Monday, August 28, 2006

Avoiding Jane Gould

Four and a half months has passed and it's still hard to be out in my neighborhood because there are always 'the loose end people' - The ones who still don't know that Jimmy has died. (see post "Is That My Husband In The Bag?") I'm never quite sure if they know or not.

Sometimes, I can tell they know. I watch them spot me and pretend they didn't, although this might also mean they owe me and Jimmy money. If they ask me 'How'd your summer go?'it's a pretty good bet they haven't heard. I've considered answering, "Fine" and walk away fast. Hard to do because if they ever find out they'll think I'm a lunatic.

These loose end people have no connection to me or anyone who I'm connected to. Unless they read the obituary - how would they find out? A perfect example of an unconnected person is Jane Gould, the mom who stood next to me several times a week on the soccer field. Let's see - my son is 25 now and he played soccer at ten, maybe twelve...so we're going back more than a decade.

Jane and I had a good cordial not quite friendship. We'd complain how windy and freezing it was and sometimes sneak off to watch the game from a nice heated car. We'd laugh together and say that we were so cold we wished our sons were gay so they wouldn't be into sports. We never became friends. The boys stopped playing soccer and that was that.

Today I saw her. Actually, first I heard her. Voices are so recognizable and unmistakable. We can picture someone clearly in our head, down to minute features, but their voice is impossible to recall...at least, for me it is until I hear it.

This is why several times a week, sometimes several times a day I call Jimmy's cell phone to hear 'Jim Scibelli.' He's alive for me for those two seconds. It only lingers in my head for another few seconds and then I sort of remember his tone, but then, I can't hear it anymore.

So, this afternoon I was sitting in my beauty shop with color on my head. I had my reading glasses on and I was looking down at the book opened on my lap. The voice was unmistakable Jane Gould. Like I said, it's been easily ten years since I heard her, but if there was such a thing as a 'police voice line up' there's no doubt I could pick her out from it.

Her daughter was there, also waiting for her color to take and Jane came in to say hello. Jane stood right in front of me talking to Deborah...yes...she just called her Deborah...that was her daughter sitting there near me all along. She had another daughter, Lisa and David was her son, the soccer player. It all rushed back.

Her husband was Myron and they lived on a street named Byron. We all called him 'Myron from Byron.' From the conversation it didn't sound like they still lived there. Who could blame them? There's just so much taunting you can take. If I lived on Barrel Street I'd probably move, too.

Then I wondered if Myron was alive. Like a thief I moved my head up to check for a ring. There it was. For an awful moment I was disappointed. Why is everyone else still here? It's like Jimmy was plucked.

I felt like I was hiding from the cops or a stow-away. I kept my head down and stared at my feet. My feet were really really close to her feet and I couldn't help but notice she had great sandals on. They went between the toes but also had a back. I need a sandal with a back and they're not easy to find.

Part of me wanted to ask her where she got them. I felt my body so crunched up it reminded me that I was hiding so I'd just have to do without the sandals. It's the end of the season, anyway.

Ding! The bell rang. Someone was ready. Thank God it was Deborah called to the sink. Jane followed her. They were still in hearing distance and leave it to Amy, my colorist to pick that time get chatty. She stood several feet from me blabbing away and I panicked replying in rushed hand signals and ridiculous facial expressions.

I just couldn't take the chance that Jane would hear my voice. She never did. The coast was clear. They left the shop. When I got home I looked in the mirror. I thought I'd feel good. Freshly colored and blown out hair has always perked me up.

Instead, I started to cry.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Last Spouse Standing

In another 45 minutes it will be August 26th, our 34th anniversary. We used to laugh and say that we have a pretty good shot to being one of those couples married 50 years. We were married at 22 so both of us making it to 72 never seemed like a reach.

Jimmy, assuming he'd be old promised the kids "If I feel myself going I'll try to take your mother with me. This way she won't live on to be a burden to you." The kids never objected...hmmmm

We were meant to be married, Jimmy and me. At our ninth grade graduation he pointed me out to his mother, "You see that girl...the blonde with the flip hairdo? I'm going to marry her." Fanny, my future mother-in-law laughed. She stopped laughing when we got engaged. I wonder what that means?

I look at my old wedding album and I actually remember posing for those pictures. I can see my 92 year old granddmother shuffling into the lobby of The Fountainbleu and saying, "What a beautiful apartment the kids have."

I remember the cost was $23.50 a person and that was expensive. My mother offered us $5,000. instead of a wedding and we never considered it. (well, I never considered it)

Jimmy's hair is so long in the pictures and I have no nails - It was before acrillics so my sparkily diamond sat on a smooth young hand with stubby fingers. Today I've got great fake nails and no amount of hand cream can bring back that hand.

My sister, my maid of honor, gone now too, was stoned on grass and I see her giggling in all the pictures. She kept making stupid comments that only the bridal party to the left of us could hear. That side is cracking up while the side to the right of us is standing there nice and composed.

On our way to Las Vegas for our honeymoon the flight attendant (stewardess then) saw us holding hands at take off and she sent over a half bottle of champagne. She told us we looked so in love that she knew we were on our honeymoon. We didn't tell her that we were actually holding on to each other because we were nervous about flying. After that, we always held hands at take off hoping for free champagne. It never happened again.

We landed and I said 'my husband' for the first time.
"Can I take help you, miss?"
"No, thanks. I'm just waiting. My husband is renting a car." MY HUSBAND?

Our last anniversary was last anniversary. No more 'my husband.'

So, what will I do tomorrow? No dinner reservation. No cards to buy, presents to unwrap. No one to share these memories with me anymore. This must be what it's like to be old. Last Spouse Standing. I'll go to the cemetery and do what I always did, yak away and hope he's listening.

I just hope I can find it. (see entry: Lost In The Cemetery)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Could You PLOTZ?

Some people are just hell bent on outdoing others. I say I'm cold. You're suddenly freezing. I'm hungry. You're starving. I'll bet this is how pnemonia was discovered. One cave man chipped away on his cave "I have a cold." The other banged out "I have a very bad cold" A few verys later - Bam. Pnemonia.

When bypass surgery became popular I was suspecious. I'm thinking there probably is no such thing as a quadruple bypass. It's just one guy needing to trump his friend's triple bypass. I remember mentioning my theory to Jimmy and he said, "Could you get me a glass of ice water?" We often had these deep discussions.

Anyway, I'm leading up to something, here. Grief trumping is big in the mourning process. We all hear about stages of grief, (shock and denial, confusion, emotional release, anger, guilt, depression and isolation and recovery) Got this directly from "Widow To Widow" By Genevieve Davis Ginsberg, M.S.

Great book, by the way. I thought my feelings were only my feelings and it turns out I'm not all that special. For the first time in my life I was glad to know that.

No one, not even Ginsberg (and she has an M.S. after her name) talks about the stage that has no end and that is 'grief trumping.' It manifests itself by the grieving in a million (real number - I counted) of dramatic displays and assumptions - for example - the wider the brim on the black widow hat the deeper the sorrow. (research taken directly from an episode of 'Dallas.'

That said, I have recently become aware that grief trumping is not only widespread among the grieving but it is a big practice by the consoling loved ones. It's usually under the heading "They mean well" which I'm thinking we (the grievers) should rally against and blast back, "Stop meaning so well - I don't want to lie by your pool. I hate pools."

My favorite in a parade of well meaning people are the ones who named their babies after Jimmy. When you get a moment scroll down and read my post of August 11th called "Let's Name Everyone After Jimmy."

Okay. Read it?

This just in: On Memorial Day Weekend of this year, just six weeks after Jimmy died, my friend, Teri's daughter, Daria married a man named Steven Plotz. Daria had considered keeping her name, (duh..) but happily Steven was eager to free himself of the life long abuse that goes with being a 'Plotz.'

They considered Steven taking Daria's name, but this choice was too emasculating. A fresh start was in order. They set out to find a new last name (perhaps from the phone book?) to spare themselves and their future little Plotzes.

Teri called me today to tell me they are down at the court house now legally changing their last name to 'James.'

I plotzed. I know Jimmy is plotzing.

Mr. and Mrs. Steven James trumped them all.

Just One More Time

Jimmy loved a good backrub. He rarely had a professional massage, but when our 6'4 nephew Chuck came over Jimmy would lean over and yell to him "Blood, blood." This, of course, meant 'help get the kinks out.'

Chuckie came over yesterday and we were reminising about it.

"I could barely pass by his chair. He'd make me give him a massage. I always did, but I didn't always want to."

I nodded.

"He was so demanding" Chuck continued. "but now if I could do it just one more time..."

"I know what you mean" I said. "I feel the same way about blow jobs."

Lets Name Everyone After Jimmy

You have to think very highly of someone to name your baby after that person. Yes? No arguement here. It's an honor and it's a tremendous show of respect. Okay. That said...

On June 3rd my cousin Mike named their son after my husband Jimmy. (James) Oh, not the first name, but the middle name. I don't mean to sound picky because it's not my nature, but we all know a middle name is forgotten and unused as soon as the birth announcement goes out.

When the kid is five and he's not cooperating the parents may yell,

"Andrew James - no more drinks of water - just go to bed!"

Andy will know from that that they mean business or more likely he'll have no idea who 'Andrew James' is. For the most part that kind of talk is a Southern thing where they're used to having two first names, 'Mary Jane' 'Carol Ann' 'Jim Bob' - But, then what do they do for emphasis? I guess they add on 'Miss' or 'Mr.'

"Mr. Timothy John - I've had it up to here with you!"

I don't know anyone in the tri-state area who talks like that.

My cousin Mike and his family live in Brooklyn. With the exception of formal documents James will most likely be reduced to a 'J'. Still, a middle initial is a huge step up from 'nmi' which translates to 'My parents were too lazy to think of second name for me.'

In spite of my sarcasism I swear I really was genuinely touched that Mike and his wife thought enough of Jimmy to name their son after him...sort of...

Only six weeks later on July 25th Mike's sister Sue had a baby girl and named her after Jimmy. Her name? 'Samantha Zoe'

Hmmmmm...are you thinking what I'm thinking? Exactly. Is this a sibling rivelry thing or what? I'd better find a moment to clue them in that they're not in the will.

Here's how I found out about Jimmy's 2nd namesake - I visit Sue and she summons me to sit on her hospital bed. I do reluctantly because these days my radar is on high alert. Any one can say anything at anytime that will bring me to a place I don't want to be. Once there, I want to just curl up and disappear.

Sue sweetly takes my hand and looks at me soulfully. Uh-oh...my mind is racing.
Something is up and something is expected of me. I hope I'm able to respond appropriately because I'm really feeling uncomfortable just being in a hospital. Walking through the halls has brought me right back to Jimmy's last week.

I make a concious effort replace that awful memory with the joyous one two years before when my granddaugter, Skylar was born. Maternity floors are happy and hopeful and this is the facade I am hanging on to until I hear Sue say,

"I want you to know that we named our daughter after Jimmy."

Sue's mom is sitting on the bed next to me and I'm afraid to turn my head to look at her because I can tell by the sound she sucked in that she is holding back tears. I, on the other hand, because I am a normal person am holding back a laugh.

"I'm not sure what to say" I say concerned that the smirk I'm feeling on
the inside is leaking out.

Sue looks perplexed and unaware that 'Samantha Zoe' being named after Jimmy
needs an explanation.

I stammer, "I'm flattered and well, happy, well, not really happy, but you
know...not sure how..."

Suddenly it clicks for Sue that I may be wondering how "Samantha Zoe" and
'Jimmy' have a connection.

"Well, we always wanted 'Samantha' and so we thought about a 'J' name for
a middle name..." she begins.

I'm thinking, 'duh' a J would be good...

"But, we really didn't like an J names and we love Zoe which means 'Life.'"

She left me there, my smirk turning to something else that felt like grief.
I had time to process the irony of my Jimmy who is dead being regarded as
life-like.

"Jimmy was so full of life. He loved life." she said.

"Yes. Oh, yes, he was. He did" I chimmed in.

Then, my smirk came back as I pictured Jimmy watching this. He'd be
saying,

"I loved ice-cream, too. Maybe someone should name their kid
'Rocky Road.'"

People Die Near Their Birthday

I've always been an idiot savant with dates. I remember everyone's birthday even if I can't stand them. My brain refuses to delete that Mrs. Ellenson was born on February 9th. She was my next door neighbor 34 years ago.

Long gone, Mrs. Ellenson was always annoying and she continues annoy me to this day by taking up valuable room in my head. Damn it. Get out! Now, I need that space to remember where I leave my glasses.

My obsession with dates led to my theory that 89% of people die near their birthday.
I made up the 89% part. It's actually more like 'a lot' but 'a lot' that doesn't sound nearly as scientific as a hard number. 89% makes people sit up and take notice. "Really? 89%?" And, then I mumble something, anything. But, it's true...you always hear "She was just 74." "He would have been 81."

Every year I harrassed Jimmy with "Be careful. You're in your danger zone, you know" from a month before, the month of and a month after his birthday. That's the three month window. That's my definiton of 'near' your birthday.

Jimmy's birthday was March 14th so from February 14th until April 14th he was suseptible to falling down a manhole or getting the killer cancer that actually did take his life on April 13th. Some people never get a chance to say good bye. I never got a chance to say, 'I told you so.'

Actually, I tried. I'll never know if he heard me, but I begged him to hold on. "You know how you hate it when I'm right" I whispered to him that last day.

We were only four months apart in age. We were in the same grade and when Jimmy turned 21 and I was only 20 I wanted to be 21, too. (although, the drinking age back then was 18) Naturally, as we got older I held on to every second before I turned "the same age." Forty was huge. "You mean YOU'RE forty" I would taunt. "I'M still 39."

When Jimmy turned the corner this March to be 56, a year closer to 60 than to 50 I smirked. I was still safely smack in the middle and we played our silly back and forth routine. Not so funny, anymore looking back because I had no idea that he was sick and never ever imagined that this would be his last birthday.

On July 7th my own 56th birthday arrived without fanfare, without Jimmy. He wasn't there to tease 'You're catching up.' I had to face that he will never be older than me. His time here on earth is over. I may continue to my next birthday, but he will always be 56.

You'd think I would have realized we're not going to grow old together before that moment. I'm sure I did but not quite in the same gut wrenching way. This date obsession thing puts it all out there for me to see.

And, I had been dreading today, August 7th, the day I am past my own danger zone. If I had died yesterday Jimmy and I would have lived the exact number of days. It doesn't seem fair.

My friend told me I'm feeling 'survival guilt.' Could be...A lot of spouses left behind feel this - exactly 72%.

What Was I Thinking?

I was driving along feeling sorry for myself listening to Michael Bolton belt out "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You" when my accountant called. He told me how much money I owed in taxes and my mood went from 'suicide watch' to 'watch out BMW - I'm about to sideswipe you.'

"Oops" I said into the phone. Then, I promised to call back and I hung up.

I was hoping I had hit a parked car so that I could just leave a note on the windshield with all my information and not deal with anyone or not deal at all and draw a much less incriminating sad little face.

I wasn't tested. I was halfway out of my car when I saw a small, dark middle aged woman standing next to a smashed in front end (of her car) pointing her crooked finger at the shiney black BMW with MD plates.

I stood face to face with her while she hit me over and over again with her words, "What were you dinking? What were you dinking? What were you dinking? What were you dinking?" (I found out later this 'dinking' was an Armenian accent)

I blurted out exactly what I was thinking.

"I was talking to my accountant. He was giving me bad news. And, my husband passed away three months ago."

Boom. That stopped her. I turned away, went back to my car and came back with my information.

I had thrown her a curve ball and she was pissed. She was quiet for a few moments as she began to copy my insurance junk on her persciption pad. Later she tore off a sheet for a calling card making sure to x out the blank part...like I was sixteen and going to run off to score some cool pills with it or something.

Finally, without looking up she acknowledged what I had said.

"Well, okey, I hear you - Your husband passed away (pause) but mine is going to keeel me."

I had to laugh. She didn't. I had to say

"Well, I guess that's a perk. That's something I don't have to worry about anymore."

Is That Your Husband In The Bag?

I feel safe at home. I like being among the familiar things that Jimmy and I bought together or fought about buying. I always won, of course and that's why they're here.

Photos can be painful and depending on the day I conciously avert my eyes as I pass by, but other days I'm able to hold up a picture very very close, often with a magnifying glass and search for any sign of disease or impending doom.

Like a jeweler with a loop checking a diamond for a flaw, I compare the pictures of Jimmy taken just months before to the ones a few years ago. I remember where we were and what we were doing and I close my eyes to visualize if he seemed tired or 'off'? but, wait...we danced and laughed and he was fine.

When I'm home I don't have to worry about running into someone. That's a big fear I have when I leave the house. I've considered putting a paper grocery bag over my head like 'the unknown comic' but decided that might attract extra attention. I entertain myself this way.

I'm uncomfortable seeing people from the neighborhood because there are many ways it could go and none of them are pleasant. It's not pleasant for me or or for the poor soul who had the bad timing to push her shopping cart into aisle 8 just as I am rolling mine in from the other end. Let's face it - A face off like that must be acknowledged. If I ran into me I know I'd be saying to myself, 'Damn. Did I really need those eggs?'

Running into me is a lose/lose situation. Here are a few possibilities:

1. They heard. They never sent a card or called and now they feel guilty. They
react defensively.

"I just heard two weeks ago. We were away. We would have been there. You know
that, don't you?"

I end up consoling them. "Of course. Please don't worry about it. We're friends."
(I'm thinking,'What the hell is her name, again?)

2. They don't know. "How's Jimmy?" is the first sign. Sometimes, I mumble and
move on...and sometimes I blurt out "-------------" This usually results in a
gasp followed by a very very long and suffocating hug. They search
their memory for the last time they saw him and look at me perplexed.

They demand details. They mean well. They're worried about their own husbands.
'Could this happen to Mike? I think he's actually a few years older than
Jimmy...' They ask Jimmy's age and when I tell them they gasp again.

So, this is why I've developed hermit tendencies. I stay home and sit on the couch sadly smirking as I look at the chair Jimmy told me not to buy because it was too expensive, the one he ended up sitting on all the time.

But, I do have to go out once in a while. One day, a few weeks ago,I was dog sitting for my next door neighbor and good friend's chocolate toy poodle, Marley.

Marley is used to be carried around Paris Hilton style by Brooke, his 22 year old Mommy. I had to do a few errands, bank, cleaners, etc. and when I got out his leash to take him along, Marley sat on my pocketbook to tell me that he wanted in. "Ohh, I said to Marley 'You're not that small. I'll go get an overnight bag for you.' So, I did.

Marley and me (like the book) shlepped around town and he was a very good boy content to stay in the bag with his chew toy. Wherever we went strangers saw his little wooley head sticking out and they ooohed and ahhhhed.

Our last stop was the card store. To get there I had to walk past a jewelry store where I go from time to time and have a great rapour with Sy, the owner. He's a man close to seventy who should belong to the Friars Club He's full of life and fun and we are always joking around. He complains that I hardly ever buy anything except a battery for my watch.

I see Sy is sitting outside his store on a park bench. I have to pass right by him. I know he doesn't know. How would he? I hesitate and begin to walk. Sy spots me, a bag over my shoulder, a little curly brown head sticking out and he shouts to me,

"Hey, is that your husband in the bag?"

I approached him and said, "Sy, you are going to be so sorry you asked me that." I told him and then I vowed never to leave the house again.

lost In The Cemetery

I don't have a bad sense of direction. I have zero sense of direction. If I added up all the time spent driving South when I should have been going North or stopping strangers only to hear 'left, right, right, left...if you pass the railroad you've gone too far, blah, blah, blah' What? Are they kidding me? I know that was English, but it may as well been an alien talking. No comprendo. Nada.

Anyway, if I added all that time up it would be not days, not months, but years. Yes, years of circling around and getting nowhere, like a dog chasing his tail. And, like a dog, it always left me wanting to curl up and nap.

My husband, Jimmy was my compass. I don't mean that as a sweet metaphor. I really mean he was my compass especially since the invention of cell phones. At least once a week I would frantically call him and he would patiently (most of the time) say 'Okay, so where do you THINK you are? Is the 7/11 on your right or your left? No...turn around - You're going the wrong way - AGAIN.'

He would stay on the phone with me until I knew where I was and often that wouldn't be until I was in our driveway. Am I exaggerating? Only a little.

The Friday before Father's Day I decided to go to the cemetery. Jimmy had been gone for two months and I hadn't been back since his funeral. Naturally, I didn't drive myself that day and there were plenty of people around me to show me the way once we got out of the cars. I wasn't exactly paying attention to where I was or how I got there which, now that I think about it, was the only thing normal about that day.

I got to the entrance to the cemetary late. They close the gate at 5:00. I got there at 4:15 because I had a pedicure first. The woman who does my toes was running late, then she got a phone call and left me soaking and to be honest, I didn't calculate the drying time.

So, here I am driving along winding paths with my head out the window straining to find 'Serenity East' a section among what seemed thousands of identical sections of
masoleums. The air was soft and quiet and my heart seemed to be beating louder and faster. It leaped when my cell phone rang and my first thought was, 'Oh, good. Jimmy can help me.'

It was my cousin Sharon who may actually have a worse sense of direction than I do. When she asked me where I was I told her, "This will make you laugh and cry at the same time. I'm driving around the cemetery looking for Jimmy."

Now it's close to 4:45 and a security car came by and told me they were closing the gate at 5:00, but if I parked my car right outside the gate I could walk and stay as long as I wanted to. I was so grateful since I was beginning to feel like a horrible person for taking up valuable time getting my toes done.

On foot and especially on feet that have just been soaked and massaged and only want to revel in the lotions, not squish around and be pounded in flip flops it is key to be walking in the right direction. It's one thing to be lost in a car and a very different experience to retrace your steps literally especially when the destination
is what it was.

I passed Nickolas Santana at least four times. I circled Katherine Luck easily three times and noted she died at 41. "Guess you ran out of luck, eh, Katherine Luck?" I saluted her.

I was not leaving until I found Jimmy and I dreaded finding him and seeing his name with the dates chiseled on the marble. How horrible. How real that would make it. Is this why I couldn't find him? Was I keeping myself from this or was I just lost like usual?

I began babbling to Jimmy that this wasn't funny anymore and why don't you just help me out here considering it was quarter to six already. True, I had no reason to go home. You're not there, but still...

I noticed a man. One man alone holding a map. In all of my travels there was no one but me wandering around and there he was. At first I thought he might be a mirage. I approached him and he pointed to where 'Serenity East' was. It was far, he said. He said you're supposed to go to the office first and pick up a map. Yeah, like I could read a map.

I stumbled off in the right direction and to make a very long story a little shorter, by 6:10 I found Jimmy. It was an awful jolt to see his name and date and I collapsed on the cement bench facing him and cried and cried and rubbed my feet.

I stayed about a half hour talking and talking and feeling him listening and I wrote on the back and left a picture of Skylar, then began my journey back to find my car. Don't ask...

Grandfathers Are Necessary, After All... to Grandmothers

I'm not sure how to begin a new entry. It's my first since April. Until today, I haven't had the heart or the focus to post again. Minutes ago I changed my profile. The old one didn't fit me anymore. I'm no longer somebody's wife.

In my post of February 17th I write about grandfathers really not being necessary and I'm not taking that back. I'll just revise it to "Okay, well, all right, to the Grandmother they're necessary." This, I already knew though.

Skylar's 2nd birthday came just two weeks after Jimmy died so we canceled her Jo-Jo party and Jackie and Glenn, Uncle Doug and I went to the Aquarium for the day. Why the Aquarium? Who knows? Now, I'm just the Grandma who sits in the back seat and goes along. What a pathetic picture - and not even true. They tied me to the hood.

About fish... I hate fish unless they're served on a bed of rice. I think they're discusting to watch. Those vibrant colors flickering in the water feels like a freaky LSD trip to me and I never took LSD. (really)

Sky loves fish so she was happy and that was the point. Nothing was going to make my kids and me happy so we numbly watched her run around, put her face up close to the tanks, giggle and tap the glass to say 'hello' to the fishies. All the time I kept wondering if Jimmy was watching us. Now, I'm wondering if Jimmy is reading this. He may be the only one.