What You Can’t Plan For

I dreamt of him last night. This was not the “I know you’re dead but let’s talk anyway” usual affair, nor the “How could you of faked your death? Do you realize what you’ve done?!”. No, this dream had not even a whiff of death. He was very much alive and the feelings so vivid it felt more like a flashback than a dream. He was telling me that he had Monday off (but would have to work a little from home) and I was so utterly brimming with joy that I ran and jumped into his arms, wrapping my naked self around him. That feeling of joy was so accurate, so real. It’s been a long ass time since I’ve felt it, but I recognized it immediately. I was as happy to see it as I was my husband!

I’m not romanticizing my marriage by saying that I just loved spending time with my husband. He made me angry and sad at times as I’ve no doubt I did him. But for 18 years there was absolutely no one with whom I’d rather spend time. No one. He didn’t take enough time off, so when there were those unexpected days off I really was thrilled. He (almost) always took off for my birthday and every holiday his workplace acknowledged. But when it came to planning time off he was rubbish. My husband was many things, but a planner was not one of them. He was an idea man, and I was and still am a details woman. There were times, I’ll admit, that I really resented his lack of planning. I hated how tending to all the details made me feel like the “mother”. I envied friends whose husbands planned and executed their travel. I remember a particular tense travel dust-up: once upon a time, during the age of mapquest, my husband printed out directions and handed them to me. Once behind the wheel, he kept asking me to navigate. He had not looked at a map before we left and had no idea what direction we were headed. My “you have one job!” outburst was a long time coming. I planned the trip, got the cash, shopped for and packed the picnic, packed my bag, the dog’s bag, cleaned out the fridge, stopped the newspaper, etcetera, etcetera. All he had to do was pack his back and drive the damn car. Our division of labor was much more balanced in every other domain. But anything that took planning? Eeh gads.

Funny thing; one of the first things I did after he died was to cancel all our plans. (Psychological aside; he canceled my happily ever after plans by dying, and I responded by canceling all our immediate plans.) Just hours after he died, I enlisted friends to cancel the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans I’d made for us. The four days at the beach making turkey with our best friends? Gone. The Christmas show at Birdland? Poof. The New Year’s Eve dinner cruise with friends? Over. All of it, over. Really and truly over. I’ve been on a dinner cruise since then, and to the Birdland Christmas show. I’ve been at the beach since New Year’s Eve this year. They’ve all been fine, sometimes pleasant and always monochromatic. For as long as anyone would listen I’ve maintained that a happy marriage makes life technicolor. Last night in my dream I saw all the colors of the rainbow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life Reclaimed

There are a lot of different kinds of marriages. There aren’t “as many as there are couples” as people don’t differ that much. People’s interpretations of marriage and people’s relationships do differ. My marriage was perfect. For me. I won’t speak for my late husband as that would simply be self-serving. But I can speak for me.

I married my best friend. Not like; “my child is my best friend” (ick) or “my dog is my best friend” (really? would he come get you after your colonoscopy?). I married my husband because he was the sleepover date that I didn’t want to go home. That is not some clumsy allusion to sex. It’s that I never grew tired of his company. He didn’t make me nervous he never made me doubt myself or him. I felt at home with him and had gobs of fun. So when he began to plan our wedding out loud (yep, that was my proposal!) I didn’t even flinch. I did have one moment of bridal jitters: we had checked into our lovely ocean-side honeymoon suite and I was standing by the window, as he was unpacking his bag. All of a sudden I became panicked. “What have I done!!” My very next thought was; “oh, it’s okay, it’s him.”

My marriage was a seventeen year pajama party. That is not to say we didn’t struggle or have our share of crap. We did. But throughout it all, there was nowhere we’d ever rather be than we each other. We would make living room nests and binge watch before it was even a thing. We’d get in the car every weekend for an adventure (when we lived in a cultural wasteland). We were each others touchstone and playmates. We took classes, went to opening nights at the opera, traveled, and read together (yes, he read aloud to me every night.) We shopped together (my husband loved to sit outside the dressing room as if at a department fashion show from a bygone era.) There were years in which we even worked together. That kind of togetherness is not for everyone, but it worked for us. The sound of him coming home never ceased to thrill me.

I miss going out with my husband. I miss sitting at my vanity as he watched me primp. I miss how I felt on his arm. But it’s our home life that I loved most of all. I am a homebody, an honest to goodness closet introvert. Being married to my best friend was a license to hermit. There were hundreds of Saturday or Sunday afternoons spent reading in bed while listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s American Standards show. (I was delighted when the programming changed as it eased that painful reminder.) We both basked in ritual and predictability and loved to nest.

When I began to try and rebuild my life I stumbled out of the house (like a newly born colt) whenever possible. I felt that’s what “living” was and I knew I had to LIVE. I went to the theatre, concerts, exhibits, lectures, classes and traveled. I worked, I volunteered, I took care of other people’s children and animals. And then something changed. I can’t put my finger on it. Was it the man who ghosted me after a brief whirlwind courtship? Was it being with my best friend during his surgery? Was it the three consecutive incidents of sexual harassment in the span of a week? Was it the realization that my family of origin was not going to care for me (I think I’d thought that being widowed would have evoked a dormant empathy). I don’t know, I just know something changed about nine months ago. I’ve started to reclaim parts of my old life. I no longer feel that I need to LIVE to live. I say “no” a lot. No to theatre tickets, dinner invitations, travel, you name it. If the thought of something does not make me giddy with pleasure, I say no. I loved my life with my husband. It was the only period of time in my entire life when I was happy. I’ve discovered that I can reclaim tiny bits of it. It’s exciting and comforting to nest with intention. I’ve even cooked some of our favorite foods…and eaten them! When I catch myself feeling self-indulgent or anti-social I remind myself I wouldn’t have felt that way if he was still here.

I am done flailing around trying to grab onto a new life. I will never be as happy as I was with him. But I can be who I was when I was with him. Enough has changed, I don’t need to become someone new to LIVE.

 

 

Rescue Me

There’s a glossy studio portrait of my little family. Set in front of a dark backdrop, my husband and I stand holding our “boys”; Jacques and Maurice (a Bichon and Maltese). It was a marketing device for when we were a Faculty Family in Residence for college freshmen. That photo was replicated into posters and plastered in the elevators and hallways, advertising our events to “our” students.

I came across that 5×7 photo a few years ago and let out an audible gasp. I am the only surviving member and have authorized the cremation of everyone else. I tucked that photo away along with that life. I loved being a wife and “mother” more than anything else. Ever. I have worked (what feels like tirelessly) for the past few years trying to reclaim happiness and create some sort of life. I’ve taken jobs (paid and otherwise) and partners (worthy and not). I’ve traveled and homesteaded. I’ve had more false starts than I care to track. I have confused taking care of people with creating a life for myself. And at the end of the day, it’s the end of the day. There is no one waiting there for me.

I’ve tried basking in my untethered life. I’ve flitted and flighted and had some interesting experiences. About a year and a half ago I met a neighbor’s cat and was overjoyed to babysit whenever possible. How delicious to have this tiny creature roam my home and snuggle and suffocate me with love. When he would leave I would miss him and remind myself that only loaners are allowed. I cannot and will not put myself through that pain again. I cannot sign those papers. I cannot be the lone survivor yet again.

A couple of weeks ago I flighted to a childhood friend’s beach house. I was greeted by her tiny shih tzu Leo and I fell hard, it was love at first lick. She and I sat on the beach while I peppered her with questions about being a single mother. The idea was overwhelming and thrilling. Could I really do this? Have I become strong enough to let myself do it? Will this change my life for good or bad? What about my allergies, my travel, my…my…oh to hell with it, I’m getting a dog. Less than two weeks later, Marty the rescue Maltese is home. It’s been 72-hours of emotional roller coastering. I am utterly gobsmacked by how much I am missing my husband. We co-parented so well together and taught each other and the dogs so much. I look at Marty’s sweet face and start to cry. My husband would’ve loved him so much. Last night, when I once again acquiesced and put his crate on my bed, I could see my husband lying on his side of the bed and gazing adoringly at that tiny face. It took my breath away. In 4 1/2 years, I have never felt his presence as I do right now. I had thought that getting a dog would be a new beginning, and maybe it will some day. Right now it feels like a very big ending. Taking jobs and partners was just about me trying new things. This is different. This is making a new family without him and no matter how good it is, I know it would’ve been so much better with him.

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and in NYC that means; Fleet Week! The streets of New York are awash in men and women in uniform. If the light (and your alcohol level) is just right, it’s as if you’ve been transported into the film; On The Town. A person (ahem; ME) could spend the entire weekend sailor spotting. I’ve been known to chase down a uniform from two blocks away. I accost these poor visitors with thanks for their service and for brightening up our city for the weekend. Oh, and sometimes I ask for a photo.

By Friday morning I still had not posted any photos on Facebook and began to get concerned messages. Seriously. Some of the queries were from the same friends who had sent “Happy Fleet Week” messages (it’s nice when your friends “get you”). I assured them that all was well and I simply hadn’t found the right opportunity. To prove my reliability I posted old photos; photos my husband had taken of me with our men and women in uniform. It was a warm and wonderful reminder of what a champion of mine he was. Anything was possible with him as my cheerleader and biggest fan. Oh how that man loved me! “You want to work? Fine. You don’t want to work? That’s okay too! You want to try the stage again? WOOHOO! Buy the snakeskin suit, it looks great on you. Splurge!” (Almost) anything and everything was okay in his book. He was always so proud of me and so open to new adventures. I doubt he would’ve gone to as many drag shows, gay bars or straight theatre if I hadn’t wanted to. So there he was, behind the camera as I cozied up to our resplendent men and women in uniform; loving my red, white & blue outfit…and my legs.

I miss the man so often, but I miss that feeling always. I felt strong and brave and seen. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again. But even if I never do, I did. For 18 years I had everything I needed and more than I ever dared to dream.