(Don’t) Look, up in the sky!

What’s your superpower? Whenever the chatter (virtual or real) runs out of steam, someone is bound to ask; what would be the superpower you would choose? These days of course I would wish for time travel. Any day from the mid 1990s until late 2013 would do. If I must winnow, then it would be my wedding anniversary in 2013. That was a great day. But before my husband died I would’ve answered “invisibility”. Oh how I long for a cloak of invisibility. I don’t want to spy on people unnoticed, or roam bank vaults or jewelry counters. I just prefer not to be seen.

I know what you’re thinking…”aren’t you the woman who showed up to a fundraiser dressed in a snakeskin suit?!” Yes, that was me. I stand by that fabulous suit and the knowledge that I wore it because I loved it, not because I wanted to be noticed. The (very, very) few moments in my life when I knew all eyes would be on me I dressed as neutrally as possible. My wedding dress was a simple satin column with long sleeves, and even that pained me. I hated the idea of a gown (something I would never don in real life) AND of being the star of the show. I wore a knee-length, boat necked, long sleeved dark green dress at my husband’s service. Believe me, if there was a way I could have produced that event for the people who wanted and needed it and sat it out, I would have. Having to be at the center of that show was agony for me. The comments people made about my appearance still echo in my head. I have just never been comfortable with people’s asesment of my appearane.

Let me be exruciatingly clear, right now and right here: I am delighted with my own appearance. I think I’m pretty and have a lovely body and in my age class am at least a 9. So let’s not confuse other people’s unwelcomed attention with any insecurities or body image issues I may have…I don’t. For most of my life not being seen was not based on my appearance but rather by the fact that I’m actually an introvert, a closeted one, but one nonetheless. I lived in a small town for ten years and going to the grocery store was my Nam. I would keep my eyes down and push the cart with a force and determination usually associated with manual lawn mowers. The football field sized store was a small talk landmine. (Have you ever noticed that the lack of cultural opportunities of a town is reflected inversely by the size of its grocery store?) I would sneak a glance down an aisle, making a split second determination of where to turn my cart. It was exhausting. You may be wondering; “Good G-d woman, why didn’t your husband do the shopping?!” Oh he was there. He was standing at the entrance talking to any and everyone. What can I say; opposites attract.

I’ve lived in a city for almost 15 years now. Mercifully, forced social interaction is no longer a weekly occurance. However since my husband died, I’ve discovered what a lot of women have always known. We are really really really judged on appearance. Was I clueless when I was younger? Was I married to the last evolved straight man? I’ve no idea. My husband, and the world I inhabited as a married woman, never made me feel that my appearance was the most important part of me. My husband thought I was beautiful and would have prefered if I never put on clothes. However he was my biggest fan in all regards. I understand that online dating is a visual medium. Of course we judge potential dates on what they look like. When I was engaged in swiping, I would nudge right when his eyes looked kind, or he had the smile of a man who got the joke. As long as he appeared to be in good health, I had no interest in his body. I mean, they’re over 50 for crying out loud! If they have all their original parts that’s a win! It was the rare, really rare, okay, nonexistent man who felt the same as I. Whether in messages or face to face I have had the pleasure of hearing a stranger’s opinion of my appearance. How charming. How utterly romantic. Before we get all uppity about the superficialness of online dating, let’s me state that this has happened many times in real life as well. I’ve had less than a handful of relationships since my husband died and each one of these “gentlemen” talked at length about my body as well as voicing their preferences as how I groom or dress it. Ick. Seriously, ick.

I’m a middle-aged woman with interests, opinions, experiences, ideas, beliefs, and hopes who lives inside a body. Ninety percent of who I am is what’s inside. I am blessed with a strong vessel and the desire to keep it strong. I am lucky to be a late bloomer and have come into my prettiness after I was (almost) fully formed. To be valued for something that is the very least of who I am is offfensive and disheartening. Receiving compliments is not a problem, feeling like an accessory is. I want to be seen. Signed – Invisible Woman

 

 

 

 

 

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Make A Wish

My husband’s birthday is in a few weeks. I’m not yet sure if I’ll acknowledge it in any way. The first year after he died I spent weeks, if not months, strategizing how I’d observe the day. I remember a well-meaning person telling me; “planning is a good coping mechanism”. But it wasn’t about that. Planning birthday celebration has always been important to me and at least half the fun. I grew up in a house where birthdays were a big deal, he did not. I loved planning small surprises and meaningful celebrations and presents for him. The last few years of his life I had designed the perfect decadent birthday breakfast. Watching his delight at I placed the “challah french toast nutella and jam sandwich with homemade syrup” I would grow giddy. So planning how I’d honor his first birthday after his death was more of not being in any hurry to relinquish that particular joy. Which is why just four months after his sudden death, I dressed up and took myself to the Bemelman Bar for a drink. I sat in a corner sipping a glass of champagne, a jumble of anxiety and sadness. Within earshot was a young woman celebrating her 21st birthday with her parents. I did not burden herĀ  with “OMG it’s my late husband’s birthday too!” but took delight in the observation nonetheless.

Since that surreal first year, I’ve made less of an event of his birthday. I do remember cringing one year as I realized I was consummating a new relationship on my husband’s birthday. (By the time I realized the supreme tackiness of it, it really was too late.) I like to think I evened the cosmic score by making him a birthday cake last year (but who am I kidding; I was the one who ate the cake!). I suspect that this year on his birthday I’ll be at the dentist getting my new crown. It’s kind of funny considering how dental work played a minor recurring role in our relationship. When it became apparent we’d be getting married, I sat my future husband down and said; “I need to tell you something; you are signing on to HUGE dental bills for the rest of your life.” One of the first presents he ever gave me was while I was recovering from oral surgery. Perhaps as the hygienist straps on the nitrous (yes I get nitrous for every single procedure, did you not read that part about the dental bills?!) I will think; “This one’s for you, husband!”

If I’m not nursing a nitrous hangover, I suspect at the very least I’ll pour a drink and toast to him. So much has changed in the past five years. The first and the fifth year have been life altering. Truly. I do not recognize my life from two years ago any more than I do the life six years ago. My husband is part of my life now in a way he never was. I talk to him and think of him constantly. It’s not a Vaseline on the lens kind of view of him. I think of him the way he really was. I cannot conjure what he’d think or say about all things, but it’s surprising how many I can. There are many areas of my life in which I feel confident and am my best counsel. But there are some that make my knees buckle, and I ask myself WWHD (what would husband do). I freely admit to narrating some of life’s most joyous moments to him as if I’m watching a play seated next to a visually impaired friend. He’s a genuine part of my life now. Like an imaginary friend. I did not see it coming (like his death) and never dared to wish it, but am delighted beyond measure. This is the sixth birthday since he’s died, but the first that I’ll truly feel he’s with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Doesn’t Kill Us Leaves Us Scarred

Nine years ago on this date, I awoke in the middle of the night knowing something was very wrong with me, by daybreak I could barely move. My husband was on a business trip and we’d just moved to our apartment building three months prior. I knew and had no one. My only thought was the walking of my dog. I called down to the front desk, gasping in a whisper; “is there anyone who can walk my dog?” I think I heard laughter. I got myself and my dog downstairs and held on to walls and wrought iron fences as we slowly made our way down the block. I had to rest every few steps.

My brother agreed to do that evening’s walk and my husband was home by the next morning. Later that next day, I sat in a doctor’s office silently crying and panting as she told my husband she refused to treat me as I belonged in the hospital. My husband, defying his lifelong need to be liked by strangers, explained that I would never agree to that. He was still recovering from the devastating hospital borne infection (C.Diff) and was still injecting himself with blood thinner from the post-surgical blood clot the hospital staff missed. I had been his caretaker and advocate and the experience left me even more distrusting of hospitals, if such a thing were possible. The doctor very reluctantly stuck an agreement with us: we were to call her every four hours for forty-eight hours with a temperature update.

It took me six months to fully recover from that pneumonia. A dear friend who had not been well for awhile succumbed to the illness as I emerged from the fever. Her funeral was my first time leaving the house. A month later my 12-year old bichon, overcome with a discomfort he couldn’t communicate, hid under a table and died a week later. 2010 was by far the worst year I had ever experienced. The pneumonia changed my body and mindset. My friend was far too young to die. And our dog was the best thing that had ever happened to us. It wasn’t my first time at the tragedy rodeo, but this particular trifecta was so dramatic and happened so rapidly. If anyone had told me; “oh honey, it’s gonna get so much worse.” I would’ve checked myself into a facility until it all passed.

The fact is that those advertising disclaimers are true: past performance is no indication of future outcomes. An awful childhood, doesn’t protect from crap things happening in adulthood. Misery is not metered out. There is no suffering or trauma quota. And there’s no healthy way to get more resilient or less human. The best one can hope for is to become laser focused on the light in one’s life. If I can focus on what I do have, while periodically admiring the scenery of my past life, I’m okay. Every night I have thoughts of gratitude, the first thing on the list is always the same: I am grateful that my dog is healthy and I am strong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nature Of Aging

Growing older never bothered me. Well, that’s not entirely true: I had a terribly anxious time turning 21. I felt that once one turned 21, everything counted. I was now formally an adult. Never again could I hear; “well, whatya expect, she’s just a kid.” Though truth be told, no one had ever said that. Growing older suited me. I was born middle-aged and was delighted as my body caught up to my psyche.

I did have a troubling relationship with the passage of time while I was married. My husband was significantly older than me. Our birthdays and new years reminded me how limited our time was. The idea of living without him was intolerable. I’ve been without him for over five years and I was right. It is intolerable.

 

Friends and the world at large suggest that getting older is a nightmare; a blow to vanity, ego and mobility; moaning and whingeing of sagging skin, creakiness and dryness whirl around me like white noise. It strikes me as no different than complaining about menstruation. It’s nature. What is the big deal and more to the point; what is the alternative?? Getting older doesn’t bother me in the least. I have a treasure trove of amusing and delightful memories that serve as a riveting mental documentary. I’ve seen things and done things and gone places. I feel no urgency, no pressing need to accomplish anything. I don’t fear running out of time. I aged out of the most compelling choices ages ago (i.e., F.B.I. agent, astronaut, chorus dancer, mother). I take each day as it comes, delighted to discover how it unfolds.

 

I will never be young in someone’s eyes again and that hurts. But it is nothing compared to the pain of losing the keeper and creator of my most precious memories. I am the sole repository now, and when I die (hopefully in my sleep at a very very old age) the memories of the best of years of my life will die as well. And that is nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Apologies To Gloria Gaynor

Newly widowed I experienced terror and trauma in waves as frequent and powerful as a category 3 hurricane. For almost a year, I would avoid walking under scaffolding or air conditioners, so afraid of the unexpected. Over the months and years my terror and trauma changed flavors and frequency but has never wavered in its intensity.

I went through a period consumed by thoughts of illness or accident that I would be forced to suffer alone. I changed dentists to avoid dealing with my lifelong Achilles heel taunted by memories of my husband by my side. I changed gynecologists to avoid being splayed in the same stirrups I was the moment my husband died. For the first year or two, I heard all financial and legal professionals as disembodied Oz voices amidst white noise. I couldn’t make any but the most cursory and urgent decisions.

It’s been over five years now. I’ve lived in my most recent home longer without him than I did with him. The terror feels more like fear, and I’m resigned to it. I am alone. Terrible things will happen. I’ll manage. But the trauma…? That never ebbs. Yes, I can once again watch movies and T.V. shows I had to avoid for those first couple of years. I can hear music we or he loved and not become physically ill. Finally, he now appears to me in dreams that have nothing to do with him being dead. I cherish those dreams. But that trauma that was right there on the surface? Doubling over in pain when hearing an ambulance siren? Not being able to breathe when passing the place he died? That trauma has seeped into my being. It is part of me now. It has changed my entire worldview and guides my survival. And I am surviving. I may not be living a recognizably productive life, but I’m still here. I am more porous, fragile, quiet, fearful, grateful, peaceful and solo, than ever before. My life is almost childlike in its simplicity.

For most of my adult life I maintained that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. I’ve learned that isn’t entirely true. I can spend the day in shorts, T-shirt and Keds (my childhood uniform) and eat ice cream for lunch, but to say I was happy would be a disservice to real happiness. I am at times peaceful. I am afraid at least once a day. Deeply and profoundly afraid. I am sad often. And my husband is always with me. Always. This is both comforting and shattering. Nobody does “the best they can” and I’m no different. I’m doing the best I choose to do. I may do better some day, I may do worse. I have never bought into that ridiculous chestnut: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. What a load of crap. What doesn’t kill us can leave us on life support.