Missing Hoofy

I was blessed with an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support in the first few weeks after Patti’s death. Equally mercifully, that tide pulled back in the ensuing months and now most people have receded from my sphere. It was all too heavy, seeing a look of deep concern on the faces of  every person who I ran into on the street, and I felt like a sponge absorbing everyone’s grief over and again. That sounds sort of shitty and selfish but it’s been tough enough sorting out my own feelings.

The grieving process is a hard one to unravel or predict. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief aren’t terribly helpful, too orderly and well-defined;  there’s just no rhyme or reason to how I feel most of the time. Denial is an easy refuge, just getting on with life until the dam breaks and I am forced to deal with my emotions. I also worry at times that I am too okay, that I am too level-headed, but then my deeper feelings find a way to worm to the surface and reassert the enormity of what’s happened.Yuk.

An aside: One of Patti’s many nicknames was ‘Hoofy’ for her occasionally clumsy ways. This is a drawing of a necklace I gave her years ago, a collection of silver feet and hoofs. She loved it and wore it a lot. It makes me wonder: will I ever know anyone else whose tastes, weird and particular, are so in tune with mine? Who else could appreciate and encourage my taxidermy collecting, my medical textbooks, my love of sardines on toast? How do you replace a one-of-a-kind treasure?

Waisting Away

One of the inevitabilities of being married and middle-aged is the gradual spread of one’s waistband. A souvenir of all those evenings when Patti would bring me a bowl of ice cream on the couch or we’d eat off each others’ plates like Jack and Mrs. Spratt.

Now our pantry is bare-ish. Jack and I shop on Sunday afternoon, buying just enough to provide cold cuts and fruit for  his lunches, cereal for my breakfast, a few other meager things. I shop most days on the way home from work, buying whatever I will cook that night, always a salad, maybe a steak or chicken breast for him, some veggie or fish thing for me. My favorite word these days, Jack complains, is ‘Spartan‘.

Despite these complaints of deprivation, we are both healthy and rarely hungry. I am amazed at how much less I want to eat. It began in those first horrible weeks in late March, when I simply lost my appetite altogether. But once that passed, I found food wasn’t especially comforting, and instead I preferred the gym I had just joined. For the first time in ages, I love pedaling madly on a bike or throwing barbells around. I also find I have the time. When Patti was alive, I so often felt that time spent on myself was time taken away from her (a perspective she vigorously opposed, but to no avail). Now I have the time and control of my agenda to indulge myself in new ways. Fortunately, so far, most of them are healthy.

My newly instituted regime is also a reflection of a new assessment of my age, of how many years I have left. I’d always assumed that Patti and I would march into the grave holding hands and I had no especial interest in outliving her.  Now, however, because I will continue on this march with no one to lean on, I feel I should be as vigorous as I can be. Both my parents are healthy and robust in their 70s and my grandfather just died at 98. Chances are I will be around to choose apples, tap melons, lift dumbbells and fill sketchbooks for a little bit longer.

In the meantime, I need new trousers and a shorter belt.

The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step

Jack and I have always shared certain things: pens, a love of R. Crumb, a disdain for Dane Cook. Now we have a new and more complex relationship, one that can be annoying and claustrophobic some times, rich and vital at others. We are roommates, creative collaborators, dinner companions, advisors, and dad and son. And there’s no Mom to act as a buffer, filter, and cooler head.

It can be tough living with a teenager who doesn’t realize he is shedding clothes all over the house or drinking the last of the juice. I’m sure it’s just as tough for Jack living with a cantankerous, soppy weirdo. Despite our differences, we are managing okay, crafting a new sort of life in our man cave, surrounded by chip packages and dachshunds.

Most recently, we’ve taken to sharing a pair of blue shoes that we both coveted. It’s been a true compromise as the shoes are a little small for Jack, a little large for me. The experience has proven useful, teaching us what it’s like to walk in each others’ shoes.

Cleaning up our act

My relationship with my journal is like that with a family member or a friend I’ve known since childhood. Sometimes we are distant, formal, perfunctory, obliged. But when I really need my journal, it is there with open pages, ready to hold me as tightly as I hold it. These days, I need it more than ever, and I am more intense, more candid than usual, as I scrawl across its pages.

I would like to share some of these pages with you but they are heavy going and so I will doll them out a spread or two at a time over a number of days. If you like what you see, come back soon and I’ll have posted more.

Here’s where I began. By cleaning up my apartment, on my hands — dismissing the cleaning ladies who had scrubbed my toilets ever since I could afford them — reclaiming what is mine, filth and all. It is part of a process I’ve embraced, of forming a new relationship with the everyday, taking full responsibilty for every aspect of my life.

Being married means sharing the good, the bad, the important, the mundane. Patti and I leaned on each other in a thousand ways: she would shop, I would cook. I would bring home checks, she would pay bills. She kept up with our friends, I worked late. It was a deep symbiosis developed over 23 and 7/8 years — which unravelled in a heartbeat.

So now I am forced to reappraise all of the decisions we made as a team. Many of them can wait: is that the right shelf to store the wine glasses on? Do we need all of these dish towels? Should we live in New York? Others assert themselves and demand resolution. One by one, I pick them off; making lists, adding bleach, filling my weekends with chores.

Every choice is made in consultation with Patti’s ghost, with serious consideration of what she intended, what she thought I wanted, of how to stay true to her spirit, yet accomodate our changed reality. Sometimes it’s terribly sad. Often, it’s a form of companionship that keeps her in my heart, in my pantry, in my thoughts as I doze off.

It’s daunting, it’s doable, it’s underway.

Life goes on.

Patti's final resting place. She loved bears and cookies.

After five weeks, so much of our lives has returned to ‘normal’. Jack and I get up, go to work/school, worry about meetings and midterms, come home, hang out, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep.
A lot of things in our routines have changed. Patti handled every aspect of our domestic life. She walked the dogs, paid the bills, did the shopping, arranged dates with our friends, and a million other things I never knew needed doing, Sure, Jack and I helped out with a lot of that stuff, but she insisted on handling most of it. Now it all falls to me and Jack.
Oddly, doing chores isn’t a chore. On the contrary, it gives me a sense of order and control which I have been sorely lacking.
I like packing Jack’s Scooby Doo lunch box each night (it’s the same one I had when I was 13. Back then I was mocked for it but Jack’s turned it into a badge of coolness). I make sandwiched, pack snacks, write him lame little jokes notes.
I like walking the dogs and getting them back on schedule (I wondered how they would react to Patti’s absence. Would they miss their constant companion? She drove them around on her scooter everywhere, Joe at her feet, Tim in her basket. They were weird but are getting back to normal too. They have had some stomach problems and totally forgot their housebreaking for a while but they are getting better. I enjoy retraining them. Today we worked on sitting and shaking hands).
I like bonding with Jack though I have to beware that I don’t get too overbearing and overprotective. He is still a 15 year-old-boy and needs to stretch his wings. But, of course, because he is all I have left, I worry a bit excessively. He has a new phone so I can text and email and call him anytime. Sadly, I do.
I have been back at work for a couple of weeks. It’s been very busy and the routine distracts me. My tolerance for stress and bullshit is lower than it was. I still care but not necessarily in the same way I have for years.
Patti is still a part of my days. I think of her when I am at the butcher, picking ham. I think of her when I wake up in the middle of the night and want someone to discuss my dreams with. I see her down the block — only it’s not her. I bury my face in her overcoat in the closet and smell the last atoms that once touched her skin. Patti and I had a special vocabulary of our own, silly words I’ll never utter again except into my pillow. 
Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I make myself cry. Crying is like starting a car that’s been sitting in the garage all winter; turning over the engine keeps the feelings alive, keeps my soul lubricated, stops me from becoming a dessicated husk. Pandy will always be in me, always be in Jack, so our sadness has been ironed into us, a layer of who we are, but not a crack or a break in us.
I am changed most because my future is blank. The many plans and decisions we made over the past 24 years are gone. Instead, I have to form a new map, a new set of goals, a new vision of what I’ll be in the years ahead. I imagined that Patti and I would keep growing old together, leave the City one day, go somewhere warm and easy, drawn and paint side-by-side, visit Jack and our grandchildren, feel free in new ways, live a full creative life. Now, it’s just empty. Not bleak or barren but absolutely undefined. I could do anything. Jack and I could move anywhere, anytime. The security I have been saving for all these years seems irrelevant now. I have to provide for Jack till he graduates …. but then what? Who will I be? What will I want? I have no idea.
I have lived with disability for 14 years, always looking for curbcuts, accessible bathrooms, room to maneuver. In an instant, that consideration has vanished. There are restaurants we can go to we never considered before. We can travel without worrying if the hotel has  a roll-in shower. And, yet, I would do anything to have that limitation once again, give up any freedom to help Patti through the door or up the step.
Life goes on. The road bends. New obstacles and opportunities, ditches and valleys appear. I am taking them turn by turn, mile by mile, step by step. Head up when I can keep it up. Looking back now and then, but still moving forward.
My friend, d. price, called me from his surf shack in Hawaii and told me: “The universe picked you and decided to test you. It decided you were strong and had everything and so it would throw you a curve. First, Patti had her accident and it watched to see if you would crawl into a hole or would make the most of the experience. When it saw that you had become stronger and wiser, had discovered that everyday matters, the universe decided to test you again by taking Patti away altogether. Now it’s waiting to see what you will make of this, will you use it to learn, to share what you learn, to make the world a better place? The universe is just waiting to see.” I said, “Why can’t the universe just leave me the fuck alone?” He just laughed.

“Fortunately I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die. You simply lose your body. You will be the same except you won’t have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. … You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease. You will be free.” -Cookie Mueller