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