Posted tagged ‘Widowhood’

Soaking Up The Land

August 25, 2018

Today I had the doors open all day, for the first time in months. The temperatures had plummeted into the 70s, which to me is paradise. And tonight I could sit outside for dinner, and linger long afterwards, for the first time in weeks, The smoke has finally dissipated, and left us with Moderate air quality, and I swear, I’ll take it, even though it’s not classified as Good.

And tonight I lay in the grass and looked at the sky, awash in the sweet fragrance of alyssum. Evidently it’s been far too long since I did that, since Minou circled me restlessly, mewing gently and rubbing himself against my outstretched extremities. A starfish on land, I was.

But soon, in less than a month, I’ll be at sea. At sea for three months, surrounded by oceans and the lands that abut them. Traveling in the company of 1300 strangers, all people who’d presumably rather be at sea than on land. So what could possibly go wrong?

Really, I expect all to go, forgive me, swimmingly. By then I will have eaten all the garden vegetables I can, and will leave the rest to my house sitter. I don’t know whether she cooks, but I hope so, because there will be approximately 400 padron pepper for her to deal with. When I planted them I forget what late producers they are.

As much as I enjoy my current life, I am looking forward to being cast adrift, waking each morning not knowing what the day will hold. Aside from a couple of weeks on the island and a week in France, I’ve been tethered here for the past three years. For me, that’s a long time.

A part of me is yearning to fly free. Another part of me, the part that’s older and on this journey alone, is scared shitless.

I have just one more month to prepare for this adventure. Yesterday my dining room looked like a shoe bomb had gone off. A dozen pairs of shoes (thank you Zappo’s) were spread over my dining table, and spilling onto the floor. I’m in search of the shoes in which I can walk comfortably all day, a task complicated by the fact that I have enormous feet, and a recent foot injury. Only certain shoes will do, and holy moly are they had to find. Today I managed to get seven pairs returned, but I have to confess, a few more pairs are on the way. No vanity is involved, I assure you. All of them are in the “ugly as sin” category.

But then, I ask myself, why in the world should I care? There’s not a person in the world that gives a fig how I look. And I’m going to be in places I’ve always wanted to see (China! Japan! Australia! and other wonderful Asian and South Pacific countries as well).That’s what counts, that I get to go there.

Here’s what I can’t let count, even when it’s hard: Leaving Minou and Toby for three months with a person they don’t know. Not making anything with the prodigious plum crop my tree will be dropping soon. Trading the nostalgic scent of flowers for the aphrodisiac scent of salt air. Leaving the people I am used to seeing on the regular for people I’ve never seen in my life.

Trading land for sea, that’s the dilemma. It’s the thing that keeps me wondering whether I’ll stay here or return to the island. I love my home here, and am having a good life. But the sea is in my blood, and it tugs at me every day. Maybe I’ll get that out of my system after floating in its aqueous embrace for the next quarter of a year. Or maybe I’ll learn that I can’t live without it a moment longer.

So in a month I’m setting sail, hoping that time and the sea will tell me where my future lies, and will show me how far I’ve come.

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How Young Is Too Old?

June 1, 2018

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Lately I’ve been contemplating this puzzle: am I too old or too young? Specifically, too old to live alone, or too young to live with others who might feel that they are too old to live alone.

If you know me, for sure you’ll say that I’m not too old, in fact, I’m too young. But here’s the thing. Parts of me are broken and I don’t know how to fix them.

Last fall I was told that my shoulder needs surgery, again. As soon as I was done saying all the bad words I know in all the languages, I realized that it was impossible. In 2010 when I last had shoulder surgery, Shel did every little thing for me, fastening my bra, moussing my hair, all the stuff married people do for each other when they absolutely have to. Because I couldn’t do those things alone.

So now I struggle with that shoulder every day, and try to ignore the pain and awkwardness for as long as I can. Because I can’t think of the alternative. Really, who is going to do up my bra in a pinch?

And if I have that awful surgery again, and it really is brutal, I have no Shel. Living alone, I’d basically be going bra-less and shampoo-less for a couple of months. And while I might have done that in the 60s, I’m way too old for it now.

And then, a couple of days ago I broke a bone in my foot, something that’s surprisingly excruciating. I have to wait almost a week, because our healthcare here is appalling, to see someone who might know why this happened to me while I was just walking across the parking lot at work, and tell me what might be done about it.

“Stay off it,” said the nice Urgent Care doc. Uh, how? I need to cook, do dishes, buy groceries, feed the cats, how in tarnation am I supposed to stay off it?

I guess I always thought that by the time I’d be needing help with the quotidian, the simplest stuff, I would have found a partner, or at least a companion. But no, here I am four years after Shel’s death living with just my cats, who are decidedly not helpful under the circumstances.

So yeah, I’m brave, and independent, and all that good stuff. But seriously, I’m only going to get older,even I will cop to that. And while my mind and heart are as good as ever, which is pretty darn good, various other parts of me are letting me know that all is not as it once was.

I’d like to get my shoulder fixed. I’d like to get my foot fixed. I’d like them not to need to be fixed! But hobbling around with the heavy bag of cat food in my left hand because my right shoulder doesn’t want the load, thus putting all that extra weight on my broken left foot, that sucks. And when I say it sucks I mean that it sucks the big one, and that I don’t know how to make it better.

Am I too old to live on my own? Am I too young not to live on my own? You tell me.

Road Narrows, Road Widens

March 14, 2018

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Crossing the back of beyond I passed a sign that said Road Narrows. I slowed down a bit, although the way was plenty wide enough for me. Then another sign, same warning. I slowed a little more. Tired of sharing the trip between Pasco and Walla Walla with other travelers, I had chosen a very small road, the back way into town, no one in sight for miles.

In fact I hadn’t been on this road for years, couldn’t even remember its name. I hoped that I would recognize it in passing, and I did. I remembered right away how delighted Shel and I had been to discover this little twist of pavement running through low, rolling wheat fields. How we wondered whether we’d really find our way.

In the ten or so years since that moment nothing and everything has changed. The road is still deserted, perhaps narrow for the tractors that must travel it more often than cars, no door to knock on if you need help, or companionship, or directions. I too still feel deserted, my life having narrowed so that there’s still room enough for the everyday, but not for the exalted. And although I’m often looking for a door to knock on, I generally keep on going, heading for home. And now I rely on GPS to find my way.

But last month a friend asked me what I was looking forward to, now that Spring is in sight. “Flowers,” I replied, but could think of nothing else. It took a couple of days for that to sink in, the knowledge that I had nothing in particular to look forward to, except another day on the planet, for which I am always grateful.

Suddenly it felt claustrophobic, to be living my life on such a confining track. My emotional GPS began to shriek, softly, telling me to stop choosing the narrow path, to stop slowing down when there’s really no need. Telling me that it’s time to start knocking on my own door.

For a whole host of reasons I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been working as a writer, and so free-time writing has felt redundant. And my life has felt unremarkable, just le train train, as you say in French, the daily thrum of chugging down the rails. Nothing much to say for myself. Feeling that maybe I’m old enough to just let myself get old. Stuff like that.

But now I’ve decided to widen my path. Because of course I’ll never be younger or stronger or braver than I am right now, and it would be a shame to waste all that. So I’m planning a big trip for myself, in just six months. I’ll be doing everything I can to get prepared for that, and part of it will be to hang out here on a regular basis, thinking out loud.

Because when I don’t, it’s often too quiet to hear myself think. And because it feels like staying on that narrow, too quiet path for much longer, I might forget how think at all, might forget how to look forward to whatever’s just down the road.

Crossroads Of The Heart

July 28, 2017

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Somehow life in France always seems more vivid to me. I don’t know why, but when I’m there the smallest things glow with meaning and emotion. Every word and gesture seems nourished by an undercurrent of feeling.  Shel always said that when we lived there I was the happiest he’d ever seen me, and I think that’s still true. Something in me sings to be there, it’s an intimate experience of well-being, living in a place where le relationnel, the interpersonal, is the driving force of daily life.

I got a little French suntan last week while I was on vacation, but it’s already fading. I’m still thinking in French half the time, but it’s no longer all the time. I brought home with me the impulse to look prettier, fuss with myself a bit, that always descends on me when I’m there. That too shall pass, and I’ll once again go to the grocery store in embarrassing shirts with lackadaisical hair, not having looked in a mirror all day. That’s how I am here, less, in so many ways.

One reason is that there everyone knew and loved Shel, thought of me as his wife, seldom saw me alone. Here, no one’s ever known me to be anything but alone. Ça change la donne, which is hard to translate. It’s a game-changer, making you do something differently because of the hand you’ve been dealt.

In a certain way now I’m a half, but my friends in France all knew me when I was part of a whole. In another way I’m twice what I was, because, whatever happens, now it’s all up to me. I live another life in France, I speak another language, I’m someone else entirely.

But this time I was definitely an American, and faced a lot of gently- raised eyebrows. and a certain amount of tiptoeing around, until I took to saying notre soi-disant President, our so-called President. It’s a lot for one person to have to answer for, the horrific mistakes made by one’s country. I gained a much greater sympathy for the Germans of modern times, who must feel, as I do “it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.”

All of which raises the question of who I want to be in this so-difficult world. In spite of  the legendary bureaucracy and the notorious plumbing, should I sink back into what feels to me like the warm bath of French life? Or is that bath bound to cool with the times, just as the American dream is shattering, unthinkably? Stand and fight, or flee toward peace?

It’s a time of deep, existential deliberation for me, and it’s France that inspires my contemplation. As a woman alone on this Earth, one with a foot in each of two worlds, I welcome your thoughts and counsel.

La Piscine Et Le Glouglou

July 17, 2017

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Glouglou is a lovely onomatopoetic French word that technically means to gurgle, or glug, but also means to drink a lot, or describes what one drinks a lot of. And piscine is, of course, a swimming pool. And drinking, perhaps immoderately, while swimming? Well, that’s the story of the day.

Because all the while I was planning this trip to France I was dreaming of this pool. Perhaps it’s a shallow dream, to go where it’s hot and submerge oneself in cool water while drinking French wine, or the alluring, anise-flavored drink of the south, pastis. Ok, I’ll just go ahead and be shallow. I’m on vacation and shallowness is called for. Or, if not called for, at least allowed and indulged.

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Although down here near the deep end is where some of Shel’s ashes are buried, and it’s here that I place a glass of whatever glouglou I’m indulging in, so that I return regularly to where he lies, floating, paddling, and just generally hanging around his presence, on some level or other.

Today while there I suddenly began humming a bit of a song by Alain Bashung, “un jour je parlerai moins, jusq’au jour où je ne parlerai plus.” One day I will speak less, until the day when I speak no more. Which is, as you know, exactly how it went down. That inspired a pretty big gulp.

After a few lazy laps I passed by this same spot and heard in my head another French classic, “il y a longtemps que je t’aime, jamais je ne t’oublierai.”  I’ve loved you for such a long time, I’ll never forget you. And there a gulp wasn’t enough, I discovered that what I really needed was a saltwater face wash, which my own blue eyes obligingly provided.

Ok then, is that why I’m here, in this sort of garden of Eden?

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To revisit my past life? I thought I was coming to see old friends, before they, or I, get too old for a grueling journey between our two far-apart daily lives. I didn’t realize that this house would be a living cemetery of memory, albeit beautiful memory, and beautiful in its own right. Maybe more of a memory museum.

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But yes, the view from this pool, one of my very favorite spots in the world, is clouded, or enhanced, depending on your perspective, by the shadows of my former life. In this case, it’s analogous to a filter. Because for the first time I decided not to bring a camera, but to try to make a leap into the future by using just my phone to capture my days. And the filters cast shadows, and make things glow, just like my memories.

But I’m not reproaching myself for any of it. I plan to spend as much time in the pool as I possibly can, and if it’s saltier when I leave, well c’est la vie.

 

 

 

 

 

Passing The Mom Torch

May 14, 2017

 

weddingOn this Mother’s Day I’m keenly aware that this will be my last year as The Mother; next year at this time I’ll be The Grandmother. Because yes, the future is upon us, and Eric and Jessica are bringing about this shift in the gravitational pull of the family by having a baby in October. (pause for applause)

I’ve always thought of myself as too young to be a grandmother, even though some women are great-grandmothers by the time they reach my age. And although I know that many women can’t wait to pass this particular milestone, being a grandmother has never been a part of my self image, and I can’t help but feel that I’m not ready. Although since this baby will have three grandmothers, I expect that I can still act as if I refuse to grow up, without endangering the grandmother quotient that every baby deserves.

It’s a bittersweet time. It makes me feel my age as I’ve never done before, but the thought of a new generation in our family is so reassuring. It makes me think often about Shel, how he would have been so proud and happy to see Eric all grown up (well, mostly) and becoming a father himself. How he too would have had his moments of ambivalence, still seeing himself as a perpetual rock and roller, how he would have had to work to settle into this new role, how he might have loved it.

So although I do have moments of quaking in my boots at the prospect, and although I’ll always still be a mother, I’m trying to awaken to the reality of becoming more matriarch than Mom. It’s one of life’s predictable transitions, if we’re lucky, and it all revolves around having someone new to love in this world. So little mystery person, I promise to give you all I can for as long as I can, and Jessica, next Mother’s Day will be all about you.

The Thousand Days

January 14, 2017

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This has been a rough week. Unrelenting snow and ice, temperatures well below freezing night and day, back in school after many months, and I have been off kilter the whole time. Bothered by everything, pleased by nothing. Too much so to be explained by mere weather, mere homework. Finally, though, just before falling asleep, it came to me. This has been the week of the thousand days, the thousand nights.

A thousand days since Shel died. A thousand days of making my way through life alone, hands outstretched, groping in the dark. A thousand days of picking myself up off the floor and telling myself to get back in the game. A thousand mornings of going out into the world trying to be a good, brave girl. A thousand afternoons of coming home to an ever-empty house.

A thousand days of putting air in my own tires, of trying to figure out how to put things together, and take things apart. A thousand days of talking to myself, singing to myself, cooking for myself. Trying to encourage myself, appreciate myself, dress for myself, tuck myself in and wish myself a good night. A thousand nights of sleeping alone.

A thousand days of wiping my own tears, celebrating my own triumphs. Going to the doctor by myself, going to the hardware store by myself, going to England, France, and Canada by myself, moving to a new town, watching our world spin and wobble, forgetting to mark the days as they come and go. Being hot by myself, cold by myself, happy and unhappy and everything else by myself. Getting older, by myself.

I never would have believed I’d get this far away from him. A thousand days. A thousand nights.