Cluttered

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Fifteen months since my last post and all I have to say is that my life has become “cluttered.” That word came to me in response to a simple inquiry from an old friend.”How are you?”  My reply?

Cluttered.

So, how did things get so messy? How is it possible that it’s been over five years since I last picked up the phone and heard my husband’s voice?  Where did the time go? Well, to give you a quick recap … when last I wrote, my daughter was in her senior year of college, my two rescue kitties were settling in, and I was feeling quite … well, I believe the word was “happy.” Nod to Pharrell Williams intended. And then the wheels came off.

My daughter, Jules, graduated with honors (yay!) but then came graduate school. She has a very clear sense of what she wants to do, unlike her mother who is still pondering the age old question of what to do when she grows up. But the road to Jules’ goal required graduate school – a 2 1/2 year program in the most expensive city she could find … New York City … Manhattan… The Big Apple.

You may not have heard, but Manhattan is a tad pricey. Just a tad. She was able to get housing through the school. A room in a well-appointed hotel. 24/7 security. Restaurants. Fitness center. Kitchen facilities. All for the low, low price of $2700.A MONTH!!! Now for you big rollers that probably sounds like a walk in the (Central) park. To this widow living in a small house in the country, that amount is painful on the ears as well as  other anatomical parts. But it was the best solution we could find for the first year in the Big City so hi ho, hi ho, further in debt we go.

Oh yeah, debt. Lots of it. When Joe and I were making our plans for the future before he, well, took a powder, we were working with two incomes; two sets of health/dental/optical insurance; two retirement plans; two of everything. October 17, 2011 changed all of that. Funny, I can barely remember my own birthday but the date of his passing is hard-wired into my brain.

Whilst it wasn’t quite time to take on the second job as a Walmart greeter, it seemed obvious that it was time to seek professional help. A shrink? Yeah, well that’s always been a consideration. Nope, a financial planner was going to be the answer to all of my woes. Except, true fact, they ask the hard-hitting probing questions like “What is the interest rate on your mortgage?” and “Are you staying within your monthly budget?” and then this nugget … “What is your retirement plan?”

Well, geez, Louise, if I knew those answers, why the heck would I need a financial planner? Of course, that’s the sort of ill-considered questioning that got me into hot water as a youth and seems to have prevailed into my maturity. Sigh, I hate it when people ask questions that you SHOULD know the answer but haven’t a clue as to the response.

The good news, well kind of good news, is that I am not alone. It seems that “widow spending” is a thing. You see, in many, many cases, when a loved one dies, they leave behind resources. Those resources are intended to help make up the gap … or, as in the case of many widows, they are to fill in the gap (left by the loss). “Make up” and “fill in” become two diametrically opposed concepts. “Make up” is a fiscally savvy approach to secure the future for you and your family. “Fill in” is an emotional, knee-jerk reaction comprised of impulse-buying like major house renovations, trips to Europe, erecting a new edifice in your loved one’s name. Guess which route this author took? Yup, numbskull.

So, today is President’s Day. While others are out enjoying a three day weekend, I am gathering financial info. Bank statements, credit cards statements, tax form … My dining room table looks like a paper bomb exploded. But, and here’s that eternal optimist speaking, the financial guys didn’t seem all that disturbed and actually quite empathetic. I am either being lulled into a false sense of security or my money fears were misplaced. I’m rooting for the latter but skeptical enough to consider the former.

Well, I say I am doing all of that forensic accounting when what I am actually doing is catching up on this blog. My adult onset of OCD is not helping matters! Must get a calculator and hit the spreadsheets. Until later, God speed, friends. I am back and getting de-cluttered!

Reunions and Other Awkward Moments

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I hate class reunions. High school, college, graduate school – no matter the school, I hate going back for these faux bonding experiences. My excuse has always been that I have kept in touch with the people I cared about – why would I want to waste precious time on making small talk with people I haven’t spoken to (or even thought of) for years?

Despite my dislike of these bonding opportunities, as I now live in the town where I grew up, it has been difficult to avoid high school reunions. My alma mater is all of ten minutes away from my house. Whatever story I might try to concoct in an effort to avoid attending, could be easily debunked. For instance, the old stand-by “Oh sorry, I have a prior commitment” wouldn’t work unless I actually left my house for the night, stayed off Facebook, and remembered the lie each time I ran into one of my classmates at the grocery. Not an easy trick. And many of my high school friends, that I do keep in touch with, are reunion junkies. They would go every year if they could … weirdoes. I did succumb to peer pressure and attended a few (kicking and screaming, but I went). Only a few.

Turns out, I was right. I didn’t keep in contact with those people because, and this will sound harsh… I didn’t like them. The cheerleaders were still peppy. The jocks did not get any smarter. The mean girls only became meaner. I actually got into an argument with one of the mean girls at the last high school reunion I attended. One of the quiet boys from our class showed up and this bitch (yes, I went there) insisted he was not a member of our class and wanted him to leave. Well, I knew this guy as he was on my bus and yes, he was in our class. I couldn’t understand why she was making such a big deal out of it but took great joy in calling her out. I like to think that I was doing the noble thing by standing up for this quiet man but one might also make the case that I saw an opportunity to whack a mean girl- and I took it. She shut up and skulked away. And I haven’t returned to another reunion of the class of ’75. Oh, and the concern about excuses? One of the great things about aging? Peer pressure doesn’t work. “No” does!

College reunions have been easier to avoid. My undergraduate degree is from a small Catholic woman’s college about three hours away from my house. Nobody was going to be doing a drive by from this alma mater. I just ignored all the reunion mail and email and phone calls. And, as my college friends are NOT reunion junkies, the high school situation was totally avoided. Until this year, that is.

This is the 35th anniversary of my college graduation. We were the Class of ’79. Now 35 years is not one of the big ones like 25 or 50 but one of my very best friends from college was selected to receive a very large honor from the college… and she was flying 3000 miles to receive it… and she asked me to go… OK, so there is some peer pressure possibility in one’s later years.

Other than the aforementioned rationale for hating these events; there is also the stress many women put upon themselves, primarily based on appearance. I would like to think that I would rise above this sort of thing but that would be a big fat lie. The deal I had made with the award-winner was that we would go to the morning ceremony where she would pick up her medal and then we would stay for lunch but high-tail it out of there right after coffee was served. If we pulled this plan off, we would only be on campus for a few hours then we could escape back to the City where we would have a fabulous dinner and share our thoughts about how our classmates had changed, or not, lo these 35 years.

Piece of cake – but I still packed three different outfits, enough hi-test undergarments to quasi-camouflage the effects of too-little exercise, and, of course, I had to buy new shoes. I detest high heels but the added height also seems to mitigate that too-little exercise prob. It’s now been over 24 hours since that luncheon and “my dogs are still barking.” I don’t know who invented heels but if anyone wants to give me some names I would be more that happy to hand out some more “mean girl” remedy.

My real worry about this event was the inevitable questions about family. Parents, kids and, of course, husbands, were certainly going to be the primary conversation starters. That’s all fine and good except when one is a widow. Do you know there really isn’t an easy way or a nice way to explain that your husband passed away? It might be expected at your 50th or 60th reunion … but not at your 35th.

And this isn’t a quandary confined to reunions. I was having dinner with some friends in NYC when a fellow at the table, a friend of a friend, asked “Where is your husband?” You could have heard a pin drop. Poor guy – he hadn’t received the memo. I was so taken off guard by the question that my witty retort to “Where is your husband?” went something like this… “Dead.” Yup, just one word. Again, with the “so quiet you could hear a pin drop” – except for the sound of my friend, Bridget, choking. Poor girl.

There really isn’t a good answer to the “Where is your husband?” question but that incident made me think I really needed to work on something better than “Dead.” That was my thought at the time but I couldn’t come up with anything. And with this stupid reunion looming, I was really under the gun.

So, as feared, standing around chatting with the girls after lunch (award winner had been pulled away for a photo op so the wheels were already falling off the plan) and the woman who roomed next to me in our freshman year started with the family questions. And then it happened. Oh geez. She asked “So, how is Joe?” I swore I was going to have a reasonable, non-dramatic response. But what did I say? Oh yeah. I did it. My response?

“Dead.”

There must be a better response. Or is there?

The Road to Hell

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Another of Da’s witticisms … “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” He pulled this one out every time one of us had the audacity to try to right our most current wrong by explaining it wasn’t what we meant to do. As in, “When I pushed David over the wall in the barn I was just trying to help him, I didn’t mean for him to fall on the concrete floor on the other side and break his arm.” True story.

Anyway, the reason for bringing up this little bon mot is my current frustration with my divorced friends. Like most Americans, I know a lot of divorcees. Some are repeat offenders (one of my friends is on #3). I would like to think of this as American optimism – “maybe this time” – but it is more than that. It seems to me that so many people struggle with being alone. I get it – trust me, I get it. Being alone, especially on these cold, dark winter nights, is not fun. It can be lonely and sad and generally depressing. It certainly wasn’t what I had in mind for this stage of my life –  but that choice was taken away from me. I had my life partner. “Life partner.” I love that phrase. Unfortunately his life just wasn’t long enough for my liking. But I wasn’t consulted about his departure. I don’t believe he was either. And if either of us were asked, the answer would be a very loud “NO!” Joe’s death was not our choice.

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