Narrative Mostly Freewriting #5

The Miles David album “Bitches Brew” is about to turn 50, and I’m listening to it for the first time. I recognize a lot of the names of the people who are playing with him. I’m 3 minutes into “Pharaoh’s Dance” and I’m in love already. Exactly the kind of jazz I tend to lean towards.

I recently applied for and got a transfer to a different department at work. Took almost a month between me putting in the application and getting the transfer. I leveled up, and it’s great! I’m wearing all the skirts I picked up at thrift shops, and a few of the sweaters, too. (I tend to buy cashmere and wool sweaters only–those are the great bargains). I can still wear jeans if I want, which I do sometimes. I’m finding I need to get shirts in a few different colors now that I care more about matching. I also need to iron on a regular basis. I wear my hair down a lot more often, too. (I still put it up when I eat). I’m liking this level, though it feels like I really should have done this 20 years ago. I know why I didn’t–I’d just married Kevin and the internet heyday of great paying support jobs were starting to fade away because everyone kept selling their companies instead of going bankrupt.

I also got a TV upgrade, even though it’s probably the oldest TV in this house, it’s still a great thing. Part of moving out of the room I was renting with my Sweetie meant that the old Chromecast box was up for grabs. I happily took that, because it means I can really use the streaming services I pay for. I haven’t turned on the TV that’s beamed in for a couple weeks. I also personalized the slide show on the Chromecast to show me things and people I love. Reminds me of a company I did product support for over 15 years ago–they were one of the first digital photo frame companies. But this is a lot easier!

I’m turning 45 in 8 days. How did I get to my mid-40’s? It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I turned 40. As Kevin died when I was 39, I’ve always been a 40-something widow. I’ve known my Sweetie for all of my 40’s thus far, too. It’s just how life turned out. I remember sometimes during my caregiving days (32-29) when I was just about to doze off, the phrase “40 years” popped into my mind. Back then, I hoped it meant that I’d have 40 years with Kevin. Only got 18. What are you gonna do?

OMG! ZAWINUL plays on the song Bitches Brew! The album did kind of have a Weather Report-ish feel to it. Yep, my kind of Jazz!

I love having a Miata. I also love driving stick again in a small car with almost 50/50 balance. I learned the lesson from my 20’s–you’ll kill the clutch if you use it as a brake–and shifting into neutral is delightful. My commute involves several hills, and I often coast down them whenever I can. It’s also fun to coast down on a notoriously congested piece of freeway when I come back down from visiting my Sweetie. If there’s no traffic, it’s fun, and if there is, it’s kind of like driving an automatic.

Drove part of the way home with the top down. That was fun, especially now that I have a new route home. Mine is a common commute that can include going past one or two very popular freeway entrances/exits, one of which is next to a Mall. I also pass by an area with a lot of schools, which means taking side streets isn’t really an option. Sure, I do go a little bit out of the way, but it means not having to deal with traffic and I get to drive some winding roads. (Yet another thing I tend to do in neutral. If I time things right, I end up shifting back into 3rd at the end of the turn.)

This whole “Plague 2020” thing is more amusing than alarming. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but this is just the kind of thing that takes advantage of human nature. The majority of people who get the virus live. Illness taps at people’s insecurities and causes them to freak out and start hoarding things. I just hope it makes people take health care more seriously during the election cycle.

Speaking of which, it’s very hard for me to watch politics on TV these days. I re-watch The West Wing instead. It’s comfort TV for me.

I recently got told that my Cholesterol is too high and my A1C is at the high end of the scale. I can’t do Keto. Kudos to those of you who can, but bread is a staple I know better than to give up entirely. I’m making some changes to my diet that I can live with. I’m eating more veggies for lunch, and I’ve taken to eating cereal on my first break. I’ve cut down on pasta and am opting for cauliflower crust on pizza. Next step is adding leafy greens to lunch. I just added cottage cheese to lunch, using the small Snoopy thermos I got like 35 years ago. The rest of my containers are glass, as I want to try to move away from heating up food in plastic containers.

Ok, well “side 1” of “Bitches Brew” is over, and I need to eat more.

Dear Kevin

Winter, 2020 (specifically March 2nd)

Note: Written as homework for therapy.

SB,

It’s been hard for me to face the loss of you.  You were in my life for 46% of it up to the moment you died.  The cats were our kids, and you stayed alive for them as much as for me.  It doesn’t surprise me that you were dead 6 months after Brubeck died. Your death day was very close to the day your cat Damien died, back in 1993 before I knew you. You didn’t mention him much in the later years, but I think he was on your mind.  

You added to my abandonment issues by leaving the world so brutally.  You didn’t care that it would be a much tougher journey losing you and not having my family. At the end, you painted me and my family as horrible and alienated me from them. All we tried to do was love you and take care of you as much as we could for as long as we could.  I know a lot of times it was not wisely, but too well, but my parents did more for us than your father ever did. In fact, the best thing your father did was die, because I gained another level of understanding of you that helped us for the 7 years you were alive after that.  It still pisses me off just how big of a mess you left when you died; and it’s part of the reason there’s still a lot of emotional pain associated with your memory.  

I miss listening to music, our jokes, our cats, visits from our favorite clients, “cat TV”, making dinner, making love, the way your smile made my heart leap for joy, playing poker or 21 with the red Snoopy cards in your bathroom while you took a bath to try to make your back feel even the tiniest bit better, the different ways you’d tell me it was Bongload Time, when you’d call me Moniegirl or Lucky Charm, our dreams for the house, working on Minimoogs, the way you could cheer me up in the depths of depression, My Show, which was when we’d sit down and go through the folder you kept things you wanted to share with me (when did that start? 911? 2nd gulf war?), hearing you test out synths in front of clients and have them complement your playing, the nerdy as fuck projects you’d come up with, cuddling, hearing you say “I love you”.

Sense memory is still hard to deal with.  A lot of times now, it’s songs I don’t hear often but they’re ones that you loved.  A recent example is Journey’s “Send Her My Love.” It makes me anxious when that happens.  That anxiety often makes me worried about my present life. All that because I can’t bear to miss you.  I loathe, detest, and despise missing you. 

I think of you when I smell vanilla or plumeria.  I tell people at the dispensary about “starving lungs in Jamaica” when someone didn’t finish their dabs.  So many songs still remind me of you, but a lot of them aren’t as emotionally painful as they used to be. Like “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode.  That used to be an emotional beating. Yet other songs are now emotionally painful because I’ve used them to process the emotional pain related to your loss.  The most notable is “Cousin Kevin,” from The Who’s Tommy.  The lines “Maybe a cigarette burn on your arm would change the expression to one of alarm” hits hard.  The scar from you aiding me in burning myself (even though I was not completely serious about actually doing it) has faded a lot, but oy vey, my soul mate!

Looking at your handwriting isn’t always easy, so I don’t do it too often.  But I just moved out of the place in Victorville in early February, which meant having to open boxes I haven’t opened in more than 6 years.  Evidence of the life we had together. The padded envelope that has all of our wedding stuff in it. All the CD’s and VHS tapes and cassette tapes.  And your pictures! I sent a bunch to Audrey, as I think it’s time to start making sure evidence of your existence is not only in my hands.  

The catalyst for finally forcing myself to deal with how painful it was to lose you was our friend Bruce’s death.  Losing Golden Ears was such a loss. He was a huge connection to you, and losing him was like losing you again. He’d be glad that his dying of cancer on 4/20 prompted me to grow as a person. 

I want to tell you about my life right now, because your death is directly responsible for the life I have now.  I know part of the reason you hung yourself was to free me from the burden of you. We both know just how much of a burden it was at the end.  You’d suffered enough, and I’m glad I was able to accept that at the very end. You said people would help me and take care of me, and it’s true.  My soldering and wiring skills have come in handy to a wonderful group of friends I have now. There’s this cool new event called Neotropolis, and I’m the repair tech for all the LED neon light signs and light bars.  I even have my own group, known as a faction, which I named The Light Nerds. I’m running a repair shop, so of course I need to pay homage to you. I made money selling the T1 boards, and the money often came in exactly when I needed it. 

I’ve been mending fences with my folks for about four and a half years now.  I always knew they never stopped loving me, even though you tried to convince me they didn’t.  They let me move in a year ago last December so I could get the job I have now, which was 14 months ago.  I just changed departments from Customer Service to Logistics. It’s a better position, though I’m not getting a pay rise just yet.  I’m still training, and it’s going well. I built myself a great reputation in Customer Service, which helped me get this new job. It’s a great place to work for, and the benefits are ones I longed to get when you were alive.

I have an actual relationship with my nephew Harry, and I’m so glad.  I’m the aunt who knows about stuff like memes and Anime. We get along and even had a dual birthday lunch last year.  He’s a great kid, and you were wrong–my sister and parents have done a great job raising him. He’s also got a stepdad named Danny who is by far the best brother in law I’ve had.  

In my romantic life–I’ve been in a wonderful relationship with Stephen for nearly 5 years.  We spent the better part of 4 years living and working together, and maintained a place together until recently.  Stephen is amazing. He loves me the way you claimed to love me. Yes, I’m not his wife, but he doesn’t try to make me into the kind of partner he wants.  He wants me to live my own life the way I need to. He lent me his car to go on the interview for my job, knowing it could mean me moving back in with my parents.  It’s not that big a deal, because they love him. He’s spent holidays with us, and has helped them around the house a bunch. He loves me and he knows that my parents are wonderful, so he treats them with the respect they’re due.  

When it comes to my relationship with Stephen, I’ve taken all the good things you did for me and combined it with the way I wish you’d loved me.  As a result, I know Stephen is the love of my life. It’s so easy to love and support him finding his path in life. I taught him how to solder, and we built those boards together.  That’s been a good source of income. There’s so much art he’s shown me that I’d never have known otherwise. It’s great. My not dealing with the loss of you has caused problems in my relationship with him, but now that I’ve figured out what’s going on, I’m determined to deal with feelings as rationally as I can.  

March 1st came and went, and I did my best not to focus on the fact that it was the 24th anniversary of me finding you on AOL.  I spent the weekend with Stephen, which was fantastic. I was sore from our outing on the 29th, and as we were in a hotel room, I opted to take a bath.  It felt very odd to be the one soaking in the tub and asking someone to load me a bowl. Then, on the way to lunch, “your songs” kept popping up in my playlist.  I skipped most of them, because I wanted to focus on the present. But it made me miss you.

So that’s where I am in life, in a place you probably knew I’d be in because of the tremendous faith you (usually) had in me.  I love you still, and a part of me always will. I just need to process this grief a bit more so I can move on. It’s not easy, but I need to do it in order to succeed at this new phase in life.  

I miss you, I love you, and I’m pretty sure you’d be proud of me.

Love,

Poodlefish

I love Pet Sounds, but I Can’t Listen To It

Over the summer, my Sweetie and I were out with friends of his. While driving, we were parked behind a car that had a sticker of The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. I perked up, as I love that album. I remarked that it was known for being a great album and it helped inspire the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Pet Sounds is an album that has emotional ties to my late husband. I hate to say it, but the romanticism helped prompt me to abandon my education to live with him when I was 21. I’ve never regretted that decision, because it led to a life I quite enjoyed overall that left me a few unique skills that still come in handy and many memories that make good stories.

That’s also why this album is so hard to listen to nowadays. I tried a couple of months ago while traveling along the Gold Line to/from Union Station to see my surgeon. Some of it was beautiful, as is most art that comes from the genius of a troubled soul. Some of it was a tiny bit physically painful due to my brain transferring the emotional pain the sense memory the music gave me into the physical sensation of what happens nowadays when I try to hold my Hello Kitty cup in my right hand for too long. I remembered the early days of getting to know someone half my life ago who is now a box of ashes in my closet. Half my life ago seems like it was an extra decade ago. I suppose because I’m so far removed from that life, and the kind of thinking I did back then. Exactly the kind of thing that happens when one moves on. To me, the only logical choice is to move on, which is why I was listening to the album again. I needed to appreciate it for what it is again. Am I up to having the songs be in my main playlists? Not yet.

Ugh, Sense Memory

I broke my right arm and dislocated my wrist seven months ago, on my birthday. I had to have surgery to set it. I found that pain is a very big sense memory trigger for me. In the ER, when I was told I was going to get morphine, I suddenly wished for the ability to grab the vial, go back in time a few years to any number of nights my late husband was in pain without painkillers, set the vial on the porch to his room, and go back to the present. That desire surprised me, as I don’t think that way. I’m doing what he wanted–for me to live my own life on my own terms. I’m happy with my life and don’t have any desire to turn back time.

The same desire happened when I got taken into a room to await surgery and was given Dilaudid. Thankfully, when it kicked in I was able to toss that thought aside. I was given a prescription for Percocet, which I filled a little guiltily and after having to explain to the pharmacy that I’d just had surgery on my arm (note the arm in the sling!) and was going to recuperate at my parent’s house. The next day, I decided to take half a Percocet after lunch, as the ibuprofen wasn’t doing much about the pain. I couldn’t remember if I’d taken the pill or not, so I decided to pour them out to count them. The sight of all those pills made me wish for the time machine again. I poured them back into the bottle as fast as I could, discovered the pill was actually on the kitchen counter, took it, and ran to my room. I hate crying as I did that day. I’ve already felt the pain of being helpless to help someone’s agony before, and I don’t need to revisit it because I was given a limited dose of painkillers appropriate for my injury. I did so much crying the first few years after my husband died. It’s been just over 4 years now, and I’ve done the work to process those 18 years of my life and move on. I enjoy living in the present, as it contains my Sweetie.

Today I got an MRI on that hand. I knew I had to stay still in an enclosed place, and I was fine with that. I was given earplugs and told it would be loud. What I didn’t expect was to feel like I’d spent 20 minutes inside a synthesizer. Immediately, my mind flashed to my late husband making very similar noises at similar intervals to the noise that was going on around me. I felt myself in his old room, where we worked, ate, played Scrabble, watched lots of media, listened to lots of music, laughed, and cried. I don’t need to revisit all that. That part of my life is over, and again, I’ve made peace with that.

I decided to “fight” sinking into that feeling that was being prompted by all the noise around me. I knew I could keep it together if I tried. So, I tried to think of something in the present that would calm me. My mind’s eye showed me cuddling with my Sweetie. It helped. When the noise would change, I’d have to refocus on that image. I kept thinking that I didn’t want to sink into the messiness of missing my late husband. It was such a mercurial relationship that it’s not easy to reflect upon. I’d rather think of my present, where my Sweetie and I are building a life together that we both enjoy living.

Good-bye, Grandma Delia V. Felix

Delia Vasquez Felix was a complicated woman. Most of her shortcomings stemmed from her upbringing. It was not an environment conducive to intellectual or emotional growth. She didn’t have an opportunity to develop things like self-esteem and critical thinking skills. This absence of a good foundation shaped the rest of her life.

I think she tried to make up for how she treated her daughters by being the kind of Grandma she was. Her love was unconditional, her enthusiasm to see or hear from us was genuine, and she had a strong desire to see us finish school and try to make something of ourselves. She wanted our accomplishments to be leap years beyond the life she had.

It’s sad to think I’ll never hear her sing “Happy Birthday” to me again. No more cards that have her heartfelt wishes for birthdays and graduations that were always written in Spanish. No more playing Poker with her on Christmas Eve, using her multiple wild cards and betting with pennies. (Her and her sisters started that family tradition, merely as something fun to do while the tamales finished cooking.)

There are so many memories that spring to mind, that involve laughter while we sat and ate or played poker at the table. Her running to tape her favorite songs off the radio. The time when we were in “Las Begas” with some family and the nickels she gave me to play slots earned me a couple dollars. How proud of me she was when I graduated both Junior High and High School, something she never did herself.

Grandpa Felix died 15 years ago this November. It’s a nice thought to think that they get to spend eternity together, free from life and health problems while surrounded by their loved ones. After everything they went through while they were together, they deserve that.

Mourning her will mean I’ll grow. I will think of the faith she had in me to be a good person. I’ll smile as I remember the encouragement she gave me to use my brains to make something of myself, and that will motivate me to continue to work towards my short term goals that will help improve my life for the next few decades.

To my family–let us try not to let our grief manifest in harmful ways. Losing her feels different to each one of us, and we’ll all honor her in our own ways. There’s not one “right” way to honor her, as long as it doesn’t involve invoking the lesser parts of her. She wouldn’t want us to use our grief as an excuse to lash out at one another. Honoring her should be about loving each other, sharing good food, laughing, and dancing.

A Patently Open Letter to my Dead Husband

Kevin,
It’s been 4 years and 4 days since you died. I’ve come quite a long way in that time.  I’ve grown as a person and I’m happy with my life.  Much of what you said was true–I’ve received tons of support and help, and I do not miss caretaking. I kept my promise and earned my second degree black belt. That was a very tough test, and my perseverance is what earned me the belt.  The word “pilsung” is on my belt, which means personal victory.  Very fitting.  I do hope you’d be proud of me.

I’m reminded of you every single day.  Most of the time these days, it’s minor and passes pretty quickly.  The first year and a half was snaking through the chaos of sense memory, avoiding a lot of things that were emotionally painful, and missing you and the cats something fierce.  About two and a half years into widowhood, I started to get angry at you.  I finally started to see our relationship for what it really was–a codependent version of Amour Fou that only death could dissolve.  Sure, there are scores of good memories and I won’t forget them.  Sense memory sucks, but way less than it used to.  I can listen to ELP now without bawling.  I can even enjoy cooking chicken in the pressure cooker again!  I still watch Mad Men and The Sopranos on occasion.  Sometimes I cry because I miss our house and the cats and things like playing Scrabble (which I haven’t brought myself to do again yet) while watching whatever you downloaded.  It was a good life, but it wasn’t necessarily the life I wanted.  I think that’s why it was so hard for me to sustain any sort of routine you found acceptable.  My subconscious was rebelling.  I am sorry that I didn’t realize that earlier, but I don’t think you’d have let me really do anything about it.

I haven’t done things you wanted me to do, and I’ve done things you wanted me to avoid.  As time has marched on, who I am and what I want from life has changed. I grew up quite a bit after you died. You’d be angry that I couldn’t grow while you were alive. My counter to that (not a defense–I’m done defending my choices to you) is that how in the hell could I grow if I had to concern myself with keeping you alive while trying to live up to your ideal of what I should be?   It would have been much better had you given me room to grow as an individual, rather than only grow as your soulmate. 

My parents and my sister are a part of my life again, and I know that would upset you. I don’t care, because your issues caused you to adopt a Scorched Earth ideology at the end. You wanted me to be an orphan because you were. I’m not, and I’ll never forgive you for making me feel like I had no family (hey, at least you died knowing I forgave you in advance for killing yourself!).  At least mending fences with my parents and sister has resulted in a more honest relationship with them. You know, I never believed they didn’t love me.  What they did for us, they did out of love for me.  I think you knew that, and even though you benefited greatly from it, you resented it.

I’m finding my own path, and I’ve been fairly fortunate that I have the various kinds of support I do.  I’ve been given the opportunity to heal from the loss of you as well as start to grow into my own person.  I couldn’t leave synths entirely. I spent the first year and a half after you died selling off all the synth stuff I could to make money. Then I took My Sweetie to NAMM 2 years ago, and the welcome I received from the synth folks was quite touching.  I also made sure Moog Music had as many of your notes about Minimoogs as I could find so they’d get their reissue right.  (Are you pissed I gave them the info for free? I’m not because I got an internship out if it!) I love assembly and replacing components on circuit boards, but I can’t make it my career. When it comes to the synth community, I’ll always be your widow.  I’m proud of all the work you did and how well regarded you were, but I can’t tie myself to your legacy forever.  I know you wouldn’t want me to, which is why you told me to forget synths and focus on Taekwondo (something you suggested I do in the first place, though you were right–I do love it!).  Kind of a limited future, really.

I’ve been able to figure out a new career path–photovoltaics.  The only thing I remembered from your experiments was that I needed to have a charge controller.  I can now tell you that you made the “big” (10 watt) panels way less efficient by encasing them in plexiglass.  Panels need to breathe!  I’m hoping to get the Fellowships I applied for so I can have a career again.  I loved the class I took, and some of the things you taught me about waveforms came in handy when I learned about Inverters.  (BTW, I still can’t believe you didn’t realize you probably bought a stolen inverter off a tweaker!)

I don’t think you’d like the world today. So many people that you admired have died since you did (starting with Robin Williams four weeks after you), and the political divide has gotten worse.  Ok, so you’d dig recreational marijuana being legal in California. You’d laugh at dab rigs–”How odd to use a crack torch to smoke weed!”  I know your sense of having outlived everything you knew and love would have only increased over the past few years.  I often wonder what you’d have thought about Bill Cosby’s fall from grace.  We quoted him so often, but I can’t do that now that I know what a scumbag he is.

I found the love you tried to convince me we had. It sure is wonderful to have the real thing though!  To truly be loved for who I truly am has been one of the best things to happen to me since you died.  My Sweetie has made me a better person through his support, patience, and encouragement. He’s inspired me to be more self aware, which makes life so much easier! He’s had to deal with the issues caused by my life with you (emotional, mental, and physical), and has done so gracefully and beyond my wildest dreams. In return, I love him the way I wanted you to love me.  I took the good things you did in loving me, abandoned the bad, and added unconditional support and patience. I look forward to the plans I’m making with him, as we’re building a life together while still following our individual dreams.

Thanks for loving me as best as you could, all things considered. I did the best I could to love you, and I know I fell short of your expectations. Some of it I’ll accept blame for, and the rest was the inability to truly be myself.  We had a good 18 years together, even though a lot of the time it feels like a dream.  I do hope you’ve found peace if there’s an afterlife, as you do deserve that after enduring years of pain and the erosion of your identity.

Fondly,
Daphne