A Word Bigger Than Love

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It is the eve of Super Bowl LXIX.  Tomorrow, at 6:30 pm, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will take the field while millions of fans watch, rooting for their faves  as they consume mass quantities of pizza, chicken wings, and vast amounts of beer. For decades, the Super Bowl was akin to a religious holiday in our house. My husband loved football. Come to think of it, “loved” is probably not the right word. Is there a word to express a feeling bigger than love? Nothing comes to mind – at least nothing that adequately captures the passion, zeal and devotion my Joe had for the game of football.

Typically a quiet man, something about football brought out a side of Joe that was the antithesis of quiet. On any given Sunday, Joe was perched on his favorite chair – prepared to root on his team, call the plays and loudly chastise the calls he considered unfair, misguided or just plain wrong. Screaming, jumping out of his chair, and swearing (loudly), it was not uncommon to hear, repeatedly, “WHAT THE (expletive) ARE YOU (expletive expletive) DOOOIIINNNGGGG?” That man had quite the colorful vocabulary on game days.

Things changed in 1994. You see, in 1994, our daughter was born. Unfortunately, 1994 was also the year Giants’ fans remember as the beginning of a dark time for the team. 1994 was the year that Phil SImms and Lawrence Taylor retired and things went seriously south.  But our girl was born in May, months before the darkness descended over the Meadowlands. Joe bought her a tiny little NY Giants’ shirt that she could wear on game days. There he was, all 6’4″ of him curled up on the floor next to his tiny little baby girl clad in Giants’ blue.

But he wasn’t curled up for long. It was a train wreck of a season – well, as history will note, it was more than one season. As the team spiraled downward, that poor man was near apoplexy. And, as our daughter matured, it became clear that it was in the best interest of her developing language skills that game day might best double as movie day – or even shopping day – for us gals. You see, my daughter attended parochial schools. While I might not be the sharpest knife in the tool drawer, I was fairly confident that Sister Elizabeth or Father Anthony would not find game day verbiage appropriate, or even mildly entertaining, for our little Catholic angels.

Eventually the team broke through the darkness (thanks to Tom Coughlin and a kid called Eli) and posted some pretty major wins. Joe’s vocabulary didn’t change much but the winning seasons made the depth of his despair less painful to witness – and the need to make movie or shopping plans less necessary.

Tomorrow night will be the fourth Super Bowl since that screaming, blustery ÜberFan was silenced. However his little girl is now twenty and, of course, she is a massive fan of the NY Giants. Although Eli and the guys are not in tomorrow’s game, she tells me that she will be bellied up to a bar in London (she is studying abroad this semester) so she can watch the big game and scream, jump up and down and, yes, hurl some expletives at those darn Patriots, the nemesis of her beloved father. I think I will stay home to watch the game. Maybe sit here, in his favorite chair, and try out a few expletives of my own. 🙂

 

April (used to be) The Cruelest Month

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“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.”

                                           – “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot (1922)

A lifelong fan of T.S. Eliot, the irony that both of my parents died in the month of April did not escape my notice.  Mom died on April 4 and, six years later, Dad died on April 18.  I was on my honeymoon when my mother passed away. My beloved Joe and I were at Cape Cod, for all of one full day, when the call came through that we needed to return home … immediately. I had never moved as quickly as I did that day. We made it to the hospital before she passed, but she was already in and out of consciousness. We never returned to Cape Cod. I cannot even remember the name of the town or the condo. It’s all a very dark, very sketchy memory.

I was eight months pregnant with my parents’ first grandchild when my father passed away. I was at work, in all my radiant pregnant glory, when my brother called. Another instance of “don’t wait – get here.” I picked up my purse and left as quickly as my expanded belly and swollen ankles would allow. I made it to the hospital. He was still conscious but, within hours, the swelling around his brain from the fall he took on the icy path to his mailbox, undermined his lucidity. We watched his brilliant, sharp, funny mental prowess slip away with each tick of the clock. I could feel the life in me jumping and kicking … as I watched the life seep out of my father’s body. He never met his granddaughter. He missed meeting her, seeing her, holding her,  by six weeks.

The first section of Eliot’s brilliance, in “The Wasteland,” was (of course) “The Burial of the Dead.” Ann Patricia and Edward Murray Francis were both buried in April. Ah, Eliot, I thought, how could you have been more right?

That is, of course, until October of 2011. More specifically, October 17, 2011. Again, at work. Again, the phone rings. Again, I need to immediately make it to the hospital. The same hospital I rushed to on April 4, 1988. The same hospital I rushed to on April 18, 1994. But it wasn’t April, so the horror that was about to be cast in front of me, and my (then) 17 year old daughter, was not apparent. Yes, the EMS operator had said Joe was having trouble breathing. And yes, he did say I should quickly get to the hospital, but for some strange reason, the thought that April was about to be usurped by October had not entered my mind. An hour later it sure did.

As I stood there, looking at my husband’s lifeless body, October became the cruelest month. Forever.

Shantih shantih shantih

All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

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It’s Saturday night. Date night. I’m sitting on my couch. Adorned in sweatpants and a most comfortable t-shirt. Hair up in a messy pony. Laundry rolling around in the machines. Kittens ripping up the joint. But before I settled in to write this blog, I was looking pretty good (if I say so myself).

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Why oh why the glamour shot? Well, it’s kind of a long story. But, as usual, it’s Saturday night and I have time….

When Joe died, I was a freaking mess. I was going through the motions to complete the business of dying but, in between meetings with funeral directors, florists, cemetery staff, insurance reps and accountants, I was trying to understand what the hell was happening? Really. The whole situation was so surreal it was a waking nightmare. I kept shaking my head hoping, and praying, I would snap out of it. How could I be talking to him on the phone and no more than two hours later be rushing to the hospital? I couldn’t understand how this happened or why this happened.

You know the current fascination with zombies? Well I am fairly confident it began when somebody caught a glimpse of me during this time – except that the cast of the Walking Dead looks much livelier.

During one of these moments, I found myself in the parking lot of a strip mall close to my accountant’s office. I was early for our appointment and it occured to me that I didn’t have appropriate funeral attire. I love that special little phrase – “appropriate funeral attire.” Like you don’t have enough to deal with at a time like this, there is some societal expectation that you also have the foresight to go shopping and purchase the latest in widow vogue. “Widow Vogue” – I have to remember that one.

I snapped out of my stupor long enough to walk into a little women’s boutique but then I just stood there. A young woman, named Jen, approached me and asked if I needed help.  I looked at her. I looked around. Out of my mouth, for the first time, came the words “My husband died.” And  then I started sobbing as I tried to explain that I needed clothes for the wake and the funeral. I was folding right there in the front door of this little boutique.

Young Jen and one of her associates jumped into action. I was escorted into the dressing room, made comfortable, and they started running around pulling outfits together for me. They dressed me, from head to toe, for the wake and the funeral and any other in-between event. They carefully packaged all the clothes, gave me all kinds of discounts (a MASSIVE help as this funeral business is a major expense), and made certain I was ok to drive.

It was October 19, 2011. Only two days after Joe’s death. I have never forgotten the kindness shown to me at that shop. In fact, young Jen and I became rather close. She became my version of a personal shopper. All I had to do was call the store and she would have clothes waiting for me in “my” dressing room. And at some point in our relationship, she introduced me to her sister, Lauren, a make-up artist at the local store of a nationally known cosmetics company.

Lauren was as kind as her sister. She bolstered my spirits by making me look less zombie-like. Time spent in Lauren’s chair was girl time. No talk about my loss or my lot in life – just colors and textures and products to brighten one’s complexion and, in my case, my day. I didn’t have anyone to get all spiffed up for – but me.  Never fail, before leaving the shop, somebody would ask “So, special date tonight?”

Nope. No date. Usually no plans. That time in the make-up shop was my plan. That time in the chair might have been the only thing I planned to do that day. Kind of like my time at the nail tech. But that story (it involves me learning Vietnamese) is for another day. You see, while friends and family would ask about my plans and invite me to join them in their plans, I felt better with strangers. Isn’t that odd? And it wasn’t just when Joe died. It’s been almost three years, and I still find myself spending more time with strangers than with friends and family.

Seriously – my weeks are regularly filled with a significant number of conversations with people who really don’t fall into the friends and family category – so, in effect, they are strangers. On Sundays I go to church, by myself, then off to a little Cuban café. I sit at the counter and one of the owners, Jim, makes me a special Cortado latte to go with my Cuban eggs, rice, beans and plantains. I know Jim’s wife’s name is Carmen (she also works there) and he knows I come there after church and he knows that I don’t eat meat. That’s about it. But there’s always something to chit-chat about. On Monday’s I stop at the local corner store to pick up my Lottery tickets (the extent of my gambling – I have a dream that I will hit the big one some day) from EJ. EJ is a Pakistani. He and his family first lived in NYC when they came to the states. He drove a taxi until he could save up enough money to buy this store, and a home, in our little town. I don’t have a clue what “EJ” stands for, nor do I know his last name. But we spend many moments chuckling over my enthusiasm at checking my numbers, certain this might be “the one.” He doesn’t even ask if I want more tickets … he just prints them out when the last ticket I check pops up with the message “Sorry. Not a winner.”

There are others … the Subway salad guy, the ladies at the juice bar, the kids at the pool and definitely the folks at the nail spa. And, of course, Lauren and Jen. Unfortunately Lauren and Jen both moved away. Jen had a divorce and then a promotional opportunity to move to Florida. She took it. Lauren found the man she thought was the love of her life and moved west to be with him.  I was so horribly sad to lose these two. Really? Sad? It’s not like they were family or friends but, well, they were important and kind and… well, a big part of my new normal. The stores that these two sisters worked at just weren’t the same after they left. They could not be replaced.

But then last week I had a text from Jen. She was still in Florida but things hadn’t worked out for Lauren and she was back in this area and working at the Trish McEvoy counter in a new store (to the big mall in our area). A few days later, I had a text from Lauren. She was indeed back and they were having their grand opening. She was hoping I might come to check out her new line of cosmetics.

And that’s how I came to have a glamour puss today. I had such a great time. I spent WAY too much money. But it was worth every penny. Lauren was back! Of course, the national rep that was there for the big opening had to add, before I left, “So, special date tonight?”

So I was all dressed up with no place to go (again) — but that’s ok — because tomorrow I’ll go to church looking all popping fresh and Jim and Carmen at the Cuban café may notice I look a little more sparkly. Stranger-friends are good like that. They seem to notice these sort of things. And sometimes it’s nice to be noticed – just because you made an aesthetics change. So much easier than commentary on one’s emotional state.  Skin-deep conversation – that’s a winning ticket. For now.

Wilbur and Aidan – Pouncing into My Life

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I was staying true to my goal of writing at least one post a day until “they” came. “They” being two kittens – one black (named Wilbur) the other grey and white (named Aidan). Don’t blame me for the names – they came with them. As these are rescue kitties, I didn’t want to further confuse the poor boys with more change than they had already experienced in their (approximately)four or five months on this earth. Losing their mothers, their siblings, and their homes, I thought the least I could do is retain their shelter-given names. About a month apart in age (they are not brothers although they act like it), they are full of piss and vinegar and have turned my home upside down – not to mention being a massive distraction from my writing.

But that’s ok – they’re a welcome addition to this quiet house. When I get home from work, there they are … adorable and waiting for their dishes to be filled and making a God-awful noise akin to screaming (is meowing something they learn?). As a friend noted, they bring life to this house. And Lord knows this house needed some life. On the other hand, I have heard more than my fair share of jokes about turning into a crazy cat lady.

They are here now and ready to pounce so I must signoff. As soon as they get a little older, and a little calmer, I think I’ll be able to get back to the blog. In the meantime, be well friends. Time to chase the kitties.

One last quick note — there is a special place in heaven for people who rescue animals. A very special place.

Plenty of Fish

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It’s been a rough week. Very rough week. There was more than the usual amount of work agita but that agita paled in comparison to the impact of the daily death and dying reports. From celebrities like Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall to the parents of friends, not one single day went by without some sort of morbid notice driving me to tears. Well, the week is over and I have had about enough. I woke up this morning, went to the Farmers’ Market, had a great breakfast at a Cuban café, had a meet and greet with two adorable kitties that will (shortly) be my new roommates, and then off to my favorite salon for a mani-pedi. And now I am lounging in the lovely quiet of my living room, typing and listening to some tunes. I am good.

So it seems like the right time for a lighter story, maybe with a sillier tone, than any I have employed all week. So, kids, tonight’s story is called “Plenty of Fish.”

One of my very dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my husband passed away. She was very, very, very sick. She needed a bone marrow transplant. Thank God, her sister was a match. It was a harrowing, horrifying, experience, but she survived it and has been slowly recovering. It’s been over a year now so she was finally given the green light to do some traveling. She and her husband have been visiting various parts of the States including a house rental this spring in Pinehurst, NC. Unfortunately, during their planned time in Pinehurst, her husband was needed for a business commitment back in NY. Fortunately, I was ready, willing and more than able to make the trip so he was able to make his trip north while I flew south.

I was only going to be there for a few days so dear friend and I had to make the most out of the available time. Some shopping, some touring, and, of course, dining. And what’s a great meal without some great wine? Well, we had some great wine arighty. While we are knuckleheads neither of us was interested in meeting up with North Carolina’s finest, so after the perfunctory two glasses of Californian cabernet, we made our way back to the house, settled in, and cracked open another bottle. It was during this time that our conversation turned to my marital status and, more specifically, when it might be appropriate to consider dating.

Dating. Oh Jesus. Even the sound of it makes me take a really, long, deep breath. Well, usually it made me take a really, long, deep breath. Apparently after a few more sips of vino, my breathing was normal and I was totally open to the idea. But what to do? We were in a rental house in a small town in North Carolina, and we certainly were not going to step foot outside of that beautiful house. Too bad there wasn’t some manner to reach out to single men somewhere else in the world who might be interested in meeting a merry middle-aged widow.

WAIT A MINUTE …. I’m not sure which one of us had the brainstorm to break out the laptop, but break it out we did. Back in my misguided youth we used to have something call “drunk dialing.” I’m here to tell you there is something worse — at least with drunk dialing you might only be in contact with one person. With the availability of technology that can connect you to the world wide web, discretion is out the window.  But it gets worse. We were not just sending out email or posting to Facebook …. oh no… that wasn’t enough. We needed to get to a dating site.

Yup. My brother, a single fellow, told me about a dating site called Plenty of Fish (as in, “plenty of fish in the sea” – clever group of Canadians, eh?).  Of all the times for anything my brother told me to pop into my wine-addled brain, why now? (I wondered this later. At the moment, it seemed quite brilliant.). Why did it seem so brilliant? Well, Plate of Fish is a free dating site. So there was no fiscal commitment. Then there was the added benefit of anonymity. And finally, did I mention we were drunk? Oh yeah, nothing like a couple of drunk middle-aged broads with a laptop, a bottle of good wine, and a need to prove there was someone out there who might find one of the drunks interesting enough to consider dating.

So, dear old friend powered up the laptop. We poured another taste of wine and she typed my answers to the Plenty of Fish questionnaire into the site. The questions were pretty simple – general sense of age, physical description, geographic location, likes/dislikes, and deal-breakers. We laughed and laughed as we built my dream date and transmitted it to the Plenty of Fish universe. Dear Friend is convinced that I am a hot ticket item so she insisted we use an age range fifteen years younger, and older, than my current age. She went on to insist Dream Date should be about six feet tall, athletically built, and something akin to a rocket scientist. We went on and on for quite some time until the bottle was empty and we both really needed to pack it in. She dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s, and shut down the machine.

The next morning I awoke to quite a headache, and a phone buzzing off the table. What the heck? Well, it seemed our little foray into cyber dating was a massive success. I couldn’t believe how many responses I had to our post. “Wow, I guess dear friend is right” – I thought as I headed for the bottle of Tylenol. I started reading the replies and was wincing as I read some of the replies. “Hey Beautiful” sort of openings were not what I expected. Reply after reply … what the heck? Why were these men all so focus’ld on physicality?

And then it occurred to me to look at our creative writing from the previous evening. Oh my. I saw it. Dear Friend had typed our incredible list of requirements for Dream Date into the information about ME. It looked to the men of Plenty of Fish world that I was a six foot tall, athletically built woman who … well, I’ll spare you the rest. Let’s just say, much to my dismay, I now understood why I had an electronic mailbox filled with notes from interested parties. They thought a Brigitte Nielsen was on the hook (rather than a Melissa McCarthy).

I wrote a note on the site, to all those poor souls thinking they had hit the jackpot, saying I wasn’t ready to start dating after all and wishing them all the best … and I then promptly deleted the account. Egads.

It’s been quite a few months since that episode. I still snicker when I think of it. Still dateless – and that’s ok – as I have heard there are Plenty of Fish ….

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