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Archive for April, 2011

I didn’t get caught up in all the excitement over the royal wedding. Unlike some of my friends and coworkers, I wasn’t nearly interested enough to give up precious hours of sleep to watch the live coverage at 2:30 a.m. local time. In fact, I didn’t even remember to set my DVR. So I was completely unprepared, when I turned on my computer this morning and saw the picture of Prince William kissing his new bride, to find my eyes filling with tears.

I broke down and watched a replay of the wedding coverage this evening, and I cried through most of it. I couldn’t help recalling my own fairytale wedding, even though the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding could not be further from the style of our intimate, non-traditional ceremony.  We wrote our own vows (hell, we wrote the entire ceremony). Instead of hymns, we had pop songs. But the way William was nervously biting his lip reminded me of taking my soon-to-be-husband’s hand when I reached the altar and finding that his palms were sweaty. And then there was the way they looked at each other when they were reciting their vows, the little private smiles they exchanged during the readings…

Kate was such a beautiful bride, radiant with a joy that was achingly familiar to me. This is the happiest day of her life, the beginning of a new life with the man she loves. I remember being the radiant bride, feeling as though I walked on air as I left the chapel on my husband’s arm. I felt like a princess that day, and I truly believed in happily ever after.

If only it was that simple. If only life was a fairy tale and my kiss could have brought my beloved back from the brink of death. But we have to live in the real world, where love doesn’t conquer all and depression and disease can steal the best and brightest among us well before their time. And maybe that’s the reason millions of people were so enrapt by this royal wedding: because deep down we all want to believe in magic, in happily ever after, if only for a few hours.

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The Journey

Just home from a three-day camping trip in the mountains with a small group of good friends. On Friday, our first full day in camp, someone mentioned having seen a winery “a couple miles” from the campground and suggested we hike over to it and enjoy some wine tasting. We filled our water bottles, strapped on backpacks, and set out. At the entrance to the national park area that houses the campground, we asked for directions at the ranger station and were told that the winery was 5-6 miles away. Feeling energetic and in the spirit of “yes,” we decided to go for it.

I think the farthest I had walked at any time in the last year was probably four miles. Another mile beyond that? No problem! And anyway, we’d get to put our feet up, enjoy some wine and rest before the walk back.

The first three miles were fun. The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and the scenery was beautiful. We set a fairly steady pace, but stopped several times to take pictures.  

The road we were following wound up and down some fairly steep hills. By mile four, when we stopped briefly at a country store, I could barely catch my breath and every muscle in my legs was reminding me, quite vehemently, just how out of condition I was for this kind of hike. I couldn’t keep pace with the group anymore, so a couple of my friends took turns hanging back to keep me company. By mile five, I was in real pain and fervently hoping that we were almost there.

When we came to mile six and the winery wasn’t even in sight, I wanted to cry. But we’d gone too far to turn back now, so I pushed myself to go on. Around mile seven, we spotted a sign: “Wine Tasting, 0.4 Miles.” At last! Despite my aching legs, my enthusiasm for being almost there allowed me to pick up the pace.

Then I came around the corner and saw the dejected expressions on the faces of my companions who had arrived first. The winery was open to the public on weekends from noon to five. Today was Friday. It was CLOSED. I think we all felt a little sick.

One of our group ventured down the long lane to see if anyone was about at the winery and whether we could at least buy a bottle of wine, even though they weren’t doing tastings. He returned a short while later, riding on the side of a small cart driven by an old man who turned out to be the owner of the winery. They were, indeed, completely closed. He took pity on us and sold us bottled water for a dollar each, and let us use the restroom. He was a kind man and an interesting character, full of “back in the day” stories, and we promised we’d try to come back (by car) the next day.

Then, having no other alternative, we turned around and began the 7.5-mile walk back to camp. I fell behind almost immediately, and for a while no one in the group even turned to look back. Trudging along in pain, feeling miserable and alone, I started to cry. I was suddenly struck by how much this journey reminded me of my journey into widowhood.

The pain of a new widow is nearly unbearable. Enveloped in a fog of shock and grief, you wonder how you can possibly go on… but you keep putting one foot in front of the other, stumbling numbly through the days, because the only other choice is to lie down on the side of the road and just give up. (And I was tempted to do exactly that, more than once, on both of these journeys.)

Gradually the fog begins to lift and, though every step forward still hurts, you’re able to motivate yourself to keep trying with the promise of better times ahead. “If I can just keep going, just get through this hard part, I’ll get a respite.” And sometimes it works out that way. Other times the respite doesn’t come when you need it – and weary to the bone, sobbing with grief and pain, you just keep trudging on.

I hadn’t gone more than a half mile back up the road when my knee gave out. I stifled a cry at the sharp twinge of pain and stopped in my tracks. I knew then that there was no way I was going to make it the seven miles back to camp on foot. Limping awkwardly and grimacing at the pain that shot through my knee every time I put my foot down, I tried to close the distance between me and my friends, so I could tell them that I couldn’t go on.  As if reading my mind, my best friend turned around and looked back… and she stopped and waited for me to catch up.

She walked slowly at my side as I hobbled along. Then she picked up her pace, caught up with the rest of our group, and explained the situation. They all stopped and waited for me to catch up. I tried to stop the tears that coursed down my cheeks, ashamed of my weakness. “Do you have your keys?” one of them asked, holding out her hand. I gave them to her. Soon after that, we stopped at an abandoned building with a bench in front. “We’ll wait here,” my best friend said, and I collapsed gratefully on the bench. She sat beside me. The rest of the group went on, promising to come back for us in my car.

After perhaps a 15-minute rest, I felt like I could walk a little more. My goal was to get back to the country store, a little less than half the way back, where we could get something to eat. Aside from a can of corned beef hash that we’d shared between four of us for breakfast, all we’d eaten in several hours was a few handfuls of trail mix. It was worth some pain in my knee to ease the hunger pangs, and I thought low blood sugar might be contributing to my overwrought emotions.

It took a while, but we made it to the country store. We’d hoped for hot food, or at least a sandwich, but the proprietor told us that he only offered that on days when “the ladies” worked at the store. And, again, today wasn’t the day. We made do with crackers and lunch meat (and beer), which we ate at a picnic table beside the store. Dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and we pulled on our extra layers to keep warm. Rested and refueled, but cold, we decided after about half an hour to keep walking.

Walking up the road, making a halfhearted attempt to hide our open beer cans from passing motorists, we found ourselves laughing. “I know you’re in pain,” my best friend said, “and I know this isn’t fun for you. But I’m glad that I’m sharing this with you.” I nodded. Me, too.

It was only right that she was by my side on that road, as she has been every step of the last 14 months.

We didn’t get very far after that. The pain in my knee forced me to stop every couple hundred yards. I finally leaned up against a big tree and declared that I could go no further, that we’d have to wait here until someone came to get us. And it wasn’t long before, like a miracle of salvation, I saw my white Honda come around the bend.

This I know. When I can’t go on, when it hurts too much to bear, there are people in my life who will hold me up, who will keep coming back for me. And this is what has kept me going on the long, hard road to healing from the trauma of my husband’s suicide.

The next day we did go back with the car, and we spent a lovely couple of hours drinking wine in the warm sunshine. Better times do come, if we can just hold on until they get here.

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Nightmare

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. The fear was so potent, I couldn’t even walk from a lighted room into a dark one unless the light switch was within reach of the door. And forget going down to the basement alone after dusk, no matter how many lights I turned on. Even when I outgrew this fear, I still slept with a night light well into adulthood.

For the last decade or so, it’s been quite the opposite. I have blackout curtains on the windows, and I put a piece of tape over the little light that glows to show that my smoke detector is working. The darker, the better.

Last night I went to bed early, just after 10:00. I have a vivid memory of waking up during the night, reaching across my bed to the lamp on the nightstand, and flicking the switch repeatedly. The lamp did not turn on. The darkness seemed to swirl around me, thick and ominous. I flicked the switch on the lamp back and forth in increasing agitation. I was afraid to get out of bed, afraid to move through the darkness that pulsed like a living, breathing thing. I finally managed to fling myself out of bed and stumble the few feet to the bathroom, flipping both switches just inside the door. For a long, long moment, nothing happened. I flipped the switches again, silently praying, please… Then the lights slowly flickered on, the way fluorescent bulbs sometimes do, very dim at first. My heart was beating very fast, and I started saying to myself, “I am not having a panic attack. I am not having a panic attack.”

Those words were echoing in my head when I really woke up. My pulse was racing, my breathing was shallow, my chest ached. I reached across the bed for the lamp, and when the room was suffused with warm light, I realized it had only been a dream. Well, a nightmare.

And I WAS having a panic attack, no matter what I tried to tell myself. It was already in full swing when I woke up, which has never happened to me before. When breathing slowly and deeply didn’t help to ease the pain in my chest or slow my rapid heartbeat, I got up and took half a Xanax. Then I sat on the bed and scribbled in my journal until I started to feel normal again, even sleepy. I think it was close to 1:00 by the time I slept.

All day today, I have missed my husband in the worst way. His absence has become a dull ache, one that I’ve grown used to dealing with, but today the pain was acute. It took me a while to realize why. I had a dream once before that started with waking up and reaching for a lamp that wouldn’t turn  on. It was just about a year ago now, and in that dream I followed a sound into the living room and found my love sitting there waiting for me. It was the first time he visited me in my dreams after he died. I’ve been waiting for another such visitation for nearly a year. I miss him so  much today because the dream last night triggered a feeling that he should BE here, damn it.

I rarely had nightmares when he was alive. On the rare occasions that I had a bad dream, I would simply roll over and reach for him. Often just touching his warm body, feeling his chest rise and fall with his breathing, was enough to comfort me. If it wasn’t, I could wake him up and he would hold me until I fell asleep again, safe and secure in his arms. In the first few months after he died, I had a LOT of bad dreams. Waking up from them in the middle of the night, reaching for him and finding the other side of the bed empty… It was awful. I didn’t know how to ease myself back down from the terror of nightmare without him. Some nights I was awake until sunrise.

But last night, I managed OK on my own. Well, with a little help from Xanax.

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Just Another Day

I’ve had the Paul McCartney song “Another Day” running through my head since I got up this morning.

Every day she takes a morning bath, she wets her hair,
Wraps a towel around her as she’s heading for the bedroom chair.
It’s just another day.
Slipping into stockings,
Stepping into shoes,
Dipping in the pocket of her raincoat.
It’s just another day.
So sad… Sometimes she feels so sad.

I’m having trouble focusing on work today and everything feels pointless. Maybe it’s just post-weekend let down, otherwise known as a case of the Mondays. It would have been a perfectly wonderful weekend, full of friends and laughter, if I hadn’t indulged in too many of the wrong foods (and a little too much wine) and consequently spent much of it feeling ill. I feel better today, physically, but really tired and emotionally depleted. The balance between too much activity and too much solitude can be a difficult one.

The woman Paul sings about is waiting for the man of her dreams to break her out of the daily routine. I can’t hope for that, since I’ve already found the man of my dreams… and he won’t be coming back. I can’t hope that one day he’ll be able to provide for me so that I can quit the 8 to 5 office grind. A good two decades of administrative assistant work stretch ahead of me, and that’s a depressing thought. I like my job, but this is not what I expected to be doing for the rest of my life. Then again, nothing about my life now is what I’d expected or planned.

At the office where the papers grow she takes a break,
Drinks another coffee and she finds it hard to stay awake.
It’s just another day.

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First Date

I had a date last night, a first date with a guy I’ve been communicating with on a dating website. It was my first date as a widow, a first step toward moving forward and finding someone new, as my love told me to do in his suicide note. Actually, I guess I took the first step when I signed up on the dating site a couple weeks ago. I don’t have very much experience dating, since most of my adult life has been spent in one of two long-term relationships. I signed up on the website with the intention of playing the field, meeting some interesting men, figuring out how this whole dating thing works and how it fits into my new life.  I’m not looking for anything serious right now. I know I’m far from ready to make a commitment to one man. I can’t even imagine saying the words “I love you” to anyone but my husband. (I still tell him every day that I love him, talking to the urn or to the photo of us that hangs on my wall.) But I am ready to go out on dates, to make new friends, to get a little of the physical affection I’ve been so starved for this past year.

I thought I’d be nervous, meeting someone new for the first time, but I was surprisingly relaxed. I knew from the long emails we’ve exchanged that we’d have plenty to talk about. Even if there was no physical chemistry, I figured we’d have a nice evening.

My new friend is a scientist and a musician, a combination that reminds me of my late husband. His profile on the dating site intrigued me immediately. He’s polyamorous, meaning that he lives according to the belief that it’s possible to have loving, intimate and respectful relationships with more than one person at a time. He and his primary partner recently bought a house together. They both date (and even have long-term relationships with) other people, and this has worked for them for over five years. I recognize that this unique situation would be a deal killer for a lot of women, but it suits me right now. I have a history of getting too serious too quickly, and in each of my past long-term relationships I’ve taken on the role of caretaker and ended up feeling burdened by the responsibility to meet my partner’s every need. My husband, who suffered from major depression, used to tell me, “You’re the only reason I’m still alive.” That’s just way too much pressure and responsibility for any one person to bear. I feel comfortable knowing that there’s no chance of my new friend becoming needy and dependent on me, since he has a whole network of relationships to get his various needs met.

We met at an Indian restaurant with white tablecloths, dim lights and a romantic atmosphere. Mr. Polyamory was waiting outside when I arrived, and we hugged each other hello. In person, he’s a few years older and perhaps 15 lbs. heavier than in his profile photos, and I was slightly disappointed. His long curly hair, pulled back in a ponytail, had a little gray at the temples. He was nicely dressed for our date in jeans, a blazer over a pullover sweater, and dress shoes.

I ordered a curry and he ordered biryani, and we shared the dishes family style, along with an order of garlic naan. The food was delicious, though my “mild” curry was just about as spicy as I could stand. Over dinner we talked about our jobs, families and relationship history. For the most part, conversation flowed easily. We did have a few moments, in between topics, when we just sat there smiling at each other like goofy kids. He’s adorable when he smiles.

After dinner we walked up the street to Starbucks for hot beverages and talked some more, about everything from music to politics to favorite travel destinations. At 10:00 I excused myself to the restroom. When I came back, I touched his shoulder, smiled and suggested that we head out. When we got out on the sidewalk, he seemed reluctant to end our date and asked if I wanted to walk for a bit. I said sure, and we wandered the streets of downtown Burbank for another hour, talking non-stop. He’s intelligent and soft spoken, with a quick wit. Whenever I’m with someone like that, witty and highly educated (he has a Ph.D.), I tend to feel concerned that I won’t be able to keep up, conversationally. But I felt so comfortable talking to him, there was no hesitation – and I was pleased when he laughed at my jokes and especially when I was able to bring something he’d mentioned earlier in the evening into the conversation in a new context. We laughed a lot. My best laugh of the night was when we passed a record store that still sells vinyl LPs and got into a discussion of the relative sound quality of vinyl vs. CDs vs. MP3s and he asked, grinning, “What subtle nuances on Never Mind the Bollocks am I really missing?”

Finally, he admitted to running out of steam and offered to walk me to my car. I’d parked in the nearby mall’s parking structure, so we walked through the mall – deserted at such a late hour, but for a couple of security guards, who opened an “authorized personnel only” door for us and directed us to turn left and take the second door to the outside. We got lost and wandered the dank, empty back corridors for several minutes, the heels of my boots echoing loudly in the silence. It was a little eerie, especially after our Dawn of the Dead jokes in the deserted mall, and I was glad he was there with me. When we finally got to my car, he kissed me goodnight – just a gentle peck at first, followed by a few more soft, tentative kisses. He put his arms around my waist and I slid mine around his neck, and we kissed for a long couple of minutes, but they were the most chaste of romantic kisses. He didn’t try to put his tongue in my mouth, not even after I gingerly tasted his lips with my tongue to let him know it would be OK. When he finally let go, he said, “We should do this again,” and I said yes, we should.

I gave him a ride to his car, which was in a different structure several blocks away, and we kissed again before he got out of my car. “As I guess you can tell, I like to move slowly,” he said. I smiled. “Slow is fine,” I said. “I haven’t been with anybody since my husband died. Slowly is good for me.”

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