of things, what I’m moaning about isn’t much. My knees are so much better that I can walk for ages. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw me motoring along. I go to Meadowbrook for recreational strolls and take lots of photos. I’ve got projects. I’m knitting. I’m still gluing rocks onto paving bricks which I’ll place in the garden in the spring. I’m actually entering some pics in the park district’s amateur photographer show. I remain in my book club and I’m starting three classes in a few weeks.

I even have a few trips planned. Even with all that, though, I’ve had lots of angst. Hideous cancer is happening around me to people I care about. That elicits confused behavior as I re-live our personal trauma and try to figure out what’s appropriate for me to do or not do. I’m anxious to help but I know I need boundaries. It’s tough for me to manage. So I decided to do some self-care in the midst of this mini-meltdown that kicked off this new decade. I found a forgotten gift certificate for a massage last week and quickly made an appointment for myself. Tuesday afternoon I headed there right after the pool for some welcome relaxation. I’d never been to this facility before. Instead of heading to a locker room to change clothes, that process took place in the same place as the massage. I’d never met the therapist who was asking questions as I removed my jewelry to expedite getting down to the treatment without wasting too much time. I put all the items in my pocket and stuffed my socks on top to keep my things secure. Then I had my massage which was really quite nice. When it was over the therapist left the room and I started getting dressed. I pulled my socks out of my pocket and all my personal items came with them. I instantly realized that my mother’s wedding ring, which I wear daily, in between the rings from our life, was gone. That was impossible. I started looking everywhere but I couldn’t find it.

The therapist came back into the room and helped me look around. There is a shag carpet, variegated gray, directly under the massage table. Each strand of the rug is about three inches long. The slim little band wouldn’t be easily visible in that sea of nubbed material. The therapist suggested that perhaps I hadn’t worn it that day which seemed really unlikely to me. Every night I take my rings off and put them in the same spot on my dresser. And every morning I go back to the dresser and put them back on. But I couldn’t absolutely say that it was impossible that I’d left it that day. So I raced home and checked the dresser, the floor, the drawers, my pants pocket and even my socks. No ring. I ran back to the facility again. I waited until the room was open and then the therapist, another worker there and I, ran our hands through that rug for twenty minutes. I found a paper clip but no ring. I dejectedly went home and proceeded to disassemble the house, my car and my purse one more time. The ring had literally vanished. Since then I’ve texted the place twice and emailed them my one photo of the ring. They haven’t responded. I think they feel like they’ve done what they could. Somehow I’m supposed to get used to the fact that I’ve lost this ring forever. How did this happen? I went to get a relaxing massage to defuse my bumpy beginning to the year and I lose one of the few things that has meaning to me. I know you’d say that stuff is stuff and you know I’d agree. But sometimes a material item is more than that. The kids told me that one time when you were driving them to Indianapolis to fly to Florida to see your parents, you’d realized that you left your wedding ring at home and turned around and went home to get it. On one of our last trips, you took off your ring and left it in one of the little dishes at the security checkpoint. You were miserable. Miraculously, I found it at the airport on our return trip, deep in the bowels of the Transportation Security Administration’s lost and found.

So you know how I feel. Bereft. I know that I’ll get used to this eventually. I know worse things have happened and can happen. But I wish you were here. Having you around always made the rotten things more tolerable. How about a nice, cosmic visit tonight?

Postscript: Update – I eventually found my mother’s wedding ring which had rolled into a tight corner in the massage room. I was so relieved. I finally had the house sided which was a wretched experience but is over. I quit my book club after reading too many books I didn’t enjoy – I’m happier to make my own choices.

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