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Filtering by Category: grief

AUGUST FIRST

Cindy Maddera

It's one of those days where I spend my time holding my breath in anticipation of horrible news. I keep thinking that I'm going to wake up on some August first later on in the future and feel normal. I'm not going to have flashbacks of being in pigeon pose on my yellow yoga mat and Chris walking in holding the phone and saying "Your mom is on the line and something's wrong." I won't remember the sound of my mom's hysterics or how she was incoherent. I won't remember calling Katrina's number and talking to our friend Cindy, listening to her explain to me what had happened with J. I feel like it is a trick of my brain that I can remember all the details of that moment. I can even tell you that I was on my left side in pigeon pose. 

My yoga mat is now a gray/blue color. I will probably never again buy a yellow one. 

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I noticed several 'friends' posting memories for loved ones lost today. Sentiments of "I can't believe it's been three years" or "we miss you." lined the page. Time doesn't matter. Three years or thirteen years. Any amount is unbelievable. You will always miss them. Often the traumatic memories are the first to surface. In this case I image what it was like when J died. I've seen too many movies and too much TV, so you know that those imaginings are brutally graphic and horrific. It's one of the many ugly side effects of grief, seeing the one you lost in the worst way. Sometimes I see, in my head, Chris's face the day before he died. His face is slack and his eyes are unfocused. He can't form words. That part is the oddest part to me. Chris was a word smith and in the end he couldn't form a coherent thread of words. These are the memories and images from the blunt force trauma of death. I have to close my eyes and shake my head to rid myself of the thoughts. 

As I was cleaning out the herb garden this spring, I decided to plant a few sunflower seeds. I'd come across a packet of them in the garage while gathering my gardening tools. Only one of those seeds sprouted. Each day it has grown taller and taller. It is about waist high now, still no flower. One day a few weeks ago, I went out to feed the chickens and noticed that the top half of the sunflower had been snapped almost completely off. It was still attached, hanging there like a broken bone. I frowned at it and thought about pulling the plant completely out of the garden. But I left it. When we got back from Portland, the top portion that had been dangling was now lifted up. A branch from a lower portion had grown up to support the broken portion. The plant had grown new tissue around the broken part. You can still see that the sunflower was broken. The plant dips obviously to one side before stretching up. There's a scar left from the break, but other than that, the plant looks healthy. It's thriving. You can watch it follow the sun every day. 

Broken yet thriving. 

We are all a little bit broken yet thriving. 

 

 

THE OCCASIONAL PUNCH TO THE GUT

Cindy Maddera

I came home from work to find the picture sitting on my home desk. Blurred and faded. Chris in the act of impersonating a jelly fish or reenacting a scene from the Simpsons. It could be either of those things. I recognize the room. It is the room where we all spent half our days hanging out, the student government office in Trout Hall. Is it even still called Trout Hall? For some reason I don't think so. I vaguely remember them moving the student government office too after we all graduated. God, this image is from a hazy lifetime ago, back when we were all so young and not so jaded by life's disappointments. That school was our Hogwarts. I don't think any of us even thought about what we'd do next, when we finally graduated and had to leave. 

I think we were all surprised and a little shell shocked when we realized that we would one day leave that place to stumble through to the next thing. Some times I wonder and dream about what it would have looked like to never leave. Not necessarily staying on as students, but moving into teaching. The only time teaching has ever crossed my mind was if I could teach there. I have no desire to do it otherwise. I wonder what we would look like, how the group of us would have changed if we had all stayed put. Would we just be older versions of our idyllic selves? Chris and Amy would have turned the UFO Independent Study into a yearly event. I would have taken over Dr. MaGrath's campus gardening project. Jen would be dragging a group of art students around to various places to sit and draw. Basically we would be the lost boys to Chris's Peter Pan. Never growing up.

Was I his Wendy?

I remember how it felt like we were not grown ups. Not even when we moved on from graduate school and entered the so called 'real world'. We still seemed to be just playing at adulthood. Like it was a game or a theater production. We watched cartoons and collected toys. We had hand-me-down everything from cars to couches. We still scavenged home decor from thrift stores and garbage dumpsters. The idea of being able to buy a house was so far out there that we thought it would be easier to buy land on the moon. We bought scooters and lived with his mom. We were children right up until the day we moved to Kansas City. We moved in an actual moving van for the first time, not a horse trailer borrowed from a neighbor. We bought a lawnmower and we bought a house. Our couch was still a hand-me-down couch and our furniture was still an eclectic mix of thrift store and IKEA, but it was our house with a garage and a fenced-in backyard. 

We were better off never growing up. 

The Cabbage was the one to find that picture. It had been tucked inside a book and had fallen free when she pulled the book from the shelf. There is always an odd tug and pull that I feel whenever my current life runs into my past life. Michael and the Cabbage are always respectful of my past. They placed that picture on my desk instead of back in the book it fell out of because they thought I might want it. Which was nice and sweet. But it still feels odd for them to run across such a random and totally honest picture of Chris. Like a science fiction show when dimensions in timelines cross paths. For a moment my timeline gets twisted into a loop and the now meets up with the then ever so briefly. Just enough to feel the oddness of it before it flips back into place. Like a twisting rubber band. 

We are better off never growing up. 

 

 

NUMBNESS

Cindy Maddera

I didn't stand. I was high and a little tipsy and not really sure if I had heard the speaker right. Earlier in the evening I had used the quarter teaspoon to scoop out some pot-laced honey. I am still guessing at dosage for this little jar that was gifted to me by a friend. There is no label. No dosage recommendations. The whole jar is 250 mgs. The first time I ate some, I ate too much and had one of those panic moments where I thought I was overdosing on marijuana. Which is not a thing. This time I got the dosage just about right. By the time we were settled in on Terry's blanket in front of Union Station, I was pleasantly numb. By the time the Memorial Program got to the memorial part, I was one gin and tonic and two glasses of wine in and buzzy.

So whatever the man on stage said was unclear. It was only when I saw some people standing that it started to sink in. These are people who had someone who died while in service to this country. Then it registered somewhere deep inside my brain. I am a person who had someone who died while in service to this country. I reached for the nearest body, which happened to be Luke. Michael was somewhere standing in a line for the bathroom. I grabbed ahold of Luke just in time for them to start the gun salute. Luke was drunk enough to not really know what was happening other than we were just being lovey dovey. That's normal enough for us. I clung to him as I felt each fucking bullet and didn't let go until after the last note played from the trumpet in Taps. I let go and then settled down into my guilt. I was Peter waiting for the rooster to crow. 

The kind of attention that comes from losing someone to something like a car bomb has never really fit me comfortably. It's like wearing a wet wool sweater that is too small. It's smelly and itches. It is a different kind of grief and experience then what I go through with Chris. I have never been able to hear "thank you for your sacrifice" without visibly wincing or clenching my fists and imaging putting that fist into the face of the person thanking me. 

Sacrifice: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

That's the definition I think of when I hear the word 'sacrifice' and I have to repress the urge to respond with "I didn't sacrifice anything." I never willingly surrendered J as an offering to any God. I want to scream that. None of us willing surrendered. 

I had a sinus infection and took too much cold medicine before J's funeral and maybe even one of Chris's pain pills left over from a surgery he had had. Numbing myself seems to be the way I handle this kind of grief. Military deaths are too bright and loud with colored flags and booming guns. Harsh. It prickles the skin with it's sharpness. I can wallow in my grief over losing Chris for days like a pig wallowing in the mud, but the grief over J is like rolling in glass. I have to remind myself of the very good lessons I learned from his death and how it prepared me for the next. I have to do my best to ignore the total destruction J's death caused our family and how each one of us had to learn in our own way how to behave in way that best honors J.

I recently read a book where one of the characters suffers a severe stroke in her thirties and she has to learn how to do everything all over again. Talking. Walking. Basic functions like buttoning a shirt or tying shoe laces. She's a cartoonist and has to learn how to hold a pencil and make sketches. She has to learn how to be the closest thing she can be to the person she was before the stroke. That's what grief is like. It's a stroke. After J, we all had to learn how to be the closest thing we could be to the people we were before. Some days, Hell...even most days, I feel like I came back from that stroke a better version of the person I was before. 

Just not every day. 

 

SLEUTHING

Cindy Maddera

That Son of a Bitch knew. This is what I am thinking as I gaze out the kitchen window while washing the skillet I'd used to make scrambled eggs. It hits me so sudden and so out of no where, but the thought is insistent and consuming. He knew he was sick before we moved. Oh, I know I've had this thought before and I've listened to each and every one of you tell me "oh no, Cindy he would never keep something like that from you." I heard you and I let it console me, but come on. Did anyone see him in Twilight of the Golds? He was good. Like real good. That man could act and the more I think about it the more I am convinced of this. And I. AM. FURIOUS. He found out he was sick right around the time I got the job offer that would have us moving to Missouri. This, of course is speculation, but just hear me out. 

Think about what things were like for us back then. Both of us were in jobs that we didn't really love. We lived with his mom. Sometimes we had to go get a hotel room just so we could have uninterrupted time for each other. We squeezed out joy from whatever source we could and put on a brave face because we were together, but we both wanted something more. Then suddenly we had an opportunity for something more. Except right at the same time, Chris finds out he has incurable cancer. But. BUT! Chris decides to keep it a secret. He has this plan. Get me to KCMO. Get me settled into a new city and a new job. Spend as much time as possible enjoying all the newness of this place, driving all over the city and exploring. Get me settled into a house. Get all of those things taken care of until he can no longer hide the increasing symptoms and pain associated with his cancer. Then he feigns shock and surprise at the knowledge of a giant tumor on his liver. 

See?!?!? It's so fucking plausible, that now you even believe it.

He duped us.

I know on some plane of reality that this is not true because Chris and I were always perfectly and very frankly honest with each other, but all that honesty aside, I cannot be certain. I have even skimmed over his blog archives looking for hints or evidence of something suspicious. I know you're shaking your head and thinking "Not possible. Let it go." You are probably also thinking how is it possible that I am still bringing this up after six years. All I can tell you is: I DON'T FUCKING KNOW! Just like I don't know why whenever Chris shows up in one of my dreams he's usually a total jerk. It's almost like he's doing it on purpose. It's his way of saying "forget all of the good things about me and our times together and only remember the times we were cruel to each other." Which is dumb because I can count on one hand the number of times we really argued. 

Any way. The whole did he or didn't he is my obsession of the moment. It is a scab on my brain and because I can't leave shit well enough alone, I have picked enough at it that it is open, raw and sore. Maybe even slightly infected. When do the statue of limitations run out on this particular question for the dead? I'm thinking never. 

 

FORTY SEVEN

Cindy Maddera

Chris turned forty one and then died one hundred and three hours later. This is the first thing I remember when I wake up on February sixth. It is the beginning of the losing. If this were a normal day and there were no such things as tumors or cancers, Chris would be turning forty seven, but this isn't fantasy land. Tumors happen. Cancer has been a thing since the dawn of man. No one lives forever. I can't even image what we would be doing to celebrate his birthday this year. Movie? Dinner? Maybe have Amy, Roger and Charolette up for the weekend? Traci, Chris and Quinn? Maybe we'd go there? I don't know. The only birthday of Chris's that we celebrated after our move to KCMO was the one before he died. It had only been a year since our move. 

One year. 

2011 was a year of great change. 2012 was the black hole that sucked up all of that greatness.

I keep thinking that there really is going to be a day when I don't dwell on this day. Facebook reminded me to share a Thankful Friday post from February sixth where I wrote about being thankful for the time Chris and I had. I read through it and rolled my eyes. What a load of sugar coated bullshit. Of course I am grateful for that time, but come on. I'm the Pollyanna of grief. Oh look at me! The person I expected to grow old with died before we were old, but I'm doing so great! Sometimes I think this attitude I have where I try to show everyone (mostly myself) that I'm doing just fine, diminishes Chris and what we had. I mean, if it was all so great, how is it that I've been able to move forward so quickly. What I don't always tell you or anybody is just how much I have to work at staying in forward motion. 

Do you watch This is Us? I don't know why Michael and I watch it. It makes us both cry every damn episode. The latest episode was the hardest for me but at the same time, a little validating. Twenty years later and each family member is still grieving. Each member of the family spends the anniversary of their Dad's/Husband's death dealing with it in their own way. Mom makes lasagna. Kate watches a home movie. Randall goes all out for the Super Bowl, Dad's favorite thing. Kevin...usually does nothing, but that changed this year. We see him start his own tradition. I feel like each of those characters represent my years of grief. I made everything jambalaya the first year. I got lost in all of our old photos. I haven't gone all out for anything or started a new tradition. Those are for years to come I guess. 

I have removed 90% of his junk from this house. Mostly garbage. Some toys. All of his clothes with the exception of a T-shirt that I still wear and his old bath robe. I still wear that too because it's big and soft and he didn't really wear it but once or twice. I never got around to fixing his Facebook account. It requires a photo ID and I've put all of that stuff someplace so organized that I don't remember where. Also it's for selfish reasons. The daily onslaught of messages to his timeline is too much for me. So I've let it slide. I'll fix it eventually. I owe it to the others who loved him. Just not today. Today I am too busy being split in two between the life I had and the life I have. 

HERE NOR THERE

Cindy Maddera

I've got nothing for you. I started writing about the darkness that's starting to crawl across my brain and then I deleted it. Last night I sat in my therapist's office and wept for twenty minutes because it is the one place I don't have to pretend. I pretend every where else because I don't want to be sad girl. But right now I am sad girl. So instead of me talking about that, let's all look at that puppy in the picture up there. Isn't he the cutest? He looks JUST LIKE Josephine. 

That's Murray. Terry brought him home on Christmas Eve. Things have been hard for Terry and Miles (his other schnauzer) ever since Max passed on. I told Mom about Miles waiting at the door when the vet took Max away and I started crying. Max made an impact on a lot of people, as I am sure Murray will as well. He is 100% puppy and he is so tiny, that Terry has to carry him up and down the stairs. He is so tiny that he fits inside Heather's handbag and she almost took him back to California with her. Murray is a squiggly ball of needle teeth right now and he makes us laugh and laugh even while he is stabbing those needle teeth into our flesh.  

Josephine is going to stay with her Uncle Terry in February. I can't wait to see how she and Murray get along. Josephine is really good with my brother and sister-in-law's little dogs. She's never tried to hurt them and plays well with Rayland. Josephine has learned to give Buttercup her space. Buttercup is the oldest chihuahua in the world. She is a queen who sits on her giant pillow and watches the shenanigans that go on between Josephine, Rayland and the cat, Nero. I think Josephine will be great with Murray and they will play and play and play. The best thing about Murray is that I've heard Terry laugh, really laugh, more than I've heard him laugh in a while. 

Puppies just make you feel better.

I DON'T EVEN PLAY ONE ON TV

Cindy Maddera

I had this actual conversation with my brother over the weekend:

Randy: "Do you have access to liquid nitrogen where you work?"

Me: "Yeah, but I'm not sure I have a liquid nitrogen container. Why do you need it?"

Randy: "I have this mole on my face I need to burn off. Maybe I could just come up there the next time we visit and you can burn it off for me."

Me: "or you could go see someone who knows what they're doing...like...I don't know...A DOCTOR!"

Here I was thinking that my brother wanted some liquid nitrogen for some cool project he was working on. When I found out he wanted it for self mutilation purposes, I started laughing. It was so completely a Dad thing for him to say. Our Dad was constantly asking me for medical advice. He'd say something like "Hey Cindy, I've got this thing on my elbow. What do you think it is?" I would look at it and say "a dangerous mole you should have the doctor look at." Then Dad would say "oh...no...maybe there's something you have at work that you could put on it." To which I would respond "Dad, I'm not a doctor." My Masters in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics was the equivalent to Medical Doctor according to my Dad. It was one of those things Dad did that made me simultaneously laugh and roll my eyes. 

I was walking down the hallway recently when Grief walked up and punched me hard in the gut. The air rushed out of me as I crumpled to the floor, gasping for air and trying not to throw up. I thought "Grief, you fucking asshole bully, when are you going to leave me alone?!" Then I remembered that Grief is not a bully, but a chronic illness. The holidays are not easy. Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving in the first house we'd just signed papers on. The next day he turned yellow and it was all down hill from there. Oklahoma Thanksgivings after that are scarred by the memories of the times when driving to Oklahoma became an all weekend affair. The car ride did not end once I had made it to my parents' home. That was just a pit stop before heading even further south only to spend half an hour or so with Dad before turning around and heading back. The Thanksgiving before Dad died was the last time I visited him where he was still Dad. He still had his sense of humor. He still knew who I was. I didn't have to remind him that Chris was gone. I didn't have to remind myself that Chris was gone. It's like Thanksgiving has become that last barely decent holiday before everything falls to shit. 

I remember how Dad would call just about every thirty minutes whenever Chris and I were driving from OKC to Tulsa and ask us "Where are you? How much longer until you get here?" It would drive us crazy. He was our phone version of the kid in the back seat saying "are we there yet?" every five minutes, but then we'd reach a point where we'd just start laughing about it. Dad could just be so ridiculous. My brother has started to resemble our Dad more and more. Not so much physically as in behaviorally. I noticed it the last time we were all together at their cabin near Branson. We were all sitting around outside, reading or playing games on our phones, except Randy. He was up and futzing around the camp trailer adjusting this or that. It was something our Dad would do. Whenever we were camping, Dad was always futzing with the camper or messing with the grill or making trout lines. I guess I do this too at times. Our lack of stillness is genetic.

Randy thinks we're teasing him when we call him Bud (my Dad's nickname), but what he doesn't know is that when we say that he's being so much like Dad, we mean it in a good way. Or at least I do. He's taken on those things that Dad would do that makes me laugh and roll my eyes all at the same time. It keeps Dad's memory alive. When Randy does a typical Dad thing, it makes me smile and laugh more at the memory than at Randy. I need those memories. I need to be reminded of Dad's goofball sense of humor and of the things he'd say and do that would make me roll my eyes.

IF WORDS WERE ARROWS

Cindy Maddera

I started it. I pushed and needled. I can never tell if he's just in a mood or he's in a mood because of something I did or said. My tendency to be bluntly honest doesn't work in this relationship and I do a lot of back peddling of "I don't mean to...." and "it wasn't my intention to.." It just means that I don't say a whole lot any more. Better to say nothing at all. As a result annoyances and frustrations go unsaid and they sit and fester. He is the opposite. He says so much that he can't even remember what he's said. He is not careful with his words, at least...not the way I am. Then he said it. "I am never going to make you as happy as Chris made you." He didn't say it in spite or malice. He just told the truth and the truth of those words hit me like a million arrows, piercing every inch of my skin. 

It was like losing Chris all over again and I crumpled. It's not that I had been lying to myself all this time, but... 'never' is such a finite word. I will admit to missing a relationship that I had, wishing at times that this one could be more like that one. I missed the confidence I had in myself. I was more relaxed then, less afraid of stepping on toes. Less worried about keeping Chris entertained, interested, and happy. There was an equality to our support of each other's endeavors. There was an ease to that relationship that I don't think Chris and I truly understood. Other couples would look at us and ask if marriage ever got any easier. Chis and I would look at them like they were crazy. It had never been hard for us. We didn't have to work on our relationship the way other couples tend to. I just expected that was how all relationships were supposed to be and at times I get frustrated and annoyed that I have to work at this one. So yeah, I miss the relationship I had. But that wasn't the worst part about the truth of his statement. The worst was the shame I felt for dragging him into this and how unfair it is for him. Why would he even want to be here if he knows he's never going to make me as happy? What a totally crappy position to be in, knowing that, believing that. I hope it's two sided, that we were both happier with other people and we are now forced to make do. Though, there's something sad about making do with being just happy enough and something selfish about asking for more. 

I remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, this relationship is still new. We're still learning how to navigate. In this case, the path isn't as clear and smooth as normal. There are more rocks, boulders even. We still have the usual growing pains of a new relationship. We are still learning how to share the same space even though we've been working on it for four years. I don't think we're slow learners as much as we are both stubborn and set in a particular way. I've started not trying so hard to make this relationship resemble the one I had. I'm working on being less careful with my words and falling back into my old skin. For someone who doesn't really care what the general public thinks of her, I see the irony in caring too much about what he thinks of me and it's time to put a stop to it. It's time for me to relax into this relationship and stop tiptoeing around. Easier said then done, I know, but just because I miss something I had once doesn't mean I can't be happy in what I have now. 

I've got a list of things forming in my head for the new year. I feel the crunch and rush of the shift from this year to the next more keenly this year then in previous years. Maybe it's because I feel like I haven't been my best self this year, particularly the last few months. If I had to sum up this year in one word that word would be 'struggle'. It's been a struggle for me to look around with a mindful eye, which is something I had always thought just came easily to me. I don't know why this year has been one of such internal fights for me. I would like an extra month between November and December just to get myself organized for the next year. Myself. Not the house or our schedules or the finances. We've actually been working on the finances together once a week, which has made a world of difference. I want that extra month to get ME organized, scrubbing my skin with salt and clearing away the negative goop that has started building up in my joints. 

I want to be more settled and care less in the next year. I want to be selfish and take more rather than just make do. 

TRAJECTORY

Cindy Maddera

I opened my daily news email and right at the top is read "Today is the 16th Anniversary of 9/11." I was struck by this sentence, like falling into an icy river. Was that really today? I remember Chris and Todd picking me up before lunch at work. We went to Galileo's and sat with a beer, unable to stop staring at the TV. Chris and I looked at each other at one point and we both said "Talaura" at the same time. He went to his phone then and sent her a message. She was fine. The country went into shock. We went through all the stages of grief. We went to war. 

Chris and I would later joke about how politicians would use the phrase "9-11 changed everything" as a scare tactic for votes. We shifted into a country easily ruled by fear. Too easily. The date 9-11 became the Boogie Man. You said the words with a hushed tone while looking over your shoulder as if someone might hear you. And then what? Something bad would happen. Might happen. You never know. The date became cursed. The reality was that the changing of everything would end up being a delayed reaction for me. It would take four, no..actually three years for that wave to hit. J would go to war. We would spend Saturdays building care packages. We'd send him our Girl Scout cookies. I'd buy an extra box of tampons so I could send them in his care package. You know...for bullet wounds. Chris would spend late nights on his computer and occasionally he would be able to catch J online for chats. Chris would come wake me up and say "J's online now. You want to talk to him?" I'd crawl out of bed and sit at Chris's computer and chat about nothing with J. The last time we talked, I told him about Dad's haircut. We laughed. Later on, I would find out that out private messages where all being recorded and read by my government and I would be filled with rage over the injustice of it. 

When the tsunami wave of 9-11 finally did hit, it destroyed everything in it's path. Dad stopped sleeping. Mom grew hateful and bitter. Katrina went a little crazy, but can you blame her? Randy pulled further inside his personal shell. It was all sad all the time, but eventually we started to rebuild. We found a way to absorb it all, some of us better than others. That's how it works. Shit gets destroyed, you clean up the mess and rebuild. Prepare for the next disaster. Today though, I started playing the What If game. What if J hadn't died? What if he'd come home to us all? Would Dad not have gotten Alzheimer's? Would Chris still be alive? The What If game never goes well. Michael and I watch a show called "You're the Worst" and most of the characters on the show really are the worst. One guy though is really sweet. He's an Iraq Veteran and he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We watched an episode recently where he was really struggling. He was struggling to keep it together. Struggling for help. Struggling to stay alive. What if J had come back to us in one piece? Would he be struggling with PTSD? It's naive to think he wouldn't come back from that changed in some way. Would we know how to help him? I mean...we didn't know how to help ourselves for a while there. 

Sometimes I am still amazed at the chain reactions. Life is just one giant Rube Goldberg device. Some of it resulting in disaster and heartache, but some of it also resulting in great joy. I hate that 9-11 changed everything. 

IN ANTICIPATION TO PAIN

Cindy Maddera

Ten. Twenty. Fifty. The number of times I catch myself holding my breath in one day. Forgetting to breath or just not able to remember the last breath. I don't know which. I notice it happening when I'm driving. I notice that I do it while setting up a photo. I even notice it while sitting doing nothing at my desk. It is like I am bracing myself for some sharp pain. Like that moment at the doctor's office when you know that you are about to be poked with a needle. You know it's coming. You know it's not life threatening, but you brace for the sting of it. Bracing for impact. That is what this feels like. I am bracing for the inevitable impact. Of what, I don't know. But my body is tensed and ready for it. 

While I am bracing for whatever sharp pain to come, I've been picking at old wounds and letting my thoughts fester in my brain. Every thing makes my eyes prickle with tears. I saw a couple I know at work interacting with each other the way Chris and I used to and the memory of similar moments pierced my heart. I had to go wait out the pain of it in the stairwell. People in the office started a discussion about that baby with the genetic disease that keeps him from breathing on his own or even moving and I have to throw on my headphones and ignore it. I can see it from both sides. I've been on both sides. No one knows more than I do about that desperate feeling of grasping for any hope for some magical cure for a loved one. But I've also been ready to give up all the pain meds to ease suffering. I did not feel like throwing my two cents into this conversation. 

But it is more than just the Chris part of things. That's always there. Dad has been gone for three years now. I only realized it after Facebook asked if I wanted to share a memory of the camping trip we were on when Dad died. I was camping when Dad died, not in the nursing home three hundred miles away, with him. Sure, I'd already said my goodbyes and written my Dad off. He hadn't been my Dad in months. I played it off as if I was honoring Dad more by participating in an activity that he always loved. It was a selfish move. I was there when they pulled the plug on Chris's Dad. I was there during Chris's final moments. I didn't want to watch another person die. There was nothing peaceful or spiritual about watching the life leave a person's body. At least not for me. So I disappeared into the woods and roasted marshmallows on a campfire. 

Why the Hell was Dad in a nursing home so far away from any of us?!? I know the reasons why he was where he was and I understand that things moved too quickly to be choosey about distance. It doesn't make me fell less angry about it all or place blame. I feel the words 'never' and 'forgive' swirling around inside me. Not that there is anyone to blame for Dad's illness. No one poisoned him with Alzheimer's. I do blame myself for not being more involved or pushing for better information. I blame myself for trusting some of the information that came to me. All that doubt and anger causes me to roll my eyes at declarations from some that I can't image in a million years are authentic declarations. I have confrontations in my head, the words never passing my lips because it wouldn't make a difference. Nothing would change. I can't expect others to behave as I would or how I expect them to behave. I can only change how I chose to react to them. 

Maybe holding my breath is the best reaction right now. 

GRUMBLE GRUMBLE

Cindy Maddera

Remember that skirt I told you about with the elephants all over it and how I had to send it back and get a bigger size? That skirt showed up yesterday and it was even smaller than the first skirt. It was also a different material than the first skirt. I was just starting to feel pretty good about this body. My pants fit me, pants I've had for three or four years. In yoga class on Saturday, I felt positively svelte and popped up into headstand like I had made that pose my bitch. Sure, I've had a thing for melty cheese the last couple of days, but who doesn't when it is cold and snowing. When I tried that skirt on last night, I felt like a fatty fat fat. I tugged the zipper up as far as I could and then cried "what is wrong with me?!?!?" because of course my first thought was that the company had not made a mistake. My first thought was that I had gained even more weight since ordering that skirt. Then I thought "how is that even possible if my clothes still fit?" I laid awake last night thinking about foods I will stop eating and vowing to ride my bicycle to work as soon as the weather allows. 

I sent that skirt back this morning, slapping the free shipping label onto the box with disgust. Then I looked outside and it was snowing and I hated all things. Except cheese. I am a prickly pear and it took me half the morning to figure out the real reason besides hormones for the my prickly pear syndrome. It is March 14th, the day before the Ides of March, the day Chris and I got married because it was Spring Break. We would have been married nineteen years today. The prickly pear syndrome comes from not wanting to remember or acknowledge that I would have been married for nineteen years. It is symptom of trying hard not to acknowledge a past life because I have moved on to a different one. 

Last week, I caught the tail end of an interview on NPR with Patton Oswalt. At the end of the interview he said "You know, you can say you're through with grief all you want, but grief will let you know when it's done." I wanted to tell him that it will never be done. You're going to think it is done. You haven't felt any twinges or leaky eyes in a while. You actually feel happy about your present life and then out of nowhere grief steps up and taps you on the shoulder. "Hey let's dance some more. I'm not done yet!" That's when grief turns into that crazy drunk guy you can't shake at the club. He may be kind of cute, but you're not interested and you're tired and ready to go home for the night. Yet, you are too polite to say no. You follow him back out onto the dance floor and think about ways to ditch him when he's not paying attention. You are not having any fun. 

Dates, numbers. They are too significant at times. Maybe if I focus on the irritating fact that I am sending a skirt back for the second time because it is too small, I won't notice what day it is. If I complain and gripe about how it is snowing in March (it is still winter, I don't know why I am complaining) I won't think about how our original plan was to get married on the fifteenth of March until we remembered Shakespeare and moved it up a day. If I spend enough time focused on criticizing my weight, I won't feel grief tapping on my shoulder trying to drag me back to that dance floor.

It has been five years. My feet hurt and I'm tired of dancing.  

 

THE LIES I TELL MYSELF

Cindy Maddera

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about that last year with Chris. At times the memories of it comes to me in a rush, a big swirl of moving stress and clap happy happiness. There were times I was so happy it physically hurt. We were so happy. This is what I tell myself. I say that we were stupid happy, the happiest we'd been in ages. And for a while now, I believed this. I believed that Chris was just as happy as I was. I believed we were happy. Lately though, as I look back on fading memories, I think that maybe that wasn't true. I don't think Chris was stupid happy with that last year. 

How awful and hard typing that sentence is, but there you have it. Oh, I'm sure he was happy enough, at least up until maybe October. He was happy that I was happy. He was the type of person that received more joy from participating in acts that provided happiness and joy and seeing the resulting smiles than the other way around. Making Chris laugh, really really laugh more than a chuckle, was not easy but when you did, it was the best magic. Chris felt joy in seeing my elation with the new changes in our life, but mostly I feel like he was just humoring me. He was just going along with my choices. We stayed in Oklahoma as long as we did because of my job. We left Oklahoma because of my job. Our decisions seem more like my decisions. I see it more clearly now.

I can imagine his days here beginning to wear on him, the loneliness in his days at home with out a job while I left the house every day to go to a job I enjoyed. It was probably worse late at night when he'd normally be meeting Tracy for coffee and now was left with his own devices. I took him away from his framily. For a while, I was enough but I could see as the year progressed that he needed more. That on top of the beginning of the symptoms that would kill him was a sadness of isolation. If I think really hard about that time, I see it. I see the consequences of my selfishness or my self centeredness and I hate myself for it. I used to be all "no regrets!" but now I see I have one really big regret and it is way too late to say "I'm sorry. No excuses. I am sorry." 

I so desperately wanted to ignore the small details. Except now, I have had enough time to dwell on the big things that all that is left are the small details. It is like I've spent the last five years taking a shirt apart seam by seam. I've made it to the pockets, buttons and cuffs. At some point I am either going to have to send the pieces of this shirt to recycling or put it back together. I am bound to put it back together with crooked seams and with the right sleeve on the left. When I am done getting it all back together, I'll look at it, with crooked seams and all, and declare it to be beautiful. 

Even if it is a lie.

LAUGH OUT LOUD OFTEN

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I use a calendar app called Cozi to organize dates because it is a calendar app that we can use on multiple devices. When I add something to the calendar through my iPhone, it shows up on Michael's Android (or whatever phone he has). Cozi also pulls from a Random Act of Kindness calendar and we get little reminders to do things like buy a homeless person a meal or be nice to a strange and then it reminds us to take out the trash. Sunday, Michael said "According to Cozi, tomorrow's Laugh Out Loud Often and Share Your Smile Generously Day." My reply was "That sounds about right because tomorrow would be Chris's birthday." Meaning today. Today would be Chris's forty sixth birthday. 

I am usually bombarded with Facebook notification to wish Chris a Happy Birthday! or someone has wished Chris a Happy Birthday. That's not happening this year because I have managed to fuck up Chris's Facebook account. Back in December, maybe even Christmas Day, I discovered that Chris's Facebook account had been hacked. I know his account was hacked because Chris sent me a message through Facebook. Getting an email from a dead person is creepy and not at all helpful during the holiday season. Any way in my attempts to hack into Chris's hacked account, I ended up locking his account. I thought I had gone through the process of unlocking that account, but I noticed a few weeks ago that Chris was no longer in my friends list. When you search for him, he doesn't exist. Which actually makes sense because Chris doesn't really exist any more. Chris is dead. I am working on getting his account unlocked so we can at least turn it into a memorial page. 

I woke up at 3:00 AM Sunday morning to the Cabbage screaming. I opened the door to find her standing in the living room, yelling at Michael to wake up and crying because she had a nose bleed. She looked like she had just stepped off the set of the latest slasher film. I took her into the bathroom and cleaned her up, calmed her down and got the nose bleed to stop. I put her back to bed and then went through the process of trying to wake Michael up to go lay with the Cabbage. After the fifth time of telling Michael about the Cabbage's nose bleed he finally looked at me and said "Well..I didn't know any of this." He got up and went to the Cabbage's room. Later in the day, the Cabbage squirted soap into her eye during bath time which brought on another round of screaming along with a nose bleed. Micheal started getting mad because he couldn't tell why the Cabbage was screaming because she was incoherent. I made him step away and once again found myself cleaning her up, calming her down (so I could rinse out her eye) and stopping a nose bleed. Once she was dressed, she sat whimpering while I brushed her hair. She let out a loud whining "Am I going to die?!?!?". 

My first instinct was to tell her the truth but then common sense clicked on. I figured that it wasn't a good idea to tell a six year old that, yeah...someday, you're going to die. Instead, I explained that soap in the eye is not life threatening, it just stings a whole lot. I continued to brush her hair in an out of body sort of way, letting my brain float somewhere far away. It's a practice I perfected during the summer when their complaining would reach a limit I could no longer bare. I would imaging getting in my car and just driving away somewhere. Wow, my life sure is different then it was five years ago when I was frantic to make Chris's birthday a good birthday for him, seeing as it was his last and all. He never complained about it, but Chris was not one to complain. The guy had a tumor on his liver, blocking his bile ducts for more than two months before he would finally admit that his pain was bad enough to go the emergency room. Maybe that's why I have a low tolerance for complainers and this entry feels a little derailed.  

Laugh out loud often and share your smile generously. I might be struggling with that today, but on most days I think I share my smile with others. I admit that I don't laugh out loud as often as I used to, but I still laugh daily. Some time I purposefully think back to a moment where Chris said or did something that made me fall over with laughter. I never have to think too hard, because it was pretty much a daily occurrence. I take a moment to contain a fit of giggles over the memory and then I go about my day a little lighter.   

PRONOUNS

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I spent pretty much the whole day on Saturday at the RV dealership in camp trailer boot camp. We learned all the things about our camper. We helped winterize it and fold it up. They gave us a $50 gift card and shopping cart with our names on it so we could buy camper things like those wedges you put behind the tires to keep your trailer from rolling away and decorative camper lights. Then we signed a bunch of papers, hooked the truck to the trailer and ever so slowely creeped our way out onto the open road. We headed straight over to the closest Thai restaurant because we had skipped lunch. I ordered shrimp Pad Thai and Michael ordered a mushroom stir-fry. While we waited, he leaned across the table with a wide grin and stage whispered "We got a camper! Somebody up there must like us." 

I grinned back, but the somebody up there part of his words kind of punched me in the chest. We talked more about the camper and I said "we need to name it!" Michael said we should name it something Chris related. Our waitress set our steaming plates of Thai food down in front us and I shoveled in a fork full of noodles. Michael asked if he could steal a bite while I slowely chewed and I nodded my head as the lump of noodles in my mouth seemed to grow. I put my head in my hands as I concentrated on swallowing the lump of growing noodles and then I started crying. Of course this left Michael stammering and asking what was going on. "Can you talk to me?" He asked and I just shook my head 'no' while my throat closed up around Pad Thai noodles and tears streamed down my face. I finally had to excuse myself to the restroom and clean myself up. When I came back to the table, I said "It was something about the somebody up there statement and the fact that this Pad Thai tastes just like Chris's Mom's that set me off." Which is all true.

The idea of naming the camp trailer something Chris related makes me want to stomp my foot and yell "NO!" In fact, right now I can imagine the satisfaction of throwing something in a rage at a wall and watching it shatter, something heavy and made of glass. I can see myself shoving all of the things off a counter top or tossing a table, Hulk style. The whole thing makes me mad and want to wail. I miss him without wanting to miss him. I am frustrated that my identity was so much Chris and Cindy and so very little just Cindy and that more than half the stories I tell Micheal start with "One time, Chris and I..." I've finally gotten a grasp on my own identity and I've maintained that individuality even in my relationship with Michael. We have our own separate things, though we've been moving closer to a merging. There is Cindy. There is Michael and there is Cindy and Michael. I don't want to name the camper after Chris. The camper is our thing, Michael's and mine. Chris and I never talked about getting a camper. I talked about it. Chris was all high tech tent gadget camping. This camper is OURS! Fuck Chris. Fuck all of this. I can hear the words in the back of my brain, but I will never say them out loud. "It's not fair." It isn't, you know, not to any of us, but I don't say it out loud because the response to every child's whine of 'it's not fair' is always 'life isn't fair.' Buck up, Buttercup. 

I haven't figured out yet if Michael thinks that buying this camper is part of making me happy sort of like when he built the chicken coop. As if building a chicken coop and buying a camper will exorcise the ghost. I feel guilty about it, the way he goes above and beyond to take out that sadness that has settled in. I'm not sure I am entirely worthy of all of that effort. Michael just wants to make me happy, which at times I really don't understand. I admit to being emotionally numb for the last few weeks. Things that I should be happy about just make me shrug my shoulders with meh. I've plastered a smile on in hopes that no one really notices, but I'm no actress. When we left the dealership with our camper on Saturday, I felt a flutter of joy that I haven't felt in a bit. It had nothing and everything to do with buying the camper. I could imagine the future of riding along back roads with the dog in my lap and Michael singing along to some country song on the radio as we headed off to sights unseen. 

I could imagine a future.

DEAR AMERICA

Cindy Maddera

Many of us started our morning with heavy hearts. Being on the losing team is hard. It is especially hard this time around because so many of us are worried about the future of our civil rights. Many of us who are not white, who are part of the LGBT community, who are Muslim, who are different, fear for our safety. So right now, I'm just asking the other half of the country to be a little patient. We are a little tender and frankly, scared. Donald Trump may end up not being so bad. I don't know. He never really ever told anyone how he planed on making America great again, so maybe it won't turn out all fire and brimstoney. In the grand scheme of things, I am most likely to take a hit on my 401K and will have to start paying for birth control pills again. The younger generation on the other hand are going to have their work cut out for them in the future. My friends who got married last year, may have to be defending the validity of those marriage licenses. That girl who got raped by her dad may not be able to abort that baby even if her own life is danger. 

My biggest concern though, right now, is how I feel about my fellow Americans, the ones who voted for Trump. I read on someone's post that Trump's acceptance speech was more indicative of how he will be as a president and not crazy and outlandish. I wouldn't at all be surprised if it turned out that Trump's campaign tactics turned out to mostly be an act, but that doesn't diminish the fact that people voted for him because of that act. Meaning, people I know, people I thought were good people, smart people, kind people, voted for a platform based on hate and discrimination. It is hard and disappointing to discover that a basic Christian value of treating others as you would want to be treated is not a universal belief. It is hard to admit that you know people who are racists. And it is hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that this man really speaks to you. It is going to take me a bit of time to understand why you think this man represents you and the country you want. 

In the meantime I've also got to figure out a way to teach a little girl that even though right now in this country it doesn't look like it is possible, that she can be more than a trophy for a man. I have to find a way for her to be able to continue to make choices she needs to make for her health and her body. I have to find way to express to her how hard women have been fighting for the rights to their own bodies and how we are barely hanging onto those rights. I have to find a way to teach her that it is not okay to bully with hateful remarks those who disagree with you. We fight our battles not by calling others names like "fatty" and "whore" but with facts and common sense. I also have to teach her to find empathy and compassion for those she strongly disagrees with. That is something that I also have to teach myself. 

So...give me a minute, a few days even, to come to grips with this new situation. Be patient with me as I poke and prod out answers about why. All I'm doing is trying to understand. All I'm doing is trying to find the good in this country and find a way to work with our differences and it is just not going to happen overnight. 

OLD STEAM ENGINES AND DAD

Cindy Maddera

While we were tooling around Science City the other weekend, I saw a group of people gathering around one of the second floor windows that faced the rail tracks. Curious, I went up to one of them and asked "What's everyone waiting for?" They told me that an old steam engine that had recently been restored would be pulling into Union Station sometime in the next ten to twenty minutes. We hightailed it out to the pedestrian bridge that crosses over the railroad tracks so I could get a good spot to set up with my camera. 

And then we waited. 

And waited.

People walking across the bridge to visit Union Station would stop and ask what we were all looking for. Once they were told of what could be coming around the bend, they would stop and our little crowd started to grow. We all took up a perch and waited.

And waited.

Then, way off in the distance, you could hear it, that slow hollow "woo-woo" sound of an old train whistle. You could just barely see a puff of smoke way off in the distance.

And we waited. 

You could feel the excitement spread through the crowd as the sound of that whistle grew closer and closer. That small maybe puff of smoke turned into a trail of smoke that you could follow and finally that steam engine huffed and puffed it's way into the station. I stood on that bridge snapping pictures (I have yet to upload and edit those) and I was a little surprised by the tears that welled up in my eyes blurring the view finder of my camera. I had started thinking about Dad. 

Dad loved all things mechanical and old, particularly cars and steam engines. In fact, I am sure that if Dad was still with us (both physically and mentally) he would have known way in advance about that steam engine visiting Union Station. He would have called me to tell me about it and we would have made plans for him to visit that weekend to see it. We would have had camp chairs out by the tracks, so we could sit and wait. And if I think about it hard enough, I can see his face. I can see the glint of excitement in his eyes and I can see his joyful expression as that train rounded the bend and came into view. It is such a clear vision in my head. I'm even positive he would have found a small train pin to put on his cap and he would have brought his old train whistle. And I would have taken a picture of him standing next to the steam engine.

That train was worth the wait.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BIG SWIRL

Cindy Maddera

Michael has gotten real hipster with his beard and mustache. If he uses enough beard wax, he can twirl his mustache up into a curl on either side of his face. Yes, it's a little bit ridiculous, but I cannot express how much I love it. It's a little bit hilarious and a little bit sexy. Lately he's been thinking about suspenders and adding them to his work clothes. He wears dress clothes to work with a tie and everything. Over the weekend, he bought himself a set of suspenders and this morning he put on his blue and white checked shirt with his pink paisley tie and his new suspenders. I can't even. I came undone. I mean, usually I get a little turned on when he's all dressed for work, especially when he rolls up his dress shirt and his forearm is showing, but add the suspenders and well...I of course returned the favor by saying something about slowly taking all of that off him and rendered him speechless. 

That's something I'm really good at. Michael can talk quite a bit, but I can take a handful of words and say them just right as to turn him into a stammering rendition of Porky Pig. 

Then, I get a phone call reminding me of a life before this one. I sent in paperwork weeks ago to close out an account that Chris had had. I didn't know about the account until recently. I had supplied them with a death certificate and a notarized family tree starting and ending with me and Chris. Yet the place still had to call and ask me if I had obituary. I went blank. Obituary? I stumbled around online looking for one. I finally came across one that was in the Chickasha News. It contained a bad photo of Chris and a short paragraph announcing the memorial service. The whole thing made me wince. I can't believe I didn't write or have someone write and submit a proper obituary when Chris died. I didn't even think about it at the time. I didn't really think about a whole lot of anything at the time. 

"Couldn't pay my respects to a dead man. Your life was much more to me." - Neko Case

I could only imagine what the woman on the other end of the line thought as I sent her a link to this homely obituary. I wanted to tell her that she should have heard the things his friends said about him at his service or to go read through his facebook page. We all thought (still think) the world of Chris. We were just too surprised by his death to write about him. When I hang up the line, I'm perturbed that they would even be calling me to ask about an obituary. Don't you think a death certificate is enough? What about that whole depressing little family tree I sent in? The woman did ask about that. "No children?" said in a voice dripping with pity. I wanted to respond "thankfully, no." but instead I just replied "no." A widow is sad enough on her own without the added element of children.

This is almost a typical day. There's always a trigger. Some triggers are worst than others, like that phone call or when that one Mumford and Sons song starts playing. I see Chris, throwing his head back and opening his mouth wide to sing like a Muppet. This image is replaced with an image of Michael making a bad motorcycle sound as he drives us down the road and then watching him crack himself up over it. I'll read some political crap in someone's feed on Facebook and think about how Chris would write a response so sharp you wouldn't know you were cut until you noticed the blood and fallacy of your own statements. I always look at Michael when getting ready to leave a tip because he does the math without even really thinking and it is always correct. Chris genuinely laughing at something, probably the Simpsons. Michael laughing while twirling the ends of his mustache. The memories I have swirl together with the memories I'm making.

It is not a bad blend of colors.  

 

IN RESPONSE

Cindy Maddera

A few days ago, Patton Oswalt posted a letter to grief on his facebook page. Those of us who have experienced the sudden (or almost sudden) loss of a spouse who read through his letter all nodded our heads with knowing and agreement. Many people have written to offer words of advice and encouragement. Yet, I hesitate. I don't have time to compile my own thoughts on this topic. Work is crazy busy right now and I leave for a conference in Boston at five AM tomorrow. I am tired of compiling my own thoughts on this topic. I write about grief too often and when I do, people start asking me about my mental health. Writing about grief is therapeutic as long as you're not letting the whole world wide web read it. Some of the time. 

The real reason I haven't thrown my words in for Mr Oswalt is that I am slightly annoyed that I have some words of wisdom or advice, even if unsolicited. Grief is not something anyone wants to be knowledgable about. It is not something you put on your resume. It's not something anyone wants to read on your dating profile on Match. It is knowledge that makes other people uncomfortable. Except, grief is something I know and I'm sitting over here biting my tongue trying not to add my two cents. For one thing, Patton Oswalt doesn't even read this blog and another thing, it puts me back into that genre of being a grief writer. Like that's my niche. I'm really good at writing about something really sad. Again...not something I would want to put on my resume. Despite all of that it looks like I am about to throw my two cents in here anyway. 

Dear Patton Oswalt,

Grief is going to be with you now for probably forever. I know some people have told you that it gets better or that you will find a way to move on. Those are very nice words with well meaning intentions. I wouldn't actually say they are lies, but they are more like half truths because even when you've gotten out of the crawling stage and back into walking and being a "normal" member of society, grief is still going to be with you. It will be laying just under your skin waiting for the most ridiculous moment to fester up and out, hitting you with an intense shock of pain and loss. I'm sorry. I'd love to sugar coat it for you and tell you that this is not the case, and maybe it won't be for you, but in my experience, it happens all the time. It usually waits until you're having a really good day as a reminder that your life totally went to shit at some point. You do not move on either. This is not a bad breakup or divorce. This is not a sudden job loss. You lost the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with. You do not simply move on from that. Of course, you are going to crave human interaction at some point. Sex is great! You're going to miss that and want to find a person to do that with, but it will not be "moving on". It will just be something different from what you had.

That part about those half truths that is the truth is that you get better. You get better at handling the grief. You get better at living with the grief. You find a way to cope with always having that layer of grief hiding just under the surface. Sometimes I think of it as something almost symbiotic. Some days that symbiotic relationship with grief is going to feel like a parasite and some days you're hardly going to know it's there. It just becomes part of your life. It doesn't mean that you can no longer experience joy or happiness. It just means that those moments of joy and happiness now have become really really important. You are now part of the club whose members know that every moment matters, every day is important. Life will be a bit more bitter sweet for you and at times those bitter sweet moments will cause a great rage to ignite in your belly. Rage. Let yourself be really stupid mad for about five minutes, then take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Learn to make friends with grief or at least get along with it, because it's going to be with you for a long time.

And as far as moving on? Well, I want you to get the notion of moving on completely out of your head. You will not move on, but you will move forward. You're life will continue. Days and weeks and years will pass. All along the way you will hold onto the knowledge that you had someone really special in your life and how lucky you are for that. As you continue to watch your child grow and maybe even find new love, Michelle will never leave you. She too just becomes part of who you are now. I'm not going to lie. It sucks. Even now, when I'm happy and have someone in my life I love, it sucks. It's always going to suck just a little bit. Remember the whole bitter sweet thing. 

I wish you the best of luck in finding your way through all of it.

Sincerely,

Cindy Maddera

 

 

I'VE STOPPED BREATHING

Cindy Maddera

The thing I find interesting about Our Town is the message of how you'll miss all of this when you're gone. Colors are more vibrant and even the most mundane item can be breathtakingly beautiful. A coffee mug. The weight of that coffee mug cupped in both hands, absorbing the heat from the hot drink in the mug. So pay attention now, kids! You don't get this stuff when you're dead. The flip side to this coin is what you no longer have when others are dead. Our Town is not about the living as much as it is about the dead. I wonder if Chris is standing just on the other side of some invisible wall, thinking the same thing. Are we both missing the things that are now gone? What's it like on his side of that wall?

Sometimes on dark days, I imagine the people I've lost wrapping their arms around my insides. In a Tim Burton inspired fashion, I see the ghost arms encircle my ribs and guts, my heart and I watch my internal organs turn gray and hard. Don't we all see our lives as a movie, our very own personal Truman Show? We all want to be a movie, a soundtrack, a star, even if it's that smallest most distant star. It's not so bad watching my insides turn gray and hard. I see it as invitation. "Hey, why not come hang out with us?" the dead say. And it's tempting. I'd love to veg out on the couch, watching dumb action movies all day with J or sitting in the driver seat of some expensive Cadillac as Dad drives us across several state lines to exchange it for a different fancy Cadillac. I'd love to spend the day doing anything with Chris. 

I've been forgetting to breathe. I'll be sitting at my desk and all of a sudden I will gasp for air as if I've been playing that game of how long you can hold your breath under water. I'm holding my breath. Every time it happens, I wonder about how long it's been since I last inhaled and exhaled. I know that part of this is all because I've spent the last month riding in cars and planes and hunched over microscopes or a lab bench. My chest has been closed off like a clam, but even clams need to open up and stretch sometimes. I used to do backbends all the time, opening up my chest, opening up my heart. Then my back broke and my heart felt squishy and vulnerable, so I stopped. Now the arms of the dead have wrapped themselves around my ribcage and my heart and I gasp for air like that goldfish I had as a kid who would jump out of the tank all the time. You'd walk into the room and he'd be laying in a damp puddle on the shag carpet, only his mouth moving as he struggled to breath air without water. That fish lived for ages despite all his suicide attempts. 

Today in savasana, I laid with a foam roller between my shoulder blades, my heart and lungs splayed open for all to see. I stayed there for ten minutes while I screamed inside my brain the whole time. It was torture. I could image the dead clutching to hold tight even while their fingers were being pried free. Before I knew it the ding of the timer was jolting me back to the here and now and the people I've lost no longer wrapped their arms around my heart and lungs. I am partly relieved and partly disappointed. 

 

WHERE I LEAVE CHRIS

Cindy Maddera

There it was. The Appalachian trail. I knew it was in Maine. I know the trail starts and or ends in Maine, depending on which direction you're walking. I just hadn't planned on venturing near any part of the trail. Too far north. Too far inland. Too little time. So I left Chris on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the first place the sun hits the US in the mornings. We shared a sunrise, something I can't remember doing with him when he was alive. Well, not unless you count that time we were attacked by the raccoon and sat the rest out of the night out at the table, staring bleakly into the woods and jumping at any sound. This spot was a nice spot blocked from the wind on a rock ledge that faced East. There was still a good portion of ashes left when we returned the next day for a stamp. Then Talaura and I got obsessed with seeing a moose. So we started driving West in search of moose, taking us into the mountain forest region of Maine. 

Talaura saw the sign for it first and asked if I wanted to stop, if I needed to stop. We were eating chili cheese dog flavored potato chips and they all started to gum up inside my mouth as I said no. Hot tears filled my eyes and I suddenly felt like I was drowning in a wave of indecision and self doubt. Why didn't I split my supply of ashes? Why didn't I check with Talaura ahead of time about going near the trail? Am I honoring Chris the way I should be? Am I doing the right thing? Then I started sobbing because all of it made me angry. Chris, the Appalachian trail, his stupid ashes, livers and tumors, my self doubt. And I shook with the struggle between pushing the sobs away and just letting them come. In the end I said "OK...OK tears, you get one minute. Sixty seconds. Then you dry the fuck up." I didn't make a bargain with myself. No ultimatums. I just let myself have a minute. 

I am constantly swimming in a pool of self doubt. I'm a good swimmer and I can tread water enough to keep my head out of water, but it's exhausting at times. I never see that getting out of the pool is an option. Instead, I see that I have three choices. I can keep swimming, I can stop swimming and let myself sink to the bottom of the pool, or I can lean back and just float. In that minute, I floated. When my minute was up, I started swimming again and this time, I swam to the edge and got out of the pool. I started thinking about my choice to leave Chris on Cadillac Mountain. It was a good choice. I left him in a good spot. I stand by that. This trip was not about the Appalachian trail and it wasn't the time for me to leave Chris there. I still believe the Appalachian trail is something Traci and I have to do together. I think this is the most confident I've ever felt about places I leave Chris. 

I suppose it's about time I got out of the pool since I've been in long enough for my fingers and toes to become all pruny.