A Soap Story – Bar 1 of 3

Potawatomi Trail, Pickney Recreation Area.

April 6, 2019, began the 30th month since my husband-partner, Jon, died from cancer. My life is so different now, beyond the “it’s not what I expected or hoped for” type of commentary or observation. What is different is magnified, conspicuous, and it is ongoing without end. I am different. Still no calm, and my attempt of adopting my one-word theme of “be” morphs and shifts in a continuous heavy haze of uncertainty. Brightness and relief remains infrequent, in between those blips on the radar is a lot of murky water.

I could be going along with every day things, and grief erupts and seeps out from inside. There is no washing it off, it is inside me, a part of me. It comes out as a low-hum vibration of sweat that beads at the back of my neck, then radiates to my face and tingles in my cheeks at various frequencies. This is not a mid-life hot-flash, but more like experiencing a sunburn that continues to evolve and fluctuate in it’s intensity, and there may not be enough aloe vera on the planet to soothe it. Today it is a hollow pain deep in the middle of my forehead and tears are welled up along the bottoms of my lower eye lids. I’m having a morning of wanting nothing, all these “things” around me are no substitute for “my person” who is no longer here. And so, even before breakfast, I give in to laying down for meditation and a short nap.

Time and pain only momentarily shifts and softens until a rush of ringing in my ears has me suddenly waking up. My eyes remain closed, I call his name into the empty room, sound reverberates inside my still aching head, and my hands instinctively reach to my forehead to press and smooth crinkled skin while my heart is racing in double-time, twisting, like I’m in the woods on my bike and needing to hold on tight through a double-switchback turn. Wishing I were on a bike ride right now, it would free me from this moment, but instead I am laying still, immersed in memories, missing, and full of anguish.

Since he died, I have been questioning “what is” and “what is not” real. With the passing of time, what is different is exponential, and nothing is the same. I’m just trying to keep up with it all on a daily basis. When I find slivers of things that resemble familiar comforts before loss and cancer became my world, I feel a mixture of nostalgia, missing, and a wanting to hold on to those fragments, no matter how small. Without warning, tears fill my eyes, and then, suspended seconds are counted in heartbeats until a blink and a deep sigh, and my temporary blindness and deafness to things around me lifts. I may see and hear clearly again, but if you were to ask me what was just said or what was going on around me, I would not be able to tell you. Like looking into a dense fog, to see what is both far away and right in front me, I’m concentrating and refocusing very hard to stay in the present moment. Focus yields to feeling out of sync, the gap between your “present” and mine feels like we’re riding on the same trail, but you are going much faster with less effort ahead of me, and I am way behind, pedaling harder, and just when I think I will make it up a steep climb, my tire abruptly gets caught on a root, all momentum is lost, and I need to walk my bike the rest of the way up to the top.

It’s not a struggle between distinguishing fantasy versus reality, I know damn-well that difference, but more of an expecting him to be where he should be, when, in fact, he is not here. I feel his not being here, that hole swallows me up sometimes, especially at night. The end of one more day without him, and then knowing another day will begin again without him feels so abnormal, so wrong. We are all going on with our lives, getting older, and he is not. The fact of his permanent absence collides with unexpected reminders that he is not where he used to be, where he should be. I still ask myself, “Is he really gone?” I come home with a surprise wave of anticipation expecting to find him cooking something wonderful in the kitchen, but all I see is empty space where he should be standing. No one else can, or will, fill this space.

What is normal now, what feels right? This life now feels so distorted and unrecognizable, like what the hell happened, where am I, who am I? I plod along, stumbling in to the future, so afraid of screwing up and making choices that could lead me to some ambiguous, irreversible place that has no emergency exit. Maybe I’m already there and don’t want to see or admit it to you or, worse yet, to myself? I’ve turned to simple human habits since he died to keep what’s real “in check.” From the basic act of methodology brushing my hair to eating toast with peanut butter and jelly, and making French-pressed coffee almost every day for breakfast, I rely on those little things to give me something to look forward to doing, to have an expectation fulfilled, and a tiny, but meaningful, accomplishment.

Bathing especially has become one of those things I do in order to feel “normal.” Inside my world that can feel so harsh, it’s the main anecdote for washing away my sweat, tears, and reminding my body that it exists and I should be taking care of it. While showering, it’s these precious minutes of kindness to myself in the day when I don’t have to respond to anyone or anything else, just concentrate on my own thoughts, or think of nothing. I pay close attention to feeling hot water soothe sore muscles, and, of course, get clean. Part of my showering routine has been using the same brand of olive oil soap since I moved to Michigan over seven years ago. It’s a large, half-brick-sized green block whose color reminds me of decaying grass clippings without the awful smell. It’s unscented, yet it does have a distinctive, soothing “olive” fragrance. It’s “my” fragrance. [This story continues in A Soap Story – Bar 2 of 3. Thank you for reading.] ~Paula

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