Thursday, October 10, 2013

Those things you frame

We've all got 'em, right?  Those framed things... the Prayer of Saint Francis, the Desiderata,  "Kiss the Cook", "Live Well, Laugh Often...", that hang in the kitchen, the living room...or in the garage: "Parking for 49er's Fans Only", the basement:  "Man Cave Rules:..." or elsewhere:  "Flush!"

I've got one, given to me by someone I barely knew, just before we moved away--how's that for "no particular sentimental connection"--and every time I think I'll put it in the charity donation pile, I read it again.
It says:
Look To This Day
Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

And then I take it out of the donation pile, and put it somewhere, intending to hang it up again.  

Lately, I've been getting a little self-congratulatory.  I've been comparing NOW to where I was a year ago.
Last year at this time, I was barely stumbling along in the fog of grief and trauma, plastering an optimistic face over my panicked sense that what I was living was "the new normal" and a fear that what I saw was all there would ever be.  I did NOT want to "Look well to this day". The chaos was just too daunting. And the future seemed impossibly foggy.  I was hardly able to keep track of appointments, numbers, phone calls to return...what day of the week it was, whether my youngest child had eaten dinner.  My teenager was lost and floundering in school and in life, my 1998 minivan was coughing and dying and coming up with new ways to strand me every week.  I was sleeping about 4 hours a night between nightmares.  And so, in my determined flight into distraction from the situation, I was taking on editing jobs, writing in a blog, looking at applying to grad school, and thinking about soon entering the world of dating.  (The diagnostic term for this condition is "Nucking Futs !!"  --be sure to include both exclamation points.  It will be in the next edition of the DSM, for sure. ) 

And a year later, I'm here.  I've gotten myself a smart phone that keeps track of appointments, numbers, phone calls to return, and what day of the week it is.  I'm still working on a program to keep tabs on the nutritional intake of the youngest kiddo, but Siri's "call home" between night classes, works pretty well.  Usually said kiddo can tell me if he ate what I prepared for dinner, or made himself a peanut-butter tortilla roll-up (we DO live in California... yes, he prefers tortillas to bread) .   My replacement mini-van means that I'm no longer on a first-name basis with the operator at AAA.  Grad school is a delightful reality that keeps me in a state of nerdly bliss on those carefully-guarded study days.  And when I'm sleep-deprived these days, it's not because of nightmares, at least.  I'm less prone to distracting myself, but I am still a die-hard over-loader of the calendar.  It's just that I'm doing it more successfully now that I can remember what day it is.

And it's tempting to think that I've entered that part of the poem that says, "the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of achievement", and that I'm going to stay there for a while.

But then I get hit with the next wave-- a teenager who has managed to find his way back to "lost and floundering", some feedback from a colleague at school that keeps me humble... and I'm reading the next line, "are but experiences of time."  Nothing's permanent: not the horror, not the high-fives.  I'm on the journey, and I'm here today.  And "in its brief course, lie all the verities and realities of (my) existence".

I have another sign that reminds me that my power to control things is limited.  It hangs in the kitchen where it seems like so many family conversations occur:

 I wonder if, every once in a while, my friends and should have a kitschy philosophical wall-art trade-off.  Who knows what treasures of ancient and modern thought are hand-lettered and decorated with a ribbon, gathering dust in someone's hallway closet? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Any Port in a Storm

"Were you out there praying?," my grandmother asked me, as we sat at the galley table in the 33-foot cabin cruiser, now docked safely in the marina.

"Nope. Singing," I admitted, making that little head-duck gesture that I still sometimes do when embarrassed. I'd been caught doing what I usually did when I could no longer do anything else to make myself feel better: I was singing through the songbook in my head of every show-tune I knew.  In this case, "out there" was the open-air aft-deck of my family's boat, during a slashing mid-summer rainstorm on Long Island Sound. I'd spent a couple of hours riding out the storm, with its choppy waves that made me painfully seasick, out in the open, wearing a life-vest over my tee-shirt and shorts, with an improvised safety line tethering me to the base of the ladder that led to the fly-bridge.  My parents were concerned that I might wash overboard if a rogue swell hit us.  In a family of avid sailors, for whom weekends and summer vacations meant boat-trips, I was the only one who was regularly prone to seasickness.  Being inside a closed cabin, even on a calm day, would likely have meant spending the trip in the head, or heading outside to lean over the rail and upchuck.

So, on that day of high winds and growing waves, with the sudden rainsquall that overtook us, I chose to be wet, cold, and in the open air, rather than take my chances in the closed cabin with my brothers, my grandmother, and her two adventure-loving sisters, my great-aunts. My parents were on the fly-bridge, piloting us back to port: Dad checking his chart notes, and monitoring various navigational gadgets, and Mom handling the helm on the precise compass heading and speed instructions he gave her.  And to keep me from crying over how nauseated I was, and to keep the deep breaths coming, the ones that help keep me from hurling, I had been sitting on the lower deck, breathing the fresh air, soaked to the skin, with my hair hanging around my face in dripping limp strands; singing.

"You're a girl after my own haht, singing in the stawhm", my grandmother beamed, in her broad north-suburban Boston accent.  Nani was our "fun grandmother", the eternal Pollyanna, the grandma who wore sneakers, shorts and a swimsuit whenever possible, Nani who could throw together a thermos of coffee and a picnic on a moment's notice and head to the beach or the pool, or the zoo, or the mountains in a flash.  She'd been widowed in her late 50's, travelled the world with her sisters, took up photography and began winning prizes in her late 60's.  She also had crippling, painful rheumatoid arthritis that attacked nearly every joint in her body, in the age before NSAIDs and steroid treatments came along.  It was her swimming (sometimes in the icy ocean off the coast of Maine in the summer), her insistence on walking, her picture-taking, her zest for life, and her stubborn Pollyanna optimism that kept the pain at bay. She simply refused to give in to self-pity, or if she did, she took great pains that no one ever found out about it.

There's that "game for anything" smile of Nani's. (maybe a shot of that stuff helped the arthritis too.) 

There are days when I wish I had Nani's die-hard ability to put up a brave front.  Days like today.

Today was Friday the 13th, another narrow gate, (If you haven't been reading the blog very long, see my previous posts on wobbling through narrow gates to know what I'm talking about.), one that caught me by surprise.  I had forgotten to pick some kind of mental "pebble" to draw my attention to the other side of the gate.   I also made the mistake of taking on some interpersonal stuff that I should have left for another day, and that made it even worse.  Today I've been doing more than wobbling.  I've been crashing painfully.  It's been a day of tears and a lost, unproductive state in which I found myself in my exercise clothes all day, but somehow never made it outside to do my run.  I spent hours sitting at my computer, but the final paper for the quarter hasn't been written.  The bills I was supposed to dig up for a bit of accounting somehow never got found.  The dishes piled up.  The laundry never got started.  The dog kept wandering over and putting her tiny front paws on the lap of the zombie in the chair.  She even tried that ultra-cute head-tilt while looking at my face for some sign I was still alive.

But this afternoon, I realized that if I went out to do errands with uncombed hair, no make-up, wearing my sloppy tee-shirt and running pants, I'd feel even worse with every imagined pitying glance I'd be attracting.  Or maybe even worse, I'd be invisible: so frumpy as to be beyond noticing.

So, I shuffled into some decent clothes, tried to make my hair look less like a red-blonde pot-scrubber and more like a coiffure, and even got into the usual quantity of spackle, mascara, and lipstick to complete the look.

 And without thinking about it, from somewhere in my head, the show-tune soundtrack got cued, (thank you, Nani) and I found myself singing:

 "...who cares what they're wearing on Main Street or Saville Row (or Walnut Creek)  It's what you wear from ear-to-ear and not from head-to-toe that matters..."  (Need a little corny pick me up? Click here for the video clip from the musical, Annie.)

I think I may need to see what Broadway collections I can find on iTunes, maybe make myself a CD of stuff to keep my breathing deep and the tears and sick-feeling at bay for a little while longer.  It worked in a different season of storms.  It might be worth a try again.

If you pull up beside me at a red light and I'm belting out those show tunes, just look the other way and pretend you don't know me. I'll be better soon.  Meanwhile, I'll try to remember to stay tethered to the bottom of the ladder 'til the storm passes.

*******  "Have courage, my soul, and let us journey on.  Though the night is dark and I am far from home, thanks be to God, the morning light appears.  The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!"  ***********

Another song in my inner soundtrack is this one.  Definitely NOT Broadway, but a favorite of my choir buddies, and one that my choir family sang for me at Andre's memorial: The Storm is Passing Over.    This performance is by the Detroit Mass Choir and they sing it with a lean, muscular punch,( and a cool Hammond organ part) that few choirs can match.  Enjoy !

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The song is wrong

Any musical theater fans here?  Anybody remember "Carousel", and the song, "You'll never walk alone"?  (Yup, I'm dating myself... well, actually that's kinda where I'm going with this one, but more on that later.)

The coach this morning started us with some "ankeling", he called it, a kind of almost-running walk, with a lot of heel-to-toe movement, and then some backwards walking, some sideways skipping, some weird looking high-stepping movements straight out of "Springtime for Hitler", and then he and the half-dozen regulars with The Run Team took off running.  And I do mean "took off", as in a flight of well-synchronized eagles.

But I'm not an eagle, or even a seagull, ... I'm more of a penguin, actually. (If you're not familiar with the concept of a running "penguin", click here to read John Bingham's blogpost about runners who are penguins.) The flock of folks for whom an "easy jog" is a 6-minute mile were out ahead of me and gone in what felt like seconds.  So much for running with a group, which was my plan when I clicked "join this group" on Meet-Up.  I had been assured that there were going to be "runners of all abilities" on this run.  I guess the otherly-abled people decided to sleep in this morning.

 I ran alone,


...except for when the 70-something-year-old coach of The Run Team turned around from the 3-mile-point and ran BACK to me, asked if I had any injuries, and then, after giving me a few pointers about working on my speed by doing short intervals, turned around and ran ahead to catch-up with his group.

I ran the rest of my 4 miles alone.  The full run was an 8-mile out-and-back, and I'd been told there would be some other folks who would turn around early.  Again, I guess they slept in this morning.

Except for when the six-milers on their way back to the start point passed me in a cloud of dust, I ran alone.

And lately, I'm finally facing that that's my state; alone.  Yes, I have 4 kids, and some great, caring, selfless friends, friends who would drop everything and be with me in a crisis, friends who mentor my teens, friends who let me hide-out at their house; making jam and drinking wine, friends who move themselves and their entire family into my house to look after my kids so I can go away for a week...  And then there's another undeservedly large cloud of friends on Facebook who post encouraging words, who like my photos, who read these blogposts almost before I have them posted, so I'm not truly alone.

But, in some new way, I'm coming to grips with the fact that I'm a widow.  I'm alone.  (The Chorus of DUH has not been heard from in a couple of months, so it's time to let them warm up... go ahead, give us a melodious , "DUHHHHHH!!!")

After I congratulated myself this morning on 4 miles at a faster pace than I've done in many months, I got into my car, drove to a parking lot a few miles between the run venue and home, and had a full-throated, self-pitying, damn-it's-good-no-one-here-knows-me, no-holds-barred, cry-it-out session like I haven't had in quite a while. And it felt different this time.

As odd as it might seem, I have not truly allowed myself to come to terms with this layer of "alone" yet, ever since the police told me to "call someone" as they shoved past me, into my house and up the stairs on the night Andre died.  From that point on, I've leaned on friends, leaned on my therapist, my pastor, my neighbors... and eventually I found a... gosh, "boyfriend" sounds so silly... a man-companion to lean on, to hide from my growing horror at the thought of a life alone.

And he was a terrific distraction. There is nothing like a smart, funny, handsome guy to completely un-hinge me from reality. So while most widows would still have been wearing somber clothing and staying at home every night, I was distracted by balancing the rest of my life to include dating.  And then that relationship went bad, and it ended after a couple of months.  And a day later, (really, no kidding)  another incredibly attractive man walked into my life, and we had a terrific 3-month relationship.  And then it ended.  And the day after it was "over" with Man-Companion #2,  Man-Companion #1 briefly re-appeared on my Distraction Board and I was able to keep running from my sadness at the loss of MC#2,  my residual grief over Andre, and my completely unprocessed sadness at the ending of the first relationship with MC#1.  But now MC#1 is gone again and I'm left facing the fact that I really am alone, and it hurts like hell.

 (Are you feeling like you need a scorecard to keep this straight?)

But I'm studying to be a therapist.  I'm supposed to KNOW better.  "Physician, heal thyself", I guess... It's only dawning on me now that I'm not done with the park-the-car-somewhere-and-bawl-your-eyes-out stuff yet.  And it looks like I'm not the only one who is just turning the corner into a fresh field of grief.  My youngest child, who has been pretty much coasting along, doing well, is suddenly, daily, having tearful episodes of "I miss Daddy.  I want a Daddy."

Oh, crap.  (Don't worry.  That's a technical term.  I'm a trained professional... well, a professional in training..)

I can't do anything about either of those conditions, especially not now.

So, when he's sad, we talk about it, and I tell him that it's really Ok to feel sad, that he won't always feel this sad, and that he can tell me any time he's sad.  Sometimes we cry together, and then we brainstorm ways to feel better.  Sometimes a hug will do it.  Other times, it's tickle-session, or a ride-along on some errands that I need to do. Tonight, his solution seemed to be a bubble bath with ALL the floating toys: ducks, cars, fish, airplanes, trucks.  It can get a little crowded in that tub sometimes, but I guess that's better than being alone.

Not long ago, on a night when the plan to go out with one of the MC's was suddenly cancelled for "unfinished business", (yeah, that is as bad as it sounds),  I did something I haven't done in a while. I took myself out.  Yup, I dated myself, as it were.  I grabbed my notebook and a pen, found a table in a place that played good music, ordered a beer and some chili fries, and spent some time with myself, working on some writing for myself alone.  By the end of the evening, I'd heard some terrific music,  gotten some clarity, felt a little stronger, banished most of my self-pity, wrote a note that needed to be written, and went to bed and slept well that night.

So, maybe the song is right, in a way, "...walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone."  (Here's the cheesiest, most clearly-learned-phonetically-by-people-unfamiliar-with-the-idiom performance of the song that I can find: The Three Tenors (I loved them) sing "You'll Never Walk Alone )

Ok, nope.  It's drivel.  I'm walking, and running, alone.  At least for a while.  And I'm pretty darned sad.

Now, let's see...where did I put those floating toys...?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Birthday Season

"Ack!  The poop deck is collapsing!
"Fondant! Quick!  Roll some up and stick it under there. We'll frost it blue and call it a wave"


" I can't get the woolly mammoth to fall over when it gets a direct hit, without making it so floppy that it won't stand up in a breeze.  Can you take a look at it?"


"So, do you think we should have the kids rob the tomb in the pyramid before or after the toilet-paper mummy race?"

Those were just a few of the conversations that took place during the preparation for kids' birthday parties in our house, in the good years, during times when Andre was stable and I was the uber-mom.

It's the Birthday Season again here, and I'm sort of surprised by the brick wall of "I can't do this" that I'm facing.  I've been thinking about the stark contrast between "then" and "now".

Back in the days when I not only cooked nearly everything from scratch, homeschooled my kids, and kept my house reasonably picked-up, I figured out that all we had to do for a great kids' party was pick a theme that appealed to them:  Pirates, Cave-people, Ancient Egypt (Ok, give us a break, we were homeschoolers--Egypt-o-mania comes with the territory), Space, Tigers, Swamp Creatures... and then follow the formula of projectiles, finger food, and some large props made from cardboard, and of course, THE CAKE.  Not just any old store-bought cake, but homemade cake sculptures:  a space shuttle, a head of a saber-toothed tiger, a pirate ship (yes, we did manage to shore-up the collapsing poop deck with a rolled-up piece of fondant), a tiger, an arctic scene with fondant penguins and polar bears cavorting around an icy pool made of blue jello,  the pyramids at Giza (complete with palm trees), Lightning McQueen from the movie, Cars...

 For entertainment, the kids shot rubber-band rockets at a huge cardboard moon, climbed up in the tree-house to hurl water balloons at a  British Man-o-War cruising in the grass of the backyard below, threw bean-bag "meat" to feed the hungry (paper-mache) alligator, slingshot bean-bag "rocks" at the cardboard woolly mammoth. ( See how theme-adaptable the formula is? )   They took turns unwrapping gift-studded aluminum foil asteroids, used sticks and leaves to paint the inside of a cardboard "cave", mummified their dads in toilet paper, and walked on two-by-fours through the "gator-infested-swamp" wearing huge rubber Wellingtons that engulfed their little legs and made them wobbly.  And they made memories.

Lightning McQueen from "Cars", Andre's last cake sculpture
In those days, I'd sit down with my notebook, the one where I kept all the sketches for holiday table designs, the recipe lists, the guest lists, the cake ideas... and I'd work out the theme, the games, the guest list, the ideas for homemade goodie bags, the menu, and after the first few of these, I figured out how to best tap into Andre's gift for engineering the props for the games and sculpting the cake. We'd stay up past midnight on the night before the party, working on those amazing cakes, and it was a genuine relief each time to hand off the final perfectionist details in buttercream and Betty Crocker to Andre somewhere around 1 a.m. and go to bed knowing that there would be another birthday masterpiece in the freezer by morning.

On the day of the party, I'd be busy setting up the "experience"--the bowling-for-tigers game, the posing-for-pictures-as-a-penguin area, the giant cardboard moon for rubber-band-rocket shooting. The feed-the-alligator bean-bag toss.

The guests, their parents and siblings would arrive (no "drop-off and pick-up" parties for me), and I would spend the next few hours in a blur of motion. I am so grateful that there were adults with cameras at these gatherings, or there would be no photos at all.

In those days, those parties didn't feel like work.  I felt like That Mom, the one who could pull of these amazing parties and make it look easy...before there were just too many plates spinning in our day-to-day lives and my energy began to flag.

Somewhere in the middle of every party, Andre could be found doing something he did extremely well.  When I need an image that helps soften my painful memories, it's an image like this that I turn to.
Andre and Mark, 2004

I've written a lot about Andre's darkness, and for most of the first year since his death, that's felt like the thing I needed most to do: to bring to the daylight the side of our life together that we colluded in hiding.  But our lives were not all darkness.  All of the Hedrick babies knew a Daddy with an almost untiring ability to cuddle sleepy children, a Daddy who could fix nearly anything that was broken, a Daddy who took great pleasure in the grand gesture of unveiling the special birthday creations that he spent so much careful time perfecting.

In fact, over the years of growing instability in our house, as my own energy to keep up the facade faded, and the parties got less and less ambitious, the tradition of the cake sculpture was the last to go, because it was something that I could hand-off to Andre.  I would make the sheet cake that would be frozen and sculpted into shapes, and the buttercream icing that would hold it all together, and my cake-engineer would take it from there.  One year, I couldn't even muster the energy to make the frosting, so I gave Andre the vague instructions to mix "some butter, some milk and some powdered sugar, until you get something the consistency of spackle".  His ratio of butter to sugar was inordinately high, and the coating on the outside of the Death Star, for Mark's 2009 birthday, was a bit shinier and greasier than usual.   But the piping of the black icing designs was precise, and thrilled the birthday boy.

Toward the middle of that party, too, there was another sleepy child who needed to be held (and needed his face wiped, too).  I'm so glad that photos like this exist.  In years to come, I hope that the kids will remember these moments were real, too. 
Rhys and Daddy, 2009

Last year, one of the great gifts that came from the thoughtful, selfless circle of my care-givers was the handling of The Birthday Season for me.  Three of my four kids have birthdays that fall in August, September and October, and there was no way that I could have managed any kind of a celebration then.  I wasn't even managing to get dinner on the table in those days.  In fact, the Birthday Season felt as challenging as the upcoming Holiday Season that year.  

And this year, it's time for me to handle the Birthday Season, which kicked off yesterday.  Try as I might, I just couldn't gather the courage to plan a party full of little kids, but I did manage to make a cake and bring it with us to another family's party on Friday night, where we sang and shared what Rhys dubbed, "The Zebra Butt Cake"  The plan was for a chocolate cake, iced in white buttercream, with Zebra stripes of chocolate ganache.  I was rushing, and tried to put warm ganache onto buttercream and the result was a sliding, muddy-looking mess.  Given that I had used a bundt pan (say that like a 7 year old, until it comes out "butt pan"), my 2013 creation became the Zebra Butt Cake.  It is, sadly, a far cry from the cakes of other years. 

But I was told that it was delicious, and it was homemade, from scratch (not even a box cake), and somehow, my kiddo felt celebrated.  (Going to the movies and getting to choose a restaurant for dinner out, followed by a bike ride together through the neighborhood also helped, perhaps.)  

And that, I think, is the best I can do this year.  With one birthday celebration behind me, two more ahead of me, plus the shadow of what would have been Andre's 47th birthday in September, I continue to hang onto the notion of "good enough", and hope somehow that it is, truly, "good enough".  

Belly up to a lovely slice of Zebra Butt anyone?    

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Older model with lots of quirky charm; needs work, but fabulous inside

On my morning walk yesterday, in a neighborhood I sometimes visit, I chuckled when I noticed the scaled-down, concrete fantasy mountain-scape in the front yard.  And then I saw another house where the garage door had been walled-in and something that looked like chapel-windows had been put into the wall that used to be the garage door... and then there was the ranch house with the windowed cupola, and the one with the 2-story yucca plant in the front yard, and the one with the Greek columns and elaborate stucco work over what was surely once just plain siding, and I got to thinking about remodeling and how many times I've tried to make-over myself to be somehow more "marketable."

This neighborhood of what was once uniform little 2 and 3 bedroom ranches is not exactly fashionable.  No marble foyers, no coffered-ceiling great rooms, no homeowner's association with 20 different "approved color schemes" for your exterior paint, or sending you letters about the dead grass near the mailbox or warning you that the Christmas lights MUST be taken down by February 1st. Nope.  In this neighborhood, what you start with is pretty plain, but you can do whatever you want with what you've got. And whether or not you've succeeded depends on whether you're looking at making it "home" or making it marketable. But like it or not, these formerly bland little boxes have a certain funky soul to them, and I have a feeling that their inhabitants call them "home".

Roger was 6 foot 4 inches tall; taller in his cowboy boots, which he wore often, had an impressive wavy mane of shoulder-length brown hair, and was often mistaken for a country music star (which, in Nashville, TN, was considered a good thing), particularly when he wore his cowboy hat in public (which he did often). Next to him, back in 1993, my 5'10", generously curvy self felt positively petite, or at least right-sized for the first time in my life.  We went to honky-tonks, I learned to eat fried squirrel (yeah, it's kinda gross) off his Mama's plastic plates, hung out with his cousins, went for drives down dusty country roads in his huge pick-up truck, and drank beer.  He had a high school diploma, worked on a printing press for a magazine printer and came over after 2nd shift with grease on his overalls, wearing a ballcap and smelling like ink.  His vocabulary was limited, his curiosity about life even more so.  He was 35 years old, and he lived with his Mama in a 3-room house, with a dog chained out front.

 He was completely wrong for me, but I was about to turn 29, and we'd dated for almost 2 years while I frantically tried to remodel myself so I'd escape the dreaded disease of being single at 30.  He got smart one night, and dumped me just two months before my birthday that year.  Since then, I've often thought of thanking him.  I was the one with the Master's degree, but he, apparently, had much more sense than I did and he saved me from completely transforming myself into Tammy Wynette.

A couple months after my first failed remodeling job, I somehow fell into the next one.  I met Andre exactly 20 years ago tonight, at a country/western dance club on the north side of Nashville.  He wasn't particularly tall, but he was handsome, in a rascally, brown-eyed way.  He had a near-genius IQ and was working on his Ph.D at Vanderbilt, while holding down a full-time job as a technical astronomer. He had a great sense of humor.  He was kind. He could fix anything.  He was a great kisser, and a pretty good dancer.  He had a hard time remembering anything I told him. He was a Rush Limbaugh fan.  He had a habit of working for 24 to 48 hours straight, thinking of nothing but his latest grand plan until exhaustion overcame him and he could become inert for the next 24 hours. He could be jealous and controlling and saw a conspiracy in every news item.  He kept a rack of loaded rifles on the living room wall of his apartment. He lived on junk food and guzzled Coca-Cola.  His startle reflex almost broke my nose, the first time I kissed him good morning while he was still asleep.

 And when, after two weeks of dating, he proposed, I thought, "I'm 29; I'm not going to get a better offer.  I'd better jump at this one, and then just work on making this work."    And thus began an 18-year soul-remodeling project that began with hope and the best of intentions, and welcomed 4 kids into the world,  but eventually crumbled into abuse, despair and a single gunshot that ended it all for a man who just couldn't defeat his inner demons, no matter what I tried to shore up, re-decorate, re-frame, or remodel in our lives.

I've always liked to do art, mostly with fabric (quilts, sometimes clothes), or yarn (I knit and have tried crochet a few times). Sometimes I paint.  I've been known to mess around with clay, and a few other crafting materials.  I'm not particularly skilled.  I can't draw, cut or sew a completely straight line without a straight edge.  I modify nearly every pattern I make.  I twist stitches and lose count of when I've perled and when I've knit. I make a lot of mistakes.  I rip a lot of stuff out.  (But sometimes I don't catch my mistake until the piece is finished and the result can be rather interesting. )

But the the thing that, if I do say so myself, makes my work beautiful in the end is that in the process of creating or re-creating, or modifying...I let the material speak to me.

As I work, I think about the person for whom I'm creating (my best work is always FOR someone), I sense the material in my hands, its essence, its "ruach" (I learned that word from an amazing pastor friend of mine who understands Biblical Hebrew). It tells me what it needs to be, and how that will fit with the person who will receive it.  And that "essence", that "ruach" is what gives a piece of art its soul.   Ruach is both "soul" and "breath" in Hebrew.  It's what makes something itself and it's the breath of life that animates a being.  In the beginning of Genesis, God adds ruach into the lump of clay, and behold! it's Adam, the human.  In the 23rd Psalm, the one that many people, even non-religious people know, the one that begins, "The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want..." , there is a line a few verses later that says, "He restores my soul," and "soul" here, in Hebrew, is ruach.  So, when I'm in that zone where creating is going exceptionally well, it's because the soul of the material is speaking to me, and maybe just had a conversation with my sense of the soul of the person for whom I'm crafting.  And maybe a bit of my soul gets all mixed in there with it, too... and something soulful, but definitely not standardized or marketable, is created and given away.

I've been realizing lately that I'm in another self-remodeling phase.  For the first time in a long time, my life is mine to re-make.  I feel like I'm starting with a bland little ranch house that's seen better days. It's been tempting to look at my soul's chipped paint, outdated fixtures and sagging floors and wish that I could somehow be a shiny, pristine, carefully-staged tract home with granite countertops, a two-story grand foyer, and track lighting (and grown kids).  But that would be ignoring the ruach, wouldn't it?  No work of art can come from that.
 Instead, the best I can do is freshen up the paint, (the department store make-up ladies love me)  shore-up what I can (run, walk, bike,eat right), and try to turned "dated" into "classic".   And most importantly, I have to find ways to make sure that the ruach is being listened to and allowed to shine through.

Another word for remodeling, particularly of an older home is "restoration".

"He leads me beside the still waters.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He restores my soul..."

Hmm... I guess I'm looking at a restoration job here; something soulful, rather than marketable, a good home for the right buyer someday, I hope.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sticks and stones, and words

Digging my toes into the warm sand beside a crystal-clear alpine lake (Tenaya Lake, at 8,000 feet near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park) last Saturday, July 13, I watched something really curious.  Fifteen-year-old Calvin and fifteen-year-old Joe, buddies since their days of  sippy cups, overalls, and afternoon naps, made up a new game on the beach.  It involved throwing stuff at each other, mostly small rocks and the occasional short stick.  Calvin crouched in the water, scooping up handfuls of pebbles and pelted them at Joe, while Joe stood at the water's edge scooping up projectiles to hurl at Calvin.  They howled and laughed like only teen-aged boys can, swooping and cracking from manly baritone to little-boy screech as they moved farther and farther apart, laughing louder as they called out "you got me!", before moving back into close range, and beginning again with increasing the distance. There was no trace of hostility in this game.  It was as if the sting of the pebbles on their chests, arms, legs, and sometimes even heads couldn't possibly hurt at all.  Sticks and stones, apparently, did NOT break their bones; in fact, they seemed to be drawing the boys into a testosterone-fueled, hilarity-laced ritual of bonding via chucking stuff at each other.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" 

It's odd how this one-year anniversary of Andre's death is teaching me about resilience, despite the sticks and stones that life has hurled in the past year.

Last Thursday, we buried Andre's ashes in an unadorned plot (we will eventually have a stone marker there) in the shade of a tree in a small, private cemetery on a farm road in the Central Valley.  Our pastor, a wonderfully earthy, maternal, un-pretentious vessel of the Holy Spirit, arrived there a few minutes before we got there, and made sure that we were able to see and touch the real thing: the damp, crumbly dirt and the hole itself, stripping away the astro-turf and plastic-flowers that the cemetery manager had prepared. We didn't need to be shielded by fakery from the reality of what we were doing: committing what was left of Andre to a hole in the ground.  When the time came, I was able to kneel on the dirt, getting mud on my jeans, and put the remains of my husband of 18 years into a hole in the ground, along with a few of the roses from our yard that Andre loved, roses that he said he grew for me.  My daughter and her best-buddy, Megan put letters into the hole, letters they had written to Andre as part of their grief-processing.  We all had an opportunity to shovel some dirt into the hole, and as we were doing this, my younger son, Mark decided that he needed to participate and say what was in his heart.

"Fuck you, you son of a bitch! I outlived you!", he half-shouted, half-sobbed, tears slipping out and sneaking down his cheeks, before he retreated to his plastic chair in the half-circle under the trees.

There were a couple of gasps, but mostly there was permission to let go of the anger that mixed with grief at this last good-bye.

So there were rocks, and mud, and thorny flowers, and secret words on paper, and public swear-words, and nobody got hurt...sticks and stones and words that cannot hurt me.

And after the burial, we found a place on highway 120 that served handmade burgers and fries, and ice cream shakes in 51 flavors, on the way to our reserved campsite near Yosemite.  Over the next couple of days we hiked and camped, and played in water wherever we could find it, and we stood in awe at the majestic rocks and towering trees in Yosemite National Park :  more sticks and stone that didn't hurt us, but helped us heal instead.

Late on Saturday night, on the actual one-year anniversary, to the day and hour, I was feeling haunted, even as exhaustion had graciously worn my children down to sleep, and I texted a compassionate friend who had agreed to stay awake for me, in case I needed a voice and an ear on the other end of a phone line to get me through the haunted hour.  We talked until 1 a.m., well past the worst of the haunting for me:  words that not only didn't hurt; they healed.

Since then, I've had a couple of days of thinking about the possible hazardous sticks and stones of my kids' growing independence, of letting my older children stretch their growing wings: I put Calvin on a plane by himself, with instructions for connecting to a bus and then a ferry boat, on a first solo trip to see his uncle in Washington.  I stood back and watched Patti try her hand at playing electric bass in her youth group praise band, her first-ever attempt at the instrument in public--no coaching on my part, no "vetting" of her music, just a ride to rehearsal and a report of "she totally kicked butt, even on the stuff she was sight-reading" from the leader of the band afterwards.

And I had a day this week that was full of words that, at the time, felt like more hurt than I could bear, but I'm still standing.  In the space of one day, I had a heart-twisting phone conversation with someone very dear to me, a conversation that ended with what might be good-bye for good, and then later that day I got word that a neighbor had decided that the loud words (Ok, yes, we are a family of yellers, and we sometimes forget that the windows are open) coming from my house were a good reason to call the authorities to report suspected child abuse (??!!)   (Is it just me, or is the irony here almost choking?  A year AFTER my abusive husband's death, some neighbor decides to call the police about yelling? )  Painful, honest words, passive-aggressive untrue accusations, and I'm still standing.

So, to summarize the past week:  sticks and stones flung:  no damage.
Words of several pointed shapes flung: no damage that can't be healed with the tincture of time.

It might be time to revise that bit of childhood doggerel.

Sticks and stones might break my bones, but only if they're big enough and thrown with malice, AND words MIGHT hurt me, but I'll recover with time.

Nah... it's just not as catchy, is it?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The only way out is through

A few months back, I wrote about a tactic I'd learned from a bicycling friend, for riding my bike through a narrow place.  If you haven't read that post, you might want to check out that entry, about finding a spot to focus on, just on the other side of the obstacle. (if you click the highlighted text, you'll go to that entry).  In short, I discovered that if I can find a pebble, a stick, a crack, even a dark spot on the pavement, just on the other side of the narrow gateway, I can ride my bike through without wobbling.

This month, which somehow started in the last week of June, with my eldest son's birthday, has been one continuous "narrow gateway", and I've been wobbling all over the place.  There are painful memories of one of Andre's most serious loss-of-control/out-of-touch-with-reality moments that happened at the end of that birthday celebration last year, a moment that terrified us all, and a moment that, in retrospect, should have been the one that caused me to pack up the kids and whatever we could grab and leave the house.  But we didn't.  Who knows how differently, possibly worse, things would have ended if we had. Andre was not one to lose graciously, and he would have seen it as my "winning" if I had taken the kids and tried to leave then.

So,that night, as I had done so many times before, I simply talked him down, tucked the kids away in bed or in their rooms, and prayed for the strength to keep loving my husband out of his "moods", as I thought of them.

This year, we marked my son's birthday with three celebrations that were totally different from last year.  On the weekend before his birthday he hosted some friends for several hours of harmless paintball-shooting mayhem, followed by pizza and cake.  And then on his actual birthday, we were watching the Oakland A's beat the Cinncinnati Reds, and Calvin got to keep a ball thrown into the stands by Yoenis Cespedes, this year's star outfielder.  The next morning, we packed up our gear and headed to Bodega Bay for some camping.

But no matter how much I have tried to wrap this time in fun, the constant "sneaker waves" of memories (I've explained those, too, in a previous post.  Click here to read it. )  are making us all a little crazy: short-tempered one minute, depressed the next, soaking in the delights of summer: birthday parties, sunshine, baseball, beaches, outdoor time, and then suddenly we're lost, swamped in last year, and echoes of other years' bad times with Andre's illness. Multiply those waves by 5 people, and you get a picture of the emotional chaos around here this month.

This week, as the 4th approaches, the sneaker waves keep washing me back to last year's final getaway with Andre.  Last year, on the 3rd of July, we hopped aboard a plane for Maui, courtesy of my generous employer, for a few days of adults-only R&R (and a couple of business meetings for me).  That time, despite the gorgeous romantic setting of the west side of Maui: palm trees, beaches, rainbows, posh accommodations... was full of "I am suffocating and I don't know how much longer I can keep this up" moments.  Looking back from the vantage point of the past year, that week becomes part of the final downward slide to Andre's death, and what could have been fond memories of Andre's last full week of life in a beautiful place are stained by that knowledge

Last night, I got brave and allowed myself to sit through the fireworks at the end of "The Singing Flag" , a patriotic musical revue that is performed locally every year on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of July.  Single shots are the worst, as they have the power to drag me back instantly to the moment of Andre's death.  I've had some awful moments with small firecrackers and even doors slamming over the past year.  But last night, after I breathed through the first couple of single firecracker shots, I was actually ok.

It probably helped that I was with my kids, with my youngest child sitting on my lap and critiquing the height, color, and pattern-spread of each shell as it exploded.  And we were with our dear friends,Gina and Peter, the ones who arrived first on my doorstep the night of Andre's suicide.  That awful night, Gina was the one who stepped right into thinking and managing for me--a job that would go on for months, but started in those first awful hours:  making a plan to get the kids out, figuring out where we would go, what we would do that night, washing the blood off my feet and hands, and helping me through having my mugshot taken by the police, and insisting that a female police officer be permitted to go back into my bedroom (as I was not), to retrieve clean clothes for me to wear when I left the house.  

Gina is fighting her own battle now.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April, has had surgery, and is now bravely and calmly strategizing her way through chemotherapy, with radiation to follow.  When I'm tempted to think that my life is complicated, I don't have to look very far to be reminded that it's not all that bad.   Maybe that's a pebble on the path for me--some perspective.

Our upcoming trip to Yosemite (my pastor has called it "granite therapy") on the day we will put Andre's ashes into a grave is another pebble to steer for, on the way through this narrow gateway.  Funny... to think of those massive slabs of granite as "pebbles"...

But I'm finding that I might need a much larger stash of pebbles on the pavement to get me through each hour of the next week or so.  I guess I'd better start filling my to-do list with "pebbles", in case I need to toss some in front of me, to aim at them as I navigate this narrow gate that seems to go on forever.

Ok, maybe that's a bit too big a pebble... :-)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Location, location, location

Recently, I was working on finding some real estate, but not the usual kind.  It's just the latest turn in the journey toward the New Normal ( sometimes I worry that I'll end up in the old "Normal", and I think that's in Oklahoma... How confusing would that be? ... sorry, blonde font on...).

It's June 14th, and we're just under a month away from the 1-year-anniversary of Andre's death, and the kids and I are still digging out around here. Here are a few updates since the previous blog posting:

The "toy car" (a 1981 Porsche 928 that needed constant tinkering) has been sold and moved out of the garage, along with the majority of the spare parts that Andre had stockpiled.  Some techy kid in Oregon now gets to figure out "what's that new noise?"  and I have space in the garage for my minivan.

I'm deep into my master's degree program studies (and loving it, even though I'm struggling to keep up with the paper-writing load. But it's writing about psychology, so, really, how hard can that be for an enthusiastic armchair shrink and would-be journalist anyway? ).

The kids have finished school for the summer.

There's a delightful, thoughtful, funny,smart, music-loving man who seems to like hanging out with me these days and we see each other just about every weekend, and talk on the phone nearly every day.

On the day after tomorrow, I'll do my big run in the San Francisco Half Marathon (if you haven't yet donated to the American Brain Tumor Association, the organization whose work I'm supporting with my attempt at a run, here's the link:

In early May, I had the unexpected... well, I won't call it "pleasure"... of emergency gallbladder removal, and a six week NO-training recovery period, which made all of the above a little bit more complicated than I might have liked, but thanks to the generous efforts of friends and neighbors, my kids survived my sudden hospitalization unscathed and I'm on the mend now.  I'm seriously anxious about being the very last straggler across the finish line in Sunday's race, but surely that is pretty much a first-world problem.

And so, with all that running in the background, my latest project is getting my head and heart around the upcoming 1-year mark, figuring out how the kids and I will get ourselves through that tough anniversary, and working on what to do with Andre's cremated remains.  In the immediate aftermath of his death, I knew I'd be dealing with this question, but at the time, it felt like too much to handle, and that is, I guess, the advantage of cremation: there's no rush on dealing with the remains.  So, the large, heavy (seriously, who knew it would be that heavy?) wooden box, the size of a shoebox, with a brass plate engraved with the name, Andre Hedrick has been sitting inside a suitcase inside the back of my closet since last August, when the funeral home turned over his ashes to me.

...except that I'm feeling like it's TIME.  And soon.  So, I made a call to my pastor, and got the name of a local cemetery that has niches for ashes... and got, after an ugly bit of refusing to play "what do you want to spend?", a "bottom-line" price quote of $4,000 !!!   I try very hard these days not to be rude to people, but I was so shocked that my usually empathetic, polite-to-others outlook dropped right to the floor along with my jaw and I said, "that's freakin' ridiculous!"  The poor salesperson then scrambled around to give me a quote for " a place to scatter the ashes" for roughly half that price.  (Um... if I wanted to just scatter them, I could do that for free, lady.)

She seemed puzzled when I told her that was equally ridiculous.

I unplugged my cell phone earpiece, pulled out of the parking lot, and began driving my errands, complaining in my head to God, the universe and anyone else who would listen about what a horrible racket the funeral industry is, preying on people in a vulnerable state.  But it wasn't until I got myself out of my pity party mode and began to spend some time with my heart in Andre's better spaces, as much as I can access them, that I began to get an inkling of what to do.

As I rounded a corner and made the turn into the hardware store, the answer came to me.   Andre talked often about how much he hated the Bay Area, and longed to move someplace out in the country and telecommute. Seemingly, out of the blue, I remembered a cowboy town, about two hours away, on Highway 120 in the Central Valley, a place where the Hedrick family always stopped on the way home from camp in the Sierra, to shop for Andre's favorite Wrangler jeans (by the numbers, MWZ13, 38x30 ) at Tractor Supply Company.  It always felt like Andre's demons didn't reach him there, for that short space of time in a place that felt like a slice of Tennessee dropped into California.

With a call to the cemetery in that little cowboy town, I got a quote for a very affordable price, for a burial spot, with a headstone.  The dear lady on the phone said, "You just give me 48 hours notice before you come, and I can be sure that you also have some chairs and a shade canopy for your burial, hon."   I cain't help it (yes, that's "cain't", in that soft Southern/rural twang that always makes my shoulders drop), I just instinctively like people who call me 'hon'.  A second call to my pastor got her enthusiastic response to the idea, along with her willingness to drive all that way and pretty much eat up her whole day, along with some logistical brainstorming on picking the exact date and time for the burial.  She even helped me come up with a plan to take the children camping near Yosemite, so as to be "outta Dodge" on the anniversary itself.  (Oh, and houseburglars, I just got the alarm re-connected, the video system working again, and the neighbors will be on-alert, so don't try anything stupid.)

With a change of location:  from "where it's convenient" to "where it's right" and from self-pity to a last bit of tender remembering the man that Andre used to be, the marking of this horrible anniversary is feeling manageable.  I know it won't be easy.  Nothing so far has been easy, really.  But somehow, I think we'll get through it with a minimum of horror and maybe some new memories of our first visit to Yosemite to soften the harder memories of mid-July 2012.

Last year, in the days immediately following Andre's death, a very dear friend made me a "mourning music" CD that contained this piece, among many others that spoke comfort to me.  As we come up on the anniversary, the lyrics of this one are speaking to me again:  (If you click the lyrics, you'll go to a YouTube video where you can hear the piece.)

"For He shall give his angels charge over thee, and their hands shall hold and guide thee.  They shall uphold thee in all the ways thou goest. They shall protect thee. "

Tonight, I'm very aware of all those angelic hands that have brought me and the kids this far.  And I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pain-free...what a concept....

On a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I ran the farthest I have run since last July, and I ran my fastest per-mile time ever. No, don't ask me for the numbers. They are NOT impressive in the world of runners. They are only important to me, as I work up from "I can't do this", to "I think I can, I think I can..." 

I ran pain-free, and that’s the part that got me thinking.  But first, you need the backstory.

Last Spring, in my "Before" life, I started training for a half-marathon for the first time in my life. I had never been a runner in my life. I was eager and had no idea what I was doing.

I ran too fast, too often, too long.  I paid no attention to form, or working up my mileage slowly, or running only every OTHER day,  and within about 6 weeks, I was in such pain that I couldn’t make it through even a mile.  It turned out that I had a stress fracture in my heel, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and pain in my hips and knees. 

And I couldn’t fix it on my own.  It wasn’t enough to simply focus on form, cut back the miles, walk more and run less, stretch, do exercises, use various muscle rubs,  wear different shoes, buy expensive inserts... although I did all those things.  So, I went to a sports-medicine doctor who x-rayed my painful foot and gave me the news:

I had to give up on running.  Period.  For six weeks. 

But I just couldn’t let go of my plan to run my first-ever half-marathon, so I discovered cross-training:   I hobbled to the pool, wearing a boot-cast, strapped on my waterproof iPod and my float belt and I jogged in the water. I looked ridiculous. I really missed running, but there was no way that I could continue to run, even if I'd been given the all-clear. It just plain hurt too much.  

And one day I decided to hop on my bike (leaving my boot cast at home) and try riding along the miles of trails around here. Even though my bike at the time was the wrong size, too small, I knew within just a couple of miles that I had discovered a brand-new love. I LOVED riding my bike ! ( Very soon after that realization, I bought myself a right-sized bike, and we have been together ever since.  )

As the race day drew nearer,and my six-week forced rest ended, I hobbled through short, easy walk/runs, and continued to ride my bike and water jog.  I really wasn’t healed all the way, though. It still hurt like crazy. On race day,  I ran those 13.1 miles and finished with a big smile, but I was in an awful lot of pain.  That was July 29th, 2012.

 I hadn't run more than a few steps (ok, one 5K with my kiddo in November) until just 2 months ago. 

But my recent Saturday run showed me definitively that time away has healed my messed-up feet, ankles, knees and hips, and as long as I take it easy and follow all the rules I’ve now learned about how to do this right, I think I’ll continue to run better and better.  

On Saturday’s run, as I revelled in how much better it is to run pain-free, I was struck by the parallel to another area of my life where I’m inexperienced, did things wrong, and now I'm hurting: relationships.

Yes, I KNOW it’s too soon. I know that by whatever "Rules" are out there on this subject, I probably should not have been dating so soon after Andre's death, but again... I'm breaking rules in my search for my new life. It's been a difficult and very lonely 18 years of being Andre's wife and keeper, and I am longing to finally be loved, and be in love. 

And I know it's too soon.  

I can know that, intellectually, and still not experience that to be true, just like I knew, intellectually, that I needed to be careful about training to run a half-marathon, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I felt somehow compelled to do, and I made some really dumb mistakes that got me hurt.

Feeling like I needed to "sneak" the beginning of my new life, but also feeling a bit defiant of “what everybody will think”, I stuck a toe in the waters of dating, and I met someone pretty special in late November.  

However I was not prepared for how intense things could get, after being so lonely for so long. (Ok, bring out the chorus of "DUH !!!!" )  Starting in January, things started to go badly, get worse from there, and there's just too much pain in that situation for me to keep "running" there.

And as much as we both wish that we could just “cut back the miles a little” or “run a little slower”... Or, in relationship language, be "just friends”, I can’t do that.  There are stress fractures in my soul at the moment, and as long as I keep trying to run in that relationship, I’m just adding deeper pain to my life. 

My pain-free 5.5 miles has helped me realize that only way to someday run pain-free is to stop running completely, in this relationship, to shake hands or hug, and walk away with grace and a smile (even if the tears are flowing). There are a couple of loose ends to wrap up soon, but that's what I know I have to do.

I'm hoping that there’s a bit of life-cross-training of some kind that will put me in touch with that “new love” that I found in riding my bike while race-cross-training.

Or maybe I just have to wear my “boot cast” on my heart and get used to the idea of being alone.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped-for; the conviction of things not yet seen"  (Hebrews 11, v. 1)

So, while I take the time for my stress-fractured heart to heal, I will continue to lace up my sneakers and put in my careful miles of training toward the big race in June (If you haven't visited my fundraising page for the American Brain Tumor Association and my run in the San Francisco Half Marathon, now would be a good here. ) , and I'll just have to keep trusting in what I do not see yet. 

I'll see you on the running paths and bike trails... I'll be the one who looks like she's running in slow motion, getting passed by the kids on tricycles.


And sometimes, I have to admit, I'm not always the "Little Engine That Could"... the "I think I can, I think I can..." girl. Sometimes, I'm more like this one:  

There goes my G- rating for this blog... Some strong language might offend sensitive viewers.  Sorry, y'all. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Half Out of the Middle, and other crimes

"So, are you still sleeping on the same side of the bed, or have you moved to the middle?" 

Sometimes, it takes a 20+ year old movie to get me thinking about how I'm living my life right now.

Last Sunday afternoon, right after church, I declared, "I need a nap.", and I went upstairs, shut the door, turned on my laptop and watched,  When Harry Met Sally   for the first time, all the way through, without interruption.  (If you've lived under a rock even longer than I have, and have no idea what this movie is about, click here for a synopsis.)  When Harry and Sally are still in their "friends" stage, while they are each still grieving the break-ups of their relationships with their respective partners, Harry asks Sally, 

"So, are you still sleeping on the same side of the bed, or have you moved to the middle?

And Sally says that she's moved to the middle.  Harry agonizes that he's still sleeping on his original side of the bed, and that he feels weird if even his leg moves across the middle line.  

Until very recently, I was just like Harry, sleeping only on "my" side.  In fact, I hadn't even been un-making that side of the bed.  Don't ask me why.  It was just instinctive.  That had been Andre's side of the bed. It never occurred to me to claim it.  

And no, this isn't really a meditation on my bedroom.  As usual, it's another instance of something small, something mundane and concrete that gets me thinking about something bigger.  Interestingly, in my eagerness to re-decorate and change the master bedroom in the days and weeks right after Andre's death, I knew I had to make changes that would interrupt the constant re-runs of the horror movie in my head or I'd never be able to sleep in the room again, but I was also rather worried that somehow, I was making the room "too" mine, doing too many things according to only my tastes, and feeling like I should be deferring to someone, even though I knew that Andre was gone. 

About a week ago, I had a dream that has stayed with me.  Andre was in it, as he sometimes is, and that, in itself, is usually upsetting.  This one, though was memorably upsetting because of what he was doing.  He was, with the help of the husband of one of my dear friends, filling-up my house with junk; Andre's junk, computer parts and bits of household hardware, boxes of old textbooks, childhood tchotckes, car-parts, the very junk that I have spent months clearing out, throwing out, donating, boxing-up, trying to sell-off!  And the other man was helping Andre fill-up my house with this crap by BUYING more of it on the internet and having it shipped to my house.  In this dream, I felt powerless to stop them.  It was just the way it had always been:  it just wasn't my choice about what came in, what was spent, and where the stuff piled up.  

 I'm not an expert when it comes to interpreting dreams, but this one felt like it was sending a clear message:  It's time to stop letting Andre, or my memories of Andre, or any other person, fill up MY house, my heart, the house of my spirit, with unwanted "stuff". 

 Not only am I free to sprawl across any part of my king-sized bed (notice I said "my", not "our") that I want, I am also free to begin choosing what stays and what goes from my life, regardless of what the "rules" used to be.

Recently, I challenged an old rule that went something like this:

All house-fixes related to aesthetics are simply TOO impossible and cannot be accomplished without weeks or months of "thinking about it",multiple discussions of why it just can't be done, and then, perhaps a martyrdom operation in which the original single-item task turns into multiple, complicated processes with 100-year-engineering built in, along with several trips to the hardware store, and possibly one to the emergency room, and no further aesthetic input allowed.

In violation of that rule, one afternoon, I looked at my front entryway, and decided that although I'd been told that it was "impossible" to have a small lamp and a small table in the entryway because we HAD to keep a really ugly 1930's vanity there, AND there was simply NO WAY that an extension cord could be tacked along a baseboard to an outlet on another wall... too complicated, too impossible... it was time to have that entry the way I wanted.
  •  one trip to the thrift shop to donate the ugly mirrored vanity, 
  • one trip to the hardware store for a couple of needed items, 
  • one trip to TJMaxx for a lamp, 
  • a little time spent crawling along the baseboard with some cable tacks and double-sided tape... and voila!  rule broken.  No trips to the emergency room.  No martyrdom, and nothing bolted to the wall with 80-lb capacity molly bolts, centered precisely using four kinds of levels... RULE BROKEN
And shortly after that, I decided that I was fed up with having nothing but salvage-area computers with antiquated software that couldn't stream Netflix or use Skype or stream Pandora, so I broke this rule:

Under NO circumstances are new computers to be purchased.  New computers are full of suspicious things like versions of Windows that are younger than our oldest child, and possibly have things like webcams and disc-burners built in.  This can't be good.  Boneyard computers, frankensteined from parts and pieces, and loaded with versions of software that can't be purchased or supported anywhere are the only options. 

You see, in order for me to have been able to watch When Harry Met Sally in the quiet of MY room, it required that I have a new laptop, not one constructed from bits and pieces, not running a bootlegged copy of an out-dated operating system... Yup, I actually bought myself a new computer 2 weeks ago, but it took two weeks to realize why I was feeling haunted by doing so.  I'd broken a rule.  You see how it starts?  I break a rule by buying myself a computer, unassisted by an "expert", I watch a movie I never could have sneaked time for in my old life, I hear a question that gets me thinking, and before you know it, the rules are being broken all over the place, and I'm writing about it to an audience of who knows who.  Who knows where it will stop.  Oh, and I bought the computer with a portion of the proceeds of the sale of one of Andre's guns. (Yet another rule broken.)  How's that for a trade?  A bit of paranoia and death sold-off to a collector in Tennessee, in exchange for a bit of life and laughter that I purchased for myself.

The dream (well, waking it up from it, anyway), my realization that I could indeed  "take my half out of the middle" of my king-sized bed, my adventures in decorating, and my heedless foray into the trackless jungles of Windows 8 are all wobbly-kneed moments of realizing over and over, and sometimes with tears, that I am freer than I realize.

And I am definitely wobbly: just like the day after Andre's memorial service when I removed my wedding rings, just like the day I spent with a dear friend, cleaning out Andre's clothes closet and emptying his dresser.  I'm free, but I'm unused to being this free, and it's a little scary and a little lonely.  There are times when I am holding in one hand the memory of how awful it was to live in the prison that was my marriage, and weighing it against strange comfort of the predictable, if confining and painful security of my previous life.  It's in those moments, I feel like that character from another movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the character who simply can't handle freedom after being in prison for so long, and eventually returns. I think there have been some times lately when I've wished for a way to return.  

I won't return, though, not to that life, and I know that eventually I will learn to live here on the outside, and learn to revel in my freedom.

For now, I'll start with moving ALL the pillow shams, and turning down the WHOLE edge of the covers, and climbing into the middle of my king-sized bed.

To sleep, perchance to dream... I'm hoping the dreams get better from here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Raise the seat. Aim for a central point just ahead of you.

I learned something recently from a guy I know.

Wait... that didn't sound quite right, did it?  

Really, this is not a blog entry about that.  

But I did momentarily capture the attention of your inner 5-year -old, didn't I?  (Or, for some folks, their inner 18-year-old... ) 

(Now kindly re-direct your inner kindergartener to something more appropriate, while consoling your inner teenager, that there will be some mention of long legs coming up... oh, and a brief bondage joke.  You have been warned.

Ahem... back to those life lessons. 

I'm referring, of course, to what I have learned recently about riding my bike.  And while I was riding my bike today, I got to thinking about how those lessons could be applied in the rest of my life.  

Lesson 1- Raise the seat

Ok, this one I did NOT learn from a guy, (aren't you relieved?)  but it is something I discovered today on my ride.  I'm 5'10" and most of my height is in my legs.  I was the kid with the high-waters throughout most of my childhood.  And now I refer to my summer collection of "cropped pants" when I can't find the extra-long jeans for my 36-inch inseam. After struggling along with a much-too-short bike for a couple of years, I'd given myself the gift of a right-sized bike last Spring, when I needed to cross-train for my first half-marathon.  But I had never considered whether the height of the seat was properly adjusted to give me enough power in each pedal stroke.  Today, it suddenly occurred to me to raise the seat a couple of inches, and... voila !  More power ! 

I'm thinking that there's a metaphor I need to consider: when I'm feeling like I'm just not making any headway, I need to consider extending myself a bit more, stretching a little beyond my current comfort zone, if I want to experience my full power.  

Lesson 2: Aim for a central point just ahead of you.

This lesson was the one that actually got me thinking about how what I learn on my bike applies to my life.  And it's the one I learned from a guy. :-) 

I had a conversation, a couple of weeks ago, with a friend who is a competitive cyclist, and a pretty helpful guy when it comes to advice.  We were talking about that wobbly feeling that you get when you have to somehow thread yourself and the bike through a narrow place on a ride: gates, a tight overtake-and-pass, or riding in a group. Take a look at the photo above and notice those poles at the end of the crosswalk.  All along my ride on the bike trails around here, I have to ride through those gateways.  Sure, they don't look all that narrow, until, as a newbie cyclist, I try to ride through one, and I find myself feeling wobbly and having to slow way down, which makes me even more wobbly, which can lead to crashing into one of the poles.  They are a kind of Island of the Sirens for a casual cyclist like me: the poles have a kind of magnetic pull, and a swerve to either side can bring me to destruction, or at least bruises and embarrassment.  

And my friend's advice was to aim for a central point, ahead of you, just beyond the narrow place.  I tried it today for the first time, during my 22-mile ride along the Contra Costa Canal Trail.

And it worked !  As I approached the gateway, I chose a specific leaf, pebble, or even a dark spot on the pavement, a few feet past the gateway, and I maintained speed and sailed right through, again and again, gate after gate.  It didn't work as well when I just told myself to "look past the gate".  It seemed like I needed a specific, visible point to aim for.

In my life these days, my own magnetic, crash-inducing, poles-on -the-trail Sirens are guilt, grief, self-doubt, and a kind of paralyzing depression that makes me a lousy mom and a real drag as a friend.  Each time I get "ambushed" either by a holiday, or some kind of family milestone, or something that reminds me of the difference between my life now and where I wish it was, I find myself wobbling dangerously close to these monsters.  (If you've forgotten the story of Odysseus and the Sirens since your junior high school English class, click on the blue text, and you can grab a quick fix.)

So... what to do?  In the story, Odysseus had his crew put wax in their ears and then lash him to the mast while they sailed past the rock where the Sirens were.  But you know, if I'm going to have a bunch of sailors tie me up, it had better be for something way, way more fun than simply ignoring me while we sail past some old rock.  (Of course, I'm kidding... my mom reads this blog...and so do my pastors.) 

But I CAN "aim for a central point" ahead of me. 

If an emotional "narrow gate" on the calendar is looming, and I feel myself getting wobbly, and I'm pulled toward a crash, I can stay aware of those "poles", but keep moving toward a specific, visible point, just beyond that gate.  I have a feeling that the whole "just think of your future" thing isn't going to work.  It's too vague, and frankly, there are too many future scenarios that are not at all cheery, if my mind chooses to go that way.  Instead, I need to identify the possible upcoming narrow spots, and then find or plan a specific event, preferably something involving doing for others, extending myself (see Lesson #1), that will occur just past the opening of the narrow place I have to travel through.   

March... no problems that I see...April / Easter... I think that one's pretty well covered.  A celebration of the victory of life over death, of resurrection, renewal, redemption... I think that one won't involve too much Andre-loaded wobbling. 

May... a bit more challenging.  That one is going to require some spotting of specific pebbles on the pavement.  I've got a birthday in the month, and then there's what would have been our 19th wedding anniversary, a week later, on the 28th.  I've got a bit of time to spot those pebbles, I guess.  One possible "pebble"  might be my half-marathon run with the American Brain Tumor Team Breakthrough, on June 16.  (If you click on the blue text, it will take you right to my fundraising page.  How's that for shameless self-promotion?  It's for a good cause, though.)

June...maybe I'll still be running off the high of the half marathon for part of the month, but I'll need a pebble to steer for as I approach my eldest son's birthday on the 25th.  

July brings us to the one-year mark, and it might take more than steering toward a pebble to keep me from wobbling.  But that's where my amazing friends come in.  Somehow, I'll get through it... or maybe somebody will round up a crew of sailors to do that lashing-to-the-mast thing...No, wait...I didn't say that, did I?  (No worries, Mom, I really am kidding...

Hebrews 12:1-2 
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I'm thinking that will make a pretty good-sized pebble, in addition to any of the other ones I might need to line up.