Life on Broadway – Chapter 12 – 1993 – A Momentous Year

As I turn back the pages of my memory to recall the significant events of long ago, I’ll occasionally look at what was happening around our family as we made our way through the world. “Jurassic Park” came out that year along with “A Few Good Men,” “Dave,” “The Fugitive,” “Groundhog Day,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Schindler’s List.” As lifelong avid moviegoers, we saw everything, although Michael barely made it through “Schindler’s List.” My tender husband always loved rom-coms, action films and comedy better than those painful dramas. I was good at suffering through my entertainment. Whitney Houston scored the biggest musical hit of the year with “I Will Always Love You,” closely followed by the song with the best hook, “Whoomp There It Is,” by Tag Team. I was partial to “Two Princes,” by the Spin Doctors.

The world spun with its usual assortment of events. Tuberculosis was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Nelson Mandela and FW deKlerk were awarded the Nobel Peace prize for their cooperative efforts against apartheid in South Africa. River Phoenix overdosed outside the Viper Room nightclub in Los Angeles, cutting short a brilliant acting career. President Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act which mandated federal background checks on those purchasing firearms in the United States and also enforced a five-day waiting period on purchases. Feels like a million years ago.
The World Trade Center was bombed, foreshadowing the tragedy of the future. I could enumerate so many more moments in time but I’m writing only a small backdrop for a few key moments of the year in my family’s life.

World Trade Center bombing aftermath – 1993
Photo credit – FBI

Michael and I were 44 and 42, respectively, while our kids were turning 12 and 6. Our daughter was a sixth grader, a middle schooler, a young girl who’d started school young, on her 5th birthday. Meanwhile our son, who’d missed the cut-off date for entering kindergarten the year before, would enter 1st grade in the fall at age 6 but would quickly become one of the oldest kids in his class in November. From our perspective as parents, we both felt that they were each well-suited to their places in their classes. Childhood should be longer but don’t tell that to the kids waiting for driver’s licenses.

I suppose it’s fair to say that we were fairly settled into our lives. Michael still worked at his record store in addition to beginning his second term as alderman in our city, while I’d been in my job as an appointed public official for fifteen years. My job was primarily valuation of commercial property for real estate tax purposes, not the most popular work around. But I was certified by the state and our office was known for its fairness, efficiency and being immune to pressure from “the haves” who always wanted more breaks. It was not my vocation but I liked the work and most especially my friend/boss who was wonderful and who amazingly, had been a high school classmate of Michael.

Michael at his desk in city council chambers.

This year was an election year. I was Michael’s campaign manager as I’d been in his previous campaigns. My boss had no opponent which made life easier for all of us. Nothing like job security. By April, we were set for another four years in the work arena. Meanwhile, my younger sister and her husband were in the midst of an adoption process. With my mom still getting used to being single after my dad’s death a few years earlier, and my sister’s world about to drastically change, family was front and center in my life. Everyone lived near me. Big events with new demands cause subtle internal shifts in the moorings of life. As much as I’d felt like we’d been residents in the adult world for some time, this forties decade was the one that solidified the feeling that we’d arrived in that space where self-doubt and uncertainty were replaced with more confidence and the experience to manage the inevitable bumps in our roads. I’d been through deaths, my best friend’s, my cousin’s and my dad’s. Michael and I had been together for over twenty years. The kids were having the expected growing pains of life and we were teaching and guiding them. I felt ready to fully assert myself and that’s what happened next.

My nephew-to-be

We’d begun going to our annual visit to Michael’s parents in Florida at the end of the school year, rather than at Christmas. Our daughter’s first year of middle school was classically bumpy. She was fortunate that she was a good student, musician and athlete. The social side was harder. She decided to chop off her hair at about the same time she got braces. Young girls have so much insecurity during those days. In addition, she was well-known for delivering her opinions straight-up, with little thought for niceties. I remember her telling me I talked in a telephone voice which she thought was a waste of energy. Yup. Good times. Our son, meanwhile, was the guy who thought that he could be friends with everyone and thus, make all those friends, many of whom couldn’t stand each other, be friends too. Those were interesting days. I think awkward was the word of choice. Our parental approach was to stay as close as possible to our kids during difficult times, rather than doing what we often really wanted to do, which was run for the hills. I think our plan was best for the long haul, albeit challenging at times.

Michael’s parents’ condo in Longboat Key, Florida

Michael’s parents lived in a beautiful location on the Gulf side of Florida. A gorgeous and peaceful spot, it never was enough to dampen the almost instantaneous friction that arose when everyone was together. I couldn’t have been more different than his parents if I tried. We shared virtually no common beliefs about the way we wished the world would be. They were wealthy, privileged, entitled racists, who looked down their noses at virtually everyone. Michael had been in conflict with them since he was a kid but held fast to a concept of family which didn’t exist in reality. Kind of like being in the film “Groundhog Day,” every year’s trip started out with a positive outlook which rapidly devolved into discomfort, arguing and sniping. The dissonance between the glorious digs and the hideous conflicts were wearing me down after all those years. Usually a peacekeeper, I bore up under the insults and tone-deaf comments, trying to smooth things over. As the kids got older, that got harder. The older generation’s disdain for our lifestyle and their negative attitude about our worldview got to be more than I could bear. They thought we were kids stuck in the ‘60’s instead of adults living by a well-thought-out set of principles. I didn’t know that the 1993 trip would be the last time I went to one of my favorite places on the planet. Here’s how that happened. But first, a photo dump of that late May, 1993 vacation. I make only rare appearances in these pictures. I preferred hiding behind the camera.

Michael with his dad
Michael’s mother – my longtime nemesis

So here we were on the annual vacation which I always approached with trepidation. I wasn’t the skinny, tennis-playing blonde who was bright enough but certainly not intellectual that my mother-in-law would have preferred in her elite family. I’d say my frequent frame of mind back then was simmer. I was always simmering. My in-laws had done some remodeling that year which changed the sleeping arrangements, so Michael and I were staying next door in a small apartment, actually quite a relief. In the middle of the night a few days into the trip, our daughter called us. She’d developed a bad earache and went to her grandmother for some Tylenol to get relief from pain. She told us that my mother-in-law had lain down beside her to help her back to sleep with quiet conversation. The gist of it was that instead of choosing to live in a crummy town, attending a middle school where there were so many fat black kids, my daughter could make different choices. She didn’t have to be overweight like her mom, and could go to classy schools with “the best people,” whoever they were. As soon as she was alone, our kid called us crying, asking why her grandmother was telling her such rude, confusing things. We soothed her but the second we hung up the phone, I had crossed the line from familial tolerance into familial elimination. I told Michael that night that I’d finish the vacation quietly but that I was done with participating in such a phony toxic relationship. I’d done it out of love for him but I got finished. He told me that had our situation been reversed, he’d have lasted maybe six months with my parents. We packed up and went home. The next day, I called his father, who at least had a more pleasant disposition and a better fake veneer than his arrogant mean-spirited mother. I told him that absent the fact that we had all had feelings for Michael, we had nothing else in common, and that I had too much self-esteem to participate in any further contact. We’d had issues before but at last the rude, thoughtless interference with my daughter had exhausted my last drop of patience. He tried to convince me to give us another chance but I’d done twenty years by then and was finished. I never went back to Florida again. For a few years, Michael went with the kids but eventually he got done as well. We let our children make their own choices but nothing was ever repaired between Michael, me and them. I let them come to my daughter’s graduation after not having seen them in years and was sorry I did, as they managed to spoil the celebration with their rudeness. That was the last time I ever saw them.

I never dreamed that I’d arrive in an emotional place that I couldn’t fix. Back then, I don’t know how much psychology was focused on getting rid of the toxic people in your life. But that’s what I did. Michael and I were strong enough to navigate the mess. I felt like I’d crossed an invisible line between finally growing up and being a fully evolved adult. I could never understand how Michael survived his upbringing in that family. He was certainly wounded but our life together over so many years helped heal him. I know forgiveness is supposed to be the ultimate accomplishment in life but I never got there. They lived well into their 90’s, years beyond Michael. I still resent life’s unfairness.

First day of school, fall – 1993
First day of school, fall – 1993

We moved into the routine of our regular summer. The kids went to camp while we worked. We slipped away for a few weekends, one in St. Louis for Six Flags and the wonderful city zoo, and another in the Wisconsin Dells. In August, we again joined our old friends and their families for our raucous annual gathering in Michigan, always good for the soul. Then suddenly it was back to school for a new year.

I think that having gotten started on our family after having a long time alone together, coupled with the lessons we’d learned from our bumpy starts in life, made Michael and I work extra hard to cement our little family unit. Some of our excursions were outside our budget and often wound up with me, who’d only had one family vacation in my childhood, crying my way to the parking lot ahead of everyone else, after sibling bickering and Michael’s hot temper got the best of me. But we kept at it. And the two of us made time to be alone. I still remember these photos from an October fall day in Allerton Park, a lovely place not far from home, where we hung out with our dog, Sydney. Always a place of peace. Thankfully, our relationship was undamaged by my departure from his family.

After we hosted Thanksgiving which had become our annual big family holiday event, for the second year in a row we were able to head to New Orleans for a trip wrapped around a conference for me. We had a wonderful time, rolling on the Big Muddy, eating great food and listening to lots of music. Was that the year we saw Maria Muldaur, the Neville Brothers and Michael, a crazy time middle of the night show with The Meters? Well, it was either that year or the previous one. The end of 1993 was at hand. I had come totally into myself. On to the next events.

The Know Nothings

Dear Michael,

Out there in the world you no longer occupy, things have gone, as my mom would say, “to hell in a handbasket.” I haven’t looked to see if she stole that phrase from someone or if it was her own. Truly, it doesn’t matter. Also out there in the world are people who think I only miss you because of our mad love, your hot body, your warm spot in our bed and your dazzling repertoires of humor, your ability to fix virtually anything, and your constant acceptance of who I am. All of those things are true. But in days like these, I miss your profound depth of understanding history. As the words “Know Nothings” have been spinning in my head, I knew that you’d know I derived them from the short-lived party of nativists who for a short time during the mid-1800’s held political power based on anti-immigration and anti-Catholic beliefs. Self-titled, that group, which some current political cults were seeded from, is more about their name to me right now than their dreadful politics. I think huge swaths of our population want to be Know Nothings.

Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker – photo credit USA Today

I hardly know where to start with my frustrations about what’s going on around me. As usual, I feel out of step with people. Don’t get me wrong. You were the one who was always aware that my feelings about world problems, always front and center in my mind, often threw cold water on your good time. I still remember our friend Tony, who when seeing me approach would say, “here comes the angel of doom.” Okay, I get it. But there’s so much cataclysmic stuff going on that I can’t stop looking at it like so many others seem to be doing. Hence my current obsession with the “Know Nothings.” Recently I’ve noticed that my social media posts about Covid, climate change and our dangerous political situation, are not drawing the type of responses they once did, aside from those of a few unique friends. Conversations are like that too, with my fervent pronouncements or questions arousing little or no interest. I get it. People are burned out. Covid drags on and people are sick of it and its subsequent results, supply issues, high gas prices, and inflation. How about corporate profits, though? Big oil is doing quite nicely, thank you very much. Like always. But let me get to the politics first. The House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack is finally holding public hearings. The evidence is jaw-dropping. Today I watched Rusty Bowers, an absolutely rigid conservative Republican, describe the efforts of Trump and Giuliani to get him to decertify Arizona’s 2020 presidential election results. A straight arrow, a devout Christian who believes that the U.S. Constitution was divinely conceived, reiterated his refusal to break the law, quoting Ronald Reagan and his other heroes.


Bowers testified that Giuliani told him of allegations of voter fraud committed by undocumented immigrants or dead people who were listed as having voted.

Bowers said he and other GOP legislators pushed for explanations into the theories and for Giuliani to provide sufficient evidence to justify recalling the state’s presidential electors.

“In my recollection,” Bowers said of Giuliani, “he said, We have lots of theories we just don’t have the evidence.'”

Bowers said Giuliani pressured him to call the Arizona legislature back into session — a unilateral move Bowers said he cannot do — to recall the electors that would be going to President Biden after Biden beat Trump in the state.

“It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired,” he said, growing visibly emotional. “I would not do it.”

Photo – BBC

Trump’s attack was ready. “Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers is the latest [Republican in name only] to play along with the Unselect Committee,” Trump said in a statement issued by his Save America PAC, claiming that Bowers is a “RINO,” or a Republican in name only, who told him that “the election was rigged.” – Salon

Powerful, compelling testimony, right? But apparently not. More than half the country does not think this subcommittee is legitimate. Television ratings for the hours are abysmally low. I can’t fathom this. Yeah, I don’t like my gas prices or my grocery prices but I don’t want to live in a fascist state based on utter lies, more than I’m worried about those fluctuations. We did this economic rollercoaster in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Now we are talking about the survival of democracy. Aren’t we? How is everyone not jumping up and down with rage? When Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” turned up on my Pandora feed today, I thought it was apt.

New York Times – 6/15/22

Then there’s Covid. Mostly everyone is certainly done with that. Masks have disappeared in so many places. Sometimes I’m the only customer in a store who’s wearing one. Occasionally the employees wear them. I can’t understand why so many people feel this virus is behind us. Every day I know people who are infected. Our own kids have had it and are currently testing to make sure they didn’t pick it up again on a recent trip. No one knows who will develop long Covid which is multi-symptomed and difficult to understand. There are those who will still die from it. From the beginning bungled handling of the pandemic’s advent to now, when people are so inured to deaths in the millions, so many unnecessary, I remain baffled by the deliberate disregard for safety practices. Other viruses like the flu have mutated during the time of masking, becoming a bigger and even more dangerous diseases than in the past. I’ll never understand how these minor inconveniences have undone people’s precious individual freedoms. But historian that you are, you’ll remember the same deadly absurdity of the so-called Spanish flu in 1918 which dragged on for a few years too. There are so many more people available to fall sick and die now. Big sigh.

Very Green River – Rotting Cyanobacteria – Kyiv, Ukraine – Photo by EFREM LUKATSKY / AP

I’m passing on the whole gun conversation right now. Tonight the Senate passed a law, shy of enough restrictions to please me, but that the crew in that messy chamber could agree on anything is somewhat of a miracle. Instead I’m going to the ultimate danger, climate change, which no longer threatens but is right here, right now. I’ve been reading articles about wild weather events all over the planet, certainly no coincidence given the warnings that have been ignored for decades.

Dried forests Germany, Harz mountains – Getty images
Lonely Lagoon – A tourist pier in Suesca, Colombia, DIEGO CUEVAS / GETTY IMAGES
Flooded villages – Kenya – THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERS
Mass fish death – Southeastern France

Drought – Cracked earth is all that remains where water once stood at the Pejar Dam, one of Goulburn, Australia’s primary water supply reservoirs. – IAN WALDIE/GETTY IMAGES

I read article after article about these astonishing floods, fires, brutal heat, melting glaciers and for the life of me, I can’t understand why everyone isn’t racing around, their hair on fire, their fear as extreme as those burning acreages at calamitous rates. How much time is left before everything escalates to a point where people lose their homes while starvation becomes an even bigger issue than it is now? What about earth’s diverse creatures, its flora and fauna? This piece I read today is truly stunning.

Heat. Flood. Fire. Drought. War. Inflation. Welcome to the Age of Extinction.

Our Planet is Changing in Profound, Terrifying, and Visible Ways Now. But We’re Still in Denial About What It Means.

Right now in our yard, the ground looks and feels like August, not mid-June. Rain has been scarce for weeks – I can’t imagine gray skies right now. I feel like our garden is developing in slow motion. After a halting beginning in the spring, blooms have gone from lush to scarce. I water heavily daily but it seems like the plants are storing the moisture at their roots instead of wasting it on flowers. I’ve got bees around though butterflies are in short supply. I look back at photos from a year ago and find a similar situation although this season is further behind. I know this isn’t just happening to me. Everywhere in the world there are reports of 100 year, 600 hundred year, even a 1000 year natural events. We’re in this now. Where’s all the action to save what can be saved? What will the world look like for our grandchildren?

Me in 1972 – Photo by Tom P.

Michael, do you see me in that photo with my bullhorn? I was helping lead a demonstration through our hometown. I’ve been to the ones that have happened here since the last one I shared with you, the Women’s March in January, 2017, a few scant months before you died.

I’m thinking there need to be more of these to jolt the Know Nothings and the Comfortably Numb out of their tiny worlds and what you know I call navel-gazing. You know, the tendency to think small, live small, worrying only about your little personal life, as if it’s all that matters. Who knows better than you and me that existing as if you have all the time in the world ahead of you is a bad plan? I will miss your company in the streets as I always miss you. But I’m still so glad to send my thoughts out to you in the universe before I spontaneously combust. My forever friend and partner.

Well, I got this one healthy enough to open.

A Day In the Life: Reflections on Paul’s birthday and Father’s Day

Even after we sold our massive vinyl collection, we saved a few stacks of these precious 45’s
Me in front of a great Beatles poster in my bedroom this afternoon.

Paul McCartney was just 23 years old when I, an avid 14 year old Beatles addict, bought this book in 1965 for fifty cents. I used to have another one but somewhere along the line during these last fifty seven years, it got away from me. I was just shy of twelve when my penpal from Liverpool first told me of this boss and gear group from her hometown, who’d been the Quarrymen and the Silver Beetles before landing on their ultimate name. The name of the band which changed the shape of music forever. At least for the bulk of my life. I saw them perform at the Chicago Amphitheater in 1964. In 1967, I received the Sergeant Pepper album for my 16th birthday from the boy of my dreams. “A Day in the Life” was a song like no other, heady thoughts for a teenager in those days. Paul was only nine years older than me, but at the time, that gap felt like a big deal. Despite the breadth of music genres, bands and concerts I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, The Beatles’ body of work feels like part of my viscera. Growing up, I sang Paul’s parts in their songs, while my long-gone friend Fern sang John’s. We made up our own lyrics to several dozen of them over the years. She was still alive when John died and we mourned him together. Today, on Paul’s 80th birthday, I’m grateful that I saw him perform in 2019 and that he’s still performing in 2022. I don’t know whether he’ll die before me but if he does I can already imagine the symbolism of his loss. His longevity is like the bookends of my life, yet to be finished. I never thought of how profoundly all that music would affect so many decades, still a source of comfort and joy, wistfulness and longing caught up in all those tunes, dear to my heart. I haven’t loved all the songs equally but there are many that still rank high on my favorites list.

From the 2019 concert

I woke up today, thinking of how astonishing it is to be my age and for Paul to be his. Like many older people who reflect on the swift passage of time, the gifts, the losses, the blink of an eye sensation that time feels like these days, I remain surprised that so much of life is already behind me. By late this afternoon I was thinking of my own Day in the Life. This weekend, both my kids were out of town. Of course that’s happened many times over the years, but tomorrow is Father’s Day, so I noticed my solitary state, which is customary, a bit more than usual. I had a busy, active day. I started with breakfast, followed by a trip to the big box store where I continue to purchase endless numbers of 2 cubic feet bags of cypress mulch for my equally endless garden projects.

Next I went to the farmer’s market, impatiently waiting for my own tomatoes to mature, but needing that taste of summer unmatched by the pale imitations of the winter excuses for that tasty fruit.

When I came home I went to work, starting with what I still refer to as Michael’s jobs. I can’t say we were perfect in dividing the labor involved in running our household. But we were pretty fair. For the first 4 years after his death, I had a father/son duo who took care of my detested lawn and the weeds which threatened to cover my driveway and brick sidewalk. Never my favorite stuff, but rather extra chores in all seasons, I was glad to fund those guys to help me avoid them. The guys quit this year. I got bids for doing these jobs I find so alienating, but the prices were too much for my budget. Along with all the other increases in seemingly everything, I prioritized and decided to do these myself. I mowed the despised lawn. I cleared the driveway and sidewalk weeds. Then I got the trusty bow saw and cut down a huge chunk of a plum tree I thought was lost to last year’s drought. To my surprise, part of it sprouted this spring. I always think that anything that works hard to stay alive should be nurtured. Hence, the saw.

Ridiculously long driveway
Ridiculously long brick sidewalk
Bow saw
Long, long branch
Half-dead plum tree
Still alive bits of plum tree

I was so annoyed at all this extra stuff. What I really want to do is get rid of all the grass and plant flowers and shrubs that attract pollinators and provide habitat for all the critters that visit my yard. When I got done with the chores I impulsively started that process by covering a chunk of the backyard, at least partway, to created one less small stretch of grass that won’t require mowing. I was too tired to finish, but I will. My anal-retentive spouse’s voice was ringing in my ears, “ you haven’t even gotten your dimensions on paper.” Oh well.

Partly done grassless space

You might wonder how I got from Paul to my work to Father’s Day. Here’s the trail of my thought process. As I plodded my way through each task I was thinking about how amazing it is that at age 80, Paul can still endure the rigor of a rock and roll tour. In my experience at his concert, he played a three hour show, standing for most of it unless he was seated at the piano or keyboards. And he doesn’t hold back. His voice sometimes doesn’t sound quite as strong as it did when he was young, occasionally missing the upper register and such, but he still can belt it out, doing numbers like “Back in the USSR” and “Helter Skelter.” So I was drawing strength from him as a role model, rather than my earlier crush attitude toward the “cute” Beatle. Now we’re pushing the boundaries of age together and aren’t we the lucky ones? As if he could imagine our kinship, devised by me. Ha. From there I went to thoughts of my dad, hardly the guy to take on the physical challenges of life. He died too early, at age 67, unable to endure more than one round of chemo for his bladder cancer. He was really smart, but always a bit like a scared kid, likely because his own dad died when he was only eight years old. Lots of verbal bravado, but I learned it covered a lot of fear.

Dad in his early twenties, smoking the cigarettes that would shorten his life.

I learned a lot from my dad about what I think are the critical personal foundations of life. He taught me about loyalty and principles. He taught me about staying true to your beliefs and about never allowing anyone to bully you away from what you know is right. He helped me establish my views on humanity and politics. I value all of that. He did not, however, teach me much about practical matters and certainly nothing about nature, pollinators, weeds or bow saws. My parents owned one house for a short time in Iowa when I was little. When his job wasn’t enough to cover expenses and my mom longed to return to Chicago, he left home ownership behind and was a renter for the rest of his life, despite my mom’s entreaties to try again. Winding up as a bank officer, he dug his way out of debt and retired with enough money to provide for himself until his death and for my mom, who lived another twenty-five years. I remember when I wanted to buy a house, he was extraordinarily conservative and I realized I’d always know more about certain aspects of life than he ever would. He was self-limiting. That behavior can be contagious. I’m glad I escaped that part of him. I loved him and he loved me but he was never my hero or role model. I’m not sorry about that, either. I’m not the hero-worshipping type. I’ve led a life free from his self-imposed boundaries. I wish he’d lived longer to see the other side of those walls and to have watched my kids grow. And me too, although I know he had confidence in me as an adult before he died.

Dad and me, 1959
And again, dad and me, 1980
Dad, my daughter and me – August 1st, 1989, about seven weeks before he died.

I never had another father figure. I’d gotten the essentials of what I needed from my dad. I met Michael at age twenty. He was twenty-two. His relationship with his dad was complicated. His father had told him, and also made clear through his actions, that he intended to have only one intimate relationship in his life, the one with his wife. Michael was provided for, with the physical necessities of life, and even more than those, in a material sense. But his security in love was crippled from the beginning of his life. His interests as a craftsman, a woodworker and artisan were ignored by his father who wished for a son who’d be a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. He then offered to turn over his advertising specialty business to Michael when he was in his twenties, a job that was utterly uninteresting to him. Between the two of us, I’d clearly won the dad lottery.

The year before we became parents

We spent 10 years together before we had kids. During that time we sorted through a lot of our issues, both emotional and practical, wanting to make sure we’d be ready to correct at least some of what each of us felt were the challenges left in us by our parents. I don’t think anyone gets through the world without exhibiting at least a few of the bumps we received as kids. And I wouldn’t say we didn’t have to make plenty of adjustments to the reality of creating and caring for kids. But, generally, I think Michael was a wonderful father who successfully navigated his role in a way that was infinitely superior to his own experience. I’m confident that our kids would agree. In addition, he cultivated all those handy skills his parents blew off as unimportant. I learned how to apply many of them to the demands of daily life in my partnership, rather than from my dad. You bet I know how to use a bow saw, as well as knowing the best tool for so many other things, from plumbing to cars. So fathers. Some people have none worth remembering, some were incredibly lucky and then there’s everyone somewhere between those extremes. That’s a day in the life for me, thinking my thoughts as I toil. Happy Father’s Day.

Michael, a great dad with his adored children.

How the Mind Can Wander

Peter Asher and Gordon Waller of the singing duo, Peter and Gordon

The other day, a friend of mine posted a YouTube link to the 1964 song, “A World Without Love,” by the duo Peter and Gordon, celebrating their luscious harmonies. The song, written by Paul McCartney, was attributed to him and John Lennon. As an avid Beatles fan, I knew that Peter Asher was the brother of Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend for almost five years. They both had the same flaming red hair – Jane had a bit role in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Years later, on April 13th, 2003, Michael and I attended a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert in the spaceship-like Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois. Michael had left his music store ownership in 2001, after 27 years of what we laughingly referred to his status as a record magnate, to pursue a teaching career. His former partner, still hanging in with the shrinking independent music store, must’ve scored the tickets, along with backstage passes for this show. We never made a real living off Michael’s job, but had fantastic perks of concert tickets as well as sports events with box seats and personal introductions, at least to the musicians. I remember having a lengthy personal conversation about child care with Ben Harper whose partner was Laura Dern at the time. I have photos of Michael with Billy Joel and other performers who came to the store to play a few songs and celebrate the release of a new album at midnight. Those were heady times. I always wanted to get t-shirts made which said, “We might not have any money but we’ve seen all the best bands.”

Michael and me backstage with Tina Turner

Getting back to Peter Asher. Unbeknownst to me, we would meet him backstage at the Crosby, Stills and Nash show. We’d enjoyed a really fabulous concert. Talk about dreamy harmonies. Stephen Stills was 59, while Nash and Crosby were past sixty, seven-nine years older than Michael and me. Their voices showed no signs of age. I actually found the playlist from that concert online, happy to remember all those beloved tunes that were part of my youth.

After the show ended, we, along with other pass holders, were led through the bowels of that big building to a room where the band and its attendant entourage were gathered around food and drinks. People were just chatting and milling around. I was 52 years old, well beyond the starstruck kid I might have been decades earlier. I casually sauntered up to the guys and commented that it was possible that they were the only people in the room who were older than Michael and me. I got a couple of wry smiles. Then suddenly there was Peter Asher. He had less red hair than he’d had back in the ‘60’s, but my Beatle worship had led me to memorize everyone in their sphere. I don’t know why he was there, if he was connected in any way to currently producing or managing the band, their label or tour. But I had the nerve to approach him and tell him everything I knew about him and to inquire about the health of his sister, Jane. He looked a bit taken aback but was friendly and polite after deducing I was an unlikely stalker. I’ve never forgotten that night. I expect my kids would use that emoji that shows a person with a hand over her/his face when I describe my behavior. Once I bumped into Chuck Berry in an airport and had no qualms about engaging him in a lengthy conversation. I was only with Michael then, who had a fair idea of what to expect from me. I’m glad I’m a tad brazen. Makes for an interesting life.

Music is on my mind and in my ears a lot lately. I’ve always loved music. I grew up in a household in which singing and dancing were regular occurrences in daily life. I was lucky to share a record player with my family in my teens, and to have a dad who worked at the credit department in Polk Brothers, a store in Chicago which sold LP’s in addition to appliances and virtually everything else. I remember how badly I wanted to have the album Rubber Soul and repeatedly begged my dad to bring me a copy. I was so disappointed when he didn’t, only to find he was teasing and had hidden it on the landing of our third floor apartment. In high school, I managed to see The Temptations and The Supremes along with the biggest coup, The Beatles. In college, I only had a clock radio, but I listened to music constantly. I was able to attend great concerts at student prices and on dates. Friends from my high school actually started the music store Michael wound up owning with partners – I worked there before he did. For the two of us, music forever played a significant role in our lives. I still remember the first album we listened to together – Chicago Transit Authority. “Make Me Smile” takes me back to an incredible emotional place. We kept up the concert attendances through the gifts of the store. Before he died, Michael tallied a list of groups and the venues where he’d seen them. He also made himself a cremation mix which was as hysterical as it was awful – every song referenced burning. Now I’m making my own list of songs to be played when I’m gone, although mine are not that perversely funny. I’m still tallying the concerts I’ve seen since I’ve been without him. The list organization. A disease.

First album I heard with Michael
First page of Michael’s concert list

Concerts since Michael died:

The Milk Carton Boys, Wilco, Paul McCartney, Pete Yorn, Taj Mahal, The Indigo Girls, John Prine, Keb Mo, A Night with Janis Joplin, The Claudettes, Lucinda Williams

Although I occasionally get emotionally ambushed by a song on my playlist that is so deeply associated with Michael, for the most part, being plugged into headphones all day is generally a buoyant experience which helps me sort my way through the challenges of this endlessly difficult time. On a road trip to a family wedding last weekend, I plugged in Michael’s aged 30G iPod which fires right up and randomly plays over 2500 songs. A good driving companion.

Dancing with my cousin at her daughter’s wedding
My dancing family
My kids
Sitting for a minute

At this wedding, I noticed that an unexpected byproduct of my grooving around for hours a day while I garden or work around the house, is that my legs never got tired after hours of dancing and hours of being folded into a car driving up and back to Cincinnati for only two days. The science on music backs this up.

“Music is a crucial element of everyday life and plays a central role in all human cultures: it is omnipresent and is listened to and played by persons of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds. But music is not simply entertainment: scientific research has shown that it can influence physiological processes that enhance physical and mental wellbeing. Consequently, it can have critical adaptive functions. Studies on patients diagnosed with mental disorders have shown a visible improvement in their mental health after interventions using music as primary tool. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of music, including improved heart rate, motor skills, brain stimulation, and immune system enhancement.” Article – Science Direct.

Yellowstone, last October – photo by me
Yellowstone, last October – Photo by me
Yellowstone, last October – Photo by me
Yellowstone, last October – Photo by me
Yellowstone, June 13, 2022 – Photo credit, NYT
Yellowstone, June 13, 2022 – Photo credit – People

I need this music to help me keep stable. There is so much awful stuff happening in this world that my mind wanders from event to event, leaving me with remarkably helpless feelings. I found myself thinking how miraculous it was that I got myself to Yellowstone last fall. A rigorous trip, made more so by my constant anxiety about contracting Covid in states where neither vaccines or masks were popular, I took my chances, wanting to visit this marvel of nature before I’m less able to travel. Was I prescient? Who knows? All I do know is that climate change is real, happening now, and that Yellowstone has fallen victim to its path of destruction. I wonder if it will ever wholly recover. Sequoia, another park I’ve been lucky enough to visit, with trees that have withstood thousands of years of weather, is now considered unstable. At present, I’m living in sweltering heat, with temperatures routinely feeling in excess of 100 degrees. My beloved garden and all the creatures who live here are bending beneath the relentless temperatures. The leaves shrivel and the birds pant. Not fun to watch as I water desperately, wondering how huge my water bill will be next month.

Sweating bird
Another one

Then there are the astonishing January 6th hearings. I cannot fathom how anyone who’s seen even a few moments of this damning evidence, primarily provided by members of Trump’s inner circle, can believe that there is a shred of truth in the “rigged, stolen election” theory. And yet, right now there are at least a hundred candidates whose runs for office are based on lies and the underlying effort to turn the United States government from a democracy to an autocracy. I fear the 2022 midterms in addition to the 2024 election which could be altered based on the instructions of a cult figure. The division in this country is deeper than the deepest chasm I can envision. I spend time trying to figure out where I can go when the whole thing melts down. That is, if I’m still around.

January 6th committee – NYT
Mike Pence hiding from rioters – ABC news

Have we forgotten Ukraine? I haven’t. The Russian bully is still trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union. We can’t look away.

Image – Radio Free Europe

What about the mass shootings and the intense gun culture, still operating freely though a major percentage of the American public wants to limit these killer weapons? And despite the fact that a majority of American voters support a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to bear a child, we await the Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v. Wade.

Credit -AlJazeera news
Credit – NYT

I still have very sick friends in awful situations. I can’t quite remember the number of people I know who’ve died in the past two years. So yes, my mind does wander. If I don’t listen to enough music in a day, I don’t feel as solid as I do when I get enough rhythmic hours in my head. I need the soothing. Even when the songs are raucous. I miss the safe zone I had with Michael but life has necessitated that I find that in myself. Still, I would be remiss in not stating that one of my favorite songs that I turn to when I’m fuming with rage is one by an artist called Gayle. It’s called “abcdefu.” Look it up at your own risk. For an old lady it’s a pretty gnarly but satisfying choice.

Hang On A Minute

I’ve been making a concerted effort to sit still for at least an hour a day, preferably outside in my yard. Doing nothing but looking around, perhaps listening to music, a passive act. A time to observe, to think, to ponder. The impulse to be busy is strong in me, and necessary as well, for a couple of reasons. I live in a house that’s way too big for me that’s situated on a double lot. When we moved into this old place back in 1978, it was being used as three apartments. We thought it was our starter home. But back then, home interest rates were soaring as were real estate prices. We quickly realized we could never afford to replace the amount of space, both inside and out. So we chose to slowly convert it back to a single family residence over the next few years as we added kids to our life. Michael and I were strong and energetic. Over the years, we reclaimed this place, which with a 19th century home and limited wealth, is a never-ending process. We accomplished a lot. But since his death five years ago, along with the normal parts of the aging process, managing both inside and outside maintenance by myself has become a big challenge. I’ll readily admit, I’d rather do almost anything than housecleaning. I love working in the garden, but every day it seems bigger. I had mowers for the lawn who recently quit. That used to be Michael’s domain. My new plan is to let parts of it return to a natural state. We’ll see how that goes. If my daughter and her family didn’t live across the street, I’d probably move. I’m not doing that. So instead, as a new option, I’m trying to just sit still and do more nothing. Today I was thinking how lucky I was to be looking down at the bowl of beautiful summer fruit in my lap, listening to the birds chattering, mindful that I’m pondering first world problems. I can barely focus on the cascade of dark news from everywhere. The gun violence against the innocents, the wars raging around the world, the ugly political hellscape, and the continued substantive inaction against climate change are just too much. I’m not glued to news all day long but I can’t ignore reality.

As I sat out there, I suddenly realized how evanescent life is, with most events vanishing almost instantly. Except for a few major moments, what I do on a daily basis is hard to remember over even a brief period in time. Memory isn’t the issue. Life pace is what has sped up, if not in actual time, at least it has in my head. I decided to look back at 6 months of my photographs to explore the smaller details of my existence, in addition to the relentless avalanche of the big stuff. For example, on January 1st, I was thinking about the dim photo of a red barn across Round Lake in Michigan, where my family vacationed with a group of our old college friends and their families every August for about 8 years. I decided to draw the barn – see the second photo. I heard later that it’s since been demolished. I’m glad I took the picture. Here are some additional moments from January, 2022. That was when I was feeling the sting of the Omicron variant and wasn’t too happy about the regression back to isolation. We had icy weather. I admired the beautiful Carmine, the male cardinal, through my window. I caught some beautiful skies as I drove around town and spent some time with my family. Half of them contracted Covid – I escaped.

I’d had Lily for 2 months.
Bluejay pecking for see in the snow
Icy window
Another icy window

My daughter’s first dog died that month and I memorialized her by drawing a picture of a photo taken on her wedding day, when Stumpy dove into her wedding dress, unnerved by all the strangers in the house. I also baked blueberry muffins, wanting my grandsons to remember that I did normal grandma stuff despite my utter lack of interest in food preparation.

I spent a lot of time inside, looking out the windows of my house.

Dang squirrel sitting in my birdfeeder

February was a cold icy month. I spent a good deal of time at the windows again, with occasional trips into the countryside. Eventually life improved as my son and his fiancée returned from Panama where my kid was working on a biology project. I was glad for the human company.

Poor cardinal with a frozen beak

There were two powerful events in February, beyond the daily ins and outs of life. Almost simultaneously, my eldest sister’s daughters called me to let me know that this sister from whom I’d been estranged for years, had just been diagnosed with the lethal brain cancer, glioblastoma, already advanced. She was a significantly mentally altered. A devastating revelation made worse by the chasm between us. I cast about for something to do and wound up making a short video, singing her the songs we’d shared as children. This sad news came close to the terrible news of Russia having invaded Ukraine. I never dreamed I’d live long enough to see another land war in Europe. I felt like I was existing under the proverbial dark cloud. A dreadful time.

Winter held on in the beginning of March but eventually gave way to warmer weather. I was desperately worried about the struggle facing my ill sister’s children and appalled daily by the tragedy playing out in Ukraine. I tried to keep Covid anxieties and the ugly politics in my country from consuming too much of my mental time. I managed to stick with one of my central coping skills, finding a little beauty in every day.

I was more than pleasantly surprised when my son and his fiancée dropped by my house for a visit and announced that they wanted to get married. In a week, at my house where the presence of Michael is still so powerful. Only a week to plan a wedding was somewhat daunting but we managed to pull off an intimate affair in the loveliest room in our house, with a Zoom audience that included a big crowd of far-flung family and friends. The joy was a wonderful antidote to the dark news of the previous month. I missed Michael terribly though, one of the moments that you want to share with your partner. I did sense the joy he’d be experiencing as a part of my own.

April arrived, spring unfolding slowly but beautifully. I always look forward to the resurgence of my garden, hoping that my perennials will reappear while planning for bright annual accents. I also have favorite spots to explore in my community, especially a lovely arboretum which has a gorgeous cherry blossom display.

April was also a month for my grandson’s soccer season, a Lucinda Williams concert with my younger sister and a Lewis Black stand up comedy show with my daughter. In addition, we had a visit from family members we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic. These happy shared times offset the dark news that my older sister had rapidly succumbed to her virulent cancer. The microcosm of life with its highs, lows and everything in between.

May, generally a lovely month, is a mixed bag for me, a month I approach with a good deal of trepidation. May 1st is my wedding anniversary, now so close to the fifty years I’d so hoped to celebrate with Michael. This year was actually the 50th year since we’d moved in together but that’s not exactly the same thing. From there I go through Mother’s Day, Fern’s birthday, now dead and gone for so long, my birthday, followed rapidly by the anniversary of Michael’s death and finally, his birthday. lt’s a slog for me, although I’m getting more practiced at doing better, handling the barrage of memories and lost dreams. I’m able to enjoy the migrating birds who rest awhile in my yard, stocking up on food for the rest of their journeys.

I enjoyed lots of family time and welcomed the peonies, lilacs and roses that supply not only visual beauty, but scent the air with impossibly sweet fragrances that invite the pollinators to my garden.

The classic embarrassment of riches, squeezed into the spaces between personal and world traumas. But in these first five months of the year, a whole lifetime of wonder emerges from the daily avalanche of rapid pace that too frequently obscures the best parts of life. I was able to have a brief but lovely visit with two of my oldest friends who shared in my life with Michael. They make me so comfortable when I express my still vibrant passion for him with acceptance and no judgment because they were in it with us. I brought my kids to dinner with them and it gave me joy. A kousa dogwood tree that I planted to honor Michael’s memory bloomed for the first time in this fourth year since I put it in the ground. And it’s now taller than me. I’m so grateful for it.

But perhaps the best two things I did were celebrating Michael in ways that he would so love. After the complications of the pandemic, which interfered with awarding a scholarship named for him, a scholarship to be given to a serious student whose writing reflects excellence in style along with a significant interest in addressing current social issues of the day, I was finally able to resume that privilege of honoring a young person in her way to college. And after that pleasure, I was able to gather with our whole family in a beautiful spot on Lake Michigan where we spent many happy times with our kids as well as on our own. That’s a lot to draw out of an hour of sitting still and reflecting on the whoosh of time.

I’m going to practice this alternative to tearing around like a maniac. My perspective on life feels much better than it has in a while.

Birthday Boy

Michael’s birthday is the last significant anniversary that ends a tough stretch of emotional hurdles for me that begins every May 1st, our wedding anniversary. I wrote this post back in 2018, a year after Michael’s death. My tall broad shouldered husband could look quite intimidating which was a great cover for a tender, sensitive person who cried when he accidentally broke a robin’s egg, stuck a stillborn puppy in his mouth in a futile effort at resuscitation, and was a sucker for sappy romances. Here’s his backstory. Happy birthday, baby.

789C3D26-90D9-4CB0-8E79-6B0A6A1B046CWhen you stop to think about it, birthday celebrations are a bit odd. Although somewhere deep in our brains, the passage from our mothers into the outside world is probably recorded, we don’t have easy access to that memorable entrance. In fact, most of us remember little from the first few years of life. And yet it seems to me that our earliest years are deeply significant, combining whatever is hardwired into our DNA, with the effects of how we are treated by our parents or caregivers. My own children, now in their thirties, routinely exhibit behaviors that are virtually the same as the ones from their babyhood. We are always growing, even during infancy, and by the time we are about five, certain basic feelings are locked into us, whether we can recall how they got there or not.41EEC608-4465-4BE2-9EBC-C0DA6CA54AFE

Today is Michael’s birthday, the second one since his death. This day finishes off the long list of anniversaries that punctuated the month of May. Father’s Day will be more challenging for my kids than for me. But his birthdate resonates with me. As I remember the many birthdays we spent together, I find myself thinking more about the little boy who was formed before I showed up. And that little boy was always present throughout our adult life, on birthdays and all other days as we maneuvered our way through life and its multitude of challenges. 53EF1919-18AB-4954-916D-687FE3BE18AA

Michael’s parents were difficult people, hardly the types that were suited for nurturing children. They give credence to the concept of licensing couples before they reproduce. So much heartache could be avoided that way. But that isn’t likely to materialize any time soon. And for my sweet guy, he seemed like an alien, a mutant creature in the cold, insensitive environment that was his home life. 

09DC7427-F1D6-44CF-BF67-F8E600A7F9B2Michael had an older sister. Rather than beloved children I felt they were essentially perceived as two dimensional objects. I think their parents didn’t spend much time learning to know or help their kids. Rather, they hoped their children would grow up to reflect their own very clear values and choices, to become mini-versions of themselves. Their parental love was narcissistic. And putting a child’s needs ahead of their own was never part of their family code. F3D09B9A-FE98-4E07-957B-899DFABCC585

Michael’s earliest memory was from the vantage point of a 2 and a  half year old with pneumonia who’d been admitted to the hospital. His parents left him there by himself. He woke in the night and began wandering around, confused. The staff wound up putting him in restraints which he remembered for the rest of his life. Another one of his vivid memories was being a 5 year old child in Cleveland, who needed speech therapy to correct a lisp. He took the trolley by himself to his lessons with a note pinned to his coat with his personal information in case he got lost. I always found those two stories incomprehensible. 161F508F-B82C-49F2-A251-9317CDCCA635

Michael told me that he’d actually escaped the worst of his parents’ attentions which were initially aimed at his sister in a full court press attempt to turn her into a stylish debutante. She had the wrong stuff. Michael did too. Both of them recognized from their earliest years that they were lacking whatever it was their parents wanted to see in them. And whatever was intrinsic to them didn’t resonate with their parents. Their most essential selves were unseen, not acknowledged, unvalued. That uncertain boy, lacking in confidence and self-deprecating to an absurd degree, came to me packaged as a strong, daring, talented man who seemed capable of anything. And he was sweet, perceptive and gentle. What could possibly go wrong? As we learned to know each other, I could feel that boyish uncertainty constantly gnawing at him. While I pushed forward, certain there was no situation I couldn’t think my way through, Michael hung back, passive and nervous about putting himself out there, about taking emotional risks or intellectual challenges. He’d jump from a cliff, ride a motorcycle without a helmet and hop rollercoasters until his head spun. But he moved slowly and cautiously in the things that mattered. I was stamping my feet at the finish line, waiting for him to catch up. Our differences in pace were memorable, me trying to yank him forward and him trying to hold his own space. Life was interesting indeed. 515AC850-E96B-4803-AB75-E374A10C62A5

I tried to love him out of every insecurity that had taken root in him from the beginning of his life. He was intermittently grateful and annoyed. And I, despite being frequently frustrated, was madly in love with this sweet gifted man who’d been unfairly treated by those dreadful parents. After a long run of twenty years, I divested myself of my relationship with them. I couldn’t stand who they were or what they’d done. 65B0FC86-A8FE-417F-955E-2FD1A4ED68C0

Michael and I moved forward together. In time, his confidence grew as he began to build first small successes and eventually the bigger ones that made him a fabulous public servant and a gifted teacher. And more important, he was a matchless husband and a devoted loving father.843B9E6B-5C04-4EB3-8EA9-588483A64FB0

But periodically, the childhood demons emerged and he felt less than, not good enough. Over and over, throughout our years together, he’d ask, why are you even with me? It drove me crazy.E54D2049-1E7F-406A-9EDB-C4D4139BD2B2

In 2012 we began the long road of his cancer experience. Many of the trivialities we indulged in were shunted off to the side as we faced months of tough treatment and uncertainty. Our feelings for each other deepened in intensity as we reveled in every moment we shared. Still, he would ask me why I bothered with him, when he could be so difficult. In 2014, he’d been through 2 surgeries, 30 radiation treatments and 18 rounds of a powerful chemo cocktail. His birthday that year had us hanging on the edge of an uncertain future. I was casting about for an appropriate gift and fretting over finding something meaningful, something significant. EA2FBA6D-F8DB-4F96-87AE-FC5C8C3F889F

In the end, I wrote him what I hoped would be the penultimate answer to his endless insecure questioning of my loyalty to him. Here it is, as true for me today as it was when I wrote it 4 years ago, as true as it was for the many years before I wrote it and as true as it will be forever. Happy birthday, my darling boy, wherever your microbes or particles may float through the universe. Parts of you will always be with me.


Because you never tried to change me.

Because you were never threatened by my intelligence.

Because you always made me feel like I could do anything.

Because you forced me to do things I didn’t think I could do.

Because you stood up for me.

Because you always played on my team.

Because you made me feel beautiful no matter what.

Because you are a gorgeous, sexy beast.

Because you listened.

Because you heard when I wasn’t talking.

Because you are my best friend.

Because you make me feel safe.

Because you’re funny.

Because you’re smart.

Because we made unbelievable children together.

Because you stayed hot for me our entire life together.

Because you tried to be a hero.

Because you know what’s fair and right.  

Because you’d go to the wall for me.

Because we understand the world in the same way.

Because you love books and movies.

Because you’re a sap.

Because you make me crazy.

Because you’re my home.

Because you’re my best fit.

Because you hold my heart.

Because you are my always and forever.

That’s why.

6/5/14 – With all my love, ReneeEB387C8E-421A-48EE-80F3-5381B1D9B63E




Endorphin Rush

My daughter and my eldest grandson, age 11.

This past weekend was the 5th anniversary of Michael’s death. I’ve been thinking about it for months, primarily because it still seems unreal to me. Of course I know that he is physically absent. I desperately miss my daily body contact with him. The interesting adjustments I’ve made to that reality are, however, remarkably buoying as I navigate life alone. I remember him telling me in the weeks before he died that I had no real idea of how strong I really was – I’ve learned that he was right. I hope my coping skills persist for as long as I’m still alive, something I share with all the rest of us aging people who dread our impending declines. In any case, back in January I was contemplating how to get through this weekend in the best possible way, immersed in memories of Michael but in a joyous way. So I made reservations for my family, my kids, their kids, my sister and me, to road trip back to the inn at Lakeside, Michigan, a place we all loved and which was a source of so much fun, so much natural beauty and limitless love. My eldest grandson, pictured above, made his first trip there when he was just under a year old.

So there we all were on a gorgeous empty beach, the bit of chill in the air limiting the number of people willing to brave the temperatures. Everyone was doing their own things, lounging, reading, wading, hunting for interesting rocks, the ones I’ve been collecting for years to decorate the brick pavers I place in my garden. I use those for edging the sidewalk or surrounding the base of a tree or shrub.

My son, who’s a pretty fit guy, was showing his nephews a few athletic tricks. Eventually he decided to go for a run, part of his regular exercise routine. My oldest grandson, who just adores his uncle, asked if he could go along as a companion. So they did a shorter version before my kid did his usual distance, not wanting to discourage this eager boy from feeling confident on his first lengthy effort. The two of them ran a mile. When they returned, my son took off to complete his route, while my grandson came to tell me about his workout. He was so excited that he’d completed a mile at the same pace(sort of) as his beloved uncle. His cheeks were flushed, his eyes glowing. I asked him if he could describe his feelings. He said, “I feel alive. I had no idea that as you ran along, observing the trees, the beach and the water, that you could feel so much more alive than usual.” I instantly realized that this sweet boy had experienced his first real endorphin rush, that remarkable sensation that fills you up from the inside and bursts out, casting a glow over what was ordinary life just one second ago.

I was trying to remember the first time I felt an endorphin rush. I think I was about five years old, astride my tricycle which I called “Silver,” after the Lone Ranger’s horse in the 1950’s television series. My handlebars had pink, green and white plastic streamers poking out of holes in each handlebar, which flew like the wind the faster I pedaled. The incline of that sidewalk doesn’t look very steep from the photo below, but from the vantage point of a little kid, it may as well have been Mt. Everest. As I picked up speed turning that corner, blazing down that hill and even taking my feet off the pedals for a second or two, I felt alive too, just like my grandson. I tingled from the top of my head to my toes.

My childhood home from the ‘50’s, heavily remodeled, but with the corner and the downhill slant on the parallel street pretty obvious.

How lucky is it when your body releases the natural highs that we’re all born with, just sitting there waiting for the triggers that will set them free? While chatting with a friend, we recalled that incredible sensation you could feel while swinging, stretching your legs further and further out in front of you, going higher and higher. I truly thought that if I extended myself far enough, I’d eventually make a 360 degree spin around the overhead pole, ultimately flying like an acrobat.

My inauspicious early swinging career

My instant response to my grandson’s joy was to tell him that when he was lucky enough to find an activity, something he could do on his own which would make him feel as fantastic as he did on this day, to use it as a resource to combat the inevitable negative feelings which everyone has at certain times of their lives. When I heard myself saying that, I realized that for some people, that’s a pretty simplistic, not to mention unreal, recommendation. We are all unique individuals, born with varying levels of neurotransmitters and hormones causing widely divergent manifestations in our behavior. People with adequate endorphins can have an increased risk for depression and anxiety, physical pain, moodiness, addiction and poor sleep. Maybe no matter what they do, they just can’t rustle up that comforting thrill. Mixed with those key components we can toss in powerful hormones like oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” connected to sexual arousal, a mother’s let-down reflex for nursing and bonding with a baby. That hormone is now thought to be a reinforcing element in creating trust, relaxation and psychological stability. Count yourself lucky if you have the right brain soup to take advantage of the opportunity to experience the rush and the joy of mental well-being.

At Lakeside with Michael, early 2000’s

These thoughts stuck with me as I wended my way through this weekend of the layered emotions of missing Michael. When the awful tragedy that unfolded at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last week, like most people, I was stricken with despair. The gun violence in my country is tragic mayhem fueled by mysterious mental disorders, but enabled by the easy access to weapons that have no place in daily life. That giant indefensible permission to allow mass killing is another matter. I was struck by the story of the murdered schoolteacher’s husband’s death, the day after she was slaughtered. Why did that happen to him? Was his health compromised, the proverbial accident waiting to happen? Or did he have the wrong body chemistry which made him incredibly vulnerable to the grief thrust upon him so abruptly? I can hardly equate such a vicious loss with my long drawn-out cancer rollercoaster ride that consumed the last five years of my life with Michael. That was more like a glacially paced erosion, doing its damage in small daily pieces rather than one fell swoop. But I still wonder about my successful survival despite the deep sadness I endure. Why am I still here? Why did I choose a return to Lakeside to mark this anniversary? Maybe because being in or near the water was always guaranteed to stimulate an endorphin rush in both Michael and me during our shared life? Perhaps instinctively, my individual programming has steered me into choices that release those endorphins which allow for the organic condition of decent health. I truly don’t know.

Michael with our daughter in the kiddie pool
My pandemic pool
Kiddie pool in our driveway, 1976

The water has always been a high for me, since I was a little girl, as it also was for Michael. In all the years of my life with him, we found ourselves in it, next to it, under it or on it. We each had our own separate activities that we used to stimulate our often different needs, but I don’t think I can remember a year when we didn’t find our way to get submerged in some body of water. For me water is primal. I guess buried deep within my genetic code, is a dim connection to the past, where although having crawled out of it onto land, the urge to crawl back in remains. I remember when I felt safe enough to return to my public pool, after avoiding it before Covid vaccinations, that my body was awash in endorphins, almost as if I was making love, quite a remarkable sensation. When I swim, I often envision Michael as he looks in the following picture, going under, his hair parted at odd angles, getting ready to do two laps without coming up for air. A skill I could never match. He love popping up in front of me unexpectedly, smiling a boyish grin while invariably being a tad suggestive. I’m so glad I got this blurry shot of him at the pool at Starved Rock Lodge.

We swam through everything, with our kids, our grandchildren and his cancer.

So basically, every time I’m in the water which is generally five times a week, I’ve been bathing myself in an endorphin rush. After researching further about the causes of endorphin release, I discovered that I routinely employ a significant number of the recommendations for boosting the output of these neurotransmitters. Suggestions include exercise, listening to music, dancing, laughing and meditation, along with eating dark chocolate, acupuncture and sex. I’m not batting a thousand on these, but cumulatively, I’ve unwittingly created an interior world that is quite alive, including my continued sense of connection to the spirit of Michael and me. I wish I could say I’ve adopted these practices with intention but that isn’t true. I’ve been impelled toward them by a process that I’d have to describe as more biological than cognitive. I do believe that my survival stems from the same source as the pleasure my grandson experienced on his first run. Despite my old friend grief that is my companion, that wellspring of life is deeply rooted in me. I don’t know what can burn it out. If Michael’s death didn’t do it I’m not sure what will, except perhaps when life becomes too limited to sustain my inherent drives. I wonder how long this engine of mine will keep humming. We’ll see.

Cancer Truths in the USA

Michael – post-biopsy – early 2012

Right now I’m participating in a fundraising effort for some old friends of mine, who’ve been coping with a ratcheted-up metastatic cancer. In other words, after many years of going up and down with remissions and lapses, this man’s prostate cancer has taken off again, accompanied by a new bladder cancer as a further complication. They’ve had some decent years during those remissions. Hard ones too. They’ve raised kids, lost parents and siblings, aged, had financial problems and lived their lives with the good and the bad parts that are normal components of life. Meanwhile that “indolent” cancer, a favorite oncologist word, decided for inexplicable reasons, that hanging out was over and rampage time had arrived. When that happens, a tsunami of problems is unleashed, from the awareness that abnormal cells are devouring healthy tissue, to the confrontation with mortality, to fear and grief and a cloudy future. All the medical data that is alien and confusing jump on the pain train. Every day these tough issues become constant companions. If you live in the USA, your bonus terror is the money factor. For the lucky people who have seriously deep pockets and the subsequent clear field to acquiring the best treatments out there, a rotten situation becomes a bit less daunting. For the poor and uninsured, they are at the bottom of the medical Mt. Everest. And then there are the rest of us, somewhere in the middle of the morass of the staggering weight of what’s next physically, emotionally and psychologically, coupled with the business model of the medical and insurance twins which have to be navigated whether you are capable or not. I know about this. I lived it for five years. Now five years out from Michael’s death, I still remember how terribly difficult our life was, trying to stay balanced between what we knew was important, us and our family, while living in fear of insurance denials, outrageous pharmaceutical costs and whether we could avoid bankruptcy. I am not making fabricating this truth.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2019 found that 66.5% of bankruptcies in the U.S. were due to medical issues like being unable to pay high bills or due to time lost from work.3 Even with health insurance, high deductibles and copays, plus job loss, impact Americans. Rare or serious diseases or injuries can easily result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills—bills that can quickly wipe out savings and retirement accounts, college education funds, and home equity.

Michael post-surgery, 2012

The photos above were taken two months apart. The top one was taken a few days before we got the biopsy results from the tiny lesion that had shown up on Michael’s cheek, the one under that little bandaid. Discovered to be the lethal cancer Merkel cell carcinoma, Michael required a lengthy flap surgery in which his parotid salivary gland and sixty-six lymph nodes were removed. That surgical procedure was to be followed by thirty radiation treatments to the closest lymph draining basin, in his head and neck, in the hope that any rogue cancer cells would be destroyed before spreading throughout his body. Two of his lymph nodes were malignant. Michael was 62 years old at the time, ineligible for Medicare. He had an HMO through his teaching job at the time. We were lucky – Michael had enough sick time banked to cover the last few weeks of school that he missed. We were able to come up with the maximum amount of out-of-pocket medical expenses because of that sick time and by canceling our planned summer vacation.

We were staggered by it all. Michael’s parents came from long-lived families, both of them living until their late 90’s. I always thought that I’d die first, the product of one of those family medical histories that included virtually every dreaded condition or illness. We were a lucky couple, still deeply in love after forty years and keenly aware that there would never be enough time to satisfy our desire to have more time together. The statistics about survival after Merkel cell had spread into lymph nodes were grim – fewer than 10% of patients survived as long as five years. Michael’s radiation destroyed his appetite by burning his mouth and throat, making eating a challenge. His skin was badly burned. We made it through the months of treatment and Michael, albeit thin and tired, determinedly returned to teaching in the fall. Slowly he rebuilt his strength and in November, a full body scan showed no evidence of disease. We went forward, trying to push our trepidation to the backs of our minds.

From November, 2012 through November 2013, we practiced living in the moment. Michael taught while I continued caring for our grandson. He saw his cancer surgeon every three months along with his dermatologist who both checked his skin for new lesions. The treatment protocols for his cancer stage had no further whole body scans, absent a recurrence of visible disease. I was always uncomfortable with this plan. If Merkel cell that had gone metastatic was so lethal, why no scanning when melanoma patients were scanned every three months? We pushed ahead. Michael, the class sponsor for his school’s seniors, was a chaperone who donned a tuxedo for their prom. We rescheduled our canceled trip from the year before and off we went. I sent him off to our biologist son’s field station in Panama for a trip alone together, which they’d never before shared. At our June appointment with the medical team assigned to his case, I argued vigorously for a scan. The protocol issue arose but I pointed out that protocols seemed a misnomer for an incurable disease. Finally they all agreed to a scan in November, 2013, one year from the last one. Waiting for scan results is one of the most nerve wracking experiences imaginable. Michael had his on a Friday, with a follow-up appointment with his surgeon the next Tuesday. But we received a call moving the appointment to Monday. An obvious bad sign, we met with the surgeon who showed us a lit-up view of Michael’s skeleton with cancer evident in eleven bones. He was as stunned as we were, convinced this was a new cancer. But a bone marrow biopsy confirmed Merkel cell and just like that we were moved from the cancer surgeon into the care of the oncologist, who we’d met exactly once the past June. He told us that absent treatment, Michael had two to three months to live. With a powerful chemotherapy cocktail, he potentially had one year. Michael rapidly departed from his job which was truly harsh for both him and his students. We got through what we thought was our last big family Thanksgiving at our home and in the beginning of December, he began his infusions. Still ineligible for Medicare, we began the cancer insurance process. Every treatment had to be approved by our insurance company, the ultimate arbiter of decisions. We quickly went through our out-of-pocket annual allowance, only to discover that chemotherapy was a “specialty drug” which by itself had a co-pay of $4500. Within a month, we’d used a year’s worth of the maximum amount of our required contributions, only to begin anew in January. Before you can blink, you suddenly find that you’re unexpectedly spending $15,000. In addition, the disruption of daily life, spending hours in the cancer infusion suites where delays are a matter of course, necessitates spending money on extra food because you’re too exhausted to cook. If you don’t have a big wad of savings, credit cards get used adding in more monthly expenses. All we wanted to do was focus on our lives together and Michael’s health, but money and bureaucracy quickly start demanding way too much attention. At the scariest time in your life, the business end of cancer gobbles up energy while increasing overall anxiety. This is health care in the U.S., the only modern country in the world without national health care. The psychological and emotional costs to patients and their families is immeasurable. I clearly remember thinking about the hideous school fundraisers like bake sales being required for necessities while having the defense budget overflowing with cash. The health care system is a bloated bureaucracy with patient care a line item, if that.

Michael’s cancer responded to chemo. You’re allowed a few rounds of misery, hair loss, fatigue and trauma. Then a scan is ordered. If there isn’t enough diminishing of the cancer, treatment can be halted by the physician, the insurance company or both. With enough cash, some patients can opt for a different treatment facility or if all the requirements for a clinical trial are met, more life can be available as part of a grand experiment. Qualifying for a trial isn’t easy, a fact we discovered when one of Michael’s remissions ended. Our local doctor thought he was eligible, but the principal investigator of the trial disagreed. Any semblance of control over options is dashed unless you have the financial resources to pay your own way. We wound up taking an incredible risk of taking an advance on Michael’s small life insurance policy through the school district. This required a document stating that the patient had less than a 10% chance of surviving two more years. Dealing with these business matters during such a crisis is surreal, not to mention cruel. But we decided to squeeze as much retirement time as we could into Michael’s healthy times because we weren’t going to have the future we’d hoped for so long ago. One of the worst parts of that plan was that if Michael unexpectedly lived to age seventy, the rest of that life insurance would be void except for a stipend that could help with funeral expenses. He worried constantly about leaving me broke if he lived too long. Absolutely hideous.

So we did what we could during the remissions which usually lasted a few months. We spent time with our family. Michael got to meet our second grandchild, to see our son complete his PhD and to watch our daughter get inducted into her university’s athletic Hall of Fame. We traveled to national parks, to the Baseball Hall of Fame, FDR’s Hyde Park and to the Civil Rights Museum, ticking off Michael’s bucket list items. We went to the Outer Banks and even made it to Puerta Vallarta. When the next bad scan came back, we hunkered down. Michael finally made it to Medicare which didn’t much matter as treatment options diminished. One suggested targeted therapy was $58,000 a month. The pharmacy gave us one 30 day supply under a special program. Michael’s body revolted against it with elevated liver enzymes and a terrible rash. We were relieved when he had to stop it as we had no idea how we’d have paid for it.

In 2015, declined by a trial with options shrinking, our oncologist applied for a new immunological drug being used in experiments with lung cancer and melanoma patients. We had no idea how he got it approved but Michael was failing and getting closer to death. Each infusion, every three weeks, was over $23,000. We were appalled, terrified and grateful because Michael was an exceptional responder to that medication, which bought him an extra year of life. By that time we’d procured the best supplemental Medicare insurance policy available which was covering that outrageous amount of money. We were able to do enough research regarding treatments, insurance and drugs for an almost impossible outcome, if not a cure. But the multiple levels of anxiety and stress are almost impossible to describe.

At the beginning of 2016, we got a new oncologist. Michael had a liver enzyme flare and had been taken off his expensive miracle drug. This doctor, who was observing that Michael was holding his own, wasn’t willing to re-challenge him with the effective meds to see if his enzymes would normalize. He was off treatment for that whole year, continuing to have negative scans. But he started behaving strangely at the end of that year. I knew something was terribly wrong and was begging for a brain MRI which the doctor felt wasn’t justifiable. At the end of January, 2017, I convinced Michael to go with me to the ER to get what hadn’t been prescribed. That brain MRI showed what’s most easily described as cancer meningitis, impossible to pick up on a CAT or PET scan. To me this was another example of opting out of a more expensive procedure according to the business model hospital management style. Although his immunological drug was finally prescribed along with hideous whole brain radiation, Merkel cell finally had its way. Michael died on May 28th, 2017.

Cancer can happen to anyone. In the U.S., the burdens placed on average families make coping with it infinitely more difficult than the already egregious task of losing loved ones. I was lucky to have Michael for longer than we thought. Of course we both wanted more time. And we both wished we hadn’t had the exhausting financial distractions complicating our emotions. I promised myself that I would try to be a helper as much as I could for others who are going through these tough times. Sometimes I can’t believe I came out on the other side of my most unforgettable painful experience. I remember all of it. Doing something positive for someone else feels right. The truth is, what would really be right is national health care, like that in other more civilized countries. If I figure out how to get it, I’ll let you know.

Happy Birthday, Fern.

I first published this post a few years ago. At the time, I was still adapting to Michael’s death, now impossibly, almost five years ago. For me, it’s not dated, though. I can never have a new experience or a new photo of either Fern or Michael. They live on in my memory, although Michael remains a mysterious daily presence in my life. When I think of unconditional love, I think of them first. Until I am no longer me or until I’m gone, I expect that I’ll be revisiting them every year. So here is my annual homage to Fern.

3C8CCC40-B76D-4D59-95A7-41A1A23B04A7Dear Fern(or Phil if we’re using inside jokes) 

May 14th. Another one of your birthdays. I start thinking about it in April, girding myself for the slog through all the challenging events that are emotional triggers for me from early May into early June. Now I have to contend not only with the hole where you belong, but with Michael’s absence too. I’m glad I never had the gift of vision to see the future, to know in advance that my biggest loves would be gone, leaving me here with memories so vivid and palpable, that processing your absence is still a challenge. Today I realized this 71st birthday of yours, and the anniversary of your death in October, will officially mark the sum total of the entire length of our relationship and a bit more. We knew each other for 30 years and now it’s 34 years since you’ve been gone. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that fact. I’ve already spent more than half my life without you. The truth is, I still remember so much about what we meant to each other, what we shared, the good times and the awful times.32C43330-A5C5-489C-BA0F-FBC53F71592F

I can close my eyes and look straight into yours, seeing your expressions which I knew so well. Often they were highlighted with your favorite color eyeshadow, Daffodil, a ridiculous yellow color you chose to go with your brown v-necked sweater which reminded you of one of your high school crushes. And those absurd glasses you wore, one pink pair and one blue, decorated with little rhinestones in the corners.  I can feel you. Your angst and pain, your frustration and anger. I still mourn you, all of you and am angry that you were victimized to the point that death became a relief for you. I remember those harsh realities. But I also remember laughing. Lots of laughing. 4ABA27D8-A985-4EC3-98EE-DDF770BE0367

I remember visiting your house at 8138 S. Jeffrey in Chicago. I lived in an apartment so being in a house was pretty impressive. You had a piano in the living room and you played Clair de Lune for me. We went into your bedroom that was all yours, unlike me who always had to share with my sisters. You had a double-sided chalkboard that flipped in circles and on it I wrote the “Personality Plus” program that I thought would help you be happy.
We bowled at the Pla-Mor bowling alley and ate at Carl’s Hot Dogs which was so close to where we lived. 8627576A-D3B6-418E-92D7-5A1AEFB216EB

I remember when we saw the Beatles at the Chicago Amphitheater. The joy and madness we shared, with Bobby Hebb of “Sunny” fame, and The Cyrkle who sang “Red Rubber Ball” as we waited impatiently for our idols. My loving Paul while you loved John was so convenient. We had no friction or jealousy and were happy to sing their parts in our endless harmonizing. 0C1F11C6-338D-487D-95E0-78C18DBD490B


I remember sitting in the Woods Theater all day watching “Help” when they just re-spooled it for hours, instead of having to pay for each viewing. By the time we left we’d memorized most of the lines.12FA147B-0C0E-4BE0-8193-44E0CB9446FFI remember sharing the great adventure of our train ride and trip to Montreal for that magic summer world’s fair, Expo ‘67.


I remember our three sarcastic little novels which I still have in my nightstand drawer in which we skewered everyone we knew and all the absurdity of high school. I remember reading our diaries to each other every night.223A0B6B-1B10-40EC-ABA6-273408276E2E

I remember March 20th, the day we anointed to mark how we felt about our crushes. I remember when at 15, we were smart enough to realize that we’d need a special perfect childhood day to conjure when things got too hard as adults. The details of that day have always stayed with me. That day is still my retreat. I feel it, smell it and hear it, with you by my side. Hot sun with friends by the lake, cinnamon rolls, shimmering pavement, burgers and fries, hearing Elinor Rigby for the first time. 

remember photo day at Comiskey Park, and Cubs’ games in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. I remember eating at the Shoreland Deli, Rib Hill and Seaway’s on 87th Street. I remember countless Black Hawks games, standing room only, and all the songs we wrote about our favorite players to Beatles tunes, memorializing your passion for Bobby Hull. I liked Doug Mohns.

We were both lefties which seemed to mean something. I don’t know why we thought that made us special and inevitable as best friends but that’s what we thought.  I remember our disastrous attempt at being roommates as freshmen in college and how we fixed everything later, after I moved out.0C3960C9-6803-4650-815D-414700168023

I remember when you pledged a sorority as I stood watching, understanding your need to do that, while never wanting to join you.  I remember you coming to be with me as I tried acid for the first time. You didn’t need any drugs – you were already naturally impaired. I remember so many of your emotional crises.53E6B120-1ECA-426F-81BB-1331FED3EBE2

I’d get phone calls from strange people saying you needed me to come and get you, and I always came. I talked you down from your latest ceiling and tried hard to be a mom you never really had. C77649E5-5E0B-497D-92D5-CAA7B3052E9F

I remember how we loved mocking Rosamund du Jardin novels. I remember your flying fingers at the typewriter, on the piano and eventually on your court-reporting machine. I remember how you came to rest your overworked brain when you hid out in the many houses I shared with Michael. I remember my visit with you in California, the year before I got married.F879509C-DA8A-4A5B-8593-40452FA78D51

We hiked in Muir Woods and bolstered ourselves mentally as we set off to live like grownups. I remember your life as an au pair in Europe and your marrying Omar and your not having babies. I remember taking a break from you after I felt you’d sucked all the life out of me.F161068C-51F2-4439-8031-8A87EE866C25

And then I remember forgiving it all and finding you, to be connected with you the night John Lennon died. I remember the first time you met my daughter. And the time we met after not seeing each other in a few years and your relief that I didn’t have a “mom” hairdo. We hopped into a photo booth that day, you making awful faces.

I have every letter you ever wrote me.

I have our class photos from elementary school and our high school yearbooks. I remember your life getting more challenging as mine was getting more solid. I wanted to make you better, to make you survive, and more than that. I remember our last conversation, when it felt like you might get back here from Utah, to come and stay with us so we could hold you up while you climbed the hardest of your internal mountains and memories. I remember you saying that the worst part about contemplating suicide was realizing how hard it would be for the ones you left behind. I thought we were speaking rhetorically.  I didn’t understand that as you told me you loved me that Sunday night, that you were saying goodbye. On Monday night, you were efficiently taking your life. As I slept. I woke that night from a terrible dream, a dream in which I was dying. I sobbed inconsolably in Michael’s arms as he tried to reassure me that I was alive and well. I know that was the moment you faded into the oblivion which had become your inviting sanctuary. It took two days for me to learn that. I learned everything I could from your Utah cohort. I couldn’t work or do anything for days. Eventually I rebounded from that torture. One night I dreamed of you, dressed in a red turtleneck sweater that made you look beautiful and exotic with your dark hair.976AF758-05C7-41AC-BB33-45ED1C907ED4

We went toward each other and when I put my arms out to embrace you, you went right through me and I knew that was a message. A message that you were where you needed to be and that was ok. I accepted whatever that dream was but I still miss you, always. I still think of what it would have been like to be old together. You were my family. I still can’t hear Beatles tunes on certain days when my wiring is in high gear and I dissolve into the familiar companionship of grief. And I go on. Who knows why? I’ve never been religious and I’m not the world’s most fanciful person. Still, I find myself wondering if somehow, you’ve bumped into Michael out there in the universe, who’s taking care of you like he used to help me do it when we were young. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Maybe one day I can find you and we’ll be together for so much more time than we lost. Happy birthday, my precious, oldest friend. I hope I’m long gone before I ever forget you.

One More Time

My friend Jan’s 2006 Toyota Highlander with 300,000 + miles on it

A few weeks ago my next-door neighbor Jan told me she was sorry to be parking her new car, less than a year old, so close to my driveway. Her old Highlander just wouldn’t start any more and she said she was having it hauled away as a donation to a charitable group which might make it usable again. She wasn’t thrilled with her new car, but felt the old one had done more than its duty to her, so she was ready to adapt and move on. I made a mental note of it and proceeded to my own lists of things to do. However, I soon noticed that it not only kept being parked out on the street, but was being moved from one space to another, eventually winding up back in her driveway. Yesterday afternoon I wanted to give her a book so we met in the drive as we’ve been wont to do since the pandemic started. While chatting, I asked her what happened with the planned departure. She said she’d called a towing service who came out, were able to jump the battery and recharge it, leaving it completely serviceable. So now it’s going nowhere. She loves that old car and as we talked, we were suddenly off on reminiscences about our vehicle misadventures from our youth, when we drove cars that were mostly falling apart. I remembered one of ours whose floor was rotted out. We were stopped by a police officer for having a nonfunctional taillight. He took one look in that old white Nova and told us to drive it home and never take it on a street, ever again. Ah, youth.

My 1964 (?) Chevy Malibu
Hit in the rear end

I honestly can’t remember how many old junkers Michael and I owned in our early years together. Most of them were ‘60’s Chevrolets of one make or another, with an average cost of $150. The one I loved most was the silvery blue Malibu which we managed to keep running for several years. I remember driving it to Chicago before our wedding, absolutely certain that it wouldn’t break down on that trip. Which it didn’t. What happened to that blasé confidence that used to be my primary attitude? I still have confidence, but life has definitely made me more cautious over the years. Anyway…Someone smashed into the rear end of that car while I was driving west on Springfield Avenue. The culprit’s insurance payout was more money than we’d paid for the car so we pocketed the cash and tied the trunk closed with a piece of rope. As Jan and I talked, I suddenly remembered that toward the end of that car’s life, it honked every time I made a left turn. That memory elicited a good laugh. I started thinking about all the small memories tucked away in our minds, recorded forever but not always easy to access. Just how do we get them out of the layers in our brains?

Detail of the cerebellum from Self Reflected under multicolored light. Photo credit: Will Drinker and Greg Dunn

Dr. Greg Dunn (artist and neuroscientist) and Dr. Brian Edwards (artist and applied physicist) created Self Reflected to elucidate the nature of human consciousness, bridging the connection between the mysterious three pound macroscopic brain and the microscopic behavior of neurons.

The brain is composted of about 75% water and is the fattiest organ in the body, consisting of a minimum of 60% fat. Humans have the largest brain to body ratio of any animal, and the blood vessels in the brain, if stretched end-to-end, would be about 100,000 miles long.” Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

Earth – NASA

According to multiple sources such as Scientific American and NASA, the circumference of the earth is approximately 24,901 miles. That means that if you circle the planet four times, you bank about as much mileage after that journey as what lays between our ears in our discrete rolled-up brain. That’s a lot of room for the incredible number of daily operations going on in there, not to mention the storage capacity of stuff like a car that honks at every left turn that was junked over forty years ago.

I think about the ways we paper over do many hidden memories. In my community, a local radio station has a slogan that drives me crazy. After a pedestrian example of a random daily childhood event, (most of which occurred within a time frame when I was already an adult,) a childish voice says “a simpler time.” Ha. When I was a teenager in the 60’s, I would arm myself with a bottle of baby oil which I’d slather over my body. Then I’d lie in the sun for eight hours, either at Rainbow Beach at Lake Michigan or poolside at the Thunderbird motel, which let you stay all day for a dollar. I’d come home with flaming red skin and blisters. After the pain stopped, I thought I was gorgeous. Was that a simpler time? Of course not. I was paving the way for full body dermatology checks in my adult life to catch skin cancers before they catch me. Life seemed simpler but really I just didn’t know any better.

A simpler time?

I’m not sure that the sentimentality of “simpler times” is anything other than an excuse for the escapes everyone would like to make when the world feels like too much. We pile all these innocuous respites on to our overwhelmed brains. There weren’t really simpler times. Just think, there’s a massive playground full of distractions right inside your mind, if you can only gain access. Loads of hidden memories lying there to provide texture to our current times with the layers of the past. Practicing my own brand of a little laziness seems to help me peel back some of those brain folds. Now that more tolerable temperatures are allowing me to sit outside without freezing, getting drenched or boiling, I plop myself in a chair, poke headphones into my ears and allow myself the luxury of listening to a random selection of tunes. I think it’s commonly agreed upon by the medical profession that listening to music is calming, reduces blood pressure and anxiety and improves memory and sleep. For me, it holds both evocative connections and triggers to people and to the past, unfolding long-forgotten events from ages ago that don’t often find their way to the front of my consciousness. I’m just usually too busy trying to accomplish all the tasks on my to-do list. Recently I’ve been thinking of what I’d like to experience one more time. Most of them are impossible for one reason or other. But I can find them in my head. Here are several of them, in no particular order.

I don’t recall when I became frightened of heights. But when I was eight years old, I could spend a few hours at Wicker Park pool, making round-trips from the water back up to the high dive, sailing over and over through the air with not a shred of fear. One more time.

Buckingham Fountain by Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

I’d like to feel myself cutting all my high school classes for an afternoon like I did back in 1967. Fern and I would be tooling down Lake Shore Drive in her brother Glenn’s black Buick convertible, sharing a sackful of White Castle burgers and fries, listening to WLS radio, our long hair blowing around while we laughed, completely unafraid of any consequences to our delinquency. One more time.

The only house my family ever owned, on 23rd Street, Sioux City, Iowa. After age 7, we lived in apartment buildings in Chicago.

I would like to be standing in the kitchen on 23rd Street in Sioux City, Iowa at age six, with my mom, right before bedtime. She would be getting my glass of warm milk and a sugar cookie, one that she’d made herself earlier in the day. The cookie dough was cut with a round glass, not a cookie cutter. This evening snack would be the last time I’d drink warm milk, as my older brother and sister had finally teased me so badly about still being a baby, that I never drank warm milk again. I don’t really remember how it tasted but I know I was always happy when I drank it. One more time.

Roger Federer

I would like to watch Roger Federer play tennis in person again. One more time.

Grateful Dead – Fox Theater, 1972
Fox Theater, St. Louis

I can’t remember exactly how many Grateful Dead or Allman Brothers concerts I saw in my life. I think altogether there were probably around twenty in total. Because Michael owned a record store for almost three decades, we were comped dozens and dozens of free concert tickets. We literally saw hundreds of concerts, some in small clubs, some in huge stadiums and some in elegant, dazzling concert halls. I can’t think of almost any famous group I haven’t seen, beginning with the Beatles, or any genre from rock to reggae, classical to jazz, R&B to country that I’ve missed. But that Grateful Dead concert at the beautiful Fox Theater in St. Louis, in the early months of my relationship with Michael is as vivid in my memory as if I’m just on a bathroom break with the music still pouring off the stage into an intimate, magical atmosphere, all my feelings elevated into a joyous few hours. One more time.

The cardinal lovebirds

While all these images and feelings tumble around my mind, I am still keenly aware that as the music plays on, I’m in the sanctuary of my backyard, the home of the birds and the bees who frolic in what can only be described as a fecund, lush atmosphere. I’m surrounded by mating creatures from the cardinals to the wasps producing babies in the air, to crawling critters in the grass and on the leaves of my plants. All the while the flowers are bursting forth with powerful sweet fragrances amidst trees heavy with blooms. Only recently I wrote about my four year wait for a kousa dogwood tree to flower, a tree I planted to honor the power of my endless relationship with Michael. This week its first blossoms showed up.

I looked up the origin of the birds and the bees as a reference in explaining sexuality to the young. The closest literary reference appears to come from the first stanza of an 1835 poem by Samuel Coleridge called “Work Without Hope.”

“All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—And Winter slumbering in the open air,Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring! And I the while, the sole unbusy thing, Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.”

There is an irony, with me plopped into the midst of all this robust life-affirming and creating activity. I live in self-imposed celibacy because for me, there can be no other romance than my internal unending one with Michael. Listening to the memory-stimulating music that elicits one churning emotion after another, I am inundated with visions of the forty-five years I spent with Michael. So many one more times I’d like to have with him, some simply too personal to share. But there is one favorite baudy one that always happened during balmy days like these, when I’d be working myself to the bone, pouring the sweat that’s my famous summery trademark. When I couldn’t bear another lopped weed or a trowel movement, I’d stroll over to Michael, swiping at the rivulets dripping down my head and say, “Man, I’m so hot.” He’d look at me, smile and say, without fail, “You’re telling me.” Every single time.

One more time…on I go.