I don’t know what’s possessed me, but I’ve decided to spice things up around here and secretly wink at each boy individually whispering “favorite” while pointing to him. Hahahaha!! They each blush and smile and eventually one tells the other that their my favorite and they fight over it! They buy it every time! I need a hobby! Freud would have a field day with this
…..In tweeny, book report, twilight land:
Me to my 11 yr old son: Ok. I’ve reviewed your rough draft. You should be proud of yourself! There’s a lot here you can use! I did make some corrections and just a warning, this is not a copy and paste scenario. You will have to develop more of your original thought where you see an asterisk.
Him- blink blink
Me-a little red star
(still staring at me)
(I start again- slowly and clearly) You know? I didn’t write everything for you. It’s not all grammatical changes. My notations are prompts for you to embellish what you’ve started writing.
Him- I don’t understand.
Me- You. Will. Need. To. Think. And. Add. More. Words.
He rolls his eyes and walks away.
I crack a beer and mutter “good talk” while I finish dinner.
That’ll do Merica. That’ll do.
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 🙂
I popped on facebook to check out “one year ago today”-something I rarely do. This was my post a year ago today :
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.
I was just followed out of a deli by a young 20 something who said “ma’am- you’re gorgeous.” I didn’t know whether I should bend him over my sore old knees and spank his little butt for calling me ma’am or hug him for calling me gorgeous! So I just smiled and thanked him with a Chinese bow.
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)
We were so happy. Every time I tell the story of June 7th, I always start with “we were so happy.” Moments before you died, I was having a conversation with Miles, as you know, about how we were all going to live until we were 110. An hour before you died, Ruth and I were remarking on the beauty of quiet pools and winding rivers. We were so lucky. Five hours before you died we were talking about how amazing it was that our kids were so amused by Lyrik you said you were” grateful that they had different men in their lives.” The morning of June 7th, I woke up before you, which you know is a rare occasion, and I looked at your sleeping face and Elvis lips and I smiled and… I was so happy.
The first couple weeks, I stood only when someone held my hand. I spoke only about what we had been through -staring blankly, terrified when conversations turned to what the three of us would be walking into –without you. I moved, but only because I had to. You were dead, but I was alive and so I was breathing, blinking, crying and feeling…but only because I had to.
The last two weeks have been more of a solitary journey for me. Friends and family still present, still checking in and helping, but when they leave or the call ends I can stand for longer periods of time by myself. And the time I’m alone with the kids or alone with my thoughts, doesn’t feel as endless and haunting as it did in those first 30 days.
It’s so strange, but 40 days later the ache in my heart is so much deeper than it was just days after June 7th. Maybe it hurts more because I allow myself to wish — to hope that you and I can sit down at the end of this and laugh and cry about it together; to wish you were here to help me comfort the boys- to give both heavy heads a place on your shoulders and to cover their whole backs with your hands when you pulled them in; to wish you were here to tell us it is all going to be ok; to wish we knew with certainty that you were ok.
My dearest wish, Jason is that you might stick around in this world for a little while just to see what our little nugget children are up to…their accomplishments, their love for each other, their laughter over farts and only you know what else… Miles is keeping up with the older kids at camp this summer. He rode a school bus for the first time! He’s drawing and he’s getting really, really good! He says, “you know who would be really proud of me? Dad.” And I know he’s absolutely right. Chase has been Miles’s protector during summer camps and when he sees one of us crying he’s right there rubbing our backs and then quickly making jokes to cheer us up. He’s swimming in the deep end at the pool this year and jumped off the highest diving board-no fear! He’s the first one to tell a story of you and the most insistent that we never forget-even when it’s hard to remember. And I hope these things you see.
40 days later, when I am quiet and the day is almost over- I allow myself the most selfish wish of all- that when you told me “you love me so much that when you die you want to come back and be with me all over again” that that love holds some weight with the Gods and you could choose this life- right now–not the next life or the life after that. That I might keep you here in some way- a balloon floating above us, tethered to the wrist of a young girl too afraid to let it go… that I might wish it hard enough and one day I’ll find you there, still swimming in the most beautiful place, on the most beautiful day, when we were so happy…that I might never let you go…
But when I allow myself that wish, my love, everything around me fades to a cold, colorless grey and the sorrow that follows the realization that you and I can never be again the way we were that day or those years, brings me to my knees. And so my love, I beg you watch over the boys and pray to God they feel you there for as long as you will stay. But I ask that you forgive me as I work to untie the string around my wrist. I hope you don’t feel forgotten when I turn up the music and dance and laugh and sing. I pray you don’t feel frightened that your life with us is forgotten when I smile as new memories are created. My love, my heart, my strength- my most selfish wish must now be that you’re not saddened by my relief when I unloose the knot and someday, set you free.
I’ve started this blog over a hundred times. Handwritten notes crumpled on the kitchen counter, email drafts at work, various google doc drafts- all saved for a day when I can piece them together and make sense of the story I’m trying to tell. I’ve had a difficult time finding a place to start when it’s all happening around me.
So maybe the best way to start this is to begin with who I am in this moment and in this moment, I’m a newly widowed, single mother of two boys ages 11 and 6. Today marks the 8 month anniversary of the death of my boyfriend of nearly 8 years. Jason and I met in March of 2007. My oldest son, Chase, was 3 years old at the time. After a little over a year together, we had our younger son, Miles- born on the same day, at the opposite time as Chase. They are almost exactly 5 years apart…
Jason died on June 7th, 2014. He drowned in front of us at a local reservoir and waterfall. Sucked in by the undercurrent of the falls, he was bashed against the rocks and emerged moments later, floating face first down the river, toward Miles (age 5 at the time) and myself. My son, Chase was also sucked into the undercurrent of the falls and spent over 30 minutes fighting to save himself, not knowing his stepfather had drowned next to him. Friends of ours were there that day with their daughter and daughter’s friend. They fought with us, for us and for their own lives, as well. There’s much more that happened that day and the days following and posts about those first few days and months will come. For now, I have to be satisfied with just an introduction or else I’ll get lost in every detail and if I let that happen, the past three paragraphs will join the rest of the unfinished blog posts I’ll never have the time to piece together…
Ultimately, this blog isn’t about that day, anyway. This blog is meant to be about how we rise together. How my children and I move on, clinging to and then staggering from the ledge where he left us. This is an expression of our struggle to find peace in the face of tragedy and hope against all odds. This is about finding our smiles. This is our story.