I’m moving back to where I started

img_20161017_094617032_hdr1Got your attention, didn’t I? Especially those church people who just panicked for fear I won’t be there to play the piano. No worries. I’m just moving down the hall.

You see, when my late husband’s Alzheimer’s got bad, I couldn’t sleep with him anymore. My insomnia and his hallucinations were a bad match. So, in November 2007, after nine years sharing the master bedroom, I moved into the guest room. I moved my furniture in there, bought new linens, and decorated the room in bright oranges, reds and yellows, anchored in brown. Warm colors. My colors. I hung my crucifix over the bed, something I had not done before because Fred was not Catholic. I filled the closet and drawers with my stuff. After Fred moved to the nursing home, I stayed in the guest room and filled his closet with suitcases, memories and empty hangers. It was cold in there, farthest from the pellet stove. Some of his shoes and ties had mildewed. I threw them away.

After Fred died, I hung his photo  from the funeral above his nightstand. I set up a little shrine with my Lady of Fatima statue, a prayer book, a candle and our matching wedding rings.

I only entered that room to pack for trips and to get to the bathtub in the master bathroom. I tried sleeping there a couple times, but the memories made me weep. That was OUR bed, OUR room. Fred slept beside me with our old dog Sadie at the foot of the bed. I couldn’t do it.

My bedroom, the former guest room, was a busy place. I not only slept and dressed there–wary of the neighbors who might see me through the street-facing window–but watched TV, paid bills, read, wrote, sewed and played music. Something loud was always on–TV, radio, cell phone with its games, music, texts and occasional calls. It simply got too loud in there. I couldn’t sleep.

My bed, purchased cheap, had sunk down on the side where I slept. I flipped it over and wore another trough into the other side. With my restless legs, I rubbed holes in all my fitted sheets, so I turned them upside down, too. Eventually I bought another set.

Light was a problem in the guest room. The street lamp pushed through the blinds and lace curtains. The moon, when it was full, shone in like a spotlight. Adding to the light show were the red numbers on my clock radio and the yellow and green lights on the Wi-Fi box.

In contrast, the master bedroom started calling out to me as a quiet oasis in cool whites and pastels. No electronics. No phone. Firm queen-sized bed. Because it was at the back of the house, no lights intruded, just the darkness of the woods.

Over the nine years that have passed since I moved out of the guest room, I have offered the master bedroom and bathroom to my dad who always declined, to guests who chose hotels, and to other guests who never come. I have considered renting out the room, but I want my bathtub and my privacy. I have never liked to share. I’m also afraid of who I’d get.

Now I think the room was waiting for me to come back. The memories are still there, but they are often sweet. I remember snuggling in that bed after making love. I remember times when Fred and I shut ourselves in there away from guests, feeling safe and happy together.

It’s time. No one else is taking that room, so I’m taking it back, making it my room, moving as few of my things as possible. I want to keep the volume down. No more red numbers screaming the time. No more reaching to turn on NPR news in the middle of the night or checking my phone the second I wake up. Just sleep. If I can’t sleep, I’ll take a bubble bath or read a book.

I’m still transferring stuff. The stacked-up boxes in the picture all hold quilt fabric, which I plan to use now that my sewing machine has been relocated to the former guest room.  Annie discovered my new hangout last night. Frightened by thunder and lightning, she decided she had to sleep with me. It was nice. New dog, new start.

 

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Lawnmower one, widow lady zero

I keep looking in the mirror, expecting to see the skin around my right eye turning colors and my right cheek puffing up. That’s where the defeating blow landed. That’s how my glasses got bent so they hung half off and half on my face. That’s what led me to sit on the grass and cry, hugging my dog like a giant teddy bear. You’d think I was 4 instead of almost 64.

What am I talking about? One of the joys of being widowed is inheriting all the home and yard care, unless you have the money to hire someone. I’m thinking that guy in Lady Chatterley’s Lover would be great. For those who haven’t read the D.H. Lawrence book, Lady Chatterley’s husband was paralyzed from the waist down and could not make love. They were rich and had a large estate, cared for by the “Gamekeeper,” Oliver Mellors. Although a man of few words, Mellors was very expressive in other ways, including keeping Lady C very happy. It was quite a racy book for 1928. Now, I don’t have any game to keep, just lots of trees, unmowed grass and a house that’s too big for me, but I wouldn’t mind having a Mellors to take care of the property–and me, too. Or a woman who knew her way around a tool belt.

Anyway, back to the lawn. The rain had finally stopped for a couple of days. All the neighbors were off to work. It was just me and the pooch. After several winter months in the shed, the lawnmower was not working properly. It coughed, smoked, cut a stripe or two in the grass and quit. Over and over. God, how I wished some burly man would come striding up to the fence and say, “Hey, little lady, what seems to be the trouble?” And then he’d come in and fix the damn thing and mow the whole lawn while he was at it. But no.

My mechanical knowledge is limited. I know how to cook, write, play music, and sew. That’s pretty much it. If the tire light comes on in my car, I take it to Les Schwab. If the toilet leaks, I call a plumber. When the cord on the old lawnmower broke a year or two ago, I bought a new lawnmower. Know what I mean? Now I’m not saying this is true of all women. I know lots of women who could wrestle that lawnmower into submission. But not me.

I tried what I knew with the lawnmower. Oil? Check. Gas? Check. Spark plug? Still there. I flipped the lawnmower over, looking for obstructions underneath. I poked around with a screwdriver. Nothing. I pulled the cord. Nothing. I did that about 10 times with the same results. It sputtered and worked for a minute, gushing out smoke and coughing until it died.

I tried pushing the lawnmower up vertically to look underneath, and that’s when it happened. Bam! I lost my grip and the handle crashed down on my face.

Four days later, I don’t even have the satisfaction of a good black eye, although my cheek still hurts and I do have a giant bruise on my upper arm where the handle hit on the way down. Some part of me wants to have a visible injury so people ask about it and admire this poor brave little widow. Yeah, right.

But that’s not the end of the story. On Friday, I was about to load the lawnmower into the car to take it to Sears for repairs. I decided to yank the cord one more time. And guess what? The lawnmower roared into action. As I shouted hallelujahs, I decided I’d better mow the front lawn before the mower changed its mind. Forget Sears. Yes, I was overdressed for lawn-mowing, and I couldn’t see because I wasn’t wearing my mangled glasses, but I mowed it.

The drama wasn’t over yet. On the far side of the driveway, water had been standing dog-knee deep for several days. I thought we had just had more rain than the ground could absorb. But post lawn-mow, my neighbor wandered over and we both ended up staring at that water. It was flowing. This was not rainwater. We had a leak. Pat called the water company while I dashed into town to get my glasses fixed. The optometrist told me I needed to think about buying new ones. They were getting old and brittle and could not take much more bending before they broke. You see, this was about my fifth time having it done. Great. New glasses. No vision insurance.

Back home, I found the street blocked with Seal Rock Water Company trucks and machinery and a half dozen water company guys, including one chest deep in a hole in my front yard, a hole that didn’t used to be there. The only good news was the problem was the connection to my neighbor’s water, not mine. Since I couldn’t get to my house anyway, I went off to my weekly jam in Waldport for a couple hours of music. When I came home, the hole was filled with rocks, and the men were gone.

End of story? Not quite. Last night, I discovered the toilet was leaking. Stop!

Also, my glasses hurt my sore face.

I’m still waiting for Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He was handy.

 

The Ducks Quacked, We Said ‘I Do’

Wedding3_0002It was a spring day like today, blue sky dotted with white clouds, a slight breeze, everything in bloom, as Fred and I hustled to prepare for our wedding. The second marriage for both of us, this was a do-it-ourselves affair. We were already living together in a house on the next block from my parents’ house. I had cooked raviolis the night before for our rehearsal dinner. We were having the reception in our back yard. I put on an embroidered dress from Mexico while Fred donned a Mexican wedding shirt. No tuxes, no ties. My bridesmaids wore knee-length ruby red dresses they could use again. Instead of hiring a photographer to follow us around, we gave our friends rolls of film and told them to take lots of pictures.

Our wedding took place 30 years ago today in an amphitheater beside a pond at Evergreen Community College in San Jose, California. As Rev. Carl Stocking led us through our vows, ducks quacked and a fishing competition took place nearby. We walked in to Pachelbel’s Cannon playing on the boom box. My father escorted me down the “aisle” for the second time, hoping this marriage would stick. While I felt faint and had an uneasy stomach during my first wedding, this time I felt only joy, which I saw mirrored in Fred’s face as we pledged to our lives to each other and came together in one of those famous Fred hugs.

Afterward, we adjourned to our yard, where Fred and my dad had set up tables and chairs borrowed from the recreation department where he worked, with blue plastic canopies from Mel Cotton’s sporting goods shop for shade. Our friend Pat Silva had prepared a Portuguese feast for us, with pork, beans, fruit, salads and more. We rolled my piano onto the patio, and Scotty Wright, our favorite jazz musician, provided music. Dancing, feasting, drinking, talk and laughter ensued as two families, Lick and Fagalde, became one. Recreation workers, journalists, Fred’s kids, my cousins, and so many more partied till sunset. It was the best wedding ever.

Looking at the pictures, it’s easy to feel sad. So many of those people are gone now. Fred died four years ago. On our 25th wedding anniversary, he was living in a nursing home and didn’t know who I was. Horrible. But I need to cling to the good memories of that day and the many anniversaries that followed. In addition to working for the city of San Jose, Fred was a licensed tax preparer. Everything went on hold from January through April, but come May, we would take a vacation. We traveled far and wide, celebrating anniversaries in Canada, Hawaii, Costa Rica, cruising the Mississippi River on the Delta Queen and many other places. Each year, we would remember this day and pledge our love again. It was a good marriage from beginning to end.

Thank you, Fred. Thank you everyone who was there. Cheers!

The Dead Husband Thing

“My husband passed away.” That’s all I have to say to turn a conversation upside down. Women say, “I’m so sorry.” Men of a certain age take another look at me and say, “Really?”

To be honest, I hate to bring it up. The pity makes me squirm. I find myself gravitating toward older women who take widowhood in stride. You’re eighty-something? Of course your husband is dead. Besides, it has been almost four years now. Fred died the day before Easter in 2011. How long am I supposed to be pitiful? He wouldn’t want that.

Most women my age have living husbands. The husbands are getting gray, bald and jowly and they have various health problems. Maybe their sex life has fizzled. But they’re still alive. Then the wives look at me and think, “Whoa, what if my husband died?” I’m too much of a reminder that it could happen, that it does happen. God knows, if I were 15 years older, most of my friends would be widows.

Alzheimer’s took my husband out with a nine-year descent from beginning to end. Maybe he had it before that. He was always forgetful. By the time someone dies of dementia, you have spent years grieving already. The man you loved is mostly gone. After he dies, you miss him, but it’s a relief to have it finally over with.

Losing a husband is a two-sided loss. You not only lost this person you loved, but you lost your position in the world as a wife. Now you’re this new thing called a widow.

It’s surprising how people react. If I said I was divorced, they would just say, “Oh” and move on. I know; I was divorced for five years before I met Fred. But “widowed” draws a knee-jerk “I’m so sorry,” followed by an awkward moment when nobody knows what to say. Dear friends, It’s perfectly okay to talk about it.

Hey, I’m alive. Having a dead husband sucks, but not every minute of every day. Do I miss having Fred to talk to? Yes. Do I wish he were around when the car breaks down? Definitely. Do I feel bad when I’m the only single person in a room full of couples? So bad. Do I miss snuggling, kissing, and sex? Absolutely. Do I cry sometimes? Do I want to kick things? Do I tell God I would trade anything to have Fred back? You bet.

But then I realize that since he was always a lot older than me, he’d be 77 now and I’d have to go through his dying all over again. Been there, done that, wearing his T-shirts. And his socks and his jackets and his hats.

Here’s the thing. We go on. We eat, sleep, shop, walk the dog, go to church, and watch TV just like we always did, but now we don’t have to worry about doing it on anybody else’s schedule or catering to anybody else’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. We had a good marriage, one of the best. But we finished it. We loved each other to the end, we never cheated on each other, never fought about anything that mattered, and did everything we said we were going to do. Till death did us part. Amen. He went to wherever dead people go, and I have gone on to my next chapter.

Will that next chapter include another man? Maybe. I stopped wearing my wedding ring after six months mostly because I was starting to look at guys and wanting them to know I was available. Do I want to become a wife again? I don’t know. The financial fallout from getting married again could be disastrous, and do I really want to deal with another man’s family, including his kids, this late in life? Do I want to become a caregiver again if/when he gets sick? But what if I’m the one who gets sick? Who will take care of me? Sigh.

I love my freedom. I lost 20 pounds after Fred died. Not having to cook elaborate meals to please him meant I could actually stay on a diet for once. So now I feel younger and sexier. I flirt. I get horny. I enjoy dressing up and going out. I also enjoy working when I’m in the mood without the need to quit because somebody’s hungry or bored.

Would I give it all up in a heartbeat if I could have Fred back? I would. But that’s not going to happen, and I may live another 20 or 30 years, so I’m looking ahead, making plans, and thinking about projects I want to do, vacations I want to take, and movies I want to see. I have a bucket list that has nothing to do with Fred. Crass? I don’t think so. He died, but I’m still alive.

Thank you for reading this. May your Easter be filled with blessings.