Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rip Van Winkle and the Sneaker Waves

No, that's not a new pop band on my kids' iPods, although I kinda wish it was...

As of last Sunday 1/13/13, we passed the six-month marker since Andre's death.  We're halfway through this first trip through the calendar, with all the ambush-filled dates of holidays, birthdays, and "firsts" of all kinds.  And right among the predictable grief waves connected to these significant dates, there's a "sneaker wave" of grief that hits when I least expect it, when the sun is shining and there's only a slight breeze, just like the actual sneaker waves that the weather folks warn us Northern Californians about:  you're playing on the beach, in a tidepool, sitting on a rock, and WHOOSH, one of these waves washes up and knocks everybody over, sometimes sweeping people away and drowning them.  The grief that has been washing up lately, unpredicted in many cases, has mixed with the everyday frustrations of life, until it's hard to tell what's grief and what's just the growing pains of life as I continue to move through the calendar.

In my most recent round of "consolidation" (doesn't that sound nicer than "shovelling-out"?), I re-discovered, in a specially-designed space in the console of my minivan, a forgotten stash of cassette-tapes.  (For those of you born after 1980, cassettes were an ancient, pre-MP3, pre-CD format for music...ask your parents.) .   It was mostly stuff from my life before I was Andre's wife, before I was the mom to the four Hedrick kids.  It was tapes of a Celtic folksinger named Ed Miller, The Austin Lounge LizardsTish Hinojosa, and the Paul Simon "Graceland" and "Rhythm of the Saints" albums, along with an obscure skiffle band that played the campus quad at UT Austin back in the late 80's, Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom .  I think I must have stashed those tapes in the only place in my life that still had a cassette player, once it became clear that my days as a minivan-driving homeschooling mom had begun in earnest.  They hadn't been played in the car in a long time, although a few songs found their way, via iTunes, to my iPod running mix last year, in preparation for the half-marathon.

When I unearthed those music tapes, and started playing them on my rounds of errands,  it felt like I had opened a "time-capsule" of who I was before I began altering myself to fit my chosen role.  Playing those tapes, (and singing along, drumming on the steering wheel and "seat-dancing",  much to the chagrin of a certain teen and pre-teen), I was re-introduced to that person who ALWAYS sang in the car, a person who knew that Saturday mornings were made for morning shopping, and coffee out with a friend.  That person was an unabashed liberal, a cat-lover, a Shiner-Bock drinker, a fan of ethnic music of all kinds, an avid Spanish learner, a wearer of cute undies, a connaisseur of the art of harmless flirting, and an expert flash-mob dinner-party hostess. ( I once even turned an ironing board and a red bed-sheet into a Christmas buffet table in my tiny studio apartment, and felt no need to apologize... can you imagine?

It feels like an odd, RipVanWinkle awakening after 18 years of silencing and shrinking myself  into a kind of hyper-vigilant coma.  In that state, I was acutely aware of needing to keep things stable, of needing to buffer my husband from the world and the world from my husband, of needing to keep the kids out of my husband's cross-hairs... and to do that, I had to mostly anesthetize the silly, sensual, passionate, spontaneous side of myself for the soul-surgery required, that would make me capable of living within the confines of my role as Andre's keeper, and then later, my kids'safety buffer. I decided that it was pretty hazardous, and mostly futile to stick up for myself.  I learned to deaden and silence, to quickly accept blame, apologize, and work on the "fix".

In my non-expert opinion, the homeschooling mom-gig, even in ideal circumstances, calls for a certain necessary buttoning-down of the self.  There just wouldn't be hours in the day, and energy left in the body to lobby on behalf of a few causes, work on those samba knee/hip movements, phone a few friends for a potluck dinner party, try-on something cute from the clearance rack AND have the meatloaf on the table for 6 at 6, and get all the lesson planning done for the next day, while taking the kids through their various assignments at home while the kids are home all day.

And in my case, the to-do list also included  keeping the kids from triggering their Dad's rages, keeping them quiet while Andre' wandered around the house with a conference call phone on his head, cleaning up after his various snack-food-making sessions, and grabbing the remote to turn down the volume on Fox News when he'd left the room.  A few parts of me had to be chopped-off, or at least folded-away in order to fit in the box I had chosen to live in when I married Andre. ( Make no mistake: I chose the box, and I did my self-alteration to fit it.  I am not a victim.  I'm a person who made a series of mistakes, and I'm an unbelievably blessed person to be given now, under outrageously ugly circumstances, a second chance at life, both for me, and for my kids. )

With Andre's death has come a kind of un-planned-for, un-guided, un-buttoning of my boxed-in state.  The kids and I are actively in the process of calling-out non-functional (Ok, we do call it "crazy"..sorry. ) thinking when we spot it in our patterns of interacting.   Andre's pictures are gone from the walls, except in the kids' rooms where they have each chosen to keep a picture of their dad.  I've rearranged, and continue to re-arrange the furniture and decor.  I'm selling-off whatever I can of his money-pit hobbies.  And I'm beginning to let my heart out to play a little in the world of adult relationships, pitfalls and all.

And so, the sneaker waves of grief continue to roll in, and I'm doing my best not to let anybody get swept out and drowned in them.  Lately, I'm finding myself clinging to the rocks of my close friends, and trying to remember the other piece of advice we hear on the Northern coast--don't turn your back on the sea.  For me that means knowing and accepting that I can't predict when the waves will hit, but trying not to deaden this process of exploration and growth by living in fear of pain.

"For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and of power, and of self-discipline"
 2 Timothy1:7

Not even sneaker waves can wash that away.


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