Four years without him

Me and Dennis

Hi Dennis. I lost you four years ago today–July 20— at 7:43 p.m., I can’t forget. I’ll never forget.
It hurts to miss you and it hurts to know all moments you’ve missed.

You would have loved being in the White House the first day photos were allowed in 40 years. You would have driven the Secret Service crazy with all of your camera gear.
You would still be talking about the river trip to Europe and both of us would have eaten too many German pastries.

I would have called you hundreds of times at work about something trivial that the dogs did. Cleo wouldn’t eat her pill. Jackie was squeaking while she was asleep. And you would stop what you were doing and we would talk about our silly pets.

Your nephew Steve got married on my 59th birthday. I was there, alone, but I was there. Remember when I first met him? He and his twin were just a year old, with drooley smiles.

You would have been there among our friends for my 60th birthday. And my 59th, my 58th, my 57th…
Instead, on my 60th, a kind, funny, compassionate, devoted man asked me to spend my life with him and I said yes.
I wondered if that was OK with you, as I always do when I laugh or enjoy a summer sky or a cup of coffee. I wonder if it’s OK not just to live, but to live in happiness, and to love again.

I think of the night a week ago..on my birthday..as Jeff and I walked to the parking lot after his proposal and my party.
Jeff pointed up into the dome of stars and said “Look! Do you see that?”
I looked up.
Just then, a star blazed across the horizon and exploded in a bright shower.
And I thought, maybe you are missing nothing at all.

Wheelchair in the sand

Hello Dennis, my dear love.

Three years now since the nurse led me back behind the swinging doors and I wondered why we were passing the emergency room. I wanted to see you. I wanted to to touch you and talk to you. It’s been three years since they led me into the chapel instead.

You were declared gone at 7:43 p.m. July 20, 2011. One more year I feel I leave you behind and it hurts so much.

Something that feels like terror jolts me out of my sleep about twice a week. Ever since you died. It’s that feeling you get when you’re not quite awake, but you know something terrible is waiting for you that day. It’s always one more day without you.

But  I think you would be proud of me. I am living. I am living with as much joy and meaning as I can. It’s the best I can do to honor you and keep those moments of stony emptiness at bay.

I had my birthday last week. I made it a point to celebrate all week. I gathered up every sparkly moment. I went to Las Vegas. I’m seeing my dad and Carolyn now in Rancho Mirage. I had brunch in Santa Barbara with my mom and Jeff, the man in my life, while we drank champagne by the ocean. We had dinner with Mike and Colleen at the Lazy Dog, a place we loved.

I am collecting moments because I know that’s all we have. Frozen moments.

Remember how we walked on a trail through the woods onto a grainy beach in Juneau? Above it was the mighty Mendenhall glacier. It was another birthday. My 50th birthday cruise to Alaska, in 2005.

I went back to Alaska again two years ago. I retraced our steps.

While I was admiring the glacier, I saw a man pushing a frail woman–probably his wife–along the path in a wheelchair, until the wheelchair hit the beach. She kept her eyes straight ahead, on the blue sky and the spill of ancient glacier. She was smiling, her eyes bright.

With her wheelchair ground into the sand, the man knelt, and looped her arm over his shoulder. Then he lifted her shuddering body out of the wheelchair and half-carried her to the very edge of the glacier. Her face was a wash of delight.

They looked together at centuries locked into cobalt blues and turquoise layers of the ice.

Time locked in those layers, moments frozen.

On those days when the terror of life without you rips at my peace, I can feel you lift me and walk me to something I could not see without you.

Please don’t ever leave me Dennis. Lift me and help me. Meet me in those moments.

Wheelchair in the sand

 

 

The saddle

The last time I rode my bicycle was July 20, 2011.

Since then, the tires had gone flat, the saddle was thick with dust and spiderwebs clung to the wheel spokes. It leaned on a wall in the shadows of the garage for almost two and a half years.

About a month ago, I took it to a bike shop and asked them to please get it ready to ride again.

Today, I decided it’s time. Time to get back in the saddle.

I put on my bike shorts, filled a bottle with water and tucked my hair under a helmet.

The bike helmet strap was hanging almost to my collarbone. When had it gotten so loose?

I took off the white helmet to try to tighten the strap and realized I had  put on Dennis’ helmet. The helmet he was wearing when he died.

The straps were still caked with salt from his sweat. From when he was blood and bone and flesh and here.

I couldn’t wear his helmet. I ran my finger along the strap and something in me started to hurt.  I put it back in the closet and pulled out my own helmet.

I rolled my bicycle out of the garage and climbed into the saddle. I stood on a pedal and pushed off. My muscles responded, remembered, and I pedaled, down the hill where we always rode together, down to the bike path where we spent so many Saturday afternoons trying to figure whether to ride to the left, and see the ocean, or to the right, toward Ojai. I headed to the right.

I pedaled and pedaled, my heart pounded and the tears pooling in my eyes were cold in the gathering evening. One tear, then another, slipped down my cheek.

“Dennis, please show me some sign. Anything. I’ll recognize it,” I said under my breath. “Be with me today.”

As I rode, I listened to the same song on my iPhone, Viva la Vida, by Coldplay. I have not been able to figure out how to get my iPhone to shuffle songs.

I know I was going to feel stupid, but I made a mental note to ask somebody how to make my iPhone shuffle songs as the Coldplay lyrics played over and over and over:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

The sun was slipping behind the hills and the bike path was in chilly shadows. Time to turn around and go home. I took a drink of water and turned the bicycle around toward home.

Then, the song on my iPhone suddenly changed. It was a new song, finally. A song with a melody that rolled and turned like light bouncing off snow. I listened to the lyrics.

“Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more…”

I did not know that song.  I would look it up later and learn the song was by Christina Perri and in the movie “Twilight.” I have not yet seen the movie “Twilight” and if I have heard that song before, I don’t remember it.

One thing I did know. I never loaded that song in my iPhone.

It played only once, then went back to Viva la Vida.

One thing will not change as I ride on alone, Dennis. I will love you too, for a thousand years.

July 20, 2013

Today was hard. The week was hard. I knew the second anniversary of losing my Dennis was coming, but I couldn’t prepare, I couldn’t buffer the pain.

I just walked through the day. I didn’t know what else to do. I cried, but not a lot. I think I didn’t trust myself to cry because I was afraid it would hurt so much, my heart would stop.

I asked Dennis all day for a sign that he was somewhere, but there was nothing.

I had nightmares all week. I had trouble concentrating at work. The nightmares were about animals I couldn’t save. I woke up every night, upset and scared, until I finally took Ambien to get a full night’s sleep.

I don’t have to be Freud to figure out the dreams. I couldn’t save Dennis. I felt helpless in the dream. Horrified and helpless. The feelings were the same as they were that day. I was drained of energy, scared and so empty. So very sad.

I had little energy to interact on July 20, 2011. I felt like a burn victim and nobody could touch me or it would sear.

I felt that way today. Not as much, but similar. I called just a few trusted people. I cried. I admitted I still think I’ll go to the back room some day and see him sitting on that stinky couch he loved and watching “The Simpsons,” laughing and smacking his stomach.

There was no relief today, except during those brief conversations with friends, and oddly, during rehearsal this morning for “Oklahoma.”

I had energy there, and was able to forget the pain of the day for long stretches. The actress playing Gertie has an ear-splitting staccato laugh that cracks everybody up every time she trills out a giggle. The actor playing Jud Fry took 10 minutes to do his death scene, groaning, rolling, kicking, lurching. We were laughing so hard, we couldn’t get the scene going again.

Then I realized, this is my support group.

I didn’t join a group for widows or breast cancer survivors. I am a big, big believer in support groups, but for some  reason, I heal better with a group of people who are creating something.

I guess it reminds me I’m alive.

This day will pass, and come again, and again, every year, and I will use it to create something greater.

Aunt Eller

I’ve always loved the musical “Oklahoma.”

It’s the 70th anniversary of the original stage play, and it went to the screen in 1955, the year I was born.

On Aug. 16, I’ll be opening in a community production of the show. I’ll be in the chorus, and understudying the role of Aunt Eller. On Aug. 17, l’ll actually get to play Aunt Eller during the matinee show.

Aug 16 marks one year to the day from when I had a scalpel slicing into my left breast to remove a cancerous tumor. Aug 16  marks two years and three days from Dennis’ memorial. It ‘s also my friend, Colleen’s birthday.

I fell into this during a conversation with the director of the show.  We decided it would be fun if I was an embedded reporter in the production, reporting for the Star on what it takes to put on a community show from behind the scenes.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I love being in a show again, after more than 20 years. And how much I love this character of Aunt Eller. She is the spirit of the land, and she ain’t afeared to grab a pistol from some ol’ cowpoke’s holster and fire it into the air to get these crazy young ‘uns to stop fightin’ and jest get along.

And this line….this line I love the most. It’s right after Jud dies after Laurey and Curley’s wedding and Laurey is crying, saying she’ll never forget it:

Laurey: I don’t see why this had to happen when everything was so fine.

Aunt Eller: Now don’t let your mind run on it.

Laurey: [sobbing] I won’t ever forget, I tell ya. Never will.

Aunt Eller: That’s alright, Laurey baby. You can’t forget, just don’t try to. Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness or being poor and hungry, being old and a feared to die. That’s the way it is, cradle to grave, and you can stand it. There’s just one way: you gotta be hardy. You gotta be. You can’t deserve the sweet and tender in life unless’n you’re tough.”

 

Tears can wait

I have not cried in a long time.

I think of Dennis every single day, usually every hour, and missing him is as steady a drumbeat as my heart. But I have not cried.

I think I’m afraid to feel that much right now.

I thought it was because my life is feeling steady, even happy. I’ve met a kind, intelligent and funny man who gives me plenty of room to grieve. His name is Jeff and he is a nerd like Dennis. I think they would like each other.

I enjoy my job. The career of newspaper reporter was recently ranked below janitor and longshoreman as the worst job in America in a national report. But I don’t see it.

Sure, we all drive crappy cars and bitch about our fauxsurance, but my coworkers are hilarious, articulate and creative. My job is exhausting but absorbing, and never the same.

I love my four ridiculous dogs (who want fed right now) and my one-eyed kitty, who is sitting by my arm, purring, and threatening to walk across the keyboard.

So why, when I wake in the morning, do I feel the clutch my stomach? The burning behind my eyes of aging pain?

The pain tries to lurch me awake. I fight back.

“No. No. It’s too much. Peace. Calm. Calm. Not now.”

I can’t cry right now because I’m scared. I feel like I somehow caused myself to get cancer. I put my body through too much when I lost Dennis and it couldn’t sweep out the cancer cells that are always there in all of us. Healthy bodies do their jobs. Mine didn’t.

Next week I am going in for my first mammogram since the surgery. I am too afraid to feel anything but peace right now. I’m afraid to do anything but keep steady. I’m afraid to touch the redwood box with the red U of A cap perched on top.

I miss you Dennis. I do. I just can’t look down.

 

 

Guilt and honor

I feel guilty when I’m happy. I feel guilty about moving on. I think that’s why the New Year gets to me. It signals a new year, a clean slate, the possibility of happiness without Dennis.

I’m so afraid of dishonoring Dennis’ memory by being happy. I’m afraid of forgetting him, of having him disappear. Part of me began moving on within days after I lost him. Another part remains with him.

I had to keep moving, save the house, care for my animals, be with the living, and find out if I could still feel anything.

At the same time, I feel a piece of myself suspended in time, always loving him. When I look into the night sky, it feels as if I flung myself into the stars with him one night, and there I remain.

This is a messy and inexact thing. A confusing, breathless, frozen thing.

This helped.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-brody-fleet/resolutions-nye-new-years-2013-widows_b_2364109.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

Cravings

I’m probably just using this as an excuse to eat, but man, the cravings that come on during radiation are nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was like being pregnant with Rosemary’s Baby.

After just two treatments, I was shoving more oranges down my gullet than a 350-pound chimp. Then, I had to have beef. Not some healthy protein. No. RED MEAT. MUST HAVE RED MEAT.

I rarely eat red meat, but all of a sudden I was ready to fly to Amarillo and tackle the 64-ounce Big Texan steak challenge.

Instead I settled for the marinated steak at Baja Fresh. When I entered the restaurant,  I was hoping not to run into the same guy at the counter. But there he was, on duty again, as I ordered a Burrito Ultimo with steak for the third day in a row.

I try not to meet his eyes as he hands me my six-pound burrito.

And after I let the dogs in from the backyard tonight, I  reached into the pantry to reward them…and realized that Pup-peroni  looks awfully good….

Gap Creek, the Sequel

OK, so the abdominal mass was a fibroid tumor…and about 30 of its closest friends. An “impressive” collection, according to my oncologist.

So now I most likely need a hysterectomy.

How I’m going to fit this in with radiation and possible chemotherapy (I hope to hell not), I have no clue. My poor body.

It’s been only 14 months since Dennis’ death. Besides losing my husband, I had knee surgery;  nearly lost my house;  scraped by financially while the insurance money languished in probate; worked overtime to survive; had my wisdom teeth removed; got breast cancer; had a lumpectomy; am now facing radiation; and now I need a hysterectomy.

Can an IRS audit be far behind?

Seriously. No more character-building exercises.

From now on I want my biggest problem to be whether to serve my margarita frozen or on the rocks.

The sprinkler

When I accidentally pulled the knob off the sprinkler system, Dennis would have known exactly what to do.

I, however, did not.

I walked out the door Sunday and realized I’d left the sprinkler on too long and water was running down the street. I twisted the tiny knob to turn it off and the knob popped off, shooting a geyser of water into my face.

I felt like a Looney Tunes character trying to tamp down water from a gushing fire hydrant. I shielded my face as the water smacked my hands. I set my purse down away from the deluge, and groped for the missing knob on the porch. It was hardly bigger than a gum drop.

I found it and tried to press it back on top of the geyser, but the water shot the knob back into my soaked shirt.

Water was still streaming down the street. I ran into the garage and turned off the sprinkler system on the panel Dennis installed. I had no idea how to work it but “System off” seemed like a good idea. I also unplugged it. I unplugged everything I could find.

I hurried back outside. The water was still spitting from the broken pump and the lawn sprinklers were still spraying full force.

Any minute my neighbors were going to call and complain.

My phone rang. It was my neighbor calling to complain.

Did I know my sprinklers were on and there was water running down the street?

I assured her I knew, and called my brother, who knows about sprinklers. He tried to guide me through the process of troubleshooting. I sent him pictures of the dial, the sprinklers, the power plug, everything. The water still shot out from the sprinklers.

It wasn’t until I called the 24-hour plumber that a drunk braless woman swayed over to my house. I assume she lives nearby, but who knows?

“Want me to help?”

She began fooling with the sprinkler knobs.

“That’s OK! Don’t help, don’t help!” I said. “I’ve got a plumber coming!’

I could just picture the braless neighbor’s tank top getting soaked and it was not anything I wanted to see. Ever.

She kept fiddling with the sprinkler. I braced myself for the Wet Tank Top scene.

Instead, the arcs of water from the sprinklers shrank and hissed and sputtered out. My braless neighbor had shut off the sprinklers.

I cancelled the plumber and thanked my neighbor who, before she was unemployed, used to do landscaping.

I need to buy her a beer. And a bra.