Huggin’ Makes Me High

It has been a year since Roger died. People ask me how I am. I say, “I’m okay,” not really knowing what that means anymore. Is my hair on fire? No. Am I wearing a snowsuit made of honey while a bear chases me? Nope. I am healthy. My daughter is healthy. The bills are paid. There is food on the table and a roof over our heads. We get through the day. Is that the definition of “okay?” Okay lives in a whole new neighborhood now. If I compare the old neighborhood, the one where Roger is alive, to this new one, things are most certainly not okay. They will never be okay again. Roger is gone and he is not coming back. I miss him more everyday.

I still can’t wrap my head around how to get rid of his ‘things.’ His drawer full of gold toe sports socks and white undershirts? The suit he wore when we married? His shirts that hang spooning each other in his closet? The first date shirt, the second date shirt, the shirt he wore when he rushed to the ER when I was in early labor? …And his shoes! Those shoes that ran, played, hiked, and walked beside me. That stood firm when I fell, allowing him to open his arms with confidence and catch me as the ground drew near. I keep hearing things like, “You hold him in your heart now.” Ack. Give them to charity. Bla. Give them to family members; okay that is the best one but, phooey anyway. I doubt they want his used toothbrush and Old Spice deodorant or the pair of shorts that I bought him that are worn thin with holes and splattered in paint. These feel like the most intimate of things and I just can’t face tossing them.

And what, what do I do with the green plastic bag the hospital gave me that contains the clothes he wore in but never wore out. I can’t bring myself to wash them, discard them or give them away. Even now I hope there is a whisper of him caught somewhere deep in the weave of cotton that might still mine.

So, am I okay? In the ‘hair on fire, bear chasing me in a honey snowsuit way,’ yup, I am. It’s just that ‘okay’ is no longer the flat, innocuous word it once was. It is complicated and multidimensional and conflicted. Will I physically survive Roger’s illness and death? I’m assuming, yes. I haven’t turned to drugs or alcohol (much.) I am not engaging in reckless, high-risk behavior (drat). I am most definitely seriously, acutely, spectacularly pissed off!!!! In a Shakespearian, King Learian:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

…kind of way. THAT kind of pissed!!

Sooooo….

…having said all that, um, please do keep asking me how I am.

After all I am a lot like my 99 year old Grandmother. Who has been known to say things like “Huggin’ makes me high!” Even though that’s a metaphor, (no hugs necessary,) and she also said in reference to box picnic parties of her youth, “Oh, all the boys they were just dying to get into my box,” it really îs connecting with others that brings me the most joy. And as much as I have come to hate it when people look at me knowingly shake their head and say, “Time. It takes time.”, I know they are right.

…I just need a little more, ‘oak-cleaving’ and ‘nature’s molds cracking’ first.

Wax On – Wax Off

The first time I saw the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens I thought that is a LOT of grief.  One hundred and eighty feet of gold gilded grief. It is incredible. Beautiful. …And profoundly sad.

Next, for your consideration, is Katie Couric’s early morning live televised colonoscopy, that followed the death of her husband from colon cancer. Yes, it’s okay to giggle a little, (The Daily Show’s coverage “Public Enema,” was pretty hilarious) but let it be said that she did in fact cause a sizable up tick in procedures.

Grief stretches your soul in ways you cannot currently imagine. I would be shocked if prior to her husband’s diagnosis Ms. Couric thought, “You know what I should totally do…..?! On network TV ….?!   That will be posted on Time Square’s jumbotron..?!!!

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Six years ago, when we bought this house we said, “This is the house we’ll be in for the rest of our lives together.” (…aaaand the irony of that statement just hit me.) We intended to have another child. It was bought as a house for a family of four. After about a year we both started feeling like the house wasn’t quite “us.” We pined for our sweet little bungalow in LA. Roger even painted the living room in the same gold tone we once had so carefully chosen together for our old house. It just never felt right.

Then there were the miscarriages. We were not able to have another child. …so a house for three. Still much to celebrate!

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I think A LOT about exactly when Roger’s illness began? Glioblastoma’s havoc is so swift they say one can’t last for long once inflicted. There is a possibility that he had a less aggressive tumor that over time transformed in to the killer it became. That is my theory. For quite some time something in our house just didn’t feel right. He was working incredibly hard growing a business and had less and less time for his family. He was retracting, disappearing. “Welcome to marriage,” I tried to tell myself but this felt like something else.

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So, now it is a house for two ……and it has become my “Albert Memorial,” my “colonoscopy.” (Don’t think too much about that last one…) Since his death, I have learned to use power tools that I didn’t even know we owned. Power washer, ‘Mouse’ sander, Dremmel. The curtains that were not hung when Audrey moved into her big girl room are now up! Anchors and all. I have embarked upon one home improvement project after another and in the hours that pass in a decidedly meditative “Wax on. Wax off.”, state, I think about Roger. How he marked this house with his life. Although the chasm he has left remains unfathomable, I attempt to honor him through this work. I am never more comforted than I am here amongst the trees he planted and near his toothbrush that still sits in its dish.

The disease, the silent monster amongst us, that we had sensed and denied, has now wreaked its havoc. The aftermath that is left is in need of tending and in these small acts; I am creating the feeling of home we couldn’t manage to build while my sweet husband was alive.

I will refrain from showing you a photo of the garbage disposal, (I fixed it!) or of the blinds I pulled out of the crawl space and finally installed. But I would like to share with you a project of which, I’ll admit, I’m kinda proud. Keep in mind as you view the photos that I’m still WAY to vulnerable to hear criticism and that lying to make a widow feel better is an unequivocally acceptable practice.

The Front Porch

ImageRoger and Audrey assembled the chairs together in the summer of 2010. We never decided on a color. When Audrey and I were sitting on the bare wood chairs early this past summer she said the chairs should be blue like the sky and the table white like the clouds. Done.

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I bought the cot at an antique sale and painted it white. The cushion, as well as a couple of the throw pillows, I sewed myself. First thing I’ve done since 8th grade Home Ec! Another thrifty find was the candleholder. Value Village and a can of spray paint.

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I designed and made the hanging candleholder myself. A few basic jewelry making skills.

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“Who Is This….Rosie?”

Late in the school year as I was driving Audrey home from school she said,

“I want to go to where daddy is buried.”

“Okay. Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“I haven’t had his marker made yet, so the temporary one is still there.”

“That’s okay.”

I took a deep breath, swallowed hard and was yet again, amazed by my daughter’s fortitude.

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Back in February, only days after Roger died, I went to make his arrangements. The funeral director rather casually asked if I wanted to purchase the plot next to him? …What!? My brother and sister in law who so kindly came with me thought it was a good idea. Roger’s mother’s and father’s ashes are in a mausoleum at the same cemetery along with a cousin and of course I would like to be next to him sooo…. What the hey, right? I totally have already bought my plot! What a relief, cross that one off the list. It had been seriously hanging over my head along with the cable bill and the pile of laundry on the guest room bed.

As I later stood by my newly purchased plots, with which I was absurdly pleased, I kept picturing a time a hundred years from now when a graveyard looky-loo couple stops in front of my marker. The woman kicks the leaves off with the toe of her boots and says, “Gene? Jaheeenneee? Hey honey, what do you think? Jane? Shaynah?” When I mentioned this to the funeral guys they said, “Well, you can now have a radio frequency id tag on the headstone so that when it is near a cell phone the info is beamed to the mobile screen.” Rad!! (Not really) So for mine the looky-loo couple would hear my voice speaking very clearly, with a whiff of annoyance, “It’s jhaynah. Jhhhhaynah. Rhymes with Dana.” “Oh,” the woman would smugly say, “Rad. (Not Really)” and they’d share a laugh at my name’s expense.

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Audrey and I arrived at the cemetery. I drove us to his resting place but couldn’t find his temporary marker. I was certain we were in the right spot. A path and the undeveloped forest were on the right. A tree was to the left and up a little but we couldn’t locate him. I thought they must have removed the temporary marker. There must be a time limit on how long they can leave it in place. I just haven’t been able to decide what the permanent one should say. How do I sum up his life in a couple of sentences that are to be etched in stone for all eternity? So far the best I’ve come up with is “Forever yours, faithfully.” Yes, from the Journey song! Our song. I played it and the rest of the greatest hits for him while he lay dying. They say hearing is the last sense to go.

So, even without finding the marker, I was sure Audrey and I were in the correct spot. I tried to convince Audrey that knowing the general area was enough. I tried to get her to sit and have a ‘moment.’ Well she wasn’t having any of it! She wanted to know exactly where her dad was buried! She set about trying to find someone who knew and was heading straight toward a family whose loved one was being lowered into their grave at that very moment. I convinced her to head toward the main office and then as I looked around, umm, she was right we were totally on the wrong side of the cemetery. All my worries about her squeamishness about walking over bodies were for naught. Her strong little legs tromped with purpose across grave after grave to her dad’s actual resting place. It was hard for me to keep up.

We found it. His temporary marker was there. The grass still formed a brown rectangle where the dirt had been disturbed. Audrey immediately lay down on that rectangle and tucked her knees up under her in “child’s pose.” Her cheek rested against the dry, prickly grass. She spread her arms as if to give him a hug and said, “I miss daddy.” Sorrow and fury filled my body. It was all I could do to keep my heart from flying out of my chest and exploding in the fresh spring air. And I said to myself, “Fuck it. We’re getting a goddamned puppy.”

…And so we did. Meet Rosie!

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Her degree of adorable is almost embarrassing. Her poop stays pretty consistently outside the house. She likes a cuddle, is very mischievous and often highly entertaining.

 

Audrey loves, loves, loves  her.

 

‘nough said.

 

His Heart Beat, Again

There is a bottle of my husband’s cologne on the bathroom counter. When I have a moment alone, I remove the lid. With a push of my thumb, a mechanism consisting of a burgundy ball and a metal arm snaps open. It makes a faint clicking sound. I close my eyes and inhale. For 12 seconds I am utterly, blissfully lost in his memory…

My cheek rests on the chest of his favorite sweater that is imbued with his cologne. I idle here, for under the sweater is him. Roger. I feel the soft, prickle of the wool and his arms are around me. Subtler tones rush my reptilian brain. His aftershave. His soap. The detergent that I used to wash and fold his t-shirts and jeans…. I hear his heart beat again.

Too soon, I feel the cool glass bottle in my hand, the bottoms of my bare feet pressing on the unyielding tile floor, my empty arms, the crushing grief. I open my eyes and recap the bottle.

I am afraid that if I enter this world too frequently, this magical talisman will lose its power. Roger will be replaced by the mundane, the literal. Cold glass, hard tile. It will become only what it appears to be, a bottle of green liquid. The tactile memory will be gone.

 I open a window.

Roger Hatton Memorial Mudroom

My darling, sweet, capable, smart, funny, husband and love of my life died on February 17, 2012. He was young. His heart, his lungs, his muscles, bones and spirit were strong. It was his brain that succumbed to cancer and all other strengths fell in line behind the brutal dictator, Glioblastoma.

In the process of grieving we walk alone. If we are lucky, as I am, we have friends and family in which we find respite along the long isolated road but our particular grief, that is singular to each of us, can be carried by ourselves only.

Throughout the past eight months one of my “happy places” has been home design. When I felt like there was too much to cry for, when I feared I might be swept away by the sorrow I found comfort in brilliant light fixtures, bright colored accents and rugs! Oh my, rugs! I began to allow myself an indulgence that I have done my best not to feel guilty about but any of you who have been with someone for a good chunk of time and have had to enter into interminable negotiations about home design decisions will understand the little giggle that comes with “I could totally paint the living room fuchsia!”

My husband has always been lightly, shall we say, fixated on possessing certain objects or seeing ideas through to completion. It had at times been a little annoying but for a gal whose father left peat moss throughout the living room for months on end as he slowly transplanted ficus trees, having a guy who believed in “getting things done!!” was a comfort. Slowly, at an imperceptible rate, his tendency to fixate escalated to disquieting proportions.

One of his obsessions became the set of stairs that connects our two-car garage to the first floor of our house. It is an awkward entry with little room to move. I should clarify, for me it was awkward. Our adorable, exuberant and you don’t know me well enough yet to stomach my bragging but perhaps, in time you will and will forgive my exuberance, all round awesome daughter, would be at my feet trying to push by me. My arms were inevitably filled with my daughter’s backpack, various bags containing groceries etc and a ridiculously large purse. He’d arrive home alone, empty handed burdened only with a wallet in his back pocket, kick off his work boots and voila, he’d arrived! What could be easier?

Here in lies the rub. The stairs were covered in carpet, white carpet and Roger became bahnannahhhhs about keeping that carpet clean! I tried to explain my plight. The tight space, the groceries, etc.  It also didn’t help that most my favorite footwear seems to require both hands to unlace, unbuckle or unzip. Getting up the stairs, and dropping the bags was necessary. Yes, I could have always just worn the clogs that I got while I was pregnant so I wouldn’t have to bend down but let’s face it those shoes look like a pair of baked potatoes and since the age of 18 I’ve been too old for them to look ‘ironic’! One has to draw a line somewhere!

What started with his occasional grumble about not taking off our shoes in the garage, became huffing exhales and all out arguments. I kept saying, “This isn’t about the carpet!” He said, “It absolutely is!!!!!” He was grumpy, controlling and impossible to please. He also started having headaches.

We were nine years into the marriage and fourteen years into our relationship and I just thought, well I guess this is the phase when he falls out of love and into profound annoyance with much of what I do/am. It hurt.

When on Tuesday, August 30th I arrived home in the middle of the day to find him in bed in unspeakable pain we went to the ER. They found “a mass.” Brain surgery four days later. Two and a half weeks after that, diagnosis and devastation.

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On the day he died, Roger’s brothers, one brother’s partner and my mother all gathered at our house. My brother’s partner, a fantastic chef, cooked for us and we sat together in Roger’s memory. We ate, we cried and we managed even to laugh. We had the most remarkable conversation that speaks to the kind of light and intimacy that can only break through in such momentous, terrible times. One of the topics we discussed was the fact that one brother had heard at length about the white carpet on the stairs. Two and a half years ago Roger began complaining about it at work.

Within days, I had decided. I was going to build a mudroom. Roger and I had talked a lot about how to resolve the white carpet conundrum.  An area in the garage with hangers and cubbies would be great but with two cars, there was no room. Well, there was now only one car and with a loose plan and the help of my daughter, we began.

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A couple of weeks later….

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I smile every time I use the mudroom. I want him to know that I heard him, that I felt his deep, deep maddening frustration, that I now see how, as his life spun horrifyingly out of control it was just so much easier to concentrate on something concrete and seemingly simple. Carpet.

…And a funny thing also happened; I found a little piece of myself in the process. I felt a small glimmer of happiness in its creation. It was… fun.