Narrative Mostly-Freewriting #2

I stopped posting my writing a long time ago. It was discouraged for many years because it was painted as a selfish indulgence. Now it’s encouraged because I feel good when I write.

And maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be
The door always must be left unlocked
To love when circumstance may lead someone away from you
And not to spend the time just doubting

Howard Jones, “What is Love?”

I always liked that song, but I never realized just how true it is. That verse means a lot to me, because it describes my present way more than my past. There’s a big difference between letting someone think you’re letting them live the way they want to and actually letting them make the choices they need to make without protest. I actually have the kind of love I thought I had for 18 years. It’s wonderful.

It’s just after sunset when I walk out of the gym. I went to the nice one near work, because it’s more conducive to getting more stretching done than the one near home. Plus I couldn’t find sunglasses and I don’t want to be driving into the setting sun.

I have a habit of doing bicycle crunches to the song “I’m a Man” by the Spencer Davis Group. That song became one of my grooves after it was in the 1st episode of the 7th season of Mad Men. Plus the organ is just groovy.

It’s a bit more traffic heading home from the gym at this time, but the gym has a better vibe and better equipment. Though I don’t like the stationary bike’s ability to tell me what I weigh. The scale can fuck with my head. 30 years ago, the first time the manual scale had to be transferred to the 100 block so I could get an accurate weight at the doctor’s, I freaked out. I was 14, and I didn’t weigh much over 100 pounds again until I was 26, when I finally got therapy for the anorexia I didn’t realize I had all those years.

When I get to a certain point in my commute, I shift into neutral and try to coast as much as I can. It’s harder to do with traffic, but I manage a mile or two today. I love being able to do that. Never thought I’d have another manual transmission, but I’m not complaining. I learned about 20 years ago.

Shuffling though my playlist on my route home, I stumble upon Steely Dan’s “FM”, the title song to a 1978 movie about a scrappy little FM Radio station that encounters some Big Corporate interference and how the employees scheme to get their point made. With a happy ending, of course. I have it on VHS somewhere. I even have a TV/VCR combo to watch it on. Not sure when I’ll dig that stuff out.

I think the meds are working. Most nights I get decent sleep, and my body’s slowly adjusting to the daytime med. I’m not dwelling on bad thoughts as much, at least. Should have gotten these months ago. I know my friend Golden Ears would have suggested it, but he’s been gone since last April. His death started to reopen the painful wounds I’ve been avoiding. But that was him, holding people’s feet to the fire when it was merited. Sometimes when I’m working, doing the type of work he mentored me on 20 years ago, I can hear him laughing, faintly.

I get home, drop off my stuff on my bed, and head to the computer to write.

Don’t leave false illusions behind
Don’t cry cause I ain’t changing my mind
So find another fool like before
Cause I ain’t gonna live anymore believing
Some of the lies while all of the signs are deceiving

The Alan Parsons Project, “Eye in the Sky”

Those lyrics are filling my ears as I type this. They remind me of my late husband Kevin at the end of his life. For a few years, he tried to get me to accept the fact that the pain he was in was getting to be too much and he wanted to have a say in when it was time for him to go. For the last year or so of Kevin’s life, each morning after a particularly bad day, I would look outside at the trees to see if he was hanging from one. I’d have to wait for his text to let me know he was up (and alive). Once the last cat died, I accepted what was going to happen because I knew he was miserable, and I felt terrible that he was only around to save me the pain of losing him. He died knowing I’d forgive him, just under 6 months later.

I’ve been trying to move on these 5 1/2 years, but it hasn’t been easy. 3 years ago I finally allowed myself to get really angry at him, and I’ve done my best not to allow myself to feel the pain of the loss. Short-sighted of me to do that. Now that I pretty much have no choice but to deal with this or let it destroy me, it’s a little easier. I’ll allow myself to get caught in sense memory and feel the loss. I’m determined to be able to listen to certain songs without getting overwhelmed with grief.

So hard to laugh a child-like giggle
When the tears start to torture my mind
So hard to shed the life of before
To let my soul automatically soar

But I hit hard at the battle that’s confronting me, yeah
Knock down all the road blocks a-stumbling me
Throw off all the shackles that are binding me down

The Beach Boys, “Long Promised Road”

I never would have loved that song as much as I do without him. He was the one who hunted down the album “Surf’s Up” on vinyl to replace the copy that got warped decades earlier. Those lyrics have comforted me for at least 20 years, come to think of it. I forget how much time has passed. They comfort me now, and remind me that I can process the 18 years he was in my life and finally make peace with them. At least I can listen to this album. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the album “Pet Sounds”, but it’s still too painful. I suppose as part of my therapy I should start listening to it so I can feel the damn pain already and move on and grow into a healthier version of myself.

Three That Left in ’19

This year, the world lost one remarkable woman and two wonderful, brilliant, talented, and funny men to what Gilda Radner called “The most unfunny thing in the world, cancer.” It’s been 30 years since we lost Gilda Radner. I often wonder if the drugs she took to try to have a baby was the catalyst of to set off her genetic predisposition to the disease. But I digress. My friends Golden Ears and Mr. Bill both died of cancer. My youngest aunt Elizabeth died as well. I accept these deaths as a part of life, but they’ve left holes in the lives of many people that only those who feel the loss can comprehend. That pain is one I can relate to in my on way, but not their way. Death is so personal, so subjective from person to person. I think we need to do a better job as a society to accept death and do a better job comforting the dying so they can greet death as an old friend. (Yes, that’s a Deathly Hallows reference.) I guess it really is true that you understand death the longer you’ve been alive.

Golden Ears was my late husband Kevin’s oldest friend, They met in Orange County, CA in 1980. Golden Ears was working at a computer store, and Kevin walked in, went up to the alphaSyntauri keyboard that was hooked up to an Apple II and started playing a line from one of the classic Prog keyboardists (I want to say Emerson). Golden Ears, a talented musician and music lover, recognized the tune, He was a force of nature who was the coolest Nerd I knew. He was the one who set me up with a nice telecommuting job back in 1998 that made me realize that doing customer support was a good fit for me. I’m eternally grateful for that nudge. His memorial service was wonderful, a loving tribute to him by his closest family and friends. It also included a chance to take pictures at a self-serve photo booth with the back drop of the ending frame of the Loony Toons cartoons–That’s All, Folks! Those were his favorite, and the kind of humor that he would have wanted at his memorial.

Mr. Bill was an online friend my age I’d met via the website MetaFilter. He’d lost his wife in 2009, and when my husband died in 2014, he was very supportive. I could be honest with him about what I was feeling, and he validated a lot of the range of emotions I felt the first six months or so. I never met him in person–he lived in Texas. He was a great soul as well as the coolest Gen X Nerd I knew. He was much more than that, as he loved to go to TRF, and a member of his local Masonic Lodge.

My Aunt Elizabeth is my Mom’s youngest sister. The half century she was on this earth was tumultuous, and she carried a wonderful spirit throughout it. As sometimes happens in larger Mexican families, she was only 7 years older than me. I have her to thank for knowing who Gilda Radner is in the first place. She woke me up to see Saturday Night Live when I was 4 to see Roseanne Rosannadanna. I found it funny, even though I wouldn’t understand the jokes until I saw that bit again when I was 15.

2020 is the first full year without all these three, and all of us who knew and loved them will do our best to carry on without them. For Bill Hicks was right, it’s just a ride.

Pain as a Sense Memory Trigger

I’ve written before about some issues I had related to painkillers, sense memory, and survivor’s guilt. Here’s a little more:

How does a widow process whatever emotion’s being pinged by some lower back pain brought on due to her spending a chunk of Saturday working on wiring while sitting on the ground? Like this I guess, because I didn’t really put that whole thought together until I started typing it. There’s always a reason certain things trigger such intense sense memories about my late husband. This time, it’s feeling what he felt. The image of him sitting on a chair, hunched over a circuit board, doing everything from soldering to writing notes to prodding it with some tool, trying to get it do what it was supposed to do, is still clear in my mind. There are any number of songs I could listen to that can invoke that memory. Some also make me recall the cats–the six “purrkids” we had. Or how much I miss having such a great clothesline that also produced some great icicles in the winter. And then I cry, because that part feels safe to miss. The rest, doesn’t.

But physical pain, it does things to us that we’d rather avoid. It forces us to feel things we’ve done our best not to feel. I know that there is a life I used to have that I’ll never get back. I’m fine with that, because I really love the life I have now. I honestly wouldn’t trade anything to get that old life back. I’m more myself that I have been for a couple decades, easily.

But the mind has to deal with that stuff, lest we suffer too much. So it uses sense memory, in part, to remind us that we need to make peace with past pain. It’s okay to put it to rest and move on, but you have to deal with it head-on first before you can have more control over how you deal with those sense memory triggers in the future. Sometimes it feels unfair, but it’s a fact that can’t be changed.

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