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

Narrative Mostly Freewriting #4

The friends that have walked on before us
Are waiting to take us to laughter and dancing.
The friends that have walked on before us
Are waiting to take us to the sky.

Dreamland, The B-52’s

I’d like to believe there is an afterlife, but I really don’t have proof. I mean, sometimes I can feel the presence of a loved one, but I don’t know if that’s just wishful thinking.

This is going to be a huge year of change for me. My Sweetie and I are giving up the room we’ve shared for 4 years for a number of reasons that don’t have to do with the state of our relationship. Moving is going to be a pain, but far less headache in the long run. We have somewhere else to call home already, though for me it’s the weekend home because commuting there would get old after a day.

It was a fairly typical day of work. Just another Monday. Didn’t bring lunch so I went out and grabbed a salad. I try not to travel with the rest of the people who work in the area to the more popular destinations. Today was the first day I actually got stopped at the train tracks. Wasn’t too bad.

Making friendship bracelets again. Funny how one can still uncover muscle memory after a few decades. Though I’m sure I made random ones here and there since I was a teenager.

Still trying to wrap my head around the concept that 1990 was 30 years ago. It doesn’t seem that much time has passed. Maybe that’s only because I keep trying to block out most of my 20’s and 30’s because of how painful it is that I no longer have the family I had back then.

It kinda feels like today’s a journal writing day. I think I’m gonna go do that.

Narrative Mostly Freewriting #3

The news that Neal Pert has left this world reached the world today. Such a talented person we lost too soon. I listened to most of Rush’s “Moving Pictures” today on the drive home. We still have the music and lots of videos that have archived a lot of his work. That’s one thing I love about the 21st Century–we have a way of preserving much of the 20th century in ways that they didn’t have in those Roaring Twenties that have been popping up in memes for the past year.

As I have to do laundry and clean up my room before I head up to spend some time working on wiring for Neotropolis this weekend (among other things), I decided to go for a dab. I started getting anxious on the way home. I thought it was my upper back, which has been bugging me lately. Then I remembered how much Rush reminds me of Kevin, and that one memory I treasure is my 30th birthday, when my friend Grinner came to visit. I had to choose between them when I was 21, and I chose Kevin. When I was 22, I found out about Polyamory and realized I actually didn’t have to choose, but it was too late. I regret not knowing that, but I also don’t think it would have made a difference. I had the life I had from 21 to 39 because I made that choice, and I can’t change it.

I’ve been wanting to write about Kevin again, mostly because I’m trying to listen to songs we both loved again, instead of avoiding them because they usually make me want to cry. The biggest culprits are:

  • From the Beginning, ELP
  • Pretty much all of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
  • Everything Counts, Enjoy the Silence, Question of Lust, Depeche Mode
  • Moonlight Feels Right, Starbuck
  • Chamber of 32 Doors, Genesis
  • And You And I, Yes
  • Pretty much all of Talking Book, Stevie Wonder

It always sucks when the more popular ones of these songs pop up at work, especially when I can’t stop what I’m doing and run to the bathroom. I’ve learned how to cope, but it’s hard stuffing that kind of emotion back into one’s soul to focus on my job. I’ve designed it where I don’t have to do that anymore, finally. The loss I feel is so profound that I need to give myself a larger chunk of time to start processing it and making sense of it all. Those songs bring up so many snapshots in my mind’s eye that my coping mechanism of trying to pretend those 18 years of my life were a dream. Sure, that’s allowed me to start to build a life for myself, but it’s keeping me from truly growing.

There is a woman who sits
All alone by the pier
Her husband was naughty
And caused his wife so many tears
He died without knowing forgiveness
And now she is sad, so sad
Maybe she’ll come to the park
And forgive him
And life won’t be so bad
In Paisley Park

Paisley Park, Prince

I forgave him before he died. Now it’s time to get rid of the survivor’s guilt I feel.

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.

Narrative Mostly-Freewriting #1

When I first started this job, I used to take the bus. I wanted to reward myself at the end of each day and make the commute home more enjoyable. So, I walked down to my local dispensary and got myself edibles. Rice krispie treat in my case. (It can tolerate being cut into 6+ pieces and eaten over time best. One $5 treat lasted 6 to 8 days.) By the time I got home, I’d usually decompressed from work and gotten a little hungry. Sometimes it was a light journey, listening to music and catching up on Facebook. Other times, shuffling through my playlists prods some sense memory that forced me to feel that profound pain loss I’ve done my best not to feel too often. Then I cry while I keep listening. This is how it’s leaking out now, so I might as well go with it. The leak will stop, aided by the walk from the bus stop home. Everyone keeps telling me that I should feel this pain, and I keep saying that I resent having to feel it in the first place. As I’m finding out, this has not been the healthiest thing in the world. So folks, allow yourselves to feel that horrible pain of loss when it happens. Storing up all that pain will come back to haunt you at the most inconvenient of times.

On Paydays, I started a tradition to go to the dispensary, which was right near one of my bus stops, and have a dab, much like someone else would stop at the bar or liquor store on Payday. There’s something therapeutic about consuming marijuana via concentrated wax. It’s a more “body high that taps into the third eye” kind of high than traditional flower tends to be (unless it’s REALLY good). It also allows me to bleed the pipes, so to speak. I can allow myself to feel that pain, but not to dwell on it too long. The old slogan fits, too, a little dab will do ya.

I still partake in this tradition every now and then. It’s cheaper than Starbucks, even with tip. These days, I’m lucky to have a car, but I still walk to and from the dispensary. Getting a DUI is an expense and hassle I don’t need. It’s roughly the same amount of time I spend on the bike at the gym, which is good because there’s no way I’m taking a Lyft too and from the gym. That would become an expensive habit fast.

The best part of the walk home is the music. I’m sure people around this neighborhood think I must be crazy because I’m dancing down the street like I’m in my own private musical. Listening to music stoned is something I’ve been doing for two dozen years. Usually it was when my late husband Kevin and I were working or I wanted to write or work on the online sales part of our business. That’s why a lot of music I enjoy triggers sense memory–Kevin introduced me to a lot of music that has become a part of my soul. I also love dancing, which gives me a way to channel emotional energy into movement. I learned how to do this when I was 18 and it really helps. Nowadays instead of dancing, it’s usually kicking. I spent most of my 30’s studying and teaching Taekwondo. I miss it, but I can’t go back to teaching unless I have another way to make an actual living. It’s the Art that I love, and as my Grandmaster taught me, it’s okay to charge people according to what would fit into their budget.

This little ritual is slightly reminiscent of an old one I had when I lived in Toluca Lake in my 20’s–get high, walk to Trader Joes, buy a bag’s worth of groceries, and walk home. It took less than an hour and I enjoyed it. There are a lot of happy memories of that time of my life. I think I need to remember that as I start to confront all the bad ones prompted by all the issues in my marriage.

I often find myself starting to write in my head. I’ve probably written this in my head a couple dozen times already. I guess that’s why it was relatively easy to finally set all this down.

I love living in this day and age, where I can actually do something like this, in the neighborhood I grew up in, thanks to the open-minded voters of California.

Narrative Essay #1: December, 2019

It’s rare that I leave the house after sunrise on a weekday. Most weekdays are spent waiting as long as possible to get out of bed, then stumbling into clothes and a bathroom routine. Gather my things, grab lunch and a Soylent from the kitchen, and head out the door. If I’m up to it I’ll make sure the sink is clear. On Fridays, I empty a couple of trash cans into a bag so I can toss it into the large trash can that’s a few yards away from my car.

I usually grab the newspaper for my Dad, except on the rare occasions that he’s up before I’m out the door. I started out a year ago just putting the paper near the back door on my way to the bus stop. I started putting the paper on the arm of his chair when I started exiting out the back door.

On damp days, I clean off my windows while the car warms up. Set up my phone and plug it into the car stereo, open the bottle of Soylent and take a swig. Check for messages from my Sweetie if he’s already up. Maybe check the commute and figure out when I’ll get to work.

I’ve been in the habit of listening to Audiobooks or Podcasts on my commute. Music’s been too much to take in while driving to work lately, and on the way home, I like to finish up what I’ve been listening to. At this particular moment in time, I’m listening to Acid for the Children, Flea’s memoir. His writing style and how he reads the words he wrote has been inspiring. On this particular weekday, his voice fills my ears as I see the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains as I get to the peak of the hill that offers a view that I grew up seeing. The houses go higher up into the foothills as they did in my elementary school years. It’s snowing in places it hardly ever does, which is why the mountains look that way. Every 5 to 10 years, this happens. People can be so quick to forget because they act like it’s never happened before every time it happens.

It’s an odd coincidence this is happening now. I remember when this happened a decade ago. My life was much different. That snow was surrounding me, as I was on the other side of those mountains in a geodesic dome with the family I had then. Yes, I once had a husband, six cats, and for a time a rooster and a couple of hens. I lost all that almost 5.5 years ago. While I’ve spent the time since that loss going forward and building a life for myself, I haven’t really processed the profoundness of being the only survivor of that household. I took a step towards finally doing so, with the assistance of the same group of mental health providers I had in the 90’s. The office has been upgraded, of course. I now speak to the folks at the front desk through glass. There’s a security guard behind the glass with them. I now answer questions on a tablet that are tracked with every visit–a mental health equivalent of taking my vitals. Yes, I’m really depressed and anxious, but no, I’m not suicidal. Having survived my husband’s suicide, I have no desire to put my loved ones through that. Especially my parents and my Sweetie.

I have to open these “cans of worms” as I’ve been referring to them lately. The hole in my heart for my former family and the life I once had. The facts: I know why that life failed, and I didn’t have as big of a hand in it than I was led to believe while I was living that life. All of that requires a lot of mental strength and time, as I have to recover from allowing myself to feel all of that. It hurts just as much as it did when I broke my arm. But it’s an emotional pain, which is a much harder pain to endure and find relief from. I have a plan in place to open those cans, examine the contents, and realize what it means now. I need to do it. I can’t keep that kind of pain in anymore. Even if it means missing several days of pay over the next few months.

Work is work. I’ve worked harder for the same money, and I have benefits. Getting out of bed is hard, but once I’m out the door, I can get through the next 10 hours. Sure, there are days when I’d like to go home an hour after I clock in, but I find a way to get through the day, and am very proud of myself when 4 o’clock rolls around and I head out the building and to my car.

My commute home is a different route the first third or so of the way due to traffic. It’s a fun drive a first, which helps me unwind and makes me happy that I have a sports car (but I don’t drive like a maniac). If I’m up for it, I take a detour to the gym to get a little stretching and cardio in. My only goal with the gym is to keep going and get at least 3 miles in on the bike. Then I go home, check in with my parents, eat, shower, talk to my Sweetie, and head to bed.

This kind of routine is not one I’m really used to. In my former life I worked at home. I’ve had this job a year. The last time I worked at a job for a year was 2002-2003. I was at that job exactly one year and was coerced into quitting by my late husband, for a reason that was never really explained, but had to do with us wanting to move out of our apartment and into a house. We got the dome in mid-2003 and had it exactly for 11 years.

It’s the last Saturday morning in December and it’s time to drive up to see my Sweetie. I leave after sunup, partially tracing my commute home (in reverse) to get to the 60 freeway. The snow-covered mountains greet me again, but this time I’m heading to the other side of them. Flea’s voice fills the car as I head east to the 15 North. When I pass Devore, the snow starts to become more visible, but it takes until the 138 to appear on the side of the road. I have to slam on my breaks right past the Weigh Station that used to excite me because it meant I was almost home and back with my former family. Today, the exit I used to take is quite long–people wanting to take advantage of the snow to head out for a family day trip or to enjoy the ski resort. I’m glad I can avoid all that. I hated how crowded it got on Hwy 2 after a snow when all I wanted to do was run my normal errands. All the impatient families who used my old road as a playground and set up little hibachi grills like they were at the park. They couldn’t be bothered to actually head into town, buy a $5 pass, and go into the area set aside for them.

But today, I head past all that, marveling at the snow that covers the hills around me. More snow is expected in a few days, but I’ll be back to the land of my birth and the area I’ve been working in for the past year.

Now it’s Sunday morning and I’m writing all this down. My Sweetie had to work early today, and I found myself alone in our room for the first time in months. I started writing, and it felt good to finally get all of this down. It’s been brewing in my head all week.

I keep telling myself that I have to make more time for myself to write. I think I will when I have those days to work on those cans of worms. Narrative essay style rather than journaling or first person fiction. I feel the need to articulate my thoughts and daily experiences rather than how I feel. That will come later.

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.