Do I have it in me?

When you start putting the pieces together and it takes so long and you’ve crumpled the instructions up so many times that you can’t even decipher the words.  When you keep going, putting pieces where you think they should go, inserting parts from other projects and using chewed gum to hold them in place because glue costs $3.00 and you only have $10 for the week.  When you wake up in the morning and swear you’ve given it all you could and yet somehow find yourself back at it an hour later. When you know it takes blood, sweat and tears but all you have left is an exacerbated sigh.  When you ask your friends to tread lightly because the whole thing might fall, but they forget and it shakes under their careless feet.  When you finally look up and see your reflection but you hardly recognize yourself….

When you finish, will it matter that everyone you thought would stick around has long since gone and the only one to say “well done” is you?  Is your voice going to be encouraging and soulful enough at the end of it to make you believe it was worth it?  Will you be satisfied with yourself even when no one else cares?

I surely hope so because the crowd is dwindling and your candles have all burnt low. Time to quiet your screaming voice and save your energy  in case you ever build that fucking thing. Everyone else has left the building and the only conviction you have is yours alone. 

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Fit of giggles and happiness

This past week, my mom had the boys enrolled in a day camp a few miles from where she lives, an hour away from me. I had a whole week to myself!  I’ve spent the past year redefining what kind of parent I am on my own.  This week was a rare opportunity for me to rediscover what I like to do on my own-not as a mother, but as a woman. It took a few days to decompress completely and wrap my head around it.  I was still working but I had the evenings and mornings to myself.  It was glorious!  I went for runs, long strolls into town for no other reason than I could, swimming in the morning and at night, watched TV whenever I wanted, had friends over, stayed up late and ate left over pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By Friday night, I could tell that my breathing had slowed down, my pace had changed to a sauntering stroll, my whole attitude was centered in a much more peaceful place. I had finally had a chance to completely recharge! It felt great!

I couldn’t have it all, though. Oh no, not this girl!  A full week going by without a problem coming up just doesn’t happen for for a gal like me.  Something always, always pulls me back and grounds me.  While the kids were away,  I ran into some serious car trouble that will likely leave us without transportation for at least the next few weeks. That combined with the fact that in order to fix it, I’m going to be completely broke (as in negative bank account, as in make the food last as long as we can) could have been bad. By the time they’d returned home on Sunday, I’d resigned all of us to a couple of weeks of biking where we needed to go.  While it was frustrating, to say the least, I couldn’t help but see the silver lining in all of it.  Maybe this was who I was now.  The week of recharging had changed me! Perhaps I’d been through so much lately that a problem with an actual solution was enough to keep the skip in my step.  {This wasn’t so bad.  I’m a peaceful, happy person now. I can totally make this work!}   When relaying my plans for the upcoming weeks to the boys, I found myself saying things like “We could really use the exercise anyway!” and  “It’s supposed to be fairly sunny for the rest of the week, why not enjoy the weather?” “I’ve been meaning to check out the various meals we can make using Ramen Noodles!” (I think there are over 100, btw!!)  Thankfully everything we need (my job, their camp, grocery store, etc.) is all within a  two-mile radius and we live in a town in which biking is a completely acceptable form of transport.  My peppy pep talk to the kids was met with long, blank, stares and a few grunts and moans, but I skipped right through it and moved along, using words like “team” and “bonding” and “namaste.” (No really- I bowed out of the dining room, while my younger son looked on amused and perplexed with his hands in prayerful pose as instructed, as I repeated Namaste until I was out of sight.)

As positive as I was trying to be, I admit, I had some seriously sobering moments of panic that could not, no matter what, be squelched. {What if we wanted to leave and go somewhere else for a weekend?? Everything outside of this place is at least 45 miles away!! What they hell was I thinking? I hadn’t even checked the weather! It could totally rain the whole time and then what?!  I pull up to work on my 5 speed, drenched and freezing all day and then have to turn around and bike 2 miles to pick up my equally wet and frozen children from camp?!}  But the most terrifying thought was: {What if this whole thing never ends and this is it?! This is how we get around now-the biker family….”there goes old widow Ashley and her poor children….biking through the snow…”}  The more I thought about it, the more terrifying the whole deal seemed to me. It wasn’t just the car, it was the financial worries and eventually every bad decision I’ve ever made.

So I stopped thinking about it. The reality was that we didn’t have a choice. This was just what we had to do and we could do it and feel good about it or we could do it and be miserable. I chose door # 1.

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Sunday night we were fortunate enough to accompany a friend to a small little theater situated at the edge of an enchanted old farm, with rolling hills and picnic tables and perfectly lined stoned walls.  It was beautiful and such a unique place to celebrate theater!  As we waited for the show to start, I looked around and wondered how we could possibly be upset about  obstacles in life?   We were so lucky to be in this little place!  I leaned back in my seat, grinning from ear to ear, so proud of myself for having chosen door #1!  This night was validation that good things can happen as long as you commit to happiness!  Ahhhhhh..  A quick glance over my shoulder to share this moment with the boys but when I looked over, they were gone.  Still calm, I thought “they must have gone to the bathroom.”

I scanned the length of the tiny barn, turned theater and found them blocking the entrance and in the throes of some barely audible, but clearly very intense battle over a sweater. People were skirting around them with annoyed glances at one another or requests for them to please move. All of which had no effect on them whatsoever. I couldn’t hear but when I squinted to get a better look, I noticed one had a cup of water and a crumbling cookie that he was clearly intending to use for ammunition against the other if the sweater wasn’t released.  The little one caught my eye just as the cookie hit his cheek and  let out a wail so loud that almost every head in the audience turned to see what was going on. They made their way back to me but it didn’t end there so I had to sit in between them.  It calmed down for a moment until a little hand made its way behind my back and slapped his brother’s head so viciously that a shout escaped.  Ordinarily I would have taken them outside and unleashed my usually very effective speech in which I threaten to rid my house of every electronic piece of equipment.  But we were trapped in such close quarters that I had to resort to whispering potential consequences through gritted teeth until the lights dimmed and a pianist began the play’s introduction. By this point I was so hot from embarrassment and angry from trying to control them in that barn that my bangs were stuck to my forehead and my mouth had never been so dry. I tried to find the brochure to fan myself off but couldn’t, which just made it worse. When I finally found it, crumpled up in my son’s sweater, I was so angry and frustrated at the whole situation.  I held up the crumpled remains of the brochure along with the sweater and with my lip stuck to my teeth and my eyes bulged out of my red face, I proclaimed to both of them, in a sinister, throaty voice :  “It’s mine now.”

I was clutching the sweater so tightly that my knuckles were white and my fist was shaking.  I held their gaze for a full 30 seconds.  My face must have looked completely psychotic.  Upon receiving my preposterous declaration and holding my alternating glare for as long as they could, it occurred to all of us how ridiculous this was. I looked like the Hulk, head moving from side to side, sweat pouring down my face, arm raised with a miniature piece of cloth hanging around my wrist. I had made one last attempt to hold my happy place together and all I had to show for it was a sweater and a crumpled brochure. The facade was cracking and we all knew it.  My older son bit his lip to stop himself from laughing as his brother’s hands flew up to cover his own mouth. By now, the curtains were opening and we’d all completely lost it. The first half an hour was spent stifling laughter as random parts of the play would remind one of us how ridiculous I looked.  All it would take was a sigh or twitch and we were, all three of us in stifled, uncontrollable, hysterics, heads down with the biggest smiles on our faces and tears rolling down our cheeks. We eventually had to excuse ourselves and return collected.  By the time the play ended, I was in the middle, their heads on my shoulders and we were breathing in sync, trying not fall asleep.

I don’t know how these next few weeks will go. I imagine much like the first few days. I foresee some unavoidable inconvenience and struggle but I hope those things are mixed with pep talks and great fits of laughter that lead to nights cuddled up on the couch together.  When we make it to the other side of this, I don’t want a trophy at the end. What I want is to be given another night like that. I want a chance once in a while to appreciate and savor the moment with my two boys.

By the time we left that old barn, turned theater, I felt like I had the richest piece of chocolate melting in my mouth and I didn’t care that the euphoria had allowed to me to laugh when the chocolate dribbled down my chin.

Pressure’s a good thing, right?

I need to write. It feels great to have had a little momentum: posting consistently and getting some great, positive feedback.  In an attempt to feel like I’m being good and actually working on this, I have resisted the impulse to scarf episodes of the new Orange is the New Black, browse reddit, scroll facebook, stall on the phone with friends…

But despite my best efforts, I can’t concentrate for the life of me and as a result I have 5 tabs open with five words here and two paragraphs there- including the post I promised for today: Fifty Shades of Widow Grey (Round 2). {see https://thewintermakersbelt.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/fifty-shades-of-widow-gray-round-1/ if you’re interested}

I thought music would help get me in the groove, but my music has gone from streaming Pandora to YouTube and inevitably on to google searches about the song/artist i’m listening to  : /

I guess the lesson here is that you can’t make the mind do what the mind don’t wanna do…

IMG_1220 And then there’s this guy….Ok- I might have browsed online a little bit 🙂

The Reckoning

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I don’t know when I started to lose control but it was just around the one year mark when I realized it had happened and I was shocked at how hard it hit me. I had been so strong for so long. For most of the year I had been open and honest about my feelings. I was frequently checking in with the boys- who in turn seemed to be honestly and commendably expressing themselves.  I was determined and people said countless times how strong we were. I was validated. 

By December, I was writing, running regularly, losing weight and feeling pretty independent and capable. Yes, I might have been drinking a little too much and there were plenty of sad, drool and snot filled cries on the kitchen floor..  But I was also dancing in my kitchen at night and felt proud of the grip on reality we had developed. We had survived. We had faced something terrible but it wasn’t beating us.  But the strings that were holding me together unraveled without my even noticing. As the one year mark approached, I became more and more unbalanced and started feeling the weight of my entire body and I began to droop-like a sad, lonely puppet. All of it- the running, the healthy food, the sex, the “holy shit, we’re actually doing this and doing it really well” -All of it was erased from present consideration and became, very clearly,  some part of “the first year.” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I had been held up by my will to be ok, to make this ok for my kids…and then all of a sudden, without notice…all of my weight fell to floor with the strings, mocking the term “widow” in a loose web out around me.  Productivity had been replaced with anxiety and anxiety was now replaced by anger and self loathing.

Some days I could barely get dressed.  I sleep in yoga pants a lot, so I’d roll out of bed and throw a dress on over my pants, straighten my bangs, throw some crap in the lunch bags…and we were off for another endless day. I’d become addicted to the sleep between snoozes. It felt to me how I imagine heroin feels…dozing in and out of consciousness…coddling the newly developed disdain I had for following structured time. The only belief I held firmly to was that time wasn’t a thing I cared about anymore. It didn’t apply to me and my life anymore. I was falling asleep at my desk at work.  The phrase “I’m depressed” started sneaking out from my lips in casual conversation with family and friends and once I became comfortable with the sound of it in close company it was as if the words were jumping from a sinking ship or out of a burning building. I started using it in casual conversation with parents and coworkers. “I woke up at 4 am and just laid there awake…I think I’m depressed.” “I started smoking cigarettes again…I think I’m depressed.” “No, I can’t make it tonight, I’m too depressed.” There was no hiding this.  And really, I didn’t want to.  I’d become the sad stories I’d heard about over the first months: The wife who’s husband died and she couldn’t get out of bed. The mother who was never really there for her kids. The friend who couldn’t listen to anything but her sad, lonely heartbeat at social events. Everything was noise to me. Laughter was a cheap thrill- Escaped breath exuded by unwitting fools. But I’d developed my own cheap thrill… completely freaking people out when asked how I was doing.

I’d been asked this question a lot over the span of months- “how are you?”  It had been used as kindling for a thousand conversations in both earnest and passing encounters. In the beginning, I was so grateful that people cared and thankful for their support that I never really paid much attention to the question. There were only a handful of times my reply was anything other than a thoughtful, albeit, cautious…”Ya know? We’re really doing ok.”  I guess I always thought the second half of that reply was obvious: “… Considering my boyfriend drowned in front of us and my other son almost died, himself… I mean, the fact that I’m not in a straitjacket and they’re laughing and playing means we’re really making it work, right?”  (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/20/) Right?…..But everything was a little different now. I would get a little giddy when someone unknowingly stumbled into my black widow web with that peppy little question – “How are you doing?”  My eyes, widened and the hair raised on my arm… “Well Susie, not fucking great, to be honest. Between my kids, the bills, my damn dog and having to carry her bags of shit up and down the street EVERY SINGLE time she has to crap…things are really not going well for me. There’s that job I hate (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/41/), summer camps to pay for and parent teacher conferences that only I can attend.” And just as they’d start to leave, I’d seal the deal so they’d never ask me that stupid, Betty Crocker question again.  “I’m fucking exhausted. Susie. I need to sleep for a month. I need one day in your cookie cutter life where your biggest problem is that the crazy widow lady scared you speechless when you asked her how she was doing.”  People stopped asking, started avoiding eye contact, quickly clearing space for me to pass.  I wanted it that way. “Back off.” I reveled in the thought that maybe I was their worst nightmare. Someone who made them all hold each other a little closer at night. Black eyeliner, black nail polish, black dress over black yoga pants…paint it black. Paint the fucking town black.

That resolve I’d had for so long to make it to a year was waning as the year was coming to a close. Everything was happening backwards. This wasn’t how I was supposed to feel at a year. This should have been happening in the first few months.  Moping and going way too long before showers. I had completely grown out my armpit hair- and everything else with it.  “What’s the point?”  Along with my health, my nearly non existent social and sex life, the laundry became the main casualty- with baskets stacked at the end of the bed and piled at the bottom of the stairs and crumpled on closet floors. Our diet was strictly frozen food, sprinkled with packaged cookies and whatever fruit was on sale at Shaws. The bills, the dog, the recycling. In a short time, my life had become a Shel Silverstein poem. “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out.”  And why the fuck would she? She was depressed. Bitter glares at couples walking down the street and sad, long stares out my window at the river…feeling my ass grow and fit the shape of my chair at work…when I bothered showing up.  I had started taking a day off a week. Sometimes sleeping until noon and sometimes driving an hour to have really dirty (50 shades-of-widow-grey) sex with this guy I’d met online. I was spending money I didn’t have on cigarettes and beer. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

Just a few days ago my boss, and friend, asked how I was doing. I like her so instead of trying to terrify her I told her I really didn’t want to get into it. She pressed with “well, how are you doing as a single parent?”  My bottom lip quivered and my scary, bitter, too-young-to-be-a-widow mask started to wash off my face. My tough girl facade smeared and collected in black, smudgey stains on my shirt. After all the time I’d spent applying it, it was a little unnerving to see it so easily wiped away.  I cried through explanations of past due bills and anxiety over summer camps and rent and the recent loss of sanity, security and hope. I NEVER do this. I may not like my job, but I respect the fact that it’s employment and haven’t broken down like that at work…well, ever. I left and went home. curled into a ball, in the middle of the afternoon and cried myself to sleep. I woke up an hour later, panicked, trying to understand how- after 369 days, I didn’t have a better grip on this.

I mean, really what had changed? The past few weeks, people have been reaching out, trying to help me-aware that this time might be difficult-even when I didn’t see it coming.  And they’re the same people who have been there all along. My kids are struggling and muddling through their emotions, but that’s nothing new and really, not exclusive to “children of grief”–that’s part of being human and growth.  Yes, we’re going to start therapy, but I kind of knew in my heart it would take them this long to get to a place where they needed different tools for coping and moving on.  My job hasn’t changed-maybe my desire to be there and the realization that life’s too short to loathe 8 hours of every day, but the job itself hasn’t changed. The bills are the same, I’m just tired of being in debt. And that question- “How are you?” That’s been there from the first few hours after Jason died and it’s weaved it’s way through a myriad of conversations and yielded a variety of responses and reactions. So what has really changed? Why was I losing it? 

The answer was simple and clear to me when I finally let go of the facade and put down the black paint. When I finally voiced that I wasn’t happy -not with something that had happened to me. Oh I had become very comfortable with expressing the loss of the person, the father, the friend, the love. I had done everything I needed to do with the unhappiness of circumstance. I had owned it and smashed it against a wall and I had wallowed in it. I had defeated it and It wasn’t mine anymore.  But now it’s not about my grief or the shock of it all.  Without knowing it, all these months of moping, I was scared of myself.  All of the decisions and plans-they are no longer ours.  And the time for being sad about the loss of it had come to an end and I can’t blame the state of my life on the loss of my love or my dismembered family.  Beyond the loss of a person and the sadness that that evokes, I was unhappy with a choice I had made and stuck with for years. My job. My path. My life choices before and now after “grief.” The decision to move forward and how to do that was mine and I couldn’t blame the results on anything other than my own motivation or talent.

I’m changing but in order to do that, I have to say goodbye to the grief. So… Adios grief-you saucy betch. It’s been real. It’s time to put you down and take ownership of my life. I have to step up my game, go to work, make money where I can, and start putting energy into what I want to do with my future and my family. It’s time to write 🙂

Prepped and Draped

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I’m a paralegal right now. I read a lot of medical records. Most operative notes start off with “the patient was given a routine consent, identified, given preoperative antibiotics, and prepped and draped in the usual fashion..” This is almost always followed by two pages of terminology and procedure notes that I don’t care to understand and is almost always concluded with “the patient tolerated this well” and then a line about what the follow up will be.

It always baffles me and I wonder …why? Why do they need to say these things like this in every operative note? It probably all started with a mess up. Most redundant, ass-covering phrases usually spawn from some tiny little mistake and are repeated for eternity to prevent future lawsuits over vague procedural assumptions. Most likely a patient died when a doctor did everything right but forgot to say that he had done everything right.   While probably an act of God, the family’s need to grasp at whatever explanation they could, blamed the doctor. Perhaps, he simply forgot to write it down and so a procedure was implemented for all surgeons forever.

Regardless of how it happened, it annoys me every time I read it…and i read it a lot.  It’s not just the repetition by so many surgeons, it’s the wording– because for some reason it reminds me of the beginning of a story.  “Prepped and draped in the usual fashion” conjures an image of a dusty, old, brown, leather book with a gold etched title. I spend a good five minutes scrolling the records distracted by a black, rubber cape, crazy white hair on a desperate doctor, the dim basement light and the faded gold title “Frankenstein.”  Every time…

As for the conclusion of every report, I’ve never read the words “tolerated this well” in anything other than a snooty English accent.  The woman who says it may be referring to her husband’s pill regiment over a martini and a long stemmed cigarette and the old, balding man who says it is referring to his mistress’s reaction during penetration. The scenarios varies…but it’s always haughty and British.  “She tolerated it well…”

Perhaps it really annoys me because it seems out of context and sort of poser-ish.  These are doctors….in 2015.  They should be using words like magnetic, sonar, laser…  I don’t want to understand what they’re talking about at all! They’re performing surgery on someone. This should be way over my head.   I don’t want to be connected to it on any level.   And maybe it really annoys me because  those short phrases take me to a place that my profession doesn’t encourage or allow me to go. I feel like I’m starting the same 19th century novel over and over again.  I’m immediately transported to a time, to a character, to a place. I see through fog on an eerie night and deserted, cobblestone street.  I walk away from the sound of people laughing and music coming from the pub on the corner. My mind wanders down the road, through the door and into the basement to watch a doctor work away at his monster. But I’m not supposed to do that here and I don’t like the conflict that ensues.  I’m not good at focusing on the actual record and I’m supposed to be. I’m lost in a story that has nothing to do with forty hours of my week and I hate that I’ll be so drained from the argument I have with myself that i will go home and not finish the story I started while reading these lines.

I took this job because I thought I would feel better about myself. I had somehow been thought worthy of an honorable profession. I thought it was a smart move for a girl with two kids and two unfinished degrees. I thought relieving my parents of the worry that comes along with a profession-less daughter (and mother) would make me feel accomplished. I’ve been doing this for five years and every time I read those redundant lines, I wonder…and then wander. I start to write and then I have to dislike myself for it.  I have to shake my head and compose an email with redundant phrases my own profession has created for me: “please find enclosed”the remnants of my hopes and dreams.  I have conformed in so many ways. My writing has slowed to such a pace that WordPress is alerting me that a “total of ten people” like my blog. I hardly care anymore. I have bills and kids who have homework and where do these lines fall in all of that.  Perhaps I dislike those redundant phrases because they start a story I have yet to finish.

But maybe my story begins here.  Maybe they were written by a doctor who really wanted to be a writer and he inserted those lines into a now standard document that is generated in all doctors’ operative reports.  Maybe it was his little joke.   And maybe there’s a story to tell about his little joke and how after reading it for five years, it changed an aspiring writer-turned mother, turned widow, turned paralegal’s life.

Tomorrow when I read the beginning of an operative report, I’m going think to myself that “I have been prepped and draped and I am NOT tolerating it well” …. in a very American, very strong, possibly 1950’s journalist accent.

Dog vs. Cat

My dog hates cats. She hates cats in such a visceral way that when she sees one, she shakes uncontrollably between growls and snarls and raised hair. Aside from tug of war, walks in the woods and sleeping in my bed, hating cats is her life’s blood. So imagine the horror I experienced this morning, as I am awakened by the bold “meow….ME-OW” of a sweet little black cat IN MY BEDROOM!! I tucked and rolled like a general at zero dark thirty to get that cat out of the room before sleeping beauty realized what was happening. But my pre-coffee, dazed and confused mind was a just a second too slow.. There I was, pj pants, twisted up shirt, crazy hair, crawling on the floor between cat and now gnarling, gnashing, completely shocked dog. In one perfectly timed jump, as if she had dreamed the moment true, River landed on the cat. Cat went down. Maybe it was my screaming or maybe she just didn’t know what she was supposed to do next but River backed off for a second and the cat ran down stairs. And all I could think was, huh…isn’t that way it always is? When you get something you dreamed of having, when everything works out the way you wanted it to….You have to be smarter than a dog to know what to do next. Often times what we really want is what comes after we hold it in our hands…or paws…but we allow ourselves to stop at the achievement or bask in it too long. We need to keep reaching and plan beyond the dream itself… And then, I cried in my cereal because it’s Monday and I have to work on such a nice day. (hehe)