Pushing the Margins

B31B3775-BE04-4B1E-9DCE-A41E75226F02There are the days when you’ve just had it up to here. You feel your aging body and you see it too. That’s the way life goes. Crepey skin, lacking moisture and resilience. Weird hairs growing in the wrong places. I’m a swimmer, and now after 45 years or so of doing the same repetitive motions, my shoulders have begun to ache, the pain and stiffness waking me at night. A pressing sense of urgency pushes me to hurry up and get all those things done that are sitting on various to-do lists and which feel very important. But are they important? Am I important? I can walk down the street wearing an unmistakable cloak of invisibility which I once thought would be a magic power. Not so much any more. To the bustling young people in their invincible minds, I am unseen. I’m exercising and trying to eat right and doing brain exercises. I still remember ridiculous amounts of information about a wide range of topics. So what. The inexorable slide is still happening. For some people with good genes, the process may be slower than it is for others. Some have been forgetful for years. Others, like me, are still able to experience powerful recall. Many older folks do without the intimacy and physicality of their youth.  Lots of people drifted away from sex long ago. Those of us who still have a powerful drive may be stuck without the partner we used to have. A3D4BF17-FAF4-485B-9818-E772BD037836

News at home and abroad is lousy and oppressive. You try to do some good where you can but are left feeling insufficient and overwhelmed. Everything feels annoying and you’re muttering stuff to yourself like, “shit rolls downhill,” “what goes around comes around,” and, “ha, you pompous child, one day you’re going to be in the place I am right now – we’ll see how you like it.” The fact is that older women are marginalized, kicked to the curb, both personally and professionally. Everyone just can’t be Jane Goodall, that wonderful person or other famous women who’ve bucked the odds. Lots of us are just regular.  We grew up trying to find ways to navigate societal expectations. Many us found partners who stuck and many found partners who didn’t. Some never found anyone. We went to work and school, had babies and aging parents and balanced full schedules every day for years. Those of certain economic classes, that is. The poor, the victims of domestic and sexual abuse and the uneducated are marginalized all their lives. I won’t forget that truth. I push back. I have my opinions, my morals and my standards and I don’t feel like getting kicked to the curb. When you’ve fought your way through the grief of losing a life partner, your parents, siblings and friends, you want a little attention and empathy. And you want it to be given freely without asking for it. But as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want. 9F28D5AD-FB33-408F-B694-325E04AA862F

 Yesterday, I wanted my husband to be alive. Of course I always want him to be alive, but some days are harder than others. I wanted something from him that I can’t get anywhere else. I’m pretty warmhearted but I have my boundaries. I don’t like people touching my face. I don’t know why. When I was young, it was okay that my mom did it. She would relax me. But as I got older, I shied away from that. There’s just something really intimate about having a person lay hands on the place where your deepest thoughts and feelings are just underneath your skin. At least that’s   how it works for me. One time, not long ago, my sweet grandson touched my cheek. I sat very still and didn’t jump away from him. But that was a challenge. He doesn’t perceive that invisible wall. I want Michael to touch my face. He would take both hands and shove my hair straight back and stare at me. Ironically, I have widow’s peak. He loved my hairline and looking into my eyes. And I trusted him. I miss that sense of security a lot. Instead there are all these other oppressive and irritating daily struggles that I’d hoped would have been far more improved in these last fifty years. Me, too. Me, too. So what do you do when you just can’t do regular life? For me, it’s hitting the road. My butterflies have flown the coop. 936AE4B1-0792-4CAB-984E-A12F663BF947

I left too. I set some goal for myself after Michael died. One was to see all 50 states in this country. Just before my knee surgery in July, I got up to 43 visited. Feeling antsy and discontented, I decided to take a few days and knock two others off that list, Mississippi and Alabama. My sister, who retired recently, came along with me. I have to say, these two states aren’t high on my list, mostly because my political stance is diametrically opposed to lots of people in these places. So I tried an itinerary which included nature, a little pop history and maybe some Civil War sites. I don’t talk much about the depth of my interest in that war, but I’ve been obsessed by it for years and have read a few hundred books about it. I still gave trouble fathoming the fact that people from the same country lined themselves up across from each other and blasted themselves into oblivion for four years. I thought I might find a place to ponder that subject on my getaway from reality. We started out by driving to Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

 

I’ve been there before but it doesn’t get old. Imposing sandstone bluffs that emerged from Pangea as the earth shook itself into pieces are still awesome to experience. Old stands of beautiful birch trees commingle with other species and create a peaceful quiet that is really soothing. No wonder forest walking has become a recommended therapeutic device. I managed to snag a few rocks that had chipped off the large formations. After we wandered through there, with me being grateful to have knees that work again, albeit a little gingerly, we drove to a nearby town for some delicious barbecue and a good night’s rest.

 

This morning after breakfast, we took off and headed to Mississippi.  The weather was pleasant, cool and sunny. I’d finally synced Michael’s ancient iPod to the car. As we zipped along, we crossed the Mississippi, heading into Tennessee on our way to Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley. I like bridges and taking photos of them while driving which in turn, drives my sister crazy. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem as risky as texting.

 

In any event, I got a few shots and then got interested in fields far different from Illinois’ corn and beans. Cotton fields, some harvested and others in bloom. I realized that random tufts had blown to the edge of the highway so I pulled over to collect a few.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. There are special cotton picking machines which somehow collect the cotton and roll it into brightly colored stretchy plastic bales, like hay. Imagining the backbreaking labor of slaves bent over the plants was disturbing.
As we drove through Tennessee, my GPS was sending us off the main highways to shorter routes that took us through small towns and back country. I was just getting ready to make a turn on some side street when I caught sight of a marker pointing toward Shiloh National Battlefield. I’ve always wanted to go there after having read so much about it. Tennessee was considered the Western theater of the Civil War and water throughways there were critical to victory for both sides. Pittsburg Landing located close by, was a crucial port.  The battle was fought over two days in April, 1862. Over one hundred seven thousand soldiers participated with a casualty rate of 21% from both armies.  The fighting raged over terrain that was both heavily wooded and dotted with clearings where people could be mowed down. The amount of artillery was astonishing and caused devastation that astonished the country.

 


There are names like the Hornets’ Nest and the Bloody Pond, accurate descriptors for what happened there. There are mass graves in several locations along with peach  orchards and farmer’s fields, those average people whose homes were in  the wrong place at the wrong time.

 


Driving through the dense peaceful forest, with deer, squirrels and birds abounding, it was hard to inagine the deafening, smoky, violent madness that occurred there. It’s like traveling with the echoes of ghosts. Two future presidents fought there, Ulysses Grant and James Garfield, as did General Lew Wallace who wrote “Ben Hur.”

 

And  then there were the faceless thousands who died, were maimed or survived and went back to their lives. Being on that ground was a moving experience. Times gone by in a flash of chaos.

 


We finally made it into Mississippi early tonight, waylaid but glad for the digression. I’ve only been gone for a couple of days but I do feel less annoyed and grumpy about life in general. A little change of scenery can go a long way. I’m already thinking about what comes next.F62FD809-2E82-40A1-8C7A-409E8D836C16 

Pushing the Margins

B31B3775-BE04-4B1E-9DCE-A41E75226F02There are the days when you’ve just had it up to here. You feel your aging body and you see it too. That’s the way life goes. Crepey skin, lacking moisture and resilience. Weird hairs growing in the wrong places. I’m a swimmer, and now after 45 years or so of doing the same repetitive motions, my shoulders have begun to ache, the pain and stiffness waking me at night. A pressing sense of urgency pushes me to hurry up and get all those things done that are sitting on various to-do lists and which feel very important. But are they important? Am I important? I can walk down the street wearing an unmistakable cloak of invisibility which I once thought would be a magic power. Not so much any more. To the bustling young people in their invincible minds, I am unseen. I’m exercising and trying to eat right and doing brain exercises. I still remember ridiculous amounts of information about a wide range of topics. So what. The inexorable slide is still happening. For some people with good genes, the process may be slower than it is for others. Some have been forgetful for years. Others, like me, are still able to experience powerful recall. Many older folks do without the intimacy and physicality of their youth.  Lots of people drifted away from sex long ago. Those of us who still have a powerful drive may be stuck without the partner we used to have. A3D4BF17-FAF4-485B-9818-E772BD037836

News at home and abroad is lousy and oppressive. You try to do some good where you can but are left feeling insufficient and overwhelmed. Everything feels annoying and you’re muttering stuff to yourself like, “shit rolls downhill,” “what goes around comes around,” and, “ha, you pompous child, one day you’re going to be in the place I am right now – we’ll see how you like it.” The fact is that older women are marginalized, kicked to the curb, both personally and professionally. Everyone just can’t be Jane Goodall, that wonderful person or other famous women who’ve bucked the odds. Lots of us are just regular.  We grew up trying to find ways to navigate societal expectations. Many us found partners who stuck and many found partners who didn’t. Some never found anyone. We went to work and school, had babies and aging parents and balanced full schedules every day for years. Those of certain economic classes, that is. The poor, the victims of domestic and sexual abuse and the uneducated are marginalized all their lives. I won’t forget that truth. I push back. I have my opinions, my morals and my standards and I don’t feel like getting kicked to the curb. When you’ve fought your way through the grief of losing a life partner, your parents, siblings and friends, you want a little attention and empathy. And you want it to be given freely without asking for it. But as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want. 9F28D5AD-FB33-408F-B694-325E04AA862F

 Yesterday, I wanted my husband to be alive. Of course I always want him to be alive, but some days are harder than others. I wanted something from him that I can’t get anywhere else. I’m pretty warmhearted but I have my boundaries. I don’t like people touching my face. I don’t know why. When I was young, it was okay that my mom did it. She would relax me. But as I got older, I shied away from that. There’s just something really intimate about having a person lay hands on the place where your deepest thoughts and feelings are just underneath your skin. At least that’s   how it works for me. One time, not long ago, my sweet grandson touched my cheek. I sat very still and didn’t jump away from him. But that was a challenge. He doesn’t perceive that invisible wall. I want Michael to touch my face. He would take both hands and shove my hair straight back and stare at me. Ironically, I have widow’s peak. He loved my hairline and looking into my eyes. And I trusted him. I miss that sense of security a lot. Instead there are all these other oppressive and irritating daily struggles that I’d hoped would have been far more improved in these last fifty years. Me, too. Me, too. So what do you do when you just can’t do regular life? For me, it’s hitting the road. My butterflies have flown the coop. 936AE4B1-0792-4CAB-984E-A12F663BF947

I left too. I set some goal for myself after Michael died. One was to see all 50 states in this country. Just before my knee surgery in July, I got up to 43 visited. Feeling antsy and discontented, I decided to take a few days and knock two others off that list, Mississippi and Alabama. My sister, who retired recently, came along with me. I have to say, these two states aren’t high on my list, mostly because my political stance is diametrically opposed to lots of people in these places. So I tried an itinerary which included nature, a little pop history and maybe some Civil War sites. I don’t talk much about the depth of my interest in that war, but I’ve been obsessed by it for years and have read a few hundred books about it. I still gave trouble fathoming the fact that people from the same country lined themselves up across from each other and blasted themselves into oblivion for four years. I thought I might find a place to ponder that subject on my getaway from reality. We started out by driving to Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

I’ve been there before but it doesn’t get old. Imposing sandstone bluffs that emerged from Pangea as the earth shook itself into pieces are still awesome to experience. Old stands of beautiful birch trees commingle with other species and create a peaceful quiet that is really soothing. No wonder forest walking has become a recommended therapeutic device. I managed to snag a few rocks that had chipped off the large formations. After we wandered through there, with me being grateful to have knees that work again, albeit a little gingerly, we drove to a nearby town for some delicious barbecue and a good night’s rest.

This morning after breakfast, we took off and headed to Mississippi.  The weather was pleasant, cool and sunny. I’d finally synced Michael’s ancient iPod to the car. As we zipped along, we crossed the Mississippi, heading into Tennessee on our way to Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley. I like bridges and taking photos of them while driving which in turn, drives my sister crazy. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem as risky as texting.

In any event, I got a few shots and then got interested in fields far different from Illinois’ corn and beans. Cotton fields, some harvested and others in bloom. I realized that random tufts had blown to the edge of the highway so I pulled over to collect a few.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. There are special cotton picking machines which somehow collect the cotton and roll it into brightly colored stretchy plastic bales, like hay. Imagining the backbreaking labor of slaves bent over the plants was disturbing.
As we drove through Tennessee, my GPS was sending us off the main highways to shorter routes that took us through small towns and back country. I was just getting ready to make a turn on some side street when I caught sight of a marker pointing toward Shiloh National Battlefield. I’ve always wanted to go there after having read so much about it. Tennessee was considered the Western theater of the Civil War and water throughways there were critical to victory for both sides. Pittsburg Landing located close by, was a crucial port.  The battle was fought over two days in April, 1862. Over one hundred seven thousand soldiers participated with a casualty rate of 21% from both armies.  The fighting raged over terrain that was both heavily wooded and dotted with clearings where people could be mowed down. The amount of artillery was astonishing and caused devastation that astonished the country.


There are names like the Hornets’ Nest and the Bloody Pond, accurate descriptors for what happened there. There are mass graves in several locations along with peach  orchards and farmer’s fields, those average people whose homes were in  the wrong place at the wrong time.


Driving through the dense peaceful forest, with deer, squirrels and birds abounding, it was hard to inagine the deafening, smoky, violent madness that occurred there. It’s like traveling with the echoes of ghosts. Two future presidents fought there, Ulysses Grant and James Garfield, as did General Lew Wallace who wrote “Ben Hur.”

And  then there were the faceless thousands who died, were maimed or survived and went back to their lives. Being on that ground was a moving experience. Times gone by in a flash of chaos.


We finally made it into Mississippi early tonight, waylaid but glad for the digression. I’ve only been gone for a couple of days but I do feel less annoyed and grumpy about life in general. A little change of scenery can go a long way. I’m already thinking about what comes next.F62FD809-2E82-40A1-8C7A-409E8D836C16 

Withdrawn in the Depths

6DE01CB2-66D1-459B-A3C8-758DF624450A I know that the deepest part of the ocean is the Marianas trench. I learned from a brilliant scientist who taught a class called Emergence of Life that water in the takes up between 50-70% of a human body.E8077F2D-28C3-43EA-8379-696093AC20BD

For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent time submerged in the liquidy depths of me. While out in the world, doing the average activities that people do, I know I appear to be just like anyone else. I pass for normal. But I don’t really think I am and I never have. While lots of people seem just fine skimming along on the surface of daily life, I was always digging and probing and pondering. I rarely had a conversation with anyone that I didn’t rerun in my head, dissecting it, trying to figure out what else was there that didn’t show up on the first cursory pass. I always thought there was something else below the surface. Additionally I generally seemed to remember a lot more than other people. For example, I’d remember an incident or a series of them which I’d try to recall with someone. I received a lot of blank looks and comments stating that they had no idea what I was talking about. I realized that while it’s impossible to access all of our memories, some people actually do what I call “papering over” the things they’d prefer to forget.C059834D-C370-498E-8F7F-FBD6CF4B10FA

While I was growing up I learned that my constant analyzing and revisiting certain topics was not popular with my family and friends. I heard “let it go,” plenty of times. But I didn’t want to and really couldn’t, until I’d exhausted every single possible interpretation of the smallest event to the largest, I couldn’t be satisfied. I think most people just wanted me to shut my mouth. That’s still true today. When I was young and sensed that I’d pushed the limits of patience with people, I’d back away from what I really wanted to do with them. It felt like dancing without a partner. I made people impatient. Always talking too much, digging too much and not leaving well enough alone. I got it then and I get it now. I don’t know if I was born this way or if I developed this trait to try protecting myself from all the uncertainties and fearful events in my childhood. At this point it doesn’t matter. I wish people were more understanding and patient with me. BACD6155-6CD6-4556-A264-547597C1B9A5

From my standpoint I think patience is an underrated quality. For the most part, I don’t think people are patient enough. And as our culture becomes more of a pressure cooker, I don’t expect that to improve. Long ago, to help myself survive the rejection of my individual style. I’d turn inward. Withdrawal. I could seem present in a moment but I was actually away, submerged in myself.  I don’t think I’ll ever get to the bottom of me. I can swim around my interior for long periods of time, trying to get to some point in my self-discovery that feels complete. I have an anecdote about that. I was mentioning a story to my son the other day and he said, “I know, I know, I’ve heard this a thousand times.” That might be right. But the story was a seminal moment for me, the moment when I found Michael, my best friend and the only person I knew who was willing to go with me deep under, even when it drove him crazy and when he wished I could just be, instead of working everything to the bone. It was the morning after we first met at a wedding and had spent the entire night before, hanging out together and feeling what for me is still hard to describe, an electrifying fitting together that was outside my previous experience. There was nothing cerebral about it. This was a strange sensory phenomenon that we both recognized and were eager to keep. I was leaving for Chicago the next day and we went to the home of my ride where a number of mutual friends were gathered. There were people struggling emotionally with their relationships, including Michael’s girlfriend who wasn’t thrilled by his lack of attention to her the evening before. Always a helper, I plunged into all the dynamics around me, trying to smooth things over and make some sort of peace that jangly morning. Michael sat silent, stonily staring straight ahead and after awhile, I realized I was getting nowhere with anyone. So I announced my apparent failure and said, “now I’m going to withdraw.” That drew Michael’s only response, one word – “don’t.” FACE0998-C172-4A93-B5E0-D465F119C8AE

That was a stunner that changed my life. When I returned from my trip home, I found Michael and asked him to come to my house so that we could continue to build whatever this thing was between us. After some months of deepening our friendship, I realized that I’d found my spot, my safe place, my best friend, my life partner. And luckily for me, he felt the same way. I was twenty years old. During our forty five years together, we had our issues like everyone else. But in the worst of times, our powerful friendship and the way we fit together carried us through everything. When he died, I knew that kind of steady backup and trust through anything was over for me. A part of me has been deeply immersed in myself with the years of our bond still helping me navigate my new daily life. But I’ve recognized that his steady  presence in my life lent me the ability to be patient and understanding out there in the big world. After all the juggling of my younger days, trying to negotiate the relationships of people around me, I no longer have the impetus to absorb the parts of others that don’t satisfy who I am and how I feel. I am a different version of myself. 317805C8-5173-4ED6-9922-787A00E2EF4A

I am more than ever likely to withdraw now to my go-to place, internal pool that existed before Michael, that was still in me when he was here, and that is now where I feel my only true fit. He was always sensitive to my departures whereas others had no clue that I was actually totally detached and absent from whatever was happening in front of me. Much of my external behavior is performance. I am lurking below the surface because I truly don’t believe that most people want to be a part of me in the ways that work best for me. They like my parts that work best for them. Some think that having family and good friends is enough to breach the gap I created to process hard times long ago. My experience tells me otherwise. So I’m trying to find ways to survive this life with myself as my only anchor. I still have the strength of what existed in that magical way between Michael and me. I have skills. I’m strong. But I’m tired too. And holding on to what was isn’t an easy thing to do every day. I’m thinking about what I’ve taught myself to try to stay balanced while struggling.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I remember the day of my dad’s funeral. A September morning 30 years ago,  cool and sunny. I was driving by Mt. Hope cemetery to the bakery to pick up cakes and pastries that family and friends would share at my mom’s place after a graveside service. As I drove along, feeling surreal, I found myself thinking what I’d thought so many times before and so many times since. Out there in the world, while I’m engulfed in grief or whatever other feelings of the moment, people are running. They’re playing sports or going for walks. They’re sleeping, making love, birthing babies, dying, crying, working, hiding and virtually any other verb you may want to insert here. Living their lives, dying their deaths, feeling their feels. You have no idea what those outside appearances are concealing. Sometimes they don’t know either. All over the world, life and death go on, and no matter how important your own particular event feels, there is always someone else’s that’s worse. That’s one of my most successful go-to strategies for coping with life, realistic thinking. Sometimes I can make a small event feel like it may have long-range positive consequences to help myself cope with staying balanced. 2B8329C4-EB5A-4D48-9ABF-AB2F3A262923

I was working out in my garden in late August. School was back in session and my house is on a pathway home for lots of kids who come rushing by at the end of their day. Two middle school-aged boys were riding their bikes down the street when the smaller one of the two screeched on his brakes and careened over to the sidewalk in front of my house yelling, “dude, you have to see this giant flower!” He’d spied one of my massive hydrangeas and was knocked out by it. I smiled and said, “pretty cool, right? I think you guys are very special for paying attention to nature. Lots of kids wouldn’t have noticed.” They smiled and rode away. I saw them in a different place about two weeks later and recognized them. I said, “hey, aren’t you those smart guys who stopped to look at my garden?” They looked surprised but pleased. Yesterday, I was out again and they were going by the house, dressed in pajamas for what I surmised was a special day at school. I hadn’t noticed them but the small one said hi and waved as he went by. I hope what I said to them and my presence during their time going up and back to school will stick with them, both in regard to the nature stuff and in the fact that an old lady can be someone worth engaging. I draw energy from stuff like that.

As my dive goes further, I find I’m trying to work things out in my dreams. I don’t know a lot about how the subconscious functions but in recent days I’ve dreamed that Michael was just outside, mowing the lawn. Then I dreamed that though I knew he was dead, I also knew part of him was alive and living with another family. So I went to retrieve him. As I approached where he lived, he appeared, looking wonderful and accompanied by our beloved collie Flash who looked like he did at six months old. That dream woke me from the sheer joy of it. I also dreamed of my dear friend Julie who’s in hospice now. I had driven back to her home for a second visit and she answered the door looking healthy, feeling stronger, and again I felt relief and delight. My sleeping mind is swimming with with these images which are wishes and small comforts compared to reality. I don’t pretend to get it but the days following these nighttime interludes start better than the ones that have no evening respite from reality. And then there are my daydreams usually brought on my music or activities that remind me of old times or a surprise photo that can elicit powerful surges of desire and ache.52D003D2-ECEE-4E88-B2D6-9D3EC9737227

While preparing a sizable family meal which I’d done so often in the past, my day was infused with essence of Michael, to the point when I stopped to write him this letter:
Dear Michael,

I’ve spent the day chopping and mixing and cooking all the food that goes along with preparing for company and a festive holiday meal. So that means you are huge in both your absence and your presence. I wish I could talk to you about what this feels like and have you answer me in real time. Maybe you are. The other day I realized that I hadn’t seen monarchs in a few days so I made a note for my records that they’d departed for the year. When I peeked out into the back yard this morning, the white butterfly bush was alive with them in addition to the painted ladies and the sulphurs that are still hanging around. That bush is smack in the middle of what was your tomato garden and I’m not kidding, that shrub is massive and still producing new blooms that I’ve coaxed along by diligent deadheading. But the ground is full of your sweat and love and I don’t give a flying fuck about how mystical and bizarre it all seems – I know you’re in there. One day we both will be because when I finally become ash and am rejoined with yours I want the kids to dump at least part of us there. Part amongst my flowers too and the rest? Apparently we’ll become some piece of glass art, showing up as silvery streaks in the middle of our colors which you know will be red and black. Maybe a little green for depth but definitely our political colors. In any case, when the monarchs were there this morning, was I wrong to feel you’d sent a few back my way? But no more. Those guys need to get out of Dodge because it’s getting chilly. Thanks, though. So back to the kitchen. It’s about a thousand degrees in there and I’m at the sink, cleaning carrots and you come in and I say, “man, I’m really hot,” and you say, “you’re telling me.” That same old line which I pretend I don’t like but of course I love it. Then you come up behind me and grab some random body part and move suggestively and I say, “go on, you perverse old man, get out of here so I can finish up.” I smirk and make some wisecrack but I adore the familiar intimacy. And then you stick your finger into a bowl for a taste and I tell you it’s unsanitary and you laugh and drift into the living room. You have the day off when I’m cooking because you do so much of it in daily life. But you don’t get a pass on the cleanup. I shimmer through these daydreams like an apparition with you and they cloak me in a happiness that’s so transient and ephemeral. I’d love to catch up with a wavelength in time where we are solid and physical instead of the myth we’ve become. My precious boy.

So there that is. I am away for large swaths of time in this watery internal cave because I don’t like a lot of what’s going on in reality. As I slide through my days in real time, I remembered when I read The English Patient back in the early ‘90’s. It was one of those rare films that wasn’t a disappointment to me as so many films based on books can be. Sweeping, beautiful, romantic, passionate and ultimately sad.

 

I’ve been taking a class on Persia and Greece and there has been mention of Herodotus and his histories. In the movie, a tragic plane crash in the Egyptian desert leaves the wounded heroine in need of medical attention. Her lover carries into a cave where the walls are filled with petroglyphs that include swimmers. As he leaves her with food and water, he also gives her his copy of Herodotus, a “good read” as she awaits his return with aid. That’s how I feel now, swimming in a my interior cave with a good read for company hidden away from the rest of the world. Wondering when I’ll come to the surface.

 

 

Food, Memories and Travel Mashup

Word Cloud CensorshipOkay. I promised myself when I started this blog on January 1st, 2018, that I was not ever going to censor myself. As an adult with lots of life experience, I should have known better than to make promises like those. Right now I’m waging an internal struggle about censorship regarding what I want to be expressing in this forum. I’m not ready to be done with that inner conversation. But the need to write is big. So instead, I’m going to write about one topic which might offend people but isn’t personal. At least not to me. I also have a few other items to share that are mostly neutral. So here goes.803E0007-CE10-45A6-AB15-3C9926DAC9D7

I’ll start with food. I really like food. I like it just as much as anyone does, especially eating it. In fact, I’ve probably always eaten more than I should. I think that got started because my older brother and sister were colicky babies, fussy and cranky about what went in their bodies. I guess they kind of drove my parents nuts. By the time I came along, my brother was eight and my sister was almost six. For mom and dad the advent of me was like starting over. They were certainly more mature than the 20 year olds who found themselves up to their elbows in diapers. Apparently, I was a really easy baby. In the beginning I liked to eat and I liked to sleep. My mom told me she always worried that I might be dead because I slept a long time. She also confessed that when I didn’t want to drink as much as usual, she snipped the ends of the nipples off my bottles and just poured the milk down my throat. That confession came as an apology well into my adult life when she was sorry that I’d had weight struggles. She felt guilty.  As I grew up I learned that there were rewards in cleaning your plate and being the easy to please kid. And as I said, I really liked food. I didn’t spend a lot of time cooking as a young kid but I watched my mom and grandmother a lot and when Michael and I started out together, I had a decent repertoire of dishes and was the primary chef of our household.

But Michael really liked food too and by the time we’d been together about 20 years, he’d turned himself into a vegetable and herb gardener, a canner and a recipe fiend. He wanted to learn to make the foods he loved from our favorite restaurants, like deep dish Chicago pizza and Greek saganaki. He loved grilling and had all these special tools for doing vegetables and fish and even a massive grill for multiple slabs of ribs. As time went by, I did most of our holiday celebration cooking and he took over daily meals. Truly delightful. His meals were tasty and big on beautiful presentation. It worked for us.

When he got cancer, especially during his worst treatment times, that lifestyle changed. I was back in the kitchen, scrambling for recipes and tempting ideas and feeling like a failure when my concoctions were clearly subpar compared to his. I was grateful for the kindness of friends who started food trains to give us a hand. As he neared the end of his life, he’d sometimes just look at me and say, “what’re you going to eat when I die?”

I’d say Raisin Bran and cottage cheese with fruit and tell him not to worry about anything. And I meant it. I completely lost interest in cooking and made do with things that were more like snacks than meals or otherwise went out to eat or threw myself on my son-in-law’s mercy. My daughter’s not big into cooking either.3B2B5B69-A23C-4AD0-9BA8-D6D1DD94B8BC

Before he died, Michael made an elaborate menu with both of our special recipes included. I could barely remember the last times I’d have mine. I guess you could’ve described him as a foodie although he’d never have been one of the people who posted photos of his dishes on social media. He really hated that. I don’t hate it but I’ve never quite understood the need to show what you ingest to all your friends. I admit that I did put up a video of a pot of bubbling matzo ball soup because I thought it was miraculous that I’d actually made it again after a long time. And I once posted a picture of two gorgeous orange sweet potato pies because they looked like art to me.F90A41DF-D122-42C0-BF07-70E36FAB476B

And then there was my snotty post of a Whopper just to be obnoxious.  But mostly I didn’t do that kind of thing because I just didn’t see the relevance of it. Maybe some people are food voyeurs. Maybe others are fascinated by new recipes. As I said, I just like eating. But I’m going through a new thing right now. I realized that some of my fondest memories are of the special meals prepared by my mom and grandmother when the whole family came together to eat, sing, socialize and share. For so many years, well into my twenties, those traditions were the treasures that I stored away in my memory.AB36D981-BF0D-407B-8088-D0B9E8EEBD36

I took over a lot of the big family events when I was thirty and kept it going up to and including the darkest days of Michael’s sickness. But as soon as he died, I bailed on all of it. I just felt done. My mom stopped cooking after my dad died, too, perhaps setting the role model for me. I think she made a few efforts to do a couple of meals but as she aged, she lost her touch. I realize that whatever years are ahead of me are far fewer than they used to be. What homey memories will my grandchildren have of me? Fruit snacks and Twizzlers? My kids have memories of their favorite foods that I made which were ultimately eclipsed by the sheer volume of recipes that belonged to Michael. But they have some. And my eldest grandson, who I cared for during his first three years, still says he loved the special oatmeal I made him for breakfast, filled with applesauce and golden raisins. My whole matriarch thing has begun to feel like a big glob of words with no fragrant smells or tastes that will evoke the kinds of memories I have of the women in my life. I still smell my grandmother’s hallway as we all trundled up the stairs to gorge ourselves on her food. And my mom’s desserts which were, yes, literally to die for. So I figured I should pull myself off the couch and get it together before there’s no time left to establish those things for my crew. I think that starting out as an older parent and grandparent has some disadvantages but if I can swim every day, the least I can do is make a meal. So this week, I’m diving headfirst into good action.5898BABE-B64D-4A01-B88D-9018724E7819

Today I decided to try Michael’s marinade for salmon. I remember exactly what it looked like but being myself, a person who prefers to throw food together in the same non-scientific way that I garden, I took a wild stab at making what I thought was a good flavor blend and popped the salmon into it for a good soak. In Michael’s honor, I did wear his goggles that he always used when grating onions. I always thought he looked ridiculous but they worked very well. The fish was delicate and didn’t dry out. That was good enough for my son and me.

Tomorrow night, everyone is coming to my house for a traditional although late Rosh Hashanah dinner. I’ve included a photograph of my sweet and savory brisket which simmered fir hours tonight in my mother’s ancient pot. I remember her spicy baked chicken which cooked in there along with a fabulous fricassee that had little meatballs and chicken wings and a gravity so savory you sopped up all you could get on eggy, buttery challah bread. Makes me mouth water. My five year old grandson has tasted my matzo ball soup before and now says it’s his favorite. I’m making progress already. I don’t expect to go back into any full time cooking mode for the future. But at least they’ll remember me for some comfort food when I’m no longer here.

On to the next topic. Last week I spent about 15 hours driving in just a couple of days. My obsession with clouds on bright sunny days was a constant distraction. I also love looking at farm animals in the same way I used to when we were little, driving through Iowa to go visit the family in Chicago.

I had to stop to photograph the Mississippi. I’ve seen it so many times but it’s romantic for me because of books and history. I try not to think of what’s going on it biologically speaking.

And then there are bridges. I can’t get enough of a good bridge. And, oh, the wind farms. I always expect to see Imperial Walkers from Star Wars strolling in between each separate wind turbine. They are truly enormous. I saw lots of semitrailer trucks with room enough only for a single blade on their flatbeds. I do worry for the birds navigating those places.

Lastly, there’s my little phenology study of my yard. I think I’ve seen my last monarch this year, on September 30th. I still have plenty of painted ladies and sulphurs, but I’ll miss those monarchs. I hope those orange and black beauties with their white spots are safely headed to southern climes to go through their multiple breeding processes so they can return next year. Butterflies were my sustenance this summer and I had a great season.

Now I can hear bird chatter picking up in my garden. Some are migrating through and others are returning to spend the winter near all my feeders. They know a sucker when they see one. Oh, and I didn’t get a single tomato off my vines this year. All gotten by squirrels and rabbits. They’re getting my apples too.

Seasons coming and going. I can’t find a way to get Michael’s physical self to return so I’m making do with the mysterious strength of us that still permeates me and all my nature buddies which I’ve cultivated with great intensity. Great intensity is my thing, apparently. To close this random blog, I include a few photos of the architecture of my town. I’m still thinking about how to wrestle myself away from my censorship issue but at least I’ve found the way to release the deluge of words that gets backed up in my head when too many days go by without writing.

Hallucinations from a Time Capsule

9B12BA0B-CBA9-4AD4-AC49-E7FAA72D24D8Every time I travel by car, by train or by air, I always feel like I’m in a time capsule. I’ve always thought about how strange it is to go into a mobilized enclosed space, stay there for varying periods of time and then emerge, still yourself, into a completely different place. Maybe it’s more of a space capsule than a time capsule. I can’t quite decide. Hours definitely tick away while you’re packed in your container. Little change happens inside, especially if you’re responsible for getting yourself where you’re going which is what car travel is like, particularly when you go alone. There are few distractions, no chores or tasks other than the driving itself.618CDCC0-85E4-4BFB-AAAF-B5EFB895DAB4

Revery usually occurs in my head when I’m driving between the place where I came from until I arrive at the place where I’m going. Sometimes though, it’s stranger than revery. Despite the speed of travel and the need to focus on the road, I turn on music for a little company. Generally it’s my own music, pre-selected playlists with my favorite artists, sometimes accompanied by AI additions chosen based on my musical taste.F298FA7E-9EC3-4A07-8236-CB9E4A982966

Things get both comfy and evocative inside my rolling container. And there are numerous moments when I feel like I’m not really in my current self, but back in other spaces that the music has released from the storage space of my memory. Last week I took a seven hour drive to visit a dear friend whose time with me goes back 50 years. As I rumbled along, thinking about all we knew about each other and how much of our seminal adult life we’d shared, I didn’t feel like I was doing the rote steering and braking and reading signs, following directions. I felt almost out of my body, back in the vivid memories which are so much a part of how my brain works. I don’t just think my memories. I see them, smell them and touch them. The sensory experience feels alive to me. I talked about this with my friend when I arrived at her home. She told me that she experienced memories in a more one-dimensional way and that one of the things that she thought most about what made me unique to her was that my pain, my joy and my memory were so powerful. And she said she was interested in the fact that I could transcend the emotion of them and use my intellect to override some of the more emotional aspects of those experiences. I appreciated her insight. The truth is that during my long drive to see her, I caught myself feeling that I’d been hallucinating events from long ago, in a good way as opposed to a scary way. I know something about hallucinations.F645B3E4-9815-4A72-BFD1-9D2C6EF9EC26

Back in my youthful days of drug experimentation, I approached the supposed cosmic experiences that people claimed they had with hallucinogens from a skeptical point of view. All around me, people were talking about how if you tried this drug or that drug, you would raise your consciousness or alter it, possibly forever. I never really believed that. Although I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the human body back then as I am today, I figured that whatever happened was just some chemical reaction and that you were who were no matter what drugs you did. Of course there were people who developed habits that were toxic and life-altering. Life damaging is perhaps a better description. Some made it back from those dark places and others didn’t. Other people had few if any side effects from what they ingested. I always believed that a real change in your consciousness was a deliberate intellectual process and I approached drug experimentation in that way. BFC31469-C8D5-466D-B6A8-51F67AB6974F

The first time I decided to try LSD or more commonly, acid, I was armed with a yellow legal pad and a pen as I intended to record everything I was experiencing, using my mind to transcend the drug. I still have the sheet of paper I wrote that first time. It started out pretty clearly but it was obvious that staying focused was going to be tough considering the physiological effects happening in my brain and body. The one line I remember the most from that long night was that all that was happening to me was an exaggerated reality. Nothing was otherworldly. Everything was based on real life. I was, however, quite taken with the hallucinations that came along with tripping.D802889A-0633-4811-BACB-CFCA31CFBF50

In my case, sizes and textures were visibly altered and I loved watching things move around in unusual ways. I guess it felt most like Alice going down the rabbit hole.D5A2C083-B342-4849-9661-01BE1AB44E98

I remember watching my blue jeans swirl around in a paisley-like wiggly way and being enamored of the patterns. I could barely contain my laughter as I tried buying something, all the while watching my dollar grow and grow until it looked a giant bag. When I listened to music I was convinced I was hearing every instrument individually and simultaneously. For the most part, I had a lot of fun when I did those trips but they took a long time to do and a long time to recover from. And nothing really was any different when they were over. I was still just me. So that was a short-lived period in time.41ED4432-4E2A-483C-8A61-63B86CF8DBCB

But my memory hallucinations are a whole other matter. As I drove along, I was suddenly back in the kitchen in Michael’s apartment in 1971. By that time he and I had become the best of friends and although we were each involved with other people, we spent a lot of time together. We were standing side by side at the kitchen sink, washing and drying dishes and laughing at some story or other. He who so much taller than me, bent down on my right side to give me an affectionate kiss on my cheek. But I’d suddenly turned my head so his mouth landed on the corner of mine. And trite as though it may sound, I literally felt electricity course through my body. It was stunning because until that instant, I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to him as anyone other than a friend. I’m surprised I didn’t fall over.3F2CC761-72D2-4B80-9E12-6058292EF9EF

That was an altering moment in my life. And as I zoomed along to Iowa, I was in that memory, from its start to its finish, feeling the same powerful surge in body that I felt then. So what’s up with that? Is it a flashback? Where’s the science behind it? I think there must be some but I have no idea what it might be, as I’ve tried as hard as I can to think how that could happen. And it wasn’t the only incident like that which happened during that car ride. The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album came on and I was standing in our family apartment at 2019 East 81st Street in Chicago. 627BE097-A1DB-4367-B537-6D7720E04085

I was waiting for Danny, the boy who I had a mad crush on, who told me he was bringing me a present. The year was 1967 and I’d turned 16 in May. The album was released a week later and I remember my joy, both at having it and having it come from him. I was feeling the quick hug he gave and literally staring down at the album jacket in my hands.C4090A75-9B45-4FFB-8D2C-A0E9730AB0C7

All the while I’m barreling down I-80, Iowa-bound. I had a lot of other moments like these on this journey. I’ve talked with my son-in-law who’s a chemistry professor about what may make someone like me have these odd moments that feel so alive in real time even though they’re long gone.1D43996D-3DB7-421C-BBD2-F48BF571BB00

He talked about the evidence that now supports the idea of wavelengths being real and verifiable. He suggests that we still lack the technology that might answer questions like mine about memory, and others such as why people view certain events as examples of ESP. Maybe there just too much we don’t understand about how the brain works. All I know is that my mind is open to some of the off the beaten path experiences I feel. For example, I think I must emit some pheromone that helps induce sleeping in people. When someone rests against me for awhile, invariably that person will pass out. I come in very handy for crying, irritable babies. My kids nicknamed me “novocaine” for making their little ones numb out from their discomforts and just fall into deep sleep. It works on adults too.

I like my hallucinations. The good news is that they never are reflective of negative memories. I remember those more in black and white and in a cerebral way. Maybe that’s my brain’s way of protecting me. Otherwise, life could be too overwhelming. I don’t expect I’ll live long enough to ever have the answers I long for. But as the song goes, what a long, strange trip it’s been. 1C73D27A-ED56-4974-9BDE-82DD98D0B905

Julie and Farewells

FDF39B3F-D65E-4249-8B4A-A38A02931BD5

I have a beloved friend named Julie. I’ve been lucky enough to have kept her in my life for about 50 years. We met in college. We were part of the revolutionary days of the late ‘60’s and early 70’s. We were anti-war, pro-women’s and civil rights and profoundly anti-establishment and anti-patriarchy. Julie was a warrior-poet. Erudite, well-read, sardonic and bitingly funny, she was my kind of person. She had the courage to head a slate of candidates who were running for office as an alternative student government, with Julie as the chair. Everyone won but her. A more moderate male was elected to the spot which should rightfully have been hers. Hard times for women back then, despite some progress. Still hard times. I knew Julie before she married her husband Rich as she knew me before I married Michael. Today that seems almost as if we were friends in prehistoric times.

She was a few years older than me. I can’t find a couple of excellent photos of her from back in those days but I include a few blurry ones. She was very spirited and beautiful, along with all her intellectual firepower. Julie was a “townie,” born in the community where we both attended college. When she got involved with Rich who was a graduate student, she got a job and stayed in town while he was finishing his degree. They had a daughter who is few years older than mine.B9D44278-8654-4E14-BEFC-FD431D9CC944

When many of our friends made the post-graduation exodus to Chicago, we still had each other and I felt lucky that our two daughters, a few years apart in age, played in the same houses together. Eventually, Rich got a job at a college in Kentucky and they packed up and moved away. We wrote, frequently at first, and then less so. But it didn’t really matter. When we got together, we had one of those easy relationships that picked up where it left off, without any difficult transitions.7A32A9CD-FC31-46A3-95CE-D46E9B683E54

Eventually, they moved to Ames, Iowa where they still reside. They came back her to Julie’s hometown for visits. Eventually her dad died which was a big deal because he was a department head at the University. I remember going to the memorial service for him which was crowded and blurry because of all the attendees. But I was there. As years went by, Julie’s mom ultimately needed living assistance and Julie mover her to Ames. Visits home decreased. Still we managed to stay in touch.A4A2FEE9-EEAA-4439-A1F9-962D0E1203C6

About 19 years ago, breast cancer showed up in Julie’s life at a pretty early age. It was one of the particularly nasty types, the Her-2 positive and she was blasted with treatment. She clawed her way through all of that and came out on the other side for which everyone was deeply grateful. But about three years ago, cancer reappeared in her liver, the same breast cancer as the earlier one with a slightly different mutation. How incredible that a cancer can lie dormant for almost seventeen years and then re-emerge in a new place and be so life-threatening. By that time, Michael had succumbed to his cancer and I was a free agent. Cancer can be such an isolating experience, I’d vowed to myself that I would make myself available to loved ones and friends who were going through treatments and hard times.

So I took off for Ames in fall of 2017 to spend some time with my old friends and give support and empathy in their difficult situation. We had a wonderful visit and although we were uncertain about how effective the treatments would be, I hoped that I’d see Julie again. And that’s exactly what happened. She outlived her prognosis and actually did well enough to make a visit back here last year.

Other dear friends from Chicago joined us and we all were thrilled and hopeful that she would be one of those who’d beat the odds. She had such a good time that she talked about the possibility of moving back here and reestablishing a life in the town of her childhood. We continued to communicate and all seemed well. But suddenly things took a dark turn – the liver cancer metastasized and spread to her colon. An exploratory surgery unearthed too many bad spots and the only alternative was a “light” chemo, as if anything that toxic could actually be termed light. Her response was dreadful with her immune system getting hammered and making her vulnerable to virtually any opportunistic germ. Slowly she recovered from that.20E0A589-208C-4462-B286-AE351D8C92CB

During the US Open, she and and Rich and I spoke before my personal favorite, Roger Federer’s match on a Tuesday evening. We were all pretty lighthearted. But the next day, Julie was having dreadful abdominal pain and was hospitalized. After scans and other tests, the doctors concluded that she had an intestinal obstruction which in the case of someone with her disease, was considered a death sentence. On September 7th, Rich sent out a note to family and friends saying that Julie had days to weeks to live and was being transferred to a hospice facility. He told people that if we wanted to plan a goodbye we were welcome to do that and transmitted a message from Julie expressing her gratitude for all the love she’d felt from all of us who’d been part of her life.09A932F1-D74C-4629-9C24-E21E3F828127

I sat stunned in my living room, not knowing what I should do. My knee replacement surgery was dull pretty recent and an hours long car ride with my leg bent seemed like a terrible idea. So I decided to send Rich a note with the request that he read it to Julie who was being treated for pain and being fed through nasogastric tubing. I wrote this on September 7th, the same day I got this dreadful news.

My dearest Julie

I have lain beside you in beds and on couches since we were so very young, when we were vulnerable and pained, and when we were angry and valiant, and  so “in your face,” assholes of the world. So I lay beside you now, in some ethereal form which should be wordless in reality, but is not in the case of you and me. I remember.

Hours of talking and sorting and handholding. Speaking of love and sadness and mysteries of this difficult world. Gales of laughter through the worst of times. The gifts of our language which we acquired on the journey of this life ring in my head. Julie the poet. I could listen to you for hours and you listened to me, a master of graffiti, as we found the right word that would resonate for whatever was the urgency of the moment.

I have not left you and you will not leave me. Whatever are the crevices that our bodies hold for those who come along and somehow wriggle into the fabric of our person is the place I am in you and the place you are in me. Even when we are converted to ash or dust, that space for each other was settled long ago. I wish you release from every type of pain. You’ve suffered better life’s challenges because your will came from a place of love. For as long as I am a corporeal being I will lift your banner and try to ease the pain of your dearest family. I treasure what we’ve been able to share in recent years, an affirmation of what is unbreakable and forever. I love you, Julie, for now and always. Thank you for being a gift in my life.

Renee

I thought this would be the last communication between me and my old friend and I was terribly sad. But as days went by, there were changes happening with Julie. She decided she wanted her feeding tube removed as it was interfering with her ability to feel close to people. That happened, and eventually, she progressed from a tiny amount of liquids to more solid food with no significant adverse effects. After days in hospice went by, she was able to have her IV pain meds replaced with other forms of delivery and got strong enough to get around without her walker. By September 23rd, Rich informed us that Julie was going into hospice at home where she could look at her own trees through her windows and have the comforts of her own space as she walks down the narrower road to end of life.

People were invited to visit and on September 26th, I felt good enough to climb in the car for a seven hour drive to see my friend. That was a longer trip than I expected due to construction and traffic and I worried that Julie might be too tired to relate to me. And sure enough, within about 45 minutes of my arrival, her eyes were closing. So I thought I would give her what I could in silence and darkness. I must have a peculiar pheromone, one that my family calls my special sleep “juju” that acts like a sedative on most people. I climbed in Julie’s bed and she put her pillows in my lap, snuggled under a blanket and allowed me to gently massage her until she passed out. And I sat there for about three hours sending my quiet love and empathy to her as she rested.

The next day she felt pretty well and between appointments with hospice people and her daughter coming over, we chatted and talked about everyday life, old memories, death, cancer and everything in between. I slipped out for awhile to have lunch on my own and give Rich and Julie some downtime and quiet space. I also wanted to find some sweets and fruit that the nurses were recommending for extra calories to provide strength. A lovely cafe with a bakery helped me feed myself and bring in treats that I hoped Julie would enjoy. We stayed up later last night, squeezing as much time in as we could get but everyone feared that the full time company could prove too exhausting and that she might totally crash today. But she felt better than she’d anticipated and we talked some more about the big ideas of life with a few light notes tossed in for fun.

But then it was time to leave as I had a long drive ahead of me and Julie had the aspects of hospice that include visits. Time is a valuable commodity. So we had what might have been our final embrace. Julie is fragile but wept with strength while I held on to myself as I learned to do by all the practice I had in grieving Michael during his day by day decline. I have no idea how long Julie will stay alive or if I’ll have the chance to see her again. This time of my life, as is true for all of us who are aging, will be filled with losses. I feel as if chunks of my history are being carved out of the tapestry that winds out behind me. Of course I have the peculiar combined pain and gift of memory which I hope I retain as long as I’m alive. There’s doesn’t seem much point in being around if you know nothing of yourself. But for now, I hope that visiting Julie while she is still cognitive and aware was the gift I intended it to be. It was hard for me. I’m still too close to Michael’s death so I relive that time in moments like this. I’m not sorry I did it though. Love is love and love is pain and pain is love and all is a jumbled mess. At least that’s how I see it. F2153451-61A9-44B3-9B62-2C78E68D5684

Incoherence

4DF4DF54-9C52-401E-9842-69A7A87EABFESometimes there’s just no making sense of anything. Despite all your best efforts to weave the random events of a life, a culture, a world, a planet, into an orderly cohesive structure, it just doesn’t work. I’ve been grappling with this for days. My brain is hopping from thing to thing. My main personal assignment right now is to continue writing the family history I’m working on for my kids and theirs. Mentally, I’m supposed to be in Chicago during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, writing my memories from about age 10 to my high school graduation at age seventeen.F20D1F5F-E101-43AD-96ED-EFE273E84C20

I’m not at a loss for what to write. Instead, I’m doing exactly what I always promised myself I wouldn’t do – I’m censoring myself. I’m trying to sort out my principles, my morality. I have plenty to say about that period in time. Some of the characters in my stories are dead. I don’t have to worry about exposing anything about them. But others are alive and even if they’re not part of my current life, the people who are still part of theirs are out there and I don’t want to create any issues between them, between me and them or any other variation on those themes. I’m funny about that stuff.F5C5C750-9AAD-444A-AD0F-51DAA432FBF5

My dad called me a weasel. My husband said I was the most larcenous individual he ever met. When I’m on a mission to get what I want, I’m relentless and a rulebender if not a rulebreaker. But I have my moral standards and one of them is to be protective of the privacy of others, especially if it’s been clear that their need for privacy is one of their most serious issues. It’s funny. I grew up in a family which had a widely varying degree of openness about personal matters. Some of the crew never wanted a word uttered about themselves to anyone. Others were more flexible or rather, more inconsistent about what could be shared. It all depended on the day. My mom was an interesting mix. She was a talker and often, inappropriately so. But she had invisible lines that made knowing what was open game for conversation confusing. She complained a lot about how close-mouthed my dad was, and ranked all four of her kids in terms of how much dad we had in us. I was the most open talker. After thinking things over, I realized that a lot of secrets people kept were fairly insignificant and often led to people being cut off and unhappy. Some of them even fretted themselves into ulcerative colitis.9604938E-E72F-41B6-BB1A-F4D89868CCE6

I shared a lot. But not everything.  I actually enjoyed realizing that most people figured they knew me really well while I was holding back some information that would have surprised them. That outgoing style was a good cover. I’m truly quite good at keeping secrets. My daughter calls me the vault. But my family of origin was different. Both my parents told me to never, ever put anything important in writing. That didn’t suit me at all. I wrote all the time. But in fairness, I’ve kept a copy of every significant letter or essay in which I’ve exposed myself. Insurance. I wanted to make sure that I had evidence to support myself in the event someone might question me. I’m all about paper trails. But anyway. Juggling these decisions has done a bit of a number on me. I used to write all the time in my head and never get any of it out because of quandaries like this. To me that’s going backwards. So I’m just going to share a bunch of random, disorganized thoughts in a stream of consciousness way until I make up my mind about how to go back and pick up my other task.A82A2253-FC49-4ED5-ADC6-F0FFD85424C3

I’ve been grumpy for days. I set myself up for this all the time. I have a lifelong habit of going to the mat for people in both big and little ways. I remember events from long ago that still have significance to me, but that have faded into the distant past for some people. When I was once important, I’m not so much any more. My time as a caregiver took me way out of the social loops I used to occupy in one way or another. So even though I’m trying to rejoin some of the circles I used to be in, I’m way out of those spheres. I’ve had some disappointments lately which made me feel excluded. I have to remind myself that if I’ve done, or if I choose to do something, it needs to be because it’s what I’m requiring of myself. No expectations on what the return will be. That’s a losing game. I’m up against a long history of being trained to keep score. My mom kept tabs on all kinds of her perceived injustices and I can still hear her voice in my head, pointing out the disparities between who did what for whom. Sometimes I forget that I chose not to go that route. On my emotionally sensitive days, I can get mean spirited and small. I’m not that much different than anyone else. I get to be a loser sometimes. I’ll willingly admit, all this kind of stuff is harder without the intimacy of having Michael backing me up. As fiercely as we could disagree about multiple issues, when it came to the bottom line, he was always on my team. And eventually we were so encoded with each other that it didn’t take much to feel embraced and accepted no matter what. Two years plus down the road after his death, his absence is no less noticeable today than it was right after he died. In fact, as daily life goes on, that secure space, now gone, is more amplified. There simply isn’t anyone or anything that can fill what we built during our 45 years together. I have a strong, independent spirit and I can do what I’m doing. But it’s lonely without him.

So, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
with.

The other day, I couldn’t get The Lovin’ Spoonful song lyric from “Darling Be Home Soon” out of my head – “ for the great relief of having you to talk to.” Yeah. That’s what I miss the most. I keep trying to get it done by all my letter writing but it’s not the same as having someone with an understanding look listening to you speak. When I say this kind of thing, I find that people have a tendency to deflect what I feel.7135BE95-A903-42D1-B517-5E41172EB7D9.jpeg

They send me memes about things like hoping to get back the part of yourself that went with your dear departed. I don’t feel like that at all. I feel whole. Michael was whole too. We were together as equals. The thought of me missing a piece of myself is absurd to me. But maybe that’s what people think, especially those who think they know me and haven’t experienced the crises that I have. If they’re lucky they won’t. I’m mad that I got robbed of my life companion too early. I’d have liked another 10 or 15 years before becoming a widow. I don’t have many friends in my peer group who are in my spot. And those widows I did know have partnered up. That’s ok with me – it’s just not for me.91E74983-E57E-4862-80D2-A7656EA497A4

So I’m thinking back to when I was first going to start this blog. And one of my original names for it was The Observation Deck. Because all my life, I’ve felt that I’ve stood a bit apart, participating but holding back a little and watching, trying to figure things out. Trying to stay ahead of troubles. There were too many surprises when I was young and I didn’t like being caught off guard. I guess that makes me a control freak. For the most part it’s a successful tool for me. But having a partner who made me fully relax for so long has made going back to those old school anticipatory operations harder. I think lots of things get harder as you get older.6AE93DC6-2507-4FD2-80BA-7F9B1BE292BA.jpeg

Thankfully, some things get easier. I don’t care as much about as many things as I used to which is quite a relief. So, yeah, I hate the well-meaning memes. And I also hate when people try to remind me of all the great things I’ve got like kids and grandchildren. I realize there are plenty of people who want those but don’t have them. But that doesn’t mean that what I do have fits into the empty space where Michael belongs. We had ten years together before we had kids and we weren’t freaked out when we became “empty nesters.”96B56929-31E1-41E2-8FD9-854A3FB02F2E

We just went right back to the lifestyle we’d led before the kids came. I have trouble understanding why people can’t just let another person express an uncomfortable or sad thought without feeling they have to try ameliorating those expressions. I find it annoying and diminishing. Sometimes things just are the way they are and people should hold their spot and just be empathetic. Keep the memes and the comparative thoughts to yourselves, folks. It’s ok to be unhappy sometimes.A7DA1DDA-5271-4DD7-99CB-94D15CD5ADD1.jpeg

I went to my classes today and afterward I was hungry for a salad. I went to one of my favorite downtown restaurants and sat by the window, eating and watching people bustle around the streets. A number of them jangled my radar. They were disheveled, they were mumbling to themselves and they were panhandling. They clearly had mental issues. The chasm between the comfortable and the wealthy and the uncomfortable and the poor widens daily. So many troubled people roaming the streets with far too few resources available to assist them. I was on the fringes today, the fringes of my own feelings and thoughts, the fringes of my peers and the fringes of a society that allows for such disparities in its citizens. You have to pull yourself back from those edges when your thoughts start running together and you find yourself incoherent.

Time for a nature break. I drove myself to a lovely retaining pond which was built to shore up the problems of a dirty old creek. Michael and I would go sit there when he was sick and watch the waterfowl, the insects and the native plants swaying in the breeze when he couldn’t travel far. Since that time there’s been an apartment complex built on one side but it didn’t destroy the ambience of this in-town peaceful place. I took a lot of photos there to share in this post. They are what held me together on this incoherent day.

47FAACE6-B587-47AA-A561-9CDF29B0693E