Listo, Paulita

This morning when I woke up, surfing was heavily on my mind and at the forefront of visualized thoughts. A positive vision, I wanted to be in the ocean, wishing for it’s coating of salt and wet, I saw myself paddling out toward white caps in the distance, plunking over those waves not yet tipped with white, now building their momentum on their way to shore, to home.

Suddenly, like getting smashed with an unexpected wave, my breath is taken away as my eyes snapped open in horrid shock: Would I remember how to get up on my board? Will I, can I, do it again? Would my muscles naturally recall the steps, and honor the commitment to ride the wave? “Listo, Paulita?” is repeating over and over in my mind, the voice of one of my surfing instructors from Costa Rica, literally translated, “Ready, Paula?” Today crashes over me, and I’m dumbfounded at my inner response: How can I be ready for something I did not ask for, plan for, or ever think possible?

This past week, I’ve come to realize that in a month’s time, I have had four significant losses in succession, and of course, all of this is heaped on top of the primary loss that remains through all of it: Jon is not here, he died 38 months ago. And, the most awful thought now, is my belief that if he were here and still alive, none of these other losses would have occurred. Yes, I’m blaming my current situations and problems over the past three years on a dead man.

I will even stretch that unforgivable insult further, by saying that my own cancer and health issues emerging while he had his cancer battle, were due in part to him. Stress did that to me, along side of Repression, Angst, and Worry, their depressing quartet played a song on continuous repeat, and every time Hope asked to join, the bossy-foursome only played louder, drowning out Hope’s chance of changing the tune. How can I love him still so completely, yet feel he is the cause and source for so much pain and heartbreak, then to now?

I’m saying it out loud, because I’m twisting pinky fingers now with Anger, and encouraged by Anger’s first cousin, Disappointment. It is much easier to blame a dead person than a living one or my living self. Am I alive? I wonder if I really am. How could I be alive without him here with me? At these lowest points of current circumstances, all I can do is scream out his name, and without Jon’s answer or appearance, only the reverberated ringing in my ears from my pierced shouts is a reply.

I refuse to believe that this is all I have remaining for me in this world: more loss, a perpetual broken heart, and the sense that none of this should, or can, be real. All I ask, is for this pain to stop, to somehow be minimized, and that when I wake up the next morning, it’s not to the rush and alarm of my pounding heartbeat, followed by gasps to contain hot tears.

Doing something over and over, and having the same pitiful result, is the “definition of Insanity,” and Insanity keeps peeking in to my windows late at night. This voyeurism must be stopped. I’m keeping my windows and doors locked. How much can a person take, before it is just too much? Sorry to those who believe that God gives you what you can carry, what I carry God would never give because I believe in a kind and loving God. This pain, weight, and suffering is not from God, it’s origins are not from anything good, and the sum of it will not make me better at anything.

What it is making me, is disoriented in my own mind and conspicuously misunderstood by everyone around me. Yet, no one knows the truths I have been breathing in 24/7, nor should they want to. It’s useless to fully tell my raw thoughts and misfortunes, no one wants to hear it with an open mind or heart. If something is shared, it could come out as too much to believe or bear listening to, and I catch the “glazed look” or the retracting, slight “turn of head” in response to what I do allow others to see, small vignettes, only a flash-portions of my larger realities.

It’s too much to share any more than that to those few, to whom I’m so grateful, who will hear. Big news: it’s too much for me, also, and surprise, I’m not the only one with emotional walls. Others raise theirs immediately, sometimes higher than mine, and on top of hurt feelings, there is pushback of repeated slaps of correction like “don’t be sad,” “Jon wouldn’t want this for you,” and distorted mirrored-thinking replies of “that’s not what I would feel” or “well, I would never choose that.”

And where is the “choosing” in any of this? I certainly did not choose for Jon to die, and most significantly, neither did he. Rather, he denied death as a response to his illness, until he could no longer speak to those he loved and protected at all-cost of life, and he literally ran out of life and time. It was too-late, too-soon, for him to give the gift of imparting a survival guide roadmap to me or my kids.

Dearest Regret entered my life upon his death, surrounding me with thoughts of what I should of blatantly and shamelessly asked him. When I look for Peace now, and see her ahead on any path, Regret forcefully pushes me into a tree along the edge, and my focus immediately becomes trying to stop the bleeding from scraped skin, my flesh imbedded into gnarled bark, and if I’ve fallen, lost in untangling myself from thorny vines as time stands still.

Denial. Regret. You are no friends of mine. While I laid next to Jon in his final days, only able to rest my hand on his shoulder, you both whispered to my husband-partner, and played grab-ass with your “bff,” Cancer. You conspired and succeeded at tearing me and my family apart, and for a long time, our pools of tears were the only things keeping us touching in the wake of our own griefs. Thankful for Grace stepping in to place us hand in hand, teaching us that growing our bond of shared grief is like tending a garden: it requires a working partnership, patience, and sighing together as we admire what’s blooming in each season.

But what do I do now? I am faced with the growing madness of freshly rippled loss. If there is no reprieve now in my view, how am I to move forward? Is that even a direction, and how many dimensions of this universe are there, for crying out loud?! My mind is trapped in sideways, and worse yet, I fear going backwards. I’m like a tiny mouse, discovered by the shrieking house owner who is swatting at me with a corn broom: I’m running back and forth along the baseboard, desperately seeking an opening leading to safety behind the wall. And it needs saying, if I were a mouse, I would much prefer a field with unmowed grasses, tall trees, and songbirds, just like Sander Farm Preserve.

Do you ever wonder why I’m so consumed with cycling, exercise, and the outdoors? Because each takes me somewhere, places in actual existence in this physical world where, otherwise, my mind cannot seem to go or imagine. I move forward many miles on a bike, my route is what I make it, and even if I’m only following along, it is the freedom I feel of full-immersion into what “going forward” is really like, and should be, all painted in a palette of the season or sculpted into bumpy or smooth terrain forms.

Unfortunately, my exercise has been at a bare minimum in the past couple of months. Ever since the Iceman Cometh Challenge race, and especially so in the past month. So many situations required my focus, energy, and time, I had none left just for me. Dog walking and dog care replaced my personal self-care. Last Thursday, eight days ago, I said goodbye to my chosen companions. I dearly miss those sweet dogs.

This past week has been a catching up and a slow integration back to activity with self-care as a priority. Tears flow when they need to, there are moments of feeling overwhelmed with sadness. It could be a memory, a song, talking with my kids. I’m needing to drink more water to stay hydrated. Monday included a 4-mile run in early evening. I knew I would need a flashlight of some sort, as I started just after 5pm, and chose to carry my bike light that is usually mounted to my bike handlebars.

Monday’s running route was the “4-corners,” just as it sounds: a big square, sidewalks only, and a bit over 4-miles. Even though I’m familiar with the path and there are street lights to guide most of the way, there are dark stretches of sidewalk and my night vision is abysmal at best. Still, I tried to wait until it was absolutely necessary to turn the light on. I seem to be stubborn at accepting help, even from a simple flashlight.

However, safety on any run is a must. So at first, when crossing intersections to make myself more visible to cars, I’m sweeping and shining the light across the ground like a paint brush on the pavement in the direction I’m going, and feeling like most everything else in my life, I’m attempting to “Bob Ross it,” but my trees aren’t happy ones, they’re just trees. After turning at the second corner, darkness falls and my light must remain on without my little on-off swishy, painting games.

Running at night requires a constant adjustment of balancing what I see versus what I feel: I see in front and below me flat, empty nothingness, my skin senses temperature and subtle changes in the wind causing goosebumps, meanwhile my feet have become a Hans Christian Anderson tale as twin Princesses, sensing every bit of grit or crack on the ground. Even in my heightened state, I don’t trust myself, it feels like I’m stepping off a lake dock sans moonlight, so my light is shown down to where I think it’s needed most: at my feet to help see my way.

As I continued this run, nearly at the third corner now, I found that pointing the light downward is bringing on a headache and not really helping me see what’s coming up. The light is too bright and harsh, it’s moving erratically in jerky back-and-forth spasms, and I can’t seem to hold it steady in either hand. I then raised the light, slightly to illuminate just a wee-bit further ahead, about 10 feet, and as I ran on to the fourth corner, found a more comfortable position to hold it.

Every stride, my arms swinging in pendulum form, I discovered myself testing how far ahead I could shine the light by raising it gradually, just a bit more. Was there such a thing as too far, and at what point seemed far enough? As my experiment continued, funny, the farther ahead it was directed, the light seemed to become softer, more gradated to include a wider view of the path, and the light was steady with no shaking.

In the final incline, the fourth corner and finish in sight, it suddenly hits me: because I’m looking at all of my current situations at once and so intensely, not giving myself time to heal or pause, it’s causing me to focus very deeply just on the overwhelming pain itself. If I at least try to look ahead, even just a bit, to soften pain and to seek kindness somewhere or someplace, all of this may be more bearable. That does not mean I can or will ignore what is right in front of me at my feet. It means that by looking up and torward an unknown future at any distance, near or far, while at the same time being exactly where I am, knowing this is where I’m at right now, but with each step to where I’m going, it will be different, and somehow, just a bit better.

So, is my dealing with new loss as easy as holding a flashlight just a little higher and looking farther ahead? The not so simple answer: maybe. Through all of this, Love is holding me together. And what is Love anyway, is it a kindness or a burden? I will always choose it as a kindness, and now I choose to add Forgiveness, Compassion, and Trust to our table for four. Together we will have a good conversation.

Surfing has, once again, popped into my mind. And again, I’m hearing my surf instructor’s voice mixed with the hum of breaking waves. This time, my body is laying on my surfboard, hands gripping each side, my eyes and board aimed at the shoreline. Turning my head behind to my right, I see it, and it’s coming. I know exactly what to do now, and my hands dig deep into the water, paddling with full intent, it’s time to match the speed of the coming wave.

It catches up to me, I feel the lift and rise underneath, prompting me to take this wave. I know it’s mine. Hands flat on waxed board, “Listo, Paulita?!” my toes are now gripped and set. “Lavántate ahora!” One movement, left foot pulled through and planted, the rest of me just flows to standing position. My weight and all I carry are with the wave now, gliding, beautiful surfing, riding to shore. Ready or not, I will get up now. ~P.

Into The Blue

A holiday-time primer or voice of positivity this writing is not, so for those who need that type of morale-boosting, turn on Hallmark Channel. For anyone else, thank you for reading, and as always, “Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Just read.” ~P.

December 6, 2019

I don’t feel the need to smile now for an indefinite length of time. There is no more purpose for it. For three years, 38 months to be exact as of today, I’ve been propelling myself in grief, alone into an unknown, unpredictable future: blindly, unwillingly, publicly, shamelessly. Full stop now. My heart can slow it’s beating, nearly go dormant, it only needs to keep me alive just enough to get through days, months, and years to come without foreseeable love in my life. Who can live without love?

My precious border collie puppies, Lennie and Suzie, born August 6, are four months old. Half of their lifetimes thus far, they have been with me as my chosen companions. This week, they are no longer part of my family. Full disclosure, this I now know: Lennie and Suzie were great dogs, but I was not great with them. Taking proper care of them left little time for anything else, and my fast-growing inability to balance everything on my own combined with my failure to become a “dog person,” meant I had to make the decision to re-home them. It’s done, each is now placed in their forever home.

My soul now feels like a lost dog. If you see my soul, please help it come home. Where is “home” anyway? My soul has nowhere to call home. The person who it lived with and who it was for, died three years ago. Now, it is wandering lost and has nowhere to be itself, to have rest, to be alive. Everything you see on the outside is facade, worthless, and devoid of meaning. I’m dead on the inside.

Yesterday morning, as I sadly walked with Suzie for the last time at wood’s edge in my backyard, I looked down and was surprised to see coming into focus short strips of brilliant blue color, all neatly arranged amidst dampened mulch and curled fallen leaves. My eyes adjusted to take in what was a grouping of blue jay feathers. Each one had distinctive, undeniable blue and black markings, many with white tips. In my life’s journey, feathers have been following me where I go, found mostly as “bike magic” along cycling routes of the past three years.

However, this day, as I felt the weight of my world crumbling on top of me, it was “life magic” as these unique feathers popped up at my feet, having had somehow found their way to me, and now, holding me together, just. At first, I hesitated from disturbing them, but then instinctively knew these were for me to collect.

Blue Jay feathers now added, displayed in my children’s pottery creations found in my kitchen on a corner shelf.

The rest of the day, I pondered and researched the symbolism of finding these particular feathers. Their description and meaning was complex, but what clearly spoke to me immediately was reading that blue jays represent a feeling of safety and protection. Since the day of Jon’s death, I have become completely unprotected, and rarely do I feel truly safe. These raw truths are now bared and revealed. His painful fight with cancer propelled him to his denial of death for so many reasons, and this very hurtful one, because he knew my children and I would be entirely exposed without his being here and without having his trusted mindfulness. Why am I shown this now in memory and present time? What is it that I require protection from anyway?

I know damn-well why, because of what has come into my life and happened over the past three years. Simply put, it has been uninvited guests, surnamed Trouble, appearing in a family lineup of forms. Trouble never comes as your enemy, rather, it arrives with a soft knock on your door and asks in a child-like voice if it can come in. It then proceeds methodically to play with your heart, distracts you from your work and goals, and puts blame solely on top of you for falter if you have any doubt of it’s helpfulness or glimpse it’s true nature. I know Trouble. I let it in.

Jon kept me safe for over 20 years from Trouble. I relied on him with my complete trust to keep our children and me safe, and I am learning now in my solo choices and decisions, painfully, through these repeated failures of attempts to find peace, calm, and clarity, that I do not have what it takes to prevent myself and kids from harm. Besides Trouble, what I also do keep finding are these feathers, and I’ll take what I’ve read about their discovery as a purposeful intervention to redirect my attention in one more adjustment to change and the continuation forward into the unknown. And I need to say, even though going forwards is a desired direction, so often sideways is a sad result, and that’s another topic entirely that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

What I decided this morning, mindful in the face of more loss, is as a “dog person,” I am not, but as a “blue jay person,” just, and maybe somewhere within the details of symbolic meaning and my now believing in what kind of person that is, there I will find my soul and home again. For today, 38 months and counting, I awoke to the sound of my voice pronouncing in the darkness, “Hi, my name is Paula, I ride bikes, sometimes clipped in.” ~P.

The Trials of A Broken Heart

Still. Sharing my writing from two years ago that resonates with me still. Touché FB, this is what I needed to be reminded of today. Don’t judge, don’t fix, just read. #grief #misshim #sharedamemory #facebook

Facebook post dated June 20, 2017

More writing, same request – no judgement, no fixing, just read. ~P.

The Trials of A Broken Heart

It is no secret that I have a broken heart. Death has taken my lover, partner, and best friend rolled into one. These dimensions of my life once overflowing are now bone dry, and dust is collecting on every surface. When I search for him in my mind, I can no longer see him, hear him, or feel his familiar warmth. His smell cannot be found on his clothing because his body has not been in his favorite sweatshirts and ripped jeans for almost a year. My brain contorts inside my skull, and the veins at my temples bulge because I have forgotten to breathe through the moments of trying, unsuccessfully, to remember these fading wisps of his soul. When I squeeze my eyes tight shut, behind my eyelids the colors of us have faded to pale, and are now barely-there blurry movements without defined shape. Lately, my cheeks have been tingling. I think it’s from the blood emptied from my heart that now runs cold through me and can’t find a place that is comfortable under my skin. Death is laughing at me because at the moment, he has all of the leverage, he has him, and I have nothing.

If I continue down this path, Death will have my heart. That single ember left in it will plucked by Death’s greedy claws, and I will completely shut down. I won’t go without a fight. I refuse to let Death win. After loving my partner so hard, and having been forced to release him, all that love is now buried inside of me. It is hidden from Death, but it is surrounded by Grief’s child, Agony. Agony whispers to my hidden love, teasing it to show itself, even just a peek. My love is not to be played with by this insolent child. Agony taunts and teases me with an unblinking stare that makes my body tremble, half out of anger, half out of exhaustion. Smiling, Agony has taken away my appetite for food, there is no plate that has what I want to eat. My mouth has become dry, and even though my voice wants to sing a song to him, words can only be mouthed and my breath cannot hold the right tune.

Stepping forward now is Compassion, but her gift is a cruel joke to me. She offers for me to see him in the opposite space: in feeling and seeing his absence, he is in fact here. The kids and I went out to breakfast for Father’s Day at the restaurant that we all used to go to, he usually ordered the same thing: ‘T D Special’ of 2 eggs basted, hash browns, whole wheat toast, and gyro meat. Next to my son opposite me is the empty place at our table for four, the table in the corner by the front window. The very same table we last ate all together in this place. I couldn’t help but look at the empty seat now, and I wanted to see him sitting there, healthy with that devilish grin, his eyes telling me he’s thinking about me being naked and wrapped around him. These unspoken thoughts, even in front of the kids, he and I shared. Compassion, is this all that remains? This is a seat that will never be filled, and my acknowledgement of that makes Death and Agony very happy.

So what am I to do with this void if “the seat cannot be filled?” I look inside myself, and I ask why this bothers me so much, and I want to see this problem in a different light. I am seeking Truth. I close my eyes and I am in Central Park, walking along a paved path. I see Truth is sitting next to the father of Grief, Existence, on a worn out but sturdy bench. There is a low humming murmur between them, and they keep glancing over at me, in a half inviting, other half ‘you stink’ face way. I approach to better understand what they’re saying, standing off to one side of the path. I’m really tempted to sit on this rock I see next to the bench, but standing feels good at the moment. I have nervous energy in my legs and sitting still for too long gives me a cramp in my left foot. Suddenly, Truth and Existence turn to me at the same time, and our eyes meet. It’s a good thing I’m writing down what was said now, I don’t want to forget it.

The most surprising part of our conversation was that they spoke as one voice, and even though they did not speak my language, I understood them. After our introductory “hellos”, this is what they told me: “Paula, know you are not done having love in your life, you deserve to be happy again. First, you must find a way to forgive yourself of thinking you did not love him enough, pushed him out, and that you did not deserve him. He loved you completely and you were meant for each other. Don’t be afraid of Death taking that spark in your heart, it can’t be taken from you, it is always yours to keep. Your heart is something that can be given again, to anyone you wish, and that spark will grow once again in time. We will be with you in the next part of your journey, and give you eyes to see what is hidden from others. The ember in your heart will not go out because we have sent the aura of Life to you. Life is with you now, bestowed upon you to give you strength and encouragement through this time. As you rediscover your purpose, Life will beckon those to you that need you, that want you. Your gifts to those worthy of you will be fragile, and need your trust and patience to grow. Please allow Life to help you with these new bonds, and to feel comfortable receiving praise. Listen to your own voice and when an answer comes to you after a long debate in your mind, know that we are all with you and you are never truly alone. Walk down the path now, do not look behind you for long, what is ahead needs your full attention.” I turned my head just for a split second, to look further down the path, and when I looked again toward Truth and Existence, they were no longer there on the bench.

Even though I am in Central Park, surrounded by so many people, I have that rush of aloneness come over me. My feet feel heavy, stuck to this spot where I’m standing. As I exhale, I feel the sun’s rays on my back, and realize it is quite warm today. Looking to the left of the bench where Truth and Existence were just moments ago, I see that rock again next to it, the sunlight revealing tiny glints of clear quartz shimmering in between layers of deep gray. I find myself sitting on the rock now, my fingers feel it’s gnarled texture. This rock is slightly warm, even though it is early in the day, half way between morning, half way to late afternoon. The sound of traffic from 5th Avenue seems a bit more quiet than usual today, the abrupt ring of a bicycle bell snaps me out of listening to it. Tears spill as I open my eyes, and a soft whimper escapes my lips, uncertainty of this all actually happening fuels more tears. As I continue to write, surprisingly I still feel the sun’s warmth on my back from my vision, this can’t be real I say to myself. Perhaps it could be the aura of Life giving me reassurance that she is here after all and I’m not really alone. Reality has a funny way of choosing to be noticed and better yet, felt. ~Paula

A Soap Story – Bar 2 of 3

Last year in June, as my then turned-pale, moss-green bar of my favorite soap was shrinking to a size smaller than a skipping stone, I began searching for the next bar in whichever grocery store I happened to be. They all carry it, albeit, depending on the store, found on a different shelf and order. With a couple months or so in between buying a bar, it usually requires a little exploration every time to find it, and when found, the obligatory “ah-ha” moment of “oh, it’s in that aisle here.” I never doubted and always relied on finding my soap when it was time for a new one, and like a reunion of old friends, it was always comforting to see, like no time had passed in between visits. By summer’s end though, it was clear it was not to be found.

You could say, “well, just order it online,” and resolve the problem, but that’s not my first, go-to choice or the point here. The point is, to answer questions like “where did it go?” and “is it coming back?” and “is it just me not finding it?” I needed answers to these questions, and sort out what’s real and not real. I can’t imagine this brand suddenly not being stocked by popular stores and definitely not a worst-case scenario of it no longer being made. Are other people, like me, wondering the same thoughts about not finding it? Even though valuable time and energy of every day is already divided into so many pieces, so often spread too thin, to me this is a mystery worth solving. I am compelled to add this one more thing to the to-do list: find my soap!

Before full-panic could set in, I turned my search to within my house. I found myself rummaging through bathroom drawers and closet shelves for some other acceptable substitute soap, and even hopeful for the possibility of finding a random surprise-bar of my favorite, somehow stashed away and deeply hidden under extra toothbrushes or behind a lineup of bottled toiletry tonics. No such luck. So, I chose from what I found: a gifted, handmade peppermint-herbal bar on to which I topped with a smallish, milled-lavender block from a hotel.

These bars stuck together with use, resembling a little, Zen stone stack neatly positioned at an angle on the built-in, shower corner-shelf. The creamy-white lavender bar sat atop the larger, chunky-beige peppermint bar on the bottom. Unexpectedly, the two distinctive bars combined fragrances and had taken on a cinnamon-red-hots, candy scent. The spicy smell mixes with steam and fills the shower, it’s pungent odor abruptly hits my nose and I try not to let it into my nostrils. I end up breathing through my mouth, but that, too, gives me a weird, candy-concoction taste on my tongue, and I don’t like that sensation either. It is not a smell that is appealing or wanted. I’d much rather be calmed by the non-aromatic bouquet smell of my simple, soothing olive soap bar. Without it, I feel like I am not getting clean, my comforting smell is not here, and I might as well be attempting to wash a body that is not mine. The one peaceful, important part of my day has become a time of hurriedly getting through it, avoidance, and it not being a time to relax.

One day in particular, my patience worn thin, I began a more direct investigation to find my soap by calling a couple stores, and unfortunately, received no straight answer of its expected arrival back in stock anytime soon. Those stores I called, were able to confirm that I’m not imagining it’s absence, and at least they were able to say, “no we don’t have it right now.” However, no one could say when it would definitely be back on the shelf. Humph.

My desperation masked behind hope finally came out in one shopping trip. I found myself interrogating an employee in an aisle where it should have been, explaining how there is no other soap quite like this one, how disappointed I am not to find it, and it is nowhere to be found. She agreed with me that she didn’t see it here on the shelf, and while glancing at the new, full arrangement of bar soaps, none-of-which-are-my-soap, she casually guessed, emphasized with a tilt of her head, that their store may have discontinued carrying it. What?!? No, no, no!

Meanwhile, this visual confirmation that no store has my soap, was compounded by the discovery that all of them have been quietly rearranging their soap product assortment as summer yielded to fall. In some cases, I observed the whole grouping of bar soaps having leaped to the other side of the “usual aisle” and placed down low. My sore legs from summer mountain biking accidents now creak and strain as I stoop down, cranking my neck and squinting my eyes to view the newly-sorted product lineup. Trying to read small type on colorful packaging, deciphering fragrance descriptions and ingredients lists, this only reminds me that I’m overdue for a new glasses prescription, and maybe I should be spending my time at the eye doctor, not chasing a rabbit that can’t be caught.

I was done with my exhaustive research on all of this, needing to save energy for other things that, quite frankly, are not getting done and require some attention, like the need to call my eye doctor for an appointment being just one “must-do” on a very long list. Then, a near-last resort of action came to mind, which probably should have been my near-first choice: go to the company website, and contact customer service and ask them directly what is going on. My long, soap-sob-story was finally put into an email. I was thankful to receive a reply back a couple days afterwards, with the reason that there was a “production problem,” but it is expected to be back in stores “by the end of October.” As fall began, my patience was somewhat restored with this reassurance, and as time passed, I chose to add, subtract, and mingle other soap bars to my substitute soap-stack, however not finding anything quite right. [This story continues in A Soap Story – Bar 3 of 3. Thank you, again, for reading.] ~Paula

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

Eye of the Tiger

October 6, 2018

Today is in honor of my husband-partner Jon, who passed away 2 years ago on this day. Last night, I made a stop at a grocery store, and just after I had walked through the sliding doors and was passing by the check-out registers, I immediately heard the song, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, loudly playing through the store speakers. For just a moment, I wondered if maybe I would find him picking out ice cream or trying to find a box of taco shells. Then I thought of all of the people Jon loved, who would know this song is his song, about “just a man and his will to survive.” While Jon fought cancer, these lyrics gave us all hope and strength, and spoke to how determined of a person Jon was, to face any challenge or rival, his special grin and twinkling eyes always present. I had the urge to say out loud, “this is his song!” At that moment in the grocery store, I found myself not only thinking of Jon, but also of our families and friends, each of us having memories of him. We share that connection, and I’m so comforted to have each of you come to mind when reminders of Jon suddenly appear. Though miles may keep us apart, family and friends, please know you are in my thoughts and memories, and most of all, know you are in my heart and are loved. Thank you for thinking of Jon, especially today. ❤️ ~Paula

The Unfortunate Incident

Saturday Night

Just when I thought it was safe again to go through a fast-food drivethru with my teenaged children, tonight happened. The ‘Previous Incident’ was some time last year at a Taco Bell drivethru and only my daughter was in the passenger seat. We decided to pick up food for her, and also for my son who was at home. I should preface by saying, I know nothing about this food, I don’t eat it, I tried it once. Once. My kids know this menu well, or so I thought. I also thought my son asked for the Cheesy Core, so now stopped at the ordering screen, I said loudly, “I’ll have one Cheesy Core.” And when the drivethru-guy asked, “a what?” I thought he couldn’t hear me, so even louder now with leaning my head out of the window for added emphasis, “Cheesy! Core!” (Please take a moment to say those two words to yourself three-times-fast out loud.) After a pause from the ordering screen, a woman’s voice comes on and says, “uh, we don’t have Cheesy Cores,” said with a bit of ‘WTF-is-this-lady’s-problem’ and annoyance in her voice, it’s obvious drivethru-guy and this annoyed-woman voice think I’m joking. I’m not. I’m just a mom trying to buy cheap, quickie food for my daughter and my now over six-foot son and get his order right in his absence. Apparently though, the only thing I was ordering for him was a Cheesy Whore, when, in fact, it was called a Quesarito. My daughter and I were laughing so hard, “Oh, mom, I love you,” she said through our impossibility to stop laughing at the banter and reaction at the drivethru-guy who had to be saved by annoyed-woman and with my lack to keep a straight face once we pulled up to the pick-up window.

Well tonight, I found myself in the car again to pick up my son and a couple of his friends from the movie theater, and on the way to home, they decided a stop at a McDonald’s drivethru would be a good idea. This time, my son is in the passenger seat, and his two friends are in the backseat. Now would be a good time to say, I do eat this kind of fast food, but not often, my choice usually is the Egg McMuffin. We pull up to the ordering screen, and after my son tells me he would like two cheeseburgers and a small fry, I immediately turn from him to the screen and repeat with confidence. Turning back towards his friends now, I ask, “What would you guys like?” The friend sitting behind him says, “I want a Happy Meal, please,” the other says “I’d like nuggets with buffalo sauce.” From there, this drivethru Unfortunate Incident begins.

To me, being a mom of two teenagers means that you now know answers to potential questions before asked, and *snaps* all those years of motherly experience will now pay off in this moment, this time thinking I know a bit about ordering a Happy Meal for my kids from numerous times when they were growing up. So I turn back to the screen and lean towards my car window and say, “I’d like a Happy Meal, with a boy toy, not a girl toy, please.” Maybe it was because I was tired from exercising today, or having three below-driving-age teenaged boys in my car tonight all taller than me, or the fact that the drivethru-dude sounded on the younger side himself, but it suddenly hit me what I had said. Drivethru-dude asks through a chuckle, “A what? We only have one kind, but I’ll check.” I continue to finish ordering, also getting hung up on the buffalo sauce request, because at this point my son and his friends are all laughing and offering commentary and bantering, and oh my, an answer to “which drink do you want with that Happy Meal” seems irrelevant, because I’m laughing so loud and I think my son is beyond mortified of his mom saying crazy crap. Again.

After clarifying wanting a 10-piece nuggets, a chocolate milk with an extra fry and finishing the order, while driving around to the pay window, I found myself explaining to them what they already knew about what a ‘boy toy’ is and offer my excuse for asking like that because when my son was little there was always a choice and it was a big deal which type of toy you got in the box. I’m just digging myself deeper in on this one, aren’t I? Pay-lady at the window does not seem amused by our car-full of laughing loudness, as the other friend was now telling that there are only two shapes of chicken nuggets, and this seems to only add to the ridiculous, silly level of this drivethru event. My change and a little side-eye is dutifully given. Thank you, pay-lady. On to the pick-up window.

Drivethru-dude is tallish and lanky, and as I peer inside the brightly lit, bustling space, he seems to be surrounded by a crew of three women. He makes a point to say through his smile, “I checked, and we definitely don’t have any of those.” I find myself laughing all over again, this joke just got even worse, now it appears to be on both me and him. “Thank you very much,” I say through my laughing. As drinks and bags are handed through his window to mine, my carload of hungry guys are opening as they are receiving each one. As I slowly pull away from the window, I ask everyone if we have everything, and after a quick chorus of “yup,” the friend who ordered the Happy Meal asks, “What’s this, Peter Rabbit?” and I’m genuinely thinking how much more worse can this get? How did we go from just ordering cheap, quickie food to a boy toy to nuggets to Peter Rabbit? What planet am I on? What? Surprised me says, “I thought it was supposed to be The Incredibles!?!” I’ll have more laughter, please, with a small side of swearing. ~Paula

Introducing Peter Rabbit.