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Filtering by Category: grief

ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE

Cindy Maddera

It’s happened twice now. Michael and I will be in bed, either starting or in the middle of sex and a song will start playing that reminds me of Chris. It was that Mumford and Son’s song that hit first, the one that Chris used to sing like a muppet. I closed my eyes and willed the memory of his ridiculous muppet impression to go away. Not forever. Just for that moment. The next one was the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize, which is one of the songs we played at Chris’s service. It was a little more difficult to will those memories away. In both instances, I feel like I deserve a God Damn Oscar for my performance. Also, crying while having sex is never a reassuring thing for your partner. I don’t tell any of this to Michael or talk about it or mention it. The man already refers to himself as second Darin, even though he’s nothing like the first Darin. Besides, Michael has his own demons to fight with. I try to be respectful of this and not add to his discomfort. I am not so much bothered by Chris’s presence in the bedroom as Michael would be. Michael is just more conservative when it comes to sex. I figure Chris is enjoying the peep show.

Sometimes it feels like I am in two relationships. One with Michael and one with a dead guy.

I made it through the first ten days of February without having a complete meltdown. I told Dr. Mary on Tuesday that I feel like I am working really hard at tuning out the memories of the bad part of Chris’s final days. I’m choosing to send that focus to the good memories. I told her about teaching my yoga class to one student last week, on what would have been Chris’s 48th birthday. It would have been so easy for me to cancel my class that evening and spend my night sulking on the couch. Instead, I pulled myself together and went to teach one of the best classes and I continued to keep myself busy and moving. I subbed a yoga class on Saturday. I went grocery shopping and managed to get those groceries into the house. Our front yard has been a literal ice rink since Thursday. On a slope. Every morning, getting to our vehicles looks like every YouTube video you have seen of people slipping and sliding on ice. I parked my car last night at the top of the drive, put it in park and set the emergency brake. My car slid backwards down the drive six inches. Michael was in the process of parking his truck behind me. I did not hit him. This time.

These nudges or hauntings from Chris sometimes make me wonder if he thinks I’m forgetting him. As if he’s still a conscious being or trapped in a closet somewhere. It would kind of be great, but also super complicated, if he ended up just being trapped in a closet somewhere. Chris and I were married for fourteen years. He has now been gone for seven years. Half the amount of time we were married. I am not forgetting him. I still talk to the jerk every single day and he still says nothing in return. I am just finding better, healthier ways of coping with the fact that he’s never going to say anything in return. Last night, I got in my car to head home. I started the engine and the first sound to greet me was the opening theme to Star Wars blaring from the radio. Starting right from the beginning note. The Bridge let the song play for a good two minutes before the DJ broke in to announce their Oscars Episode. I almost muttered “leave me alone” but then I shook my head.

At least I was in my car and not naked in bed with another man.

MAKING SPACE

Cindy Maddera

I know that many of you have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’ve seen the Facebook posts and the tweets. Marie Kondo, with her infectious smile, is getting us all to tidy up our spaces. Monday, when I had nothing better to do (or I probably did), I decided to watch the first episode just to see what I could gain from Marie Kondo’s ninja cleaning skills. As it turns out, I am not us untidy as I think I am. I know I’ve talked about all the stuff in the basement and the cleaning out of junk and how it feels like I’ll never get any of that accomplished. But the rest of the house is a different story. Also…I had help collecting the trash and junk in the basement. Cleaning out a dead man’s collection is hard work. Of course all of that is gone now, thanks to flooding.

I have a vague memory from childhood of my mother standing in the doorway of my playroom with an angry face and a trash bag. She just started grabbing up whatever and shoving it into the bag. There were no moments of pausing to ask if the item sparked joy. It just went into the trash bag. I don’t know if the moment traumatized me or trained me for the future. Probably a little of both. Every season, I go through my closet and get rid of clothes. Twice a year, I go through the kitchen and remove utensils and kitchen tools that rarely, if ever, get used. I frequently sort books for donation and I frequently throw things in the trash. I accidentally threw our spare set of car keys for the Malibu into a clothing donation bin. I threw away the power cord for my external hard drive. The first day I was left completely alone in the house after Chris died, I pulled out all of his clothes and bagged them up for donation. That was really more of a rip-the-bandaid-off situation and I didn’t know what else to do with myself. But I do not have a problem with throwing things away.

Emotions, on the other hand, are things that I hold on to. I store them deep down and tucked into the spaces between my internal organs. Eventually those spaces fill up and those feelings come bubbling to the surface. A confrontation from fifteen years ago with some random person will float up just as I’ve settled down in my bed. Then I’ll lay there for twenty minutes re-hashing the conversation and how I could have said things better. Finally I’ll say “ENOUGH!” and shove it back down into some already crowded space. The spaces between my guts are like any number of ridiculous TV closet scenes where when you open the door all of the things comically fall out in an avalanche, burying the person who dared to open the door. I can’t just say “ENOUGH!” to that fifteen year-old confrontation and let it go. I’ve got to put it away to chew on some other day. I gained two bits of useful knowledge from Marie Kondo’s show: her clothes folding technique and ‘does this spark joy?’ I neatly fold and put away my clothes every week, but her folding method gave the ability to organize by color and gave me more space with only getting rid of three t-shirts.

The question of does this spark joy is one that I’ve started applying to all of that emotional junk. For example, the other day a Mumford and Sons song triggered a memory of Chris singing like a muppet. The memory came at an inconvenient time, but I took a moment to recognize the equal parts joy and sadness that this memory invoked. I tucked that one away for a later day. It is a good memory. I want to hang on to that one. That memory that boils up of that one time Chris and I argued over his purchase of yet another metal desk? Not a good memory. It doesn’t spark any joy. Also it’s stupid to re-hash that one because at the end of it all, he knew I was right and told me so. So, I’m going to hold that particular memory in my hands and say ‘thank you’. I’m going to thank thank that memory for the lessons it taught both of us and then I’m going to let it go.

Grief is unavoidable. I started to finish that sentence with ‘this time of year’ but it is all times of the year. This year, I’m making space for that grief. I’m holding memories in my hands and sorting between those that spark joy and those that make me feel ashamed or angry, those memories that do not serve me. I’d rather have those closet spaces between my guts filled to capacity with good stuff. What a trip that would be to open that door and have all that joy avalanche out and bury me in it.

JANUARY IS DUMB

Cindy Maddera

My birthstone is the garnet. Don’t get me wrong. The color red is nice and I know it’s some people’s favorite color. It is not my favorite color. If you look through my closet, you are mostly going to see gray, blue and purple colors. More blue than anything. Actually, my favorite color is that Tiffany’s blue or robin egg blue. The garnet is a deep red, almost maroon color that turns me off. If I haven’t been so impatient to enter this world, I would have an aquamarine birthstone. I would also share my birthday month with both siblings and my dad. Instead I decided to come out early during the coldest most miserable time of the year which has only gotten worse as I’ve aged and moved north.

Now that I think about it’s really been worse since the move north. It never dawned on me that the climate could be so different just three hundred and fifty miles north of Oklahoma City. It never dawned on me that so much would end being so different three hundred and fifty miles north of Oklahoma City.

The last birthday I celebrated in Oklahoma was my thirty fifth birthday. I had requested a strawberry cake and my mother had made a lovely fancy white cake with strawberries on it. What I had really wanted was a simple strawberry cake mix. Pink strawberry flavored cake. Misti asked Audra to bake me one, but Audra said that she couldn’t do it because strawberries were not in season. Audra said she made some other cake and I really didn’t care because I knew that whatever cake she made me, it would be wonderful. Misti, Amy, Chris and I gathered at Chris and Traci’s house with Audra’s cake. It had the cutest elephant made of icing sitting on top. I cut into the cake and when I pulled the knife out it was pink. Audra had made my strawberry cake. It was the kind of surprise that made me giggle with joy. That was also the same night I told all the people gathered in Chris and Traci’s house that I had received a invitation to interview for my job in Kansas City. Chris and I would move a month later. That was the last time we were whole.

I still can’t help but feel that I ruined everything.

Tuesday night, I sat in Dr. Mary’s office telling her about the power being out at our house since Saturday. I told her about how Michael and I have just been stubborn in our notions that the power was going to come back on any minute. “We’re fine.” This has been our answer to everything. I told her that really though, I’d reached my limit. I woke up Tuesday morning at 4 AM and the left side of my body ached because I hadn’t moved all night. I was weighted down with to many layers of clothes and blankets to move around. We were not fine. We were depressed. Then I mentioned the next winter storm that is headed our way. Sunday is supposed to be the coldest day in the history of KCMO. I told her that on January twentieth, 2012, the last of our doctors who had had any kind of hope for a treatment for Chris told us that there was no hope. I told her that every year since then, I’ve been dealing some sort of shit leading into my birthday. Death, sewage backups, snow storms, inauguration day for the worst president in history, power outages. I just want one year with out the shit.

I want strawberry cake.

FOLLOW UP

Cindy Maddera

I wrote yesterday’s post without realizing that it was a meaningful date. My nephew, Donnie, the second child born to my brother and sister-in-law died from complications at birth. It was 1983, which would make me seven. J was three. You’d ask him what he was hoping for while Katrina was pregnant; a baby brother or a baby sister? He’d answer every time with “a baby monkey”. Katrina and I were talking about this yesterday. I told her that I remember getting in trouble for playing Jingle Bells on the piano. It was after the funeral and everyone had left the house. I started playing and Mom yelled at me to stop, said it was inappropriate. Katrina said she didn’t know that had happened. I explained that she hadn’t been there. Mom didn’t mean anything by it, she just didn’t know how to talk to a little kid about death.

Katrina responded with something I had never considered. She said “Yeah, I don’t think any of us did. You, J and Janell were the actual casualties of Donnie’s death.” It was a really weird time. I can’t speak for Janell or J, but I know that I was so confused. But here’s the thing. I wasn’t confused about the death part. Maybe that was one thing about being raised in a Baptist church. There was a lot of talk of people dying in the bible. I was confused by how I was supposed to feel. It was Christmas time. I knew I was supposed to be sad but I was also happy about Christmas, except now I wasn’t supposed to be. A generally happy child was being told to be appropriately sad. My feelings were being dictated to me. No wonder I was confused, but now I realize how often we are told how to feel. Be happy. Be calm. Don’t be sad. Don’t be angry. Okay, be sad right now, but don’t be sad three days from now. There is a limit to how long you should feel a certain way.

When we remember things, we remember them with a mix of feelings. Is it too far fetched to believe that we experience things with a mix of feelings? The line for what is or is not appropriate became completely erased when Chris got sick and died. We joked often about death and we laughed even when our throats were tight with emotion. This did not change after he died. We are irreverent and inappropriate in our jokes around Chris’s death. Because death is not just sad. At times, it can even be a relief. It is the knowing that person is not going to be around any more to hear those jokes and respond to those jokes that makes death sad. I know that whenever one of my tribe makes a hilarious commentary on the death of Chris, that Chris is somewhere laughing with us.

The authentic part of living this life is allowing ourselves to feel all the emotions with out limiting ourselves to who ever is dictating what is or is not appropriate. The Cabbage has asked me about my Dad. She’s asked me about the man in the picture on the bookcase. I told her that Dad and Chris are dead. I told her that yes, it is sad and I miss them, but I have buckets of joyful memories that make me happy. I want her to understand that it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. I want her to understand that no one is allowed to dictate how she feels about something; that it is her choice. You don’t need any one’s permission for your feelings.

This is a lesson I wish I learned a long time ago.

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Cindy Maddera

The best Christmas I can remember as a child was the year I got Odie. Odie was the most perfect beagle. In 2015, a beagle named Miss P won the Westminster Dog Show. Odie was almost identical in color to Miss P. His head might have been a little bit smaller and he did not have Miss P’s expression of bored indifference, but he could have run circles around her in the judges ring. For months leading up to that Christmas, the only thing I asked for was a beagle puppy. “What do you want for Christmas, Cindy?” someone would ask. My answer every time was “A beagle puppy.” I don’t remember what year this was or how old I was. It was sometime between broken arms and my sister was still young enough to get excited about the surprises we would find under the tree. The two of us, like most children, tiptoed carefully down the stairs at two o’clock in the morning to take a peek at what may have been left for us under the tree.

The two of us were about half way down the staircase when I heard a whimper. I forgot all about being stealthy and quiet, instead I ran down the stairs with the heavy un-lady like footsteps of a troll. An open box sat under the tree with the tiniest saddest little puppy, begging for company and love. I scooped him into my arms and took him back to my room. When we cleaned out the family house and started sorting through the multiple containers of pictures, we found hundreds of pictures of Odie as a puppy sleeping on someone’s lap, curled up on a boot, tucked into a cushion at someone’s feet. He was impossible to potty train and ended up leaving a big stain on my mom’s hardwood floors. But his worse offense was chewing up the rungs of Mom’s dining room table. That banished him to the outside for good. He was still the best dog, to me anyway and he lived a really long and happy life. Odie set the bar for any future dog that would come into my life.

That was the best Christmas not just because of Odie, but because I think that’s the last Christmas I can remember where I still felt that spark and excitement of Christmas. Maybe I knew that Santa was not real, but I believed in him any way. In fact, I still believed in all things magical and mystical, but it was an age where I still got excited over the whole gift thing. Not just the surprise of what I was going to get, but seeing the faces of joy as others opened their surprises. It is the last Christmas I can remember that didn’t include a layer of sadness or an awareness of the sadness of others. That is not to say that Christmases since then have been bad. It’s just that Christmases have an underlying layer of sadness in general. It is a time when memories, good and bad, swirl around our heads and we can’t help but miss the ones no longer with us to share in those memories.

Do you know how many times my Mom told us all the story about the time my sister woke up before everyone on Christmas morning and then opened ALL of the presents? It is a story of legend. My Dad would laugh every time. One year we all decided to change the Christmas tradition of ham or turkey for our Christmas meal and instead have what we all loved to eat, fried oysters. We would all end up in the kitchen at some point. Dad was always our unofficially designated food taster. J would make the cocktail sauce, stirring in horseradish to a bowl of ketchup like a science experiment. Remember that year Randy caught a shark? Katrina brought a fondue set and we all stood around it dunking bits of shark and then everything into hot oil. Fondue became known as fundue. There was the Christmas when Chris surprised me with a pair of earrings that I had been coveting. It wasn’t the earrings that made the surprise so special. It was how he had to sneak over to Eureka Springs with out me knowing it to get the earrings. Which he managed to do in glorious Chris fashion.

Whenever those memories get too overwhelming, I grab Josephine and cradle her like a baby while scratch her belly. I put my face to her face and tell her what a sweet puppy she is and how much I love her. She’ll lick my cheek and then every thing’s alright. Because just like at that Christmas when I got Odie, puppies make everything better.









MODERN LOVE

Cindy Maddera

My music selection has been all over the place lately. I go from a Kesha station in the mornings to Morrissey in the afternoons. Some times I toss in some Pomplamoose or broadway show tunes. Last week, it was David Bowie. Hours and hours of everything Bowie. Modern Love started playing and for the first time I noticed that David Bowie speaks at the beginning of that song. His speaking voice caught me off guard. I was suddenly struck by the sound of it and immediately regretted not having a chance to have a intimate conversation with David Bowie.

David Bowie died from the same thing Chris died from. Cancer of the liver. I know what Mr. Bowie’s last few days looked like. I think of his wife who had to witness his last few days. I think of a few other women who have had to witness those last few days of their own spouses. I want to squeeze all of them tight and just whisper “I know. I get it.” The image of how they looked in the last few days are never going to leave your brain. It will float to the surface of your memories at random. Michael’s drunk face does it for me. I guess, at least I know what he’s going to look like in his final days. Also the smell of Jason’s Organic henna shampoo does it. It’s a shame because I really liked that shampoo.

The scientist in me finds it fascinating how the soul of a person sort fills the organic spaces like balloons. As the soul shrinks, the body doesn’t get smaller. It gets more hollow. Sunken. The body gets more and more unrecognizable as the person you knew. There are machines that photograph the entire insides of the human body, but there’s yet to be an image of what one could interpret as a soul. Everything has a name and (mostly) a function. The large intestine, small intestine. Heart. Liver. Kidneys. I would be tempted to say the appendix could be the organ that holds the thing that makes you, you. I’ve never known a person who has had that removed to know if they’re different afterwards, but considering that the removal of an appendix is pretty standard procedure would have me ruling out particular organ. I don’t have my tonsils and I’m pretty sure I still have my soul.

Pretty sure.

There’s something there that doctors haven’t seen that keeps us inflated and whole. Something more than air. It is the thing that makes you who you are. I know exactly the moment when Chris was no longer Chris. The same thing with Dad. There’s a part of me that wishes I didn’t witness those moments when the balloons filling up the their organic spaces, started popping. Those popping balloons didn’t even make a sound. No warning, yet I knew it was coming.

I know when to go out and when to stay in. Get things done.

Is that what’s holding our souls steady and in place? Knowing when to stay in so we can get things done?

It’s time to change the station.

KNOWING TOO MUCH BUT NOT ENOUGH

Cindy Maddera

We are in lab meeting and one of my colleagues is doing a presentation on a couple of projects she’s working on with another lab. This research is cancer research. I sit there and listen to her talk about the proliferation of cancer cells in the presence or absence of a certain drug or inhibitor. I stay focused to what she is saying, really listening to this very interesting preliminary data, but somewhere in the back of my brain the voices of past doctors start to whisper. On the outside, I look normal. I sit there nodding my head in understanding, asking questions. On the inside, it feels like pieces of myself are just breaking off and dropping to the floor. By the end of the meeting “there’s nothing we can do” is roaring in my head and rage is boiling under my skin. I find myself sitting on the toilet in a bathroom stall, sobbing. Hot tears burning my cheeks.

I sit and listen to these research talks and think how is it possible that there was nothing that could be done. This is followed up with guilt over not trying hard enough. I failed to exhaust all resources and just listened to what the three different doctors had to say. I didn’t load us into the car and drive across the country to one of the best cancer treatment facilities. I didn’t even try any crack-pot cures like flushing Chris’s system with wheat grass. I had a woman I used to work with ask me if she could come and do a laying of hands kind of healing. I politely declined the offer, but now I wonder if that would have been the thing to cure him. Instead, I let Chris die. In The Mountain Between Us, Idris Elba’s character is a neurosurgeon whose wife died of brain cancer. The guy was top in his field and he couldn’t save his wife. I’m mediocre in my field and think I should have been able to perform miracles.

These are moments when I hate my line of work. I hate knowing how white blood cells are recruited to dead tissue and inevitably trigger cancer cells to start dividing. Your own healthy cells do you in. Chris wrecked his scooter and cracked a couple of ribs. Was this when it started? Did he damage his liver enough in the accident to trigger cancer cells to start dividing? We would have had a better chance of winning if I had pushed him harder to go to a doctor earlier. Could’ve should’ve would’ve. This one research presentation can send me spiraling down into the great unknown of things I should have done better. It’s like stepping into quicksand, except I don’t struggle. I just give into the undertow of being sucked under. Actually, that’s not true. Quicksand isn’t really that hard to escape and people only die from quicksand drownings in the movies. Also, I have no idea what it feels like to step into quicksand. I can only imagine that it is very much like the slow sinking feeling of become cold and numb on the inside.

The next day, I’m sitting at the counter at Heirloom, writing in my Fortune Cookie journal. I catch the lyrics of the song that is playing.

“Well, sometimes love is all it’s supposed to be. But it can break you. Remember, take care of your heart and cry. Oh, somehow we’ll survive.”

I think about all of the chest opening poses I do in my yoga practice, always trying to open my heart. I went to a yoga workshop this year that focused on spinal alignment. The teacher’s cue for pulling the bottom ribs together was to push your chest back, closing the heart a bit. This was the opposite of what I had been taught and what I had been practicing. It was painful and by the end of the workshop, my ribcage ached. I’ve opened my heart so much now that it is flat. I picture the structure of the heart folded from origami paper, slowly unfolding and laying itself open. Wrinkled, but spread out flat. What can that unfolded origami heart hold? Not much. My heart is laid out flat, not holding much of anything. I haven’t been taking care of my heart. I pretend that I am. I plaster a smile or at least an optimistic look on my face and go about my day as if my heart is normal and not made of paper and crumpled.

Remember, take care of your heart and cry. Oh, somehow we’ll survive.”

I’m prepared for the paper cuts I’m going to get while folding my paper heart back into shape.

THINGS I'VE TAKEN CARE OF

Cindy Maddera

Some times, as I make that long drive from Oklahoma City to KCMO, I start sobbing. I say some times because really I only do this when I've made the trip alone. It's just too many hours of endless road time trapped with my own thoughts. I know that I could listen to books or podcasts, but my brain still wanders off. I start crying. I cry about how much has changed. I cry about how much has not changed. I cry about how I never feel like I spend enough time or see all of the people. I cry because I feel guilty for not making enough of an effort to see all of the people. I cry because I'm tired and probably slightly hungover. I cry because I've stretched myself too thin. I cry because Chris isn't with me. 

Old life. New life.

I spent a weekend visiting friends in OK recently. I drove all the way down to Chickasha first, helping Misti with the finishing touches for the Listen Local event at our college and meeting Amy for dinner. The trees on the oval are now towering beauties. Buildings that were once closed are now open. I don't recognize any of the professors in the biology department. I ran into my old chemistry professor by chance and he told me he had retired. He new me instantly, told me I still look the same. Maybe that's what happens when you step back onto the campus. You morph back into the person you were then. I certainly saw everything as it was then. Same sidewalk Chris and I walked  a billion and one steps on as we traveled back and forth between dorm rooms. I spent most of that weekend with friends I would not have had if it hadn't been for Chris. Friends that Chris made into our family. He's the glue. I've noticed places where that glue has started to weaken and I feel responsible, like I need to reenforce those weak spots. I could be better at that some how. 

I am a filer. I talk about getting things organized, but I already have things organized. I just feel they could be organized better. My photos fall into the need better organization group, but if you ask me for the instruction manual to the fridge I can pull that right out of the filing cabinet for you. I like to compartmentalize shit. I don't just do this with the tangible. My life before Chris, my life with Chris, my life after Chris...these all have their own shoebox stacked inside my brain. Things happen, like earthquakes or bicycle wrecks, and boxes get jumbled and messed up. That shit spills out. [Off topic but speaking of earthquakes. I either had an encounter with a poltergeist or an earthquake while I was sleeping over at the Jens.] Some times the things I put into boxes do not stay in their boxes. Compartmentalization is hard. Thus the sobbing.

I came across an envelope containing Chris's driver's license and a death certificate as I was cleaning out the mail catcher on my desk. They were gathered in one place with the intention of fixing his Facebook account. A year went by. Then another. Time passing. I picked up that envelope and thought maybe I should finally do something about that. So I did. Chris's Facebook page is now a memorial page. This is me, trying to reenforce some weak places. 

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.