Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lazy Day

Mittons (she sleeps next to Mom's bed)

Picaboo (she sleeps in her own bed under the tree, even for naps)

Ellie (she likes to look down on everyone, so her blanket goes up on top of the dresser)
One of the benefits of writing the book and working from home is that I can work from my bed, and the kitties can hang out in their own beds with mom all day...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Seven Year Itch

Last Sunday was Father's Day.  It also would have been Brian and I's seven-year wedding anniversary.  The strange thing is, my life has changed so much that that seems weird.  In Iowa, we were surrounded by friends who had married young, started careers, and were having children.  Here in Austin, I am surrounded by mostly single twenty- and thirty-somethings as my friends.  Many of them are still carving their career paths, going to school, tossing around the idea of grad school, or trying their hands at various forms of self-employment and entrepreneurship.  A few are married or partnered up, and even fewer have children.  I don't know if it's a regional difference, or just that I've surrounded myself with others who are more like me.   

In my "old life," being married for seven years at age 30 would have been par for the course.  I have to wonder if we would have had children by now, or if we would have been trying.  Perhaps if things had gone differently I would be with child now, and our little one would be able to grow up with the seemingly dozens of children our Iowa friends have had or will be having within the next nine months (there are at least a half dozen friends our ours in the Midwest who have had, or will have, a baby in 2011).

In my "new life," I'm just starting anew.  I have very little figured out, other than that I need to write this book I'm working on, and that I'm in love with my boyfriend (who is often referred to by his fictional name, "Antonio," on this blog, because he lives in San Antonio - clever, huh?).  Now, having adapted to this "starting anew" phase of my life, it seems strange to imagine "What if...?"  I'm normally pretty good at not doing that, knowing it gets me nowhere and that my focus should be on what is, not what might have been.  Our anniversary was different though.  I mostly lived in the present, in San Antonio with my man, but I did think a bit about what could have been, and I did cry.

Mittons and I waiting for our order at the drive-thru
Last weekend, Mittons (my little travel companion kitty) and I headed to San Antonio on Saturday morning. We stopped off at my friends' apartment first so I could borrow some golf clubs that were made for a 5'3" woman - it's great to have other short friends!  Mittons got a chance to see downtown Austin through the car window, and also to meet my friends' cat while we were picking up the clubs.  From there, we headed south for the hour-plus drive.  She cuddled up on my lap the whole way.

On Saturday, I went golfing with "Antonio" and three of his friends - it was only my second time golfing ever, so we played 9 holes at a Par-3 course.  From there, we all went for a tour of Antonio's new house.  At 29 years old, he's just made the leap from apartment-renter to homeowner.  I couldn't be more excited for him!  His house is a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom ranch with vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and a great backyard.  It's a great house in a nice neighborhood in San Antonio.  I had seen this house while he was househunting, but it was nice to see it again and know it would be his (he moves in next month).  From the house, we went and had dinner and a drinks at a couple nearby establishments to try to get the feel for his soon-to-be new neighborhood.  That night, the guys and I went to the pool at Antonio's apartment -- probably the last time I will spend time there -- and played Nerf football like a bunch of 12-year-olds.  It was great.

Then Sunday came around -- the big day.  Antonio and I didn't specifically talk about it on that day, though we had in advance, and he knew I wanted to be with him all day.  We went to brunch at a great place near his apartment, where I cried tears of sadness and of joy over the custom-made omelette we were sharing -- all within a two-minute span.  I confessed to him that I was worried about how hard it would be for me to write the book, that I knew it would be a difficult thing for me emotionally and that he'd have to put up with a sad girlfriend who is fixated on her deceased husband and widowhood for a while.  I swear, there is nothing I can say to this man that he can't handle.  He said he didn't want to see me sad, but he understood why I was doing this and that he would do his best to cheer me up.  Holding true to his promise, I was smiling in no time.  From brunch, we went back to Antonio's place and started packing some boxes for the big move.  That night, I went with him to his weekly bowling league. 

In short, Sunday came and went like any other day.  I thought about Brian, and I cried, but I was able to enjoy the things that happened in real time in the life I am living now.  I had some sadness, yes, but that has been at the edges of my psyche for the past few weeks anyway as I write my way through widowhood.  This sadness, the longing for what could have been, the feeling of yearning for Brian again -- those are all things that I can feel while still being happy overall.    

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Day for the Books

I've been plugging away at my book, which is essentially a collection of lessons I've learned from being a young widow.  The writing is hard; it forces me to live more in "Widowland" than in the present.  It forces me to remember and relive the life I had with Brian, his death, and life without him in excruciating detail.   Writing about all this sharpens the edges of my life and my pain, edges that time had previously worn somewhat smooth.  It's going to be a difficult, but necessary and good, journey.  I hope it will help me in my grief journey and - more importantly - I hope it will eventually help others.

In the meantime, emotions are getting stirred up.  Today, I'm feeling particularly guilty about not catching Brian's illness sooner, not demanding that he go to the ER the second he said he was having tightness in his chest.  I'm frustrated that neither of us realized something was very wrong.  I feel like I failed as a wife and a human because he died and I didn't prevent it.

Today, I'd give anything for one more day of my "old" life -- even a weekday.  I miss the e-mails we would exchange on a daily basis at work, the quick texts and calls about what time we'd be home, whether we could squeeze in some time at the gym, what was for supper, etc.  I miss Brian's voice, his arms around me in a big-man bear hug, seeing Ellie cuddled up on his lap, the way he laughed.  I just wish I could have one more normal, mundane day of that life.

I haven't had a day this hard in a while.  I love the life I have now and try to focus on enjoying the present instead of missing the past.  Writing about the past, though, makes this really hard.  I ask my friends and family to please understand this and be understanding as I walk this road.

In the meantime, for those who are reading this -- it's Wednesday afternoon.  Who will share this ordinary day in your life with you?  Do you love that person, and have you expressed that love to him or her?  What mundane activity or interaction will you have that you might otherwise take for granted?  Take a moment to relish in it today, revel in it, soak it in.  Be thankful for every little interaction that makes up the fabric of your life.  Whether or not it unravels tomorrow, you might as well wrap yourself up in in and enjoy it today.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeward Bound

I recently was back in Iowa for a few days, having flown up to meet up with some friends and road trip to Tennessee for Bonnaroo,  a music festival that involves tent camping and high temperatures.  I only had a few days in Iowa, not enough time to see all the friends and family I wanted, but still enough to squeeze a lot in, and boy did I!

I landed in Des Moines on a Sunday morning and my friend Joy picked me up and drove me to southeast Iowa, where Brian and I are from, where our parents still live, and where he is buried.  We visited the cemetery first, bearing a pot of flowers sent along by Jenny and Justin, friends in Des Moines.  Next, we went to my in-laws' house for lunch -- a quasi-gourmet affair with salmon, ribs, strawberry soup, fried ice cream, wine, and more.  I had worn a dress on the plane, wanting to look nice when I went to the cemetery and for lunch.  I put in my contact lenses and did my make-up in the car on the way home from the airport, having skipped those steps when getting ready at 4-something that morning.  Visiting the cemetery is never easy, and by the time I arrived at my in-laws' house, the make-up was a disaster.  It only got worse at the next stop, my parents' house, where I started experiencing problems with my contacts and was liberally using eyedrops.  I was at my parents' house for about 5 hours and got to see about half the relatives on my mom's side of the family, which was a pleasant surprise.  Eventually, I took off for Des Moines again, this time in my parents' purple minivan, the vehicle of choice for a camping trip to Tennessee for my group of friends.

The sun had already set when I arrived in Des Moines that night just after 10 pm, bleary-eyed from having been awake for 18 hours and exhausted from traveling between and around Texas and Iowa by plane and car.  I was supposed to stop by Jenny & Justin's house, then stay at Kristine & Bobby's house, that night.  I called Jenny; she still wanted to see me, even that late.  She threw in a frozen pizza for us to share and had a glass of red wine waiting for me when I arrived.  After a couple glasses of wine and a few pieces of pizza, with my glasses back on and my contacts now soaking in saline solution, I decided it would not be wise to try to drive over to Kristine & Bobby's, locate the key they'd hidden for me, and try to get into the house in the middle of the night.  (They were out of town, and live in a very safe, very elderly neighborhood where I have to assume any disturbance or unusual behavior in the middle of the night -- especially one that looks like a break-in -- would not go unnoticed or unreported.)

The next morning, I headed to my "home base" house in Des Moines, ready to use the hidden key to get in, feed the cats, and take a shower.  I hadn't showered in over 36 hours and hadn't washed my face either -- my hair was greasy and unkempt, I had mascara streaks all over my face, and I looked and felt awful.  As I approached the house, I saw a truck parked out front with two men standing next to it.  They looked like painters, perhaps, waiting to start a job.  I'm not generally the paranoid type, but I just didn't get a good vibe from them.  The truck they were standing near was unmarked, so I couldn't be sure they were contractors.  They stared just a bit too hard when I drove by, so I just didn't want to pull into the driveway and fumble around with a key in front of them, making it known that I was a female alone in the house.  I decided to drive right on by, find something to kill a little time, and return when there were either more or fewer people around. 

To kill some time, I decided to drive out to the suburb where Brian and I had lived, about an 8 mile drive from Kristine &  Bobby's house, and take a look at our house.  I had debated whether I would do that, and now this sudden need to fill 15 minutes of time had decided that for me.  I had wondered whether it would be inflicting more pain, whether looking at the house would keep me in the past, or whether it would trigger something painful in me and cause a breakdown during a time when I was trying to squeeze in maximum enjoyment by spending every waking hour with my Iowa friends, family, and co-workers.  I worried about how I would react if it wasn't being maintained well enough.  Now that I found myself driving toward the house, I rationalized that this would be good for me -- that seeing it and getting that over with would help me "normalize" this so it wasn't an issue every time I came to Des Moines.  It was time to just rip that bandage off, so to speak.

I headed west on Hickman Road toward our old house -- our first and only house, something we never would have anticipated when we bought it as giddy first-time homeowners 6 years ago this August.  I called my boyfriend, "Antonio" on the way for some moral support, knowing I'd be more prepared if I announced my intention to someone.  We talked until I was about two miles away; then I hung up so I could take everything in.  I've only been gone about 5 months, so things hadn't changed that much.  A few new buildings -- dental and medical clinics -- nearby have been completed, the tenants of the strip mall down the road have changed a bit, etc.  Our old house was on Melrose Drive, but easily visible from the perpendicular road, Laurel Street, due to a drainage area across the street.  Luckily, this gave me an opportunity to "case the joint" before turning down the road -- that is to say, I scoped our front yard and those of the neighbors to make sure there were no former neighbors who might spot me and want to engage me in some "how are you doing?" conversation.  Normally, I'd love to catch up with any of these folks, but simply didn't want to be seen because of how I looked and felt!  Luckily, the course was clear, so I took a left turn on Melrose and headed toward our old house, the fifth one on the right.

Our house, for sale last fall
I drove slowly down the road, taking in the nearby houses as I went, thinking about the neighbors that had lived in each of those homes, including some that had been sold and purchased by new residents since I moved.  Finally, I reached my old house -- our old house.  The house we were proud and happy to have as our own, the house we had parties in, the house we celebrated holidays in, the house where Brian died.  It looked good.  The peeling, aging green trim had been scraped off and painted white.  The green door was now red.  The green shutters were now black.  What had looked quaint, cute, and a little aged before now looked fresh, modern, and (most importantly) well-kept.  In place of the "Boka" rock along the walkway was a banner declaring allegiance to Kansas State athletics.  I smiled to see that, imagining that the old Boka Bear Den (our Chicago Bears bar in the basement) might now serve as a collegiate sports bar.  I drove away, smiling, then drove through the old part of our town, past the town triangle (instead of a town square, our town had a triangle), the grain elevator, the co-op where we had our cars fixed (I was even afraid of being spotted by our mechanic, who continues to ask about me to my friend Joy, who gets her car serviced there), etc. 

Driving back to Kristine & Bobby's house, I called "Antonio" amidst tears of joy.  I was genuinely happy to see the house look so good -- it looked better than when I left it, which is the most I could possibly hope.  He summed it up perfectly, saying, "A new start for that house, huh?"  Yes, it was very much a new start for that house, and I was happy to see it.  It was nice to see that the house is getting a new beginning, a new story, just like I am.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being Late

I'm late in writing a new post; it has been nearly two weeks since I've written anything on the blog.  Mostly, this is because I've been out of town.  For the second year in a row, I attended the Bonnaroo music and arts festival, a 4-day event that requires a full day of driving there and a full day back (plus I flew to Iowa for a few days to see family and friends, and to borrow my parents' minivan for the camping trip).

One can be late in completing a task, one can be running late, stay up too late, a woman can be "late" in other ways (a scary time indeed for those not wishing to be), one can be a late bloomer, and one can be simply late.  As in dead.  Why do we use that word?  I used it for the first time the other day in that context and immediately wondered why I chose that phrase at that time.

It happened when I was out to lunch with a friend.  We were at Le Madeline, an upscale casual bakery-inspired kind of place where you order your food at a counter.  I was perusing the options, trying to calculate a "pick 3" side/salad combo that would be enjoyable yet mostly healthy.  I was wanting some real, normal food after being away from home for over a week, subsiding mostly on overpriced food from a stand at Bonnaroo.  I was also fresh from the airport, running on about 3 1/2 hours of sleep (one of which came in the form of fragments of slumber cobbled together on a turbulence-filled flight from Des Moines to Dallas).  I was coming off a six-day, five-state trip that included 4 nights of camp tenting in 90+ degree weather.  I was in relatively good spirits though, having had a great time in Iowa and on the trip to Tennessee with two of my best friends.  Now, I was back in Austin, having been just picked up at the airport by my friend Amy, with whom I was out to lunch, and eagerly anticipating seeing my boyfriend, "Antonio," that night.

While I was placing my order, a stranger behind me spotted the tattoo on my back - the Chicago Bears "C" logo with a green shamrock background.  He asked, sort of excitedly, "I gotta ask -- are you Irish and from Chicago?"

"Neither, actually," I replied, then added, "hold on, I'll explain."  I then finished placing my order and answering the questions of the guy behind the counter about my soup and salad dressing choices.  I then turned back to the guy behind me and his female companion, who seemed really excited to have possibly found another Irish Chicagoan in Austin (he had already blurted out that he was both of those things).  I explained that I was a huge Chicago Bears fan, and that my "late husband" was as well, and that he was the Irish one, that the tattoo was in his honor.  They had no visible reaction to my mention of Brian in that fashion - perhaps because of the casual way I said the phrase.  Referring to my "late husband" is a much softer and gentler thing to say than, "My husband passed away" or "My husband died."  Those sentences tend to elicit pity, awkward apologies from strangers, and awkward thanks and acceptance for those words of condolence from someone who neither knows me nor knew Brian.

Still, I felt weird saying that phrase.  I don't know why.  I've also said, "I lost my husband," but I don't like that much either.  I didn't lose him -- it's not like he was entrusted to me and I misplaced him!  That makes me sound responsible for his death, or careless at the least.  Yet, it is true -- he was in my life, and I lost him.  I had him, then lost him.  Not through any fault of my own, but I am missing him.  He is not still here.  I guess I did lose him in that sense.

I've had a couple of people refer to Brian as my "ex-husband."  I have been quick to correct this.  We did not divorce; this was not a voluntary separation.  "Ex-husband" simply suggests a reality completely different from ours.  Not only is it hurtful, it's inaccurate.  I know people don't mean anything by it, so I'm not offended.  However, this is the one phrase I simply won't tolerate.

It's been nearly a year and a half since Brian died and I still haven't figured out how to refer to him to people I meet, how to introduce them to my past life.  Unfortunately, it seems the phrases I personally dislike are those that seem to best facilitate introduction of the subject into the conversation.  There is almost always some disruption to the flow of the conversation when that comes up, the way you might expect the water flow of small, meandering stream to be interrupted by someone dropping a large boulder in its path.  I'm trying to make this topic more of a pebble; I'd be happy if there was only a small ripple or splash, with the stream continuing to flow relatively undisturbed.

Ultimately, this issue is something that is so situation-specific.  It's just one of those things that I have to accept will be different for me as a widow -- I have to be ready to feel this out with strangers and new acquaintances for the rest of my life.  Many "routine" conversations will be a little more complicated for me as I perform some unseen mental gymnastics to figure out how to best keep the conversation ball rolling with the introduction of an unexpected and possibly uncomfortable topic.  Oddly enough, I feel bad sometimes for those on the opposite end of the conversation, who have no idea how to react to such news, especially when I am cool and composed about it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Write Stuff

I've decided this is the time.  I'm going to write a book.  I'm putting the real estate classes on hold for the summer so I can focus on writing.  Also, I'm going to be doing some traveling this summer, including family trips with my own family and my boyfriend's family.  I realized I couldn't exactly start a new job with those trips coming up.  This is a project I can work on whether home or on the road.  Once the book is finished, I will find a job in real estate and give that a try.

I will probably not be blogging as heavily this summer, working instead on my book (which will cover some of the same things as the blog).  However, I will be sure to keep the blog going, so please keep reading!