Refuge In Grief – Day 03

Today’s prompt is about living in a changed world. How do you live in a landscape so vastly changed? 

“Happy to drink from the waters of sorrow, To kindle Love’s fire 

With the twigs of a simple life.”

In 1997, only a few short months after we were married, our first big purchase together was a 1929 historic brick bungalow in Chicago, in the same neighborhood where his parents and grandparents had once lived. A sunlit gem with glowing wood floors and natural stained floor-and-crown mouldings still unpainted. Our two cats would bathe themselves on the south-facing dining room sun-filled floor, this being the only thing they agreed on. We lived our most happy years together in this home, five happy years of bliss. We made a baby there, we hosted large parties, we grew almost ten kinds of hot peppers in our cherished garden. Jon and his Dad built an awesome Parthenon-of-a-deck which was the crowning achievement of owning this home. It still stands in all its glory today. I know because I drive by when I visit Chicago. I talked to the new owner just this past February 2017, who was out on the front steps with his two little boys. Unlike the deck where something was built from literally the ground up, there existed a ‘B Side’ to our home ownership projects. Our bathroom had a cast iron white tub with ‘updated’ plastic tiles: swirly grey with black trim probably from the 1960s. The shower tiles leaked water into the wall. Instead of fixing it with an HGTV-style makeover (which didn’t exist at the time) we taped thick, clear plastic on the walls of the shower to prevent further damage. This particular fix, or lack thereof, was the beginning of our pattern of house repair for every house we were to own in our future. It is important to note that the shower only got fixed so we could sell our home. Then we moved five times in the next fifteen years. We were relocated with Jon’s work, and we kept buying houses with more space, to fit more things. We weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses, we were trying to keep up with ourselves. There would always be projects like painting rooms, an unfinished basement, or a broken kitchen faucet that would require attention, but instead of a fix, it would exist as an inconspicuous ‘white elephant’ in the house. Typically, I would be the one who most noticed it’s annoyance, especially when I would need to use the laundry room sink to wash pots and pans. Eventually, most of the projects would get done, but some were left for the next owners.

Almost a month ago, I decided that Jon’s shoes on the rack in the garage needed to be moved. Every time I pulled the car in, there on the top two shelves were his cycling shoes, tennis shoes, sandals, and hiking shoes all waiting for this man to wear for enjoying the things he loved to do, this man who is now not coming home. Finally action: just me cleaning the garage on a sunny Monday early afternoon. A little sweeping, a little putting in order things on the work table, and of course moving the shoes. I put them in a garage cabinet. I can’t seem to put the cycling shoes away though, they’re still on the shelf. The funny thing is my son, at age 13, wears a larger shoe size than Jon. I don’t know what to do with Jon’s shoes, I wish someone who knew him could take them and wear them. (And right now I’m thinking about all of his dress shoes in our closet, more decisions, but not today.) While tidying up, there, leaning against the cabinet, standing upright behind a folding chair, I see it. Jon’s Ripstyk wooden skateboard with well-worn wheels. He’s had it forever. He could ride it really well, and when he wasn’t surfing all those years ago, I’m sure he was on his skateboard. I say I am going to ride this. Now. Helmet required. I just knew I could do it. It made me think of surfing, and I love watching surfing videos on YouTube. Surfing defines my grief: I’m in the pipeline, it’s going to crush me, I am being propelled forward without consent, I might not come out, I’m trying to control what can’t be controlled. There could be sharks or sharp rocks just below the surface, I could ride the top of the wave. Surfing is the most thrilling and all-consuming thing I can imagine doing in my life. When my son got home from school, I asked him to take a video of me skateboarding down a hill in our neighborhood. It was awesome, until I realized my speed and the board began shaking and I could not shift my front foot to curve into the next turn to slow down. I decided to bail and jumped up and off thinking I could land on solid footing but no, it became a face-plant instead. Apparently this is called a speed-wobble, which also describes my day today. I had hoped to hold the day steady, but suddenly I was unable to hold it together. I am all over the place in thoughts, actions, and emotions. I can’t get to the gym right now, or leave for a bike ride. I am worried the need to bail is becoming an automatic reflex.

Both of my kids still go to the orthodontist and had appointments this morning. My daughter will need her wisdom teeth removed this summer, sometime in August. As my son was still in mid-appointment, my daughter and I got in the car to drop her off at school – then it hit me. August. The future. It was no longer today, May 17, but sometime in August. Thoughts of all that will be happening in the next few months filled my mind, and I was seeing the calendar of events: June: Jon’s birthday, July: a trip to Canada to have the last of three ashes events and then a biking tour in Iowa, all of this and more flashing in my head, and I feel the loneliness even though I will be with others. I’m crying beside my daughter, I’m gushing to her how I feel no matter how much I put into myself there is no one to share me with right now, and time is moving so fast, it makes me so sad. I feel invisible to people, like no matter who I am or how I present myself, I am interrupting other people’s conversations and lives and things in progress and I don’t fit in. Everyone else is in mid-something with someone and I don’t belong in anyone’s group, old friends or new. I am no one’s go-to person for dinner out, biking, or texting. I am the most open I have ever been to new people, ideas and adventure, and I think I am the only one who is not in a box held shut by invisible rules. I am rewriting my life like I just rewrote today’s response, and no one can see my true intentions or understand the effort it took to make rewrites to get to this point. I am slipping into a new pipeline and my feet are not in the right position on the board. I want so much to ride the wave.~Paula

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