None of This Makes Sense

We all have limits. Mine, apparently, consists of clutter + unfinished projects + insects + cold weather. Once reached, everything is wrong and it feels impossible to get out from under. I’m getting dangerously close to my limit. I think you’d agree, that when the first thing you think of before your eyes are even open, every day, every single day, is the sheets on the futon waiting to be folded, that something is amiss. More than that sentence, I mean. In fact, lets look at that sentence. It’s exactly how I’m feeling all the time. Backwards, mixed up, still making sense but only if you look very closely.

I’m making an effort to write more frequently since I think that words sometimes clog my brain. Having fewer of them in there means I’m less likely to say the wrong ones. Which makes me worry I’m an unusual case of early onset dementia. People don’t usually correct me, but when they do I’m utterly embarrassed, I didn’t even know I’d said the wrong one. So I can’t even be sure it doesn’t happen that often, which is what I’d like to say, because often all I have to go on is an odd look flashing across someone’s face.

And what does that paragraph have to do with the first one? Only that I can’t fold those sheets because by the time I look at the basement door (that’s right, they aren’t even in my line of sight), I’ve realized there are six things that need to be done between me and it and when I go to ask for help the words that come out of my mouth are usually something like, “I better get another cookie.” It’s one giant run on sentence of mental obstacles manifesting in a larger pants size.

And you know what? I don’t even give a fuck that my spring work pants are going to be too tight. Because if I were to think about that, I’d think of the cookies which will remind me of crumbs, which will remind me that there are ants, which will make me grab the broom only to realize our linoleum is a lost cause, which will make me look at the dead tree in the backyard which is vying with the sagging fence for the next pocket of money, after the tax guy and the IRS, of course, because fuck tax brackets, and so I should just squeeze into the pants because I can’t redo my kitchen.

Bet you wish I’d write less. Anyway, since I can only do what I can do, I’ve been listening to the Couch to 80K episodes of the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. The host is charming, the writing exercises are (so far) short, and I’ve thought of new and interesting thing for the first time in months. And I’m not even trying hard. In ten minutes I’ve accomplished something that I haven’t really been able to do in two years. I probably won’t be paid for anything that comes from it but it might help clear a mental path, leaving room for me to get to the sheets, and the ants, and the clutter.



The Ants Go Marching

I realize there’s a theme to my thoughts lately. Life seems to be the same, day after day, with even the variations becoming routine. One day this week we’ll throw up our hands and order food. One day this week RR will go to bed ridiculously early. One night this week Debra will be out and I’ll watch something on TV that she wouldn’t bother with. One morning at work I’ll accomplish all the things, another none of the things. One night I’ll sleep so well I’ll never want to get up. One day we’ll go to the grocery store after school and RR will get one of the same 10 snacks she always gets.

I suppose I should be grateful that we don’t do the same thing each day at the same time. Tuesday for the grocery! Thursday for band! A schedule is comforting to an extent, I suppose, but it feels oppressive. I’m pretty sure this is another on the list of things we can blame on my childhood.

I’ve been halfway looking for a break in the clouds. Figuratively, of course. Except today there was a literal break in the clouds and I realized that this is probably the February/March doldrums talking and no indication anything is wrong. I mean to say – all the same things that were wrong are still wrong, or at least sitting on the slowly spinning lazy susan of the Wrong Buffet. But the Wrong Buffet is so meager that complaining seems unnecessary. For instance:

  • There are ants periodically invading our kitchen but they are coming up from the middle of the house. This probably isn’t good. Especially since we can’t find their trail anywhere.
  • The dog dug another hole in the yard. I suppose we’ll have to fill it up.
  • RR has left a banana peel or apple core on the table. Again. The ants apparently don’t care.
  • Our anniversary is next week. We don’t have plans and I don’t particularly need to have plans. Should I be deliriously happy? Can we settle for pleased?
  • The lining is falling off of the inside of the car but we have taxes to pay. Good thing they make glue, I guess.
  • The mattress has a lump.

And so you see, I am the very epitome of First World Problems. Having lived for several years in countries where ants would be welcome(er) because at least that meant you had food, I am as aware as you are that my life is exceptionally good. I’m not ungrateful. I do think February and March are soul-suckers and so it’s a good thing there are only 29 days of this bullshit left.

Nearly a Year

My dad passed away in April. It seems like it has been years since he died. I think that might be the opposite of what I’m supposed to say – things like, “It feels like it was yesterday” and “Has it really been a year?” and “It feels like he was just here”. Instead it’s almost like I never had him. I have good, happy memories. They are warm and comforting but they are faded and crispy on the edges. They are also very far away.

I know there isn’t a right way to grieve. It was a harder lesson to learn than I thought it would be. People really don’t like it when you say things like, “Well now that my dad’s not dying anymore, I should be able to commit to that project more fully.” I reread that sentence and almost changed it for you because maybe it sounds glib. But to me, last year was a year when he was very busy. Just like he spent the first year of his diagnosis, fighting to hold on to normalcy, he spend the second year giving in to the inevitable. I wish some of that had taken the form of getting his affairs in order. But he didn’t and he’s dead now. People also don’t like it when you say that. No, they do not.

My sisters are still struggling while my mom seems to have taken back her life. She has friends and she goes places. She’s taking a class. She’s almost making plans for the future but doesn’t because then she probably would be someone else’s mother. She cleans out the storage unit and hugs me when I cry while I put my dad’s cowboy boots and hat into the box marked Goodwill. Of course I still cry now and again. That comforts people, I think, as long as you don’t do it too often.

It’s too quiet when we have Sunday dinner with my mom. My dad was a still man though. He wasn’t restless, wasn’t loud, didn’t bustle, or hurry, or make small talk. His absence is noisy and that’s when I notice how gone he really is. My mom forgets to turn the lights on, leaves the TV on mute (if it’s on at all), and has trouble thinking through the components of a full meal. Often I’ll get a text around 2pm on Sunday letting me know that all she has is roast chicken. She isn’t kidding. It’s as if my dad’s presence closed a few gaps for her and now the holes are wide open. Best not to tell anyone, or they begin to feel sorry for her, for you, for the way she is grieving.

I don’t feel like he’s here watching over me or that he’s close at all. At times, like right now, he’s certainly not shoving away the boulder pressing down on my heart. The rest of the time, he’s a fond memory that occasionally flits past. Are you uncomfortable? It’s okay if you are. Us greivers, we can’t actively grieve forever as much as in the moment it feels like we could or should. Then again, that’s just my brand of grief as handled by the person I am for the person he was and that particular combination couldn’t exist for any other person.

No wonder it’s so hard to say and do the right thing for ourselves or for others. But just in case, and this is for my wife, please don’t commemorate the day he died. I don’t want to know. I’m not that kind of griever.


That Feeling When…

You check your voicemail because, even though you never check it, it has been a shitty week and why not because it can’t get worse, and you see a March message from your died-in-April Dad and you think, “I’m strong enough to listen to that and, man, it would be nice to hear his voice.”  and then you open it and it’s from your mother asking about Girl Scout cookies.

And then you fucking sob.


And Now Thanksgiving

Grief kicks everyone’s ass, right? Oh the holidays are the worst, they say. That first anniversary…the favorite moments…birthdays… Fuck them. Also, why do they have to be right?

I got through Halloween, his favorite holiday. I am hoping that’s the worst of it. It’s not though, is it? It’s equally as bad as the rest. Take Thanksgiving, for example. I don’t have many dad-specific memories locked up in this one. Sure, I can see him carving the turkey (Badly. He insisted on carving the breast in long slices rather than crosswise) but I can also see my grandfather (also badly) and my wife (beautifully). I can see him raking leaves but also insisting on inefficiently blowing them into the wind. I can see him kicking back in an arm chair with a martini, football on, and a fire blazing while we wiped away sweat, splattered gravy, and otherwise created a Thanksgiving Masterpiece while making it look easy. I can imagine what RR would say when he started puffing his pipe. She would be HORRIFIED.

But here I am anyway. I can’t decide how many to invite or even what to cook. And I’d argue that deciding what to cook on Thanksgiving is pretty much the easiest thing you can actually do. I love having huge Thanksgiving parties. Last year we numbered 23 and 2 turkeys. I remember gazing down the long table (yes, one long table for the grown-ups) and thinking, “A few more could fit, couldn’t they? And wouldn’t that be fun?” I do most of the cooking and I love that, too. I love hearing my friends and family laugh as they get to see new people and meet up with old friends that were new just the year before. I love getting out the punch bowl and filling it with homemade eggnog that is, let’s be honest, mostly cream and alcohol. I love putting our 1950s house to the hospitality test and finding that it’s down for a good time, every. single. time.

I’ve been agonizing over a guest list. Do we invite everyone? I cry. Do we keep it family (chosen) only? I cry. You, know, that’s still a party of 13. I cry. Should my mom come? We cry. Should she go to my sisters? I cry. How many pounds of potatoes for an unknown party of people? I cry. Should we cancel the whole thing? I cry. Do we go on vacation? I cry. My wife is probably crying in frustration, even though she politely does it out of sight.

Someone decided we would stay home and invite our chosen family. My mom has gone to my sisters. She asked me if I’ve ironed the tablecloth (that is so long it’s meant for a table of 16). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we might be eating from paper plates standing in the kitchen. I didn’t tell it because that was ripping a small part of me into pieces. I like these traditions. Not everyone gets that. I like having to hand wash the china and silver. I like wondering if that gravy stain will ever come out of the linens. I like saving our money so we can afford to entertain everyone.

I’m going to cry. Hell, I’m crying right now just thinking about it and I’m sitting in a coffee shop. This is only a tiny bit better than last week when I cried in my office, got my sandwich wet, and had to go to a meeting with no mascara and a red nose.

Fuck this. And, Thanksgiving.




RR > Gloom

I’m gloomy lately. It’s the best word for it. A sort of foggy shadow. You can still be happy in the gloom but the bone deep pressure of it is still there. I wish that it was more like passing clouds on a sunny day. I’d even take those days when cold wind and sudden storms gets replaced by a chilly blue sky. And, you guys, I complain a lot and loudly about those days. Ugh. Cold. Instead here I am in the gloom.

Like I said, there is still happiness and a lot of it. For example, RR is potty trained. When I typed that I wrote, “RR hasn’t had an accident in…” and then I realized that we are past the days of counting accidents like injuries at a construction site. We still ask, she still checks, but none of us are sure about when exactly the last day was. For those of you that got here by searching (and lots of you do, judging from search terms), the answer to “when will my child be potty trained” is, in our case, seven years old. We survived it. I wasn’t sure we would. I’m not sure how we did.

Also, I love being her mother. Every single day. She’s independent and delighted with each new milestone she achieves. She can make her own sandwiches, getting down supplies from the highest shelves. She charms strangers. When we stop at a light or go through a drive-thru it’s not unusual to find her batting her eyelashes and getting a genuine smile in return. She’s funny. So funny. She has timing, and delivery, and loves a ridiculous joke.

So far, the genetic gamble is paying off. Of course, it depends on a heavy dose of luck and the donor being truthful, but we did our best to engineer a little girl who looks like me, doesn’t struggle with her size, is chill by default, and has an easy talent for music and rhythm. Of course, she does love to read Captain Underpants books and watches too much My Little Pony. I spend too much time telling her to chew with her mouth closed. I lose my patience. She has the regular allotment of sass. I am over the moon in love with my family. And so, I have indulged myself and included the following. The gloom, you guys, it doesn’t lift but it lets life happen.

Post -Dad Halloween

I wrote this last week. Today is Halloween and it isn’t easier or better, though I hoped it would be. We have done some decorating and RR is getting to trick or treat (to her delight). All day I’ve felt prickling under my skin, like I just. cant. But I can. And I will. And there isn’t much more to say about that.

Today I saw an older man flanked by two woman moving ever so slowly down the street. One must have been his daughter – it was in the nose and the hands – and his wife, possibly, probably, judging by her own weary walk. They were holding his hands, holding him up, and I saw my dad’s late cancer gait and balance. I’m seeing my dad everywhere these days.

I’m trying not to be too critical of my grief. I vacillate between a neutral sad but not too sad and being overwhelmed by tears. I catch myself judging my own degrees of grieving, comparing it to my sisters’ (why are they still so deadlocked in sobbing) and my mother’s (if only she had just recognized the inevitable sooner) and sometimes I feel a bit proud of having kept a practical, realistic mindset throughout the last two years. And then, especially when I start crying and can’t stop (in the car, while loading the washer, walking the dogs, taking a shower), I’m frustrated for not being kinder to my family and for being prideful to begin with.

It has been worse this month. Much worse in the last week. I’m nearly crying most of the time and it just takes a tiny thing to tip me one way or the other. There’s a lot of beauty and good in my life and so, most of the time, I get pulled back in the nick of time and saved from the embarrassment and indulgence in tears for a person gone six months ago. Other times, I take the chance to break and find it’s for the memories more than anything else. Happy tears for having had those moments, but leaving me with a red nose and bloodshot eyes nevertheless.

My therapist once told me I was a pretty cryer at least. I choose to believe it, especially the times when I know it isn’t true.

Halloween was one of his favorite holidays and fall his favorite time of year. He delighted in decorating the house with tombstones and cobwebs, displayed evermore sophisticated fake limbs and rats and spiders, and ran surround sound speakers to our front walk which he could use to personally spook trick or treaters. He was kind to the little ones and devoted himself to getting at least one good jump out of the older kids. When he moved here he handed out candy while we took RR around the neighborhood. He never once had anything but compliments for my own displays which, while in the same vein as his, never have reached the heights he regularly achieved. Even last year, when he was at the end of his ability to walk at all and certainly couldn’t climb the stairs, he sat outside the house with a gruesome looking mummy bandage on his arm and a plastic, wiggling hand in the candy bowl, distributing treats and greeting the children.

My mom can’t drive in the dark. We’ll be on our own for Halloween this year. I just want to close the door, turn off the lights, and fast forward to November. We don’t have pumpkins or a halloween costume for RR (it’s coming, I’m not that terrible). My sister isn’t bringing her kids. There are no spiderwebs or tombstones. I can’t see my way through setting them up without sobbing. And that makes me cry more.