Death

I had kind of a panic attack the other day because I thought, for just a few moments, about dying. I mean, really thought, not just one of those passing realizations you have that someday you will die. I imagined myself on my death bed, ill or old–I’m not sure which–and I tried very hard to think about how much I pain I’d have to be in to want to die.

You see, I’m not religious. I don’t buy into any particular system of faith. I call myself spiritual because I am fairly open to new ideas. I’d like to believe that there’s life after death. I’d like to believe a lot of things that involve faith. I’ve kind of made up my own religion, my own thoughts on what a higher being could be. But I know it’s all lies I tell myself to make myself feel better. I think that’s probably why religion never stuck to me very well… I’m not good at trusting anything on faith alone (hell, I don’t have faith in people to catch me which is why I’ve never successfully done a trust fall). So now matter how much I want to believe something, I just can’t. It’s how I’m wired.

When I look realistically at death, I realize that the most likely outcome is that my life will just end. It will be like falling asleep if it’s gentle and like being knocked out if it’s sudden, unexpected, or tragic. I had a taste of this notion when I hit a dog and crashed my bike on a commute home from work back when I lived in Denver. I don’t even remember anything other than the sensation of my bike wheel hitting the dog, and then the realization that I was going to crash, and then nothing. A big blank. I know my head hit the street from examining the huge dent on my bike helmet days later.

I woke up in an ambulance sometime after the accident. How much time went by? I’m not even sure. I figure at least 20 minutes to a half hour. I don’t know how called 911. Or when 911 was called. Or who found me on the street. But I woke in the ambulance to someone calling my name. (Thankfully, I always carry my wallet with ID one me.)

I was confused. I didn’t know where I’d been. The last thing I remembered upon reaching consciousness was waiting out a rain storm in a BP station about halfway between work and home. I didn’t understand why I was in an ambulance. People were working hurriedly over me. I had an oxygen mask on and an IV in my arm. The ambulance rocked me ungracefully around as it bounced along the city streets.

“Do you remember what happened?” one of the paramedics asked. I must have given him a blank look because he prompted, “You hit a dog…?”

And suddenly it all came back to me in fast forward. The ride home, speeding up my bike to over 20mph in an attempt to make the radar speed limit sign in my neighborhood flash, the white blur moving from my the corner of my eye right into the street… I hit a dog! I remembered.

That event shook me to my core. What if I’d taken a fatal hit to the head? Thankfully, I always wear a helmet. But a helmet does not always save a person’s life. What if I’d died? I wouldn’t even know. I just never would have woken up. And the world would have gone on without me. Game over. Unlike a cat, or a video game, I am not awarded extra lives.

Every once in awhile, my mind slips to thoughts about my own death. I think about being on my death bed and realizing I’ve got little time left. I have witnessed people die before. I’ve seen them go in fear and against their will, as with my first husband, and I have seen them slip away peacefully, as with my Grandpa H. (and, as I heard told, my Grandma H. also went). It’s easier for me to imagine going out the way my husband did–fighting, unwilling–than to imagine going of my own free will as it seems my grandpa did. No matter how much I think about it, I cannot imagine being so worn down that I want to die. When I look at death, I see darkness and oblivion. Nevermore. And it scares the living crap out of me.

It’s hard to imagine the ceasing of one’s existence. I mean, unless you’re Bono or a Beatle or some other equally as famous person, the majority of the world does not care if you’re here or not. Most of the world does not even know you exist. It goes along fine without you. And yet the world is all that I know. And all I know is my single sliver of existence in the grand flow of time. When I think about all of history, anything that came before me is just as real to me as any story I’ve read in a book of fiction. I wasn’t there when the Civil War took place, I never knew a world in which racial segregation is the norm, and, while I’ve known people who have fought in World War II and Korea and even Vietnam, these events are really just a story to my frame of reference. All I know is the way the world was when I became aware within it (which was much later than the day I was born), all the events that have happened in my life time, and the way it is now. I imagine this experience is the same for everyone else as well.

Yet… it’s impossible for me to real absorb the idea of no longer being in the world. Of no longer being. How is that possible? I feel so real to myself. I’m full of thoughts and ideas and ponderings. Where does all this energy go when I’m gone? Does it just deflate like a balloon?

It likely does. I’ve seen it happen with my first husband who was a very real person to me and all those who knew him, but to those who only know him from my description, he’s as real as a book of fiction too.

It makes me rather sad.

I admit that I fear death. Not in any way that keeps me from doing the things that I love to do. I realize that if it happens, it happens. I can’t hide from death by never leaving my house. What I have trouble dealing with is the realization that no matter how alive and real I feel now, I am going to die someday. I think that is the fact I overlook a lot. I still think I’m immortal, I guess.

I’ve been ill before. I’ve had mind-splitting migraine headaches and I’ve doubled over with a really bad fever. I’ve had the chills, I’ve been so sick I was throwing up every half hour. I’ve dealt with depression issues. I lost my first husband at the age of 26 and suffered with about 4 years of grief-related depression. Through it all, I’ve never wanted to die.

I can’t fathom suicide. Volunteering yourself to die? No way.

No matter how bad life has gotten (since being a teenager when I couldn’t think things through like this), I’ve never wanted to end it all.

Stay in bed for weeks and not do anything but stare at the TV, sure.

But die? Never.

To want to die would require me assurance that life continued after death. And I don’t have that assurance. So for me there will always be fear and trepidation about death. I try not to think about us. I’m sure most of us don’t. But it’s always there, looming in the distance, and I never completely forget it. Every once in awhile, reality hits and I find myself staring down the gaping black maw of life’s terminus, and for just a second I feel like I know what it’s like to face death. My heart pounds. All the air in my lungs turns to a vacuum. I feel cold and alone.

It’s not that I think about death all the time. The reality of it just worms its way into my thoughts from time to time. Perhaps it’s when I feel most comfortable and happy with life that I’m reminded of that nothing lasts forever. I wish it did. Don’t we all, right?

Well, with any luck, it’s a long way off for me. I’m still aiming to live to be 100. Maybe by the time I get there, they’ll have found a “cure” for death. Or at least doubled the human lifespan through many medical advances. I think, though, that no matter how much time we had to live, we’d still feel it wasn’t enough. And maybe if we could live forever, we wouldn’t appreciate all the beauty and wonders in life enough. That’s what they say, anyway. I think I would still appreciate all the beauty and wonders of the universe. Forever is a nice number.

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Resolutions

I’m not one to make resolutions because I’m really not good at following through. At the start of each new year, I feel like I have plenty of time to get a lot of things done. But then time has a way of slipping away from me. When I spend 40 hours a week at work and I’ve got a lot of other distractions and things to do, it takes a lot of effort to make headway on goals.

I guess that’s a cop-out. If I felt really motivated, I suppose I would manage my time better–fit my goals within those small spaces of time between the things I have to do in a day. I know if I spent a lot less time goofing off on, say, Facebook, I might actually squeeze some writing in. Or finish that book I started reading.

Well, I think the problem is that I’m motivated, but I have no idea where to harness that motivation. Story of my life. But at this moment, I’m going to harness that energy on some promises to myself for the coming year. Nothing grandiose. I’m starting off small.

1. Get back up to speed on my cycling. In 2012, I had an average mileage total of just over 2,000 miles. Though still a substantial amount of miles to cycle by most people’s standards, 2012 was not a particularly aggressive year for me. I only did about 3 rides between 60-100 miles. I did not climb very many hills; I even completely avoided Oak Hill all year (when I did it multiple times on Tuesday nights in 2011). I totally lacked confidence. I know I have a wedding coming up with three weeks of a honeymoon out west, so I can’t promise a higher quantity of miles, but I can promise higher quality of miles. Which means challenging myself on hills again, doing longer rides, and continuing my effort to commute to work more often. I will start by working to beat my previous record of 154 miles on Calvin’s Challenge, which I signed up for this year.

2. Writing. I make the promise to write more every year. With my first successful attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2012, I feel I’ve had a little kick in the ass. It made writing a novel seem like more of a reachable goal, even though I still have to spend a lot of time editing or doing more writing after the event. I met some fellow writers who helped motivate me and keep me on task.

I pledge to do NaNoWriMo again next year, possibly finally knocking out that memoir about my personal experience as a widow that I’ve always wanted to write. I think that the fast-paced environment of NaNo would force me to write the things I’ve been afraid to write to get that story out and it will help me to linger less on writing everything perfectly, which has always been one of my problems with that piece. Also, I think my perspective has changed a bit more positively as I enter into a new marriage and the clock starts again as a married woman. I always thought I couldn’t write that piece once I fell in love again, but I am starting to realize that I was probably completely wrong about that. Being in love again brings up a lot of emotions and memories from the first time that I didn’t know were there and it also reminds me more of the realities of a relationship which brings out more details about Mike and me that I forgot. It could be really interesting to see what thoughts time and new love bring to the surface. I’m not even sure yet what I have to say about these topics but I know the words are starting to form beneath my skin.

Besides NaNo, I just purchased a book about writing flash fiction which is a form of short story I’ve recently become interested in through listening religiously to a science-fiction podcast. I’d never heard of flash fiction before, but I’m now fascinated with the form. I liken it to be what haiku is to poetry–trying to express grand ideas in a few concise words. I’ve always loved how haiku forces me to condense my ideas into 17 syllables. So flash fiction will force me to condense an idea into much less words. (And as you can see from my blog entries, brevity is not my forte!)

I just purchased Scrivener–a software specifically designed for writers. Some of my fellow NaNos used it and recommended it. It’s really great for organizing your story because you write everything in “scenes” rather than making documents by chapter which is what I was going in my normal word processing software. You can easily move scenes around and organize them into folders. I can’t tell you how often I’ve struggled with organizing the chapters I write. Sometimes one chapter is too long and I want to split it out into a separate one. This is extremely annoying in a normal word processing software in which everything is contained in separate files. In Scrivener, it’s a snap to move a scene around or put it in a new folder and you can constantly see the ultimate arrangement in an outline bar on the side of the screen. There’s a section for writing character bios and an area for posting links to research items or jotting notes. When you are ready to create a manuscript, the text outputs to a number of file types from PDFs to MS Word documents.

I’m so enthused! I already set up my 2012 NaNo story in Scrivener to begin the process of rewriting and editing! Having the right tools definitely makes the work a lot more pleasurable. I still have to write the story myself, but at least I can access all my information easily and quickly rather than poking through multiple files trying to find stuff. Having used one tool that didn’t work for me for so long, it’s really refreshing to find a tool that was designed specifically with a writer’s needs in mind!

So. I think I’m moving slowly towards my writing goal. I’m certainly a lot less dormant than I’ve been. Things are looking up! And Crow has been so supportive about my writing that I just feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for having him in my life.

3. Bass Lessons. Over the last year, I’ve become convinced that I want to learn to play the bass guitar. Knowing this, my sweetie bought me a bass guitar for Christmas! I’m so excited to take on the challenge of learning a new instrument. I used to play viola in elementary school and I admit that I regret giving it up in middle school. Viola, like bass, is the unsung hero of a musical piece because it’s tune is not often noticed–never getting to take the solo or the main part–but without it the piece would just not sound the same. I like the idea of being the touch to a music piece that makes it perfect. I also like the throbbing sound of the bass. I can always identify it in a song, hone in on its singular beat, and I want so badly to play along with that music.

I pledge to give it my all in lessons with the bass and to not quit early. I had a stint learning guitar in college and I don’t think I gave it my all (though I did learn to play some of my favorite songs, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday”). I have my very own bass now and I need to give it the chance I should have given instruments before. I know my life is busy, but hopefully by the end of 2013 I’ll at least know how to play one song on my new bass.

4. Relax. I’m getting married this year. Eek! It’s going to be stressful. Very stressful. But I need to just let things roll off of me and remember that this wedding is not about all of the things in the periphery that might go wrong or cause stress. It’s about me and Crow and our commitment to each other. I need to just breathe, relax, and have fun when the day arrives. These are the moments to hang on to in the years ahead no matter what happens. The specific details of the day don’t matter. I will barely remember the mishaps; it’s the great moments in between that will eclipse all other memories.

I need to stop telling myself that we should have eloped or had a destination wedding. The moment for that decision has passed and we are now full-throttle into the planning of a full scale wedding. Let those thoughts of doubt go. They only cause conflict, confusion, and frustration between myself and the people who hear me utter them. The theme of my life is that I need to go forward bravely and confidently with decisions I makee and not second-guess myself every step of the way. It’s time to grow up. There is no time in life for second guesses or regrets.

A little yoga might help as well. Meditation. Lots of meditation.

I look forward to the year ahead. I think this will be a magical one for me (and Crow). Fiscal cliffs or no, I’m not letting anything stop me from having the time of my life while learning something new every day. It’s the year to work on becoming the person I want to be and growing with the person I love. I will win no matter what happens.

And if I make mistakes along the way, or life doesn’t work out the way I plan, that’s okay too. I’ve learned I can roll with the punches. As I’ve learned, forward is the only direction a person can go. So, onward, ho!

Counting

I was married to Mike 13 years ago yesterday…

This exhilarating event occurred one year and three months after I met Mike in May of 1998. Which, in turn, occurred one year after I’d graduated from Hiram College.

I was widowed over 11 years ago April 14th…

My world was rocked and I was alone on September 11th, almost 11 years ago.

I moved to Colorado 9 years ago last January…

I returned to Ohio 8 years ago this August…

I bought a house in Stow in May 7 years ago.

I bought my first road bike in July 6 years ago and used cycling to drown the last visages of grief-induced depression for the next several years.

I met Crow 3 years ago at the Lock 29 trailhead on a chilly autumn night when I went there to hike with my fellow bike club members. We somehow got onto the topic of Dr. Who.

One year ago…

I was still coming down from my epic adventure as a U2 tour groupie.

I sat in Uncorked in Roscoe Village (Coshocton, OH) drinking a couple beers with Crow. Sparks flew.

Five months ago, Crow proposed to me the day after my birthday in front of several friends at our beer tasting party.

Two months ago, we bought a house together in the Cuyahoga Valley.

One year from now, I’ll be married a second time for over a month.

13 years from now, Crow and I will be two years from paying off our mortgage (barring no unexpected issues). What will life be like then? I can’t even wager to guess. I’m hoping for the best while gripping the sides of this roller coaster car as tight as I can…. I don’t know what hills lie ahead, what stomach-dropping descents follow, but I sure as hell hope it’s the kind of ride where when I get to the end, I can say, “Wow. That was sometimes terrifying and sometimes fun. But thoroughly worth the ride.”

Letting Go

I’m not a person who likes to hang on to a bunch of things. So far in my life, I’ve confined my personal mementos to three huge Rubbermaid tubs.

The first one contains all of the items from childhood I wished to keep. Girl Scout badges, the sash from my Junior uniform, a Heidi doll my grandma E had and my dad gave me after she died, my high school lettermen jacket (I had an academic letter, proudly earned), the National Honors Society tassel from my high school graduation, the mortar board from my college graduation, the year tassels from both my high school and college graduations. Those are only the things I can think of off-hand… I haven’t looked in there in awhile so I’m not sure what’s there. In one of my moves–before the tub–I lost the folder that contained all of my academic awards, my high school transcript, and various college report cards. I’m still mad about that loss. I ache for it sometimes because I used to call it my “brag folder” and I’d look at it whenever I felt that I was stupid (which is often).

The second tub contains everything of Mike of which I couldn’t part. Again, I haven’t looked in there for awhile but off-hand, I know that it contains the polo shirt he wore the day I met him at a party called Woodchuck in the spring of 1998, a purple silk shirt he used to wear that I loved him in, his boy scout badges, a tie of the Tasmanian Devil (the Warner Brother’s cartoon creature) ripping up computers that I bought him. The guest book from his wake. Some condolence cards, the program from special appreciation service the organ donation place held months later (I donated his eyes and muscle tissue, which were the only parts that could be salvaged at his death).

The third tub contains nicknacks of my first wedding. I know for sure that it contains the card box with all the opened cards within it from our wedding, my bridal bouquet (silk flowers and huge), some framed pictures that people gave us as gifts with meaningful sayings on them that we used to have hanging on our wall because we were romantic that way, a blanket with our names and wedding date embroidered on it that we used to keep on our couch, the guest book (which a lot of people did not sign because it was in a corner of the reception hall no one ventured to) and it corresponding pen. Probably the champagne glasses from our toast (they may be broken by now, I don’t know). There’s probably a few surprises in there as well.

Outside of the Rubbermaid tubs, I also have several shoe boxes full of letters between me and my pen pal, Sarah, with whom I’ve corresponded since we were both 13. In a manic cleaning phase inspired by mom, I threw out the first of those letters back in high school, and I regret it to this day, because now all I have is our correspondence from college on. It would be interesting to go back and read what we wrote about our lives, hopes, and dreams when we were in middle and high school but I no longer have that.

I also have other shoe boxes full of letters between me and my 10th grade English teacher–a man who feels closer to me than family at times–with whom I’ve corresponded since I’ve graduated high school. I’ve never thrown any of those letters out. I learned my lesson.

I’ve kept cards people have sent me for birthdays, Christmas, and other such occasions. I have a teddy bear that my mom got from my grandma H at her baby shower. It’s old and ragged and has been sewn together many, many times, but I can’t let go of it. It comforts me when when I am sad. It has a little music box in its chest that still plays and when I am really, really upset, the music soothes me. Sometimes the music makes me melancholy too. For a past and a life I can’t remember or understand or make sense of.

I have binders full of everything I’ve ever written–grade school assignments, high school papers, college papers, the various novels I wrote in high school (yes, I wrote novels),  little booklets I wrote in grade school, the diaries I kept from second grade through my widowhood. Yes, I was always writing. And the narcissistic artist in me has kept everything with a religious self-importance. I do look at those occasionally for a boost, often impressed with the level of writing I had in even high school. Sometimes I wonder if my fears of rejection have caused my writing to regress. There was an uninhibited quality to my early writing that I lack now. I’m much more restrained. It’s refreshing to be able to look back and see what I was able to create at such a young age. But sad that I let go of all that potential.

I still have my engagement ring and wedding band in my jewelry box. I kick myself because I lost Mike’s ring while playing soccer in Colorado. I wore it for several years because it comforted me but it was too big and slid off my finger a lot. When I lost it, I felt like I’d lost Mike a second time. I wish I’d just kept it in my jewelry box with my rings.

My wedding dress still hangs in my closet, shuffled from various homes and across the country twice.  I keep thinking I’m going to sell it, but then I never get around to putting it up on Craigslist or eBay. Part of me thinks I should sell it, or give it away, and the other part of me wants to have it boxed to keep. But I feel guilty for wanting to keep a dress that I only wore once. Someone out there may want a slightly used dress and it could bring her good luck. Soon enough I’ll have a second wedding dress to add… and I’ll want to keep that too…

I feel guilty for hanging onto so much stuff, though. What use is this stuff if you don’t look at it or use it at all? I have not looked in the wedding or Mike tubs in a long time because sometimes it just makes me sad to root through them. I rarely look at the tub filled with my childhood stuff, either. Yet, I think I take comfort in knowing those things are there.

Still, lately, in preparing for my move to the dream house with Crow, I’ve started to consider going through those tubs and weeding out the less important items–those things that I feel less attached to. Maybe I can combine the wedding and the Mike tubs into one. Do I really need some of those things? I know, for example, that I cannot part with the polo shirt that Mike wore the day I met him. The boy scout badges, however, I may be willing to part with… And I have someone in mind to ask if he wants them… There may be other things I feel less attached to now that time has passed. And I’m impressed that I’m even considering it. Had anyone suggested I get rid of these things years ago, I would have screamed in protest. How can you make me let go of my past, I’d have cried.

The thing is, I’m slowly coming to realize that the most important pieces of my past are actually always with me: my memories of the past. Barring I don’t develop some horrible mind-debilitating disease, no one can take my memories from me. When I write down my memories, as I have done in the past with diaries, I keep them even more alive. With time, memories get bent and skewed a little; writing can keep memories more true to their original form. I used to keep journals for myself mostly… with a slight narcissistic thought that someone would read them after I die and think I’m brilliant. Ha.

It’s not that I feel like Crow has replaced Mike in any sense of the word. But it’s really strange–and I know a fresh widow will hate me for saying this–that part of me wants to really let go of Mike a little more. I mean, you know, Mike will always have a piece of my heart. And there’s nothing wrong or dysfunctional in acknowledging that. I still miss him sometimes. But I say without feeling any societal pressure that it somehow suddenly seems healthy to let go of some of those physical things that represent him… The amazing thing about all of this is that I came to this conclusion on my own. It’s a surprising contrast to the way I felt right after Mike died, or even five or six years ago. I’d get upset if I read other widows talking as I am now or if a family member would even suggest it. But feelings change slowly. I think the most important thing a person can do is wait until they are ready to let go. It can’t be forced or premature.

I feel guilty for hanging on to too much physical stuff that I’m not using. I think that if I look through the tubs, I can find things that just don’t mean as much to me as they once did. Things I can live without. There are other things I know I can’t live without. So somewhere in the middle is a compromise. I’m ready to make that compromise.

11 Years Later

It has not missed my attention that April 14th—the anniversary of my first husband’s death–was this past weekend.

It’s so easy to forget sometimes that I had this other life. The tears are dry. The grief has subsided. The anger is gone. Mostly. I remember things we did together, places we went, things we said. But sadly, those memories are almost as fogged over as the ones I have of being in high school—just distant remembrances that float to the top of my memory from time to time when something familiar triggers it. Despite how much I do bring up Mike in conversation with people, my memory of him has turned to a shadow, frozen forever in time at the age of 32. This is exactly what I was afraid would happen. I suppose it’s just natural to forget the details in time. Normal. Healthy. But I still feel a little guilty.

I will never forget April 14th, though. The shock and horror will remain etched in my mind’s eye as a reminder of how quickly everything can go so wrong. I think that watching someone you love die is probably the hardest experience a person can have. It has an effect on you that can’t be erased. But it taught me something too. Every second in life counts. Live each one of them to the fullest. And I feel in these past eleven years–at least in the last five years–I’ve adopted this philosophy as I’ve let nothing stop me from going to the places I’ve wanted to go, doing the things I’ve wanted to do.

Sudden change is not always bad. Eight months ago, I fell in love with a friend–a guy I’d known for 3 or 4 years, with whom I’d ridden on club rides. When I gave him a chance, we both learned we were very compatible. Last month, we decided to get married. We’ve started that process of making financial decisions, looking for our together house, planning a wedding. Things are happening so fast. Like they did that first time. What a ride. In the blink of an eye–from good to bad, to better, to good again. Life’s a constantly moving wheel of fortune.

How does it feel going through the motions a second time around? I have to admit it’s a little strange. I try to suppress the waves of deju vu that surface on occasion. Didn’t I do this before? Didn’t I think this would be the last time, just as I’m thinking this is the last time as we make our plans? The relationship is different, the person I’m with is different; hell, I’m even different. But some parts of it are similar enough to remind me of the first time.

I’ve been struggling to adjust my verbiage after I referred to “my husband” in a conversation with Crow. He rightfully pointed out that soon he would to be my husband. It was like stating the obvious, but I needed that jolt of reality because it hadn’t even occurred to me that when I am married again, I can’t use the term “husband” to refer to both Mike and Crow. So my brain has to learn a new term. I never liked the term “late husband”–just what is he late for? If you’re waiting for him to come, he’ll always be late!—so I’ve always referred to Mike as simply my husband in conversation. It sometimes caused people to ask questions, assuming that my husband was alive, but I preferred it to the plea of sympathy that referring to a late husband seemed to provoke. I’m now teaching myself to call him my first husband. Because that’s what he was. Alive or dead.

I hope that Crow is my last and final husband. In that case, he will always be “my husband.” Trying that term on a new face feels a little strange. But yet, no stranger that it felt the first time I ever got to use it in a sentence to describe my relationship to someone I loved. I’m adjusting to “fiance.” It makes me giggle the way it did the first time. I’m engaged. Again.

I always thought that when I got married again, I’d do something so utterly different that it would not even look the least bit similar to the first wedding. I think this was mostly a grief-driven reaction. I was afraid of a second wedding eclipsing the first, erasing that part of my history. Not only did I fear that people would compare a second wedding to the first—perhaps liking it better—but I was afraid I would. I didn’t know then how to separate one from the other because, frankly, I couldn’t even anticipate that I would or could love someone as much as I loved Mike.

It’s a cliché, but time heals all wounds. It leaves scars. But it heals. And as time anesthetized my pain, my heart grew larger and new chambers opened up to receive new possibilities. And there he was. And now I can see what I couldn’t see before: Love does not compare! Mike and Crow are two completely different people and, while my capacity to love them is similar, there is no way, ever, that I could or would even think to compare one to other. If I have a grand ceremony with Crow (as we are currently planning), it will not lessen one bit the wedding or marriage I had with Mike. They are two completely different events in my life. I can separate and compartmentalize. It’s not even a chore, it just happens.

I hope other people who have been in my life have the same capacity to separate me with Mike from me with Crow. Sometimes when planning aspects of our wedding, I worry that someone in my audience—who will have witnessed both weddings—will compare and find they prefer the first wedding. Or they prefer the first groom. I’m afraid they will think, “Well, that was nice. But not as nice as her wedding to Mike.” As if other people’s judgement of my love for someone has any reflection on our feelings for each other. Why should I even care what other people think? Maybe I’m afraid they won’t give Crow a chance. I feel enormous pressure to impress upon my audience that this love is just as important as the first. I don’t know why I feel I have to prove anything. But I do.

I regret that my grandma H is no longer alive to meet Crow. Some part of me wishes for her approval too. I want her to meet my love, the way I wanted her to meet and approve of Mike so long ago. I’m sad that neither grandma E or grandma H are alive to witness my wedding as as they were present the first time. I want them there to see me happy again (though Grandma E died two months before Mike so she never knew what I went through).

I won’t lie, I’m a little scared. When I let go, I feel again those glimmers of hope and excitement for the future that is not yet written—trips we plan to take, the house we plan to buy, the life we want to build together. I remember feeling this way before and I’ll never forget how that ended. There’s trepidation, for sure. As I’ve said here on this blog a hundred times, life does not always work out the way you planned it. But do I have any regrets about the past? Not when it comes to having loved Mike. We made the most of the time we had together. I know this is all any of us can do. And I will make the most of the time Crow and I have together. I pray that this time Fate won’t let me down.

Santa Claus

I was crushed when I was told, in 3rd grade, that Santa Claus was not real. I wasn’t ready for that information. Some older boys down the street from me cruelly planted the idea in my head on a walk home from school.

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

“Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?”

“Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?” they demanded amidst knowing, malicious snickers.

I shook my head confidently after each question. I was no fool.

“It’s your mom!” the boys exclaimed after each question in a voice that mocked my confidence.

Still, I refused to believe it. I’d thought I’d seen the light of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’s nose in the night. I’d sworn I’d awoken to the bells of Santa’s sleigh in the dark of the early hours of Christmas morning. I used to panic on the way home from my Grandma H’s on Christmas Eve night, afraid that Santa would come to our house and, since we weren’t sleeping, would pass us by. I think my parents used to threaten us with that very scenario to get us to go to bed immediately when we got home. It worked. I would pull the covers over my head and make myself fall asleep no matter how excited I was.

It never once occurred to me that Santa Claus–or any of the other magical entities of holidays and lost teeth–were not real. It seemed absurd that my mom and dad would fool us by telling us about Santa Claus, and then placing the gifts under the tree themselves posing as Santa. I had never even hypothesized such a scenario.

Still, I asked my mom. And she told me the truth. All of it.

I cried. Hard. The tears burned my face and my heart throbbed in utter disappointment. I did not want this knowledge. I was not ready for this knowledge. I liked to believe in magic. And now the magic was gone. I’m pretty sure that that’s about the time that my faith in all magic started to disintegrate… The downward spiral away from God, religion, an afterlife that permeated my adolescent and early adult years. It was a little death in my heart.

My brother walked into the room after my mom regretfully told me the truth about Santa. She had told me that I had to keep pretending about Santa because my brother was still younger and believed. I didn’t want to ruin it for him too, now did I? She tried to put a positive spin on this “coming of age moment” by telling me that it was now my responsibility to help her keep up the fun for my brother until he was ready to learn the truth.

My brother wondered why I was crying. I suddenly felt very sympathetic towards him–he still believed in the magic that I now knew was not real–and I wished I could be in his place. I put my arms around him, hugged him tight. My mom grimaced, afraid I might let out the secret like those idiot boys down the street had done. But no. I was not about to ruin anyone else’s fun. I hugged my brother right and asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him this year. Even though I think it was early spring at the time, not Christmas time at all. I wanted to believe the words myself. Maybe if I pretended, it could still be real.

I don’t know when my brother learned the truth about Santa. But I kept up the spirit for years until “Santa Claus” stopped appearing in the From spot on the present tags. And when my brother stopped hurrying to bed on Christmas Eve night, I knew he knew. But we never discussed it. I’m pretty sure he probably took it better than I did. I’ve always been the one with the wild imagination, the one who liked to pretend, the one unable to accept reality even in the face of it.

I was reminded of this story a few nights ago when I watched the movie The Polar Express for the first time. In the scene where the little boy finds the bell that falls from Santa’s sleigh, and he hears it ringing as he picks it up, I started crying. I was really surprised by my reaction. I’ve cried in movies before–most recently, during any movie involving the death of a character as my widow senses always tingle with all-too-real memory to augment any fiction–but never before have I cried the kind of tears that pushed themselves from my eyes when I watched that movie.

I felt my heart swell with a sort of melancholic relief because the little boy in the movie finds proof that Santa is real. Because I want to believe that Santa is real. I could feel the words forming in my head even as the boy said them, “I believe! I believe in Santa Claus.” And at the same time, the adult me who knows that Santa isn’t real felt a sort of sympathy with the character, similar to the way I felt when I knew my brother still believed in Santa and I’d been told the truth.

The tears just kept coming. My face was wet and I was embarrassed. I hurriedly tried to wipe them away before Crow could see them, but he caught them anyway. “It’s okay,” he said. But I still felt a little stupid.

It’s a beautiful movie, really. We rewatched it again last night and the same thing happened. I just couldn’t control the tears. Some little girl inside me relates to this movie. She still wants to believe. She wants to completely accept the premise of the movie. She is found in the spirit of those characters.

My eyes remained wet through the remaining scenes of the movie, as these incredibly cute and realistic-looking children emoted about their experiences, said their goodbyes, and returned to normal life after their visit to the North Pole. I felt sorry for the little boy’s parents on Christmas morning because they could not hear the bell and thought it was broken. I knew I was like the parents. But I wanted to be like the little boy and his sister who could hear the bell and knew it was not broken.

In the end, the boy narrates that each of his friends stopped hearing the bell as they grew up… but that he always heard the bell for the rest of his life because of his experience at the North Pole. He never stopped believing. The tears flooded from my eyes again. I couldn’t stop them. I believe! I believe! a little voice in my head kept shouting. A little piece of my heart that was broken suddenly felt fixed. If you believe in anything enough, could it then come true?

Oh, how I wish… Oh, how I hope…

Arthritis

I woke up last Thursday (the 19th) with tear-inducing pain in my shoulder and the back of my neck which ran down my arm. I may have alluded to this in the previous entry about my U2 concert. Anyway, I innocently figured I’d slept on my neck wrong. I took a few ibuprofen and went on with my day hoping it would get better.

It didn’t. Friday it was about the same. I kept stretching in my chair at work, pulling my arm over the back of my head–as this seemed to make my arm feel better–but I just couldn’t clear it. As the day wore on, it felt a little better. However, I woke Saturday morning–the day of the concert–with an even more intense level of pain. Every time I bent over, a red hot pin of pain stabbed me in the middle of my shoulder and neck. There was a point as I was changing into my clothes for the day that I felt tears well up in my eyes. Oh, crap, I thought. Not on the day of my U2 concert.

Fortunately, it again got better as the day wore on, except some time after I was laying on my thermarest on the ground in the GA line. I could feel some pain radiating like a pool in the middle of my right shoulder. I promptly sat up and it felt better. I took more ibuprofen and decided that the rest of my time in the GA line would be spent upright.

I did experience some pain during the concert. A few times when I wanted to see what was going on on the screen above my head, I had to hold the back of my head with my hand so that it had something to rest on. I’m sure people thought I was just trying to hold my hat in place, thankfully. But the truth is, I felt like I was trying to hold my head in place, as if it was on the verge of becoming unhinged. It was hard to pump my right arm in the air during Where The Streets Have No Name. I felt a little bit stiff for an audience participant.

Anyway, the pain was still there Sunday–my arm most particularly feeling as though it had a constant Charley Horse from the top to the elbow–and it made for the most uncomfortable plane ride home. I’ve never been so antsy in my seat because I couldn’t find a comfortable position in which to put my arm to make the pain stop.

The pain was still there Monday. And Tuesday morning, I couldn’t lift myself from bed–I had to roll out. That’s when I’d decided to call the doctor. This had gone on long enough! I was worried that I’d slipped a disc, which in turn made me fear that I might have to have surgery, which finally led to a panic that I wouldn’t be able to see my remaining U2 shows. (I sure have my priorities straight!) Suddenly this pain was not only making me feel miserable, it was complicating my mobility, my life.

The doctor ordered some x-rays and gave me some muscle relaxants. I ended up having to take the day off of work because by the time I was done with the doctor (couldn’t get an appointment before 11:15 and, of course, she was 45 minutes behind so I didn’t get in right away though I arrived early) and the x-rays, it was 2:30 and it just seemed stupid to try to go into work at that point. Besides, the pain was pretty bad. I could only sit in one specific–very upright–position and each time I wandered out of position, pain shot through my shoulder and neck. Ugh.

Since Tuesday, the pain started reducing a little each day with a help of the muscle relaxants and more ibuprofen (I totally refused the narcotics she offered me to help with the pain as I hate those). My panic started to subside a little. Of course, I had to wait days before the doctor called me with the prognosis. On Friday afternoon, when she at last got back to me, I learned that I have arthritis of the cervical spine; more specifically, C5 & C6, C6 & C7.

Not a slipped disc, thankfully. But still kind of frightening to me. In the sense that I no longer feel like the invincible force of nature I thought I was. I’m pretty sure this flare up was instigated by TOSRV. I spent a majority of the second day of the ride in my drops (lowest position of the handlebar) single-handedly battling the wind. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time in my drops, not even last year when I battled the 20-30mph wind gusts on that ride. I guess I figured with that ride that it didn’t matter how low I rode, I was not going anywhere quickly.

I’ve experienced issues with my right shoulder from cycling for several years. Never this bad. But usually at the start of the season, I would experience pain in the middle of my shoulder after rides. Sometimes mid-season, I’d feel it if I did a lot of climbing. I think my posture on the bike favors the right side of my body somehow, but I haven’t been able to figure out just what I’m doing to cause this imbalance. Maybe I’m pulling or holding tighter to the handlebars on that side? Or my body leans to one side? I don’t know. But it’s probably not coincidence that it’s also my right knee with which I’ve had problems (remember XOBA?).

I’m feeling a bit demoralized. As I write this entry, I still am not healed enough to ride my bike. The weather for the coming week is supposed to finally be dry. I’m supposed to be leading a bike ride for my club on Memorial Day. I’m still leading it, in the sense that I will be showing up to the starting point with route maps, however, I will not be riding it. Even if I am healed enough to attempt a ride by Monday, it would be pushing it to throw myself back into 55 miles. I’d risk re-injury.

I suddenly felt old being given a diagnosis of arthritis. I mean, I know people of all ages have problems with arthritis. Yet. I’ve never had problems like this before. It’s hard to imagine myself as anything but unbreakable. Now I feel as though some limits have been imposed on me. Will I ever be able to ride 150 or more in one day again? Will I be able to do a two-day 100-mile/day ride like TOSRV again? Am I going to join the ranks of those people who can’t ride a road bike anymore because they are unable to retain the hunched position? Am I going to have to go back to riding hybrid bikes–those slow, heavy contraptions that immediately label you as a casual rider?

I hope this is merely a small bump in the road for my cycling, not an impassible road block. Cycling is one of the physical activities I love most. I don’t know what else I would do for exercise. I hate running (which presents its own problem, such as knee injury). I’m not the type to work out in a gym. I’m sure rowing has the same potential for triggering my arthritis. Without exercise, I become a very depressed person who worries even more incessantly about her weight.

I guess I will speak to a physical therapist and see what kinds of things I can do–exercises–to help avoid another flare-up like this. I guess I have to consider some herbal supplements or something. I can move my handlebars up a bit–I had an adjustable piece put in last year because of the smaller shoulder problems I was having. I should consult some specialists who fit people for bikes to see if they can figure out what is wrong with my posture so that I can adjust accordingly. I really don’t want to lose the one activity I really enjoy for everything–managing my depression, physical fitness, helping the environment by using a bike as alternative to driving.

I’m only 36. So I know I’m not old. But I can’t help but feel old. Physical limitations, in my mind, have always been for the old. When listening to others’ talk about their physical issues, I’ve always separated myself from them, thinking that I was different, I was strong, I was indestructible. I guess there’s still some naivety of youth in me–that part that thinks I’m somehow different than every other human body on the planet. This recent flare up of arthritis has reminded me, much as Mike’s death told me, that I’m just flesh, bone, and blood like everyone else. I’m not some special super-human thing impervious to injury or even death. I can push myself too far and I can hurt. I can push myself too far and ruin for myself the one activity I do that makes me feel alive, keeps me healthy, and wards off depression.

Taking it easy is not my way. I just don’t know how to relax. When I ride my bike up a hard hill, I want to attack. Always attack. I never take things easy, slow. I run at life with my head tucked down, ready to hit the wall as hard as possible in hopes that I can knock it over. I’m not a planner, I’m a doer. I’m having enough trouble keeping off my bike enough to let myself heal in the first place.

I took a hike in the Cuyahoga Valley today–the first time in a long time. But it didn’t satisfy me despite the beautiful weather and all the warm smells of nature. I wanted to be speeding down some road with my legs spinning to the speed of the thoughts in my head. I wanted to feel the wind in my face. I wanted to climb some obnoxious hill. I feel so heavy and bloated due to lack of exercise. Walking in the woods was just not going to do it for me.

There’s a voice in my head that keeps saying, Maybe you can ride to work next week. Over and over, it prays. I feel left behind. A pathetic 700+ miles to my name in May when last year I was already about 1500 miles in. I think that this is going to be a low mileage year. And I’m going to have to change my approach to exercise or I’m going to end up ruining myself so that I can’t do the thing I love most. It’s time to take a step back, analyze the situation, and for the first time create a wiser plan of attack…

Reflections

Life is short. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. ~ U2, from the live versions of “Moment of Surrender.”

It’s a strange thing to be able to tick off parts of your life in decades. I’m just getting used to that. I’ve known my best friend, Melissa, and dear friend, Sarah, for over two decades. I graduated from high school nearly two decades ago; college, nearly a decade and a half. All of this is so much more time than the 12 years I spent in school, from age 5 through 18, which seemed like the longest period of my life. I don’t know what strange warping of time occurs as you get older, but the days speed by fast. These days run away like horses over the hill… –U2, “Dirty Day,” a song that defined my feelings the summer between graduating high school and beginning college. Still truer today than ever.

Ten years ago, I was widowed. A decade. A lot has happened since I was 26. I’ve fulfilled a few lifelong dreams: I went to Germany and Amsterdam in 2005–a trip Mike and I had one day planned to do–and I revisited Europe two years later to tour Italy. I’ve taken up cycling–become quite the fanatic, putting between 2,000 and 4,500 miles per year since 2007. I’ve skied new places–Utah, Whistler. I’ve been in four romantic relationships. I’m not stagnant. Far from it, in fact, because losing Mike taught me to appreciate what days I do have here, to live for the moment, and to do what I want to do NOW instead of putting it off for a future I can’t promise myself will be there. I’ve continued the lessons Mike taught me about loving life. I’ve taken life by the horns and wrestled with it. What he taught me has meant more in his absence than it did when we were together. Because I’ve had more time by myself than I did with him. But his lessons were lasting. I love him for what he taught me about life–both in the way he lived his life and in his much too early death.

I guess it’s hard to believe that a monumental “anniversary” like ten years would go by without much of a pinch to my emotions. I went into the day not expecting much. I didn’t pressure myself to emote, like I tried to do last summer in celebrating the anniversary of our wedding. (I surely didn’t need another cut chin and poison sumac, ha ha!) Fortunately, the day brought a lot of distraction–a full day of work followed by a company meeting and dinner. I did observe a day of internet silence (which I only broke with a few quick posts to the U2 forum–my one allowable exception.) I did this mainly to avoid writing anything depressing if such a compulsion came over me. Which it didn’t. Still, it was refreshing to take a break from the internet again, much like I did on my vacation in Whistler. It forced me to think. Like a moment of silence held in respect.

I got home around 7:30 or 8pm. I lit a candle on my dining room table and did some writing (in my novel, not memoir-related) while listening to a U2 bootleg. I allowed myself to break my weekday fast from alcohol to have one beer. I smoked the last cigarette in a pack of cloves my best friend sent me a few Christmases ago. I’d been slowly working my way through them. I wanted to swear that I would never smoke again, in memory of Mike, but I realized as smoked that last one that it was a promise I’m not 100% sure I can keep. (I’m not a regular smoker these days–I just have one or two on occasion, maybe once a month, which is how it’s been since college with an exception of a year or two when I was grieving heavily and didn’t care. Still, I know I should stop completely. I just like the way it feels, tastes. But it’s one pleasure I really need to quit for longevity and the fact that I have asthma. I know, please don’t waste your typing with admonishments. My conscience is noisy enough.)

I will try harder to keep that promise, though. Mike never liked it when I smoked. And I couldn’t keep it from him–he always sniffed it out on me–and when I tried to get around that by taking a shower whenever I returned home after having one, he grew naturally suspicious. I wondered vaguely if I should use his guilt to stop. Maybe look at the picture of him that I still keep in my wallet (with my Grandma H’s prayer card) every time I think of having one. If only to remember that the land of Death where I’d like to meet him is not a place I want to go for a long, long time.

Anyway, I know it sounds dramatic. But I was just taking it easy. I didn’t feel anything, and I didn’t expect to feel anything. Life goes on. Still, it did feel like the end of something.

A few weeks prior to the 14th, I had what I’m now thinking of as my last fit. I had drunk a little too much (which rarely happens anymore) and it was late on a Friday night. I was jamming to U2 (some bootleg) as I’m wont to do when I’ve overindulged, and I was smoking one of the few remaining cigarettes in that pack. I stood on my back patio, looking out into the yard. My normal ritual was to try to provoke Mike’s ghost. I’ve done it a lot of times when stressed. I’ll just start saying (usually not aloud), “C’mon, Mike, if you’re still out there, show me a sign.” I keep hoping for thunder cracks or shooting stars or falling tree limbs. That night I kept thinking about white squirrels, remembering the time that we saw one run across some lonely back road in South Carolina on our way to the highpoint in November 1999. I thought about a white squirrel and begged to see one as a sign. I threatened that I would never quit smoking if I didn’t see a sign. I was pulling out all sorts of stops. Pleading to night. Insisting that if I saw just one sign of life after death it would change my life forever.

Of course, as usual, all I got was silence in response. Not even crickets since it’s still too early for their song to fill the night. I guess some people would not take this as a definitive sign that there’s nothing more to life than what we experience, but the old atheist in me came running back to its comfort zone of disbelief. I’ve always been sure that knowing how much I need proof, surely someone who loved me–Mike or my grandma H–would have given me a sign to let me know everything is okay after death. This girl cannot live on faith alone.

Something changed in me that night. I decided I was done pleading for signs. I realized how ridiculous it was. I mine as well wish to win the lottery so that I can support myself and spend my days writing. I am finally ready to just continue to deal with the unknown as unknown as it is. I think, too, I lost a little bit of my make-believe faith that night. My agnost-o-meter now leans a little bit to the atheistic left again.

Maybe that’s what happens when you reach a decade after the loss of someone. You finally realize all the answers you were hoping you’d somehow get are really not ever going to be answered. You accept that what is, is. And it’s been that way for a long time now. It’s like I finally snapped out of a spell. Reality.

So by the time the 14th rolled around, I was already feeling as though I’d stepped across some line. I’d had an epiphany. Now what?

Time moves forward. Memory fades. The love remains in my heart, surfacing every once in awhile when I watch a sad movie or a song on the radio provokes a memory. I am thankful that I no longer feel as tortured as I did in 2001, or as lost as I was in 2002-2004, or as angry as I was in 2004-2006. After having at last moved through all the stages of grief, I’ve spent the last several years reshaping my life into something new. I’m whole again. But I’m not the same girl I was at 26. Or even 24 before I met Mike. I’m something wholly new at 36. And it’s good. If not slightly jaded. But with jaded comes some self-protection too, which I didn’t have when I was 24.

I know that I’m complete by the fact that I’m not even actively searching to date anyone. I just don’t care, really, if I ever meet someone to be with again or not. Sure, every once in awhile, I miss the excitement of new romance, intimacy of a relationship, companionship in general. I’ve got my own goals and my own plans for my life. I’m actively pursuing the things I enjoy most–writing, cycling, traveling (in that order)–and I’m happy. The relationship I’ve rebuilt with my parents has made me much emotionally stable than I’ve ever been because I feel supported and loved. I won’t take them for granted any more, that’s for sure. Blood is thicker than anything else on this planet and no matter what a huge asshole I may have been at times, my parents have always been there for me. I love them for who they are and I think they love me back despite the fact that we all know each other’s flaws. Unconditional love. When you have that, you don’t try to seek it in other people who are incapable of giving it to you (i.e., my in-laws).

I guess if I can look back on a tragic event and give it a positive spin, I would have to say that Mike’s death taught me the following three points:

1.) Life is precious. Don’t ever, for a second, waste a moment. Pursue your dreams and make the most of the adventure. We lived this in our lives together and I definitely have lived it in our life apart.

2.) Don’t forget the people in your life who are still alive. Cherish each moment with them. Appreciate the time spent together and make sure you do make time to be with them. Thus why every single one of my Christmas presents to my parents for the last few years have been activities rather than actual physical gifts. Time is more precious than anything you could ever hold.

3.) The mysteries of life don’t get revealed to you just because you beg and bargain with the dead. Regardless of what lies beyond this life (which may be nothing), the one thing I do know is that there is life before death. I’ve got proof of that every day.

Thoughts on 36

While I was on vacation, I turned 36. I’m still in my mid-30s, thankfully. I have one more year before I’m in my “late-30s.” I hate the sound of “late.” It’s like “late husband,” which I never use to describe my relationship to Mike. I always refer to him as my husband, which causes a lot of confusion, but I prefer confusion–and possible uncomfortable explanation–to saying “my late husband” as if I am waiting on his arrival at some event and trying to explain why he is not yet here. It also makes me sound like I’m 80 years old. Women who are in their 30s don’t have late husbands. Most women in their 30s haven’t been widowed.

Heretofore, I was never bothered by age. In fact, I wanted so badly to turn 30 because I thought the decade of my 20s ended rather bad. I wanted a “do-over.” Also, I thought it would gain me some respect to finally not be the youngest person where I worked (which was the case where-ever I worked). I got my do-over, I got my respect. But the sad thing about time is that it continues to pass.

Now I feel a little panicky that I’m running out of time. Those of you out there who are much older than me, I am sure, roll your eyes when you read/hear someone as young as me saying such things. But it’s true. I feel old. At least a decade older than I should. With the 10th “anniversary” (another word I hate in reference to death) of Mike’s death bearing down on me in 14 short days, I’m reminded how unpredictable life is. It’s not something I think about all the time any more, not since I’ve gotten through all those stages of grief, and I’m generally pretty positive about the changes in my life because I’m fulfilling a lot of the things on my unspoken bucket list as far as travel and adventure goes. But every once in a while, I remember my mortality. My birthday and the date Mike died both do that to me.

My panic usually involves thinking about all the stuff I haven’t done, but want to do so badly. Like publish my writing. Not because I want to make money off of it, I just want some recognition. Sure, that’s a little self-serving, but I think most artists are somewhat narcissistic. If we weren’t, no one would publish anything. Art wouldn’t hang in museums. We’d just do our art and keep it to ourselves. Why share it with anyone else? It’s not validation we seek, but to share our experiences with others. To connect. Good art makes someone else feel something. It’s the only way I know in which the human experience can be shared with another person. We love stories because we can experience thoughts and feelings we’ve never had or remember ones we have. We love pictures because we can see places to which we’ve never been. Art, in a way, launches us on great adventures, or takes us to those dark places we are afraid to talk about.

I don’t want to have kids, but I think about the fact that soon I will be unable to have kids. Choice will be removed and I think that’s a bit scary. I’ve always said that if I could live 200 years, I might consider having kids when I’m 100. There always seems to be so many other things I want to do that I can’t do if I had kids. Besides, I barely know enough about life to give anything useful to kids. I wouldn’t want them to be like me–listless, wishy-washy, and afraid to make bold moves. I need 100 years to figure how to do it all right. I need 100 years to do all the things I yearn to do so that I could settle down enough to take care of kids.

The fact that I would probably have kids by now, had Mike not died, does not elude my thoughts either. What a different life I would have had! I can’t lie to myself and say that I didn’t want kids with him, though I do revise that history in my head quite often to make myself feel better. I didn’t want to have kids in my 20s–he had wanted to start right away–but the idea of creating life with the man I loved seemed romantic and I might have done it in my 30s. If he had lived, I would be a different person than I am today. For sure. I may have even been a better person. His influence always made me better, stronger, happier.

When you’re in your 20s, life stretches out endlessly before your eyes. I lost the ability to see an endless horizon the day my husband died–now I merely see the structures 10-20 miles away in the distance. I can only focus on what I know is there, try to reach it, and if I don’t succeed, I focus on a different destination within my sight. I guess it was always that way, but it sure doesn’t seem that way when you’re young. (Probably why I love the name of U2’s album: No Line on the Horizon–that was my sight in my younger years.)

My biological clock is a time capsule I remember contributing to in 6th grade. My class was given a questionnaire to fill out that contained questions concerning what we thought our lives would be like in the year the time capsule was opened (which may have been 10 or 15 years from that time). I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I’m pretty sure at that time I thought I’d be a writer. Or an astronomer. I figured myself to be married, for whatever age I was told I would be when the time capsule was opened, surely it sounded old to me. I know that I have diaries from that time period where I wrote messages to my future husband and kids. I remember writing those as well but I haven’t found the courage to go back and read them. I think they would make me sad. Or embarrassed.

It’s not that I feel old in the sense of body deterioration. I’m as spry as ever, skiing better than I ever have in my life, becoming a much stronger cyclist. No, I feel mentally exhausted at times. Like I can’t figure out how to play this game of life and win. I’m definitely afraid of dying. I worry over getting a cancer diagnosis at least once a week. I think about how I would react if given one. Last month while driving to and from a ski resort, I twice spun out on the highway. Thankfully no one was around for me to hit; however, after each incident, I came through my panic remembering very clearly that I could have died. Sometimes just one wrong decision costs you a life. Like Mike not seeing a cardiologist after the incident in Detroit in which he thought he was having a heart attack.

We make decisions every day that effect the outcome of our lives. I’m always worried about these choices. Did I make the right one? What if my decision to ride my bike to work that day–at the exact time I leave my house–leads to me getting hit by a car? You never know. And while I know clearly that I shouldn’t think this way, I still do. I can’t help it. For years, I thought about every moment of the morning of Mike’s death, wondering what I could have done to change the outcome. And then I always thought about Detroit and how I should have made him see a doctor after he got back from that business trip. I even had dreams about that scenario at night. The mind just wants to fix everything. Fix time. Fix what cannot be fixed.

I guess I thought the 30s would bring back that endless horizon that I saw in my 20s. Maybe because Mike never lived past 32 so the 30s for him will never end. So as I hit my 36th birthday, I realized that time does in fact continue to march on. If I want to accomplish things–such as publication–I need to hit the gas pedal. I don’t have forever. I may not even have a week. I don’t know what I have. I don’t know what choice I will make in the next few hours that will cut short or extend my life. Live every day like it’s my last, right?

Except, well, you know, if I knew it was my last day on earth, I would quit my job. I have enough money saved to live on for a year, so why waste my last days doing something I don’t enjoy? Next, I would book a plane ticket to Europe and just start making my way around the world. I’d write the most amazing travelogue.

What does my plan really say about what I love most in life? Writing, traveling. Incidentally, this is the same plan I have for my life should I come into great wealth somehow. In a world where money didn’t matter at all, where I had some stability that would free me from the worries of paying my mortgage and feeding myself, I would totally just start writing. I’d buy a little condo or something in Colorado and I would spend my days writing. (Of course, skiing and cycling would fit in there too, but my “job” would more or less be writing.) In this case, I could care less about actually getting published, but I would try anyway because it wouldn’t hurt anything except my pride since I wouldn’t need it; I wouldn’t be banking my stability on being able to replace my current means of income with this one. And if I did get published, and I did make money on it, great.

I don’t know how people manage to pursue their dreams without the securities of wealth or the pressure of immanent death bearing down on them. Maybe I’m just not one who is comfortable in risk. I don’t believe in myself enough to take one (I can’t even muster the courage to ask guys I like out). The kinds of risk I’m comfortable taking are ones I find easy–tasks of physical strength like cycling and skiing, exploring the world (even foreign places where I can’t even speak the language), trying exotic food. All of this seems easy compared to pursuing a dream which may be a completely unfulfillable one.

I know I don’t have to quit my job to become a writer. But it’s certainly hard to find the energy and motivation to write after a day of work. During my most potentially productive hours of the day, I’m at the day job. I’m always wanting to write when I’m at work. Ideas flow when they flow. Or maybe they flow because I can’t actually work on my writing. I just end up jotting stuff down on paper and hoping that I remember where that idea was going when I get home. It’s kind of hard to board the inspiration train hours after it’s pulled out of the station.

Turning 36 just makes me feel panicked, out of breath. I don’t think 40 is old, but I also feel that a person who doesn’t do something risky before they are 40 are just never going to get it done. So in a way, I feel like it’s a benchmark to a part of adulthood where you begin to lose your credibility with the world. You’re neither young nor old; you’re a twelder (like a “tweener” is the bridge between childhood and teenage). Artists like U2 peaked long before they were even my age. Do I even stand a chance of success as an artist if I haven’t already done it? Who will pay attention to a dreaming 40-something with an overactive imagination who talks to people in her head that she made up (but whom she thinks are real)? It’s too easy to start coasting through life after awhile. I know; I’ve done it for the last 10 years. Mike’s death admittedly put the brakes on my forward progress.

I hope I have a long life ahead of me. 36 more years would be nice. And maybe 36 more after that. I wish I knew for certain that I’d live that long. I’ve had enough randomness to last a lifetime.

Things aren’t always what they appear

A little Valentine’s Day story for you.

All winter, I obsessed about a ski liftie who worked at the local resort to which I have a season pass. He was cute and about my age. I thought he was flirty. My friends thought he was especially flirty whenever I was around; they swore up and down he did not act the same way with them as he did when I was riding up the lift with them.

So friends to whom I confided this secret lust kept trying to get me to ask him out. Okay, it wasn’t so secret–all my Facebook friends and Twitter followers knew.  Still, I wasn’t about to go asking some guy out with knowing his relationship status beforehand. I don’t like to do anything where I have half a chance of losing before I even have begun. As working as a liftie is an “outside in the cold” sort of activity, he always had gloves on and so I could never see if he had a wedding ring. We did exchange names one of the weekends I was up there. It took four hours of skiing for me to work up the nerve to ask him even that.

Anyway, last weekend, I was at this local resort with my friends. They were egging me on to go ask the guy out to the Winking Lizard with us after skiing. The two girls were even willing to go so far as to go back outside–even though we’d been drinking beer for about three hours–to make one final run on the hill my liftie was working to ask him out. I flat-out refused, even though my two friends were half-way booted up.

Fortunately, one of my girl friends is braver. She instead started fishing around for information from the various employees. A little bit like high school? Probably. But there was no stopping her. She, as well as my other girl friend and their husbands, were convinced this guy liked me.

Anyway, of course, it turns out he’s married. Ha. Figures, right? All I can say is that I felt an utter sense of relief that I never took anyone’s advice and embarrassed myself by asking the guy out!! Can you imagine the humiliation? Now he’ll never have to know I was crushing on him and I can keep going to the resort without suffering embarrassment. This is why I play it safe always. And I wait for guys to ask ME out. I told everyone going into this situation that the fantasy is more fun to live with than the reality. I almost feel kind of sad because the fantasy is gone.

I think this story also goes to prove that no one really knows if someone really means more with their apparent flirting than friendliness. Or if they are even flirting at all (I have my doubts). Like I kept telling my friends, I didn’t think he was interested in me at all; he was simply a really friendly guy. Which is probably what contributed to making him so damned cute. Still. You just can’t go about mistaking friendliness for anything more than friendliness. This is always what got me into trouble when I was in school. I used to have these guy friends, and I would form a crush on them, and then as soon as I told them, they would back off, sometimes even stop talking to me all together. Because I always interpreted their niceness wrong.

But the same has happened to me too. Guy friends have revealed themselves as wanting something more to our relationship. I hate having to turn them down because I know what it feels like to be on the wanting side of the fence. We all get our wires crossed in this big wide world where we’re all trying to find a connection with someone. Most of the time, it just simply doesn’t work out for any of us. It’s very rare when both parties are both available and equally attracted to each other; it’s a mysterious science, an indeterminate chemistry. Sometimes when it all works out, life still has a way of taking it all away. Like what happened with Mike.

Fortunately, I have never felt I needed anyone. I still don’t. And the older I get, the more independent I become, the less I need anyone. I’m becoming set in my ways, less pliable to change. It may be harder for me to live with another person. But who knows. At any rate, it’s not happening any time soon. And I’m okay with that. It’s not stopping me from living.

Today, in memory of the last Valentine’s Day I spent with my one and only soul mate (thus far), I wore the last Valentines gift I received from him–a gold necklace with several little amethyst hearts. Diamonds are overrated, and actually kind of boring. But amethyst… ah, the beauty of purple is divine, royalty! And my husband knew that. I wore the necklace with the set of amethyst earrings my beloved Grandma H gave me some years before in memory of two very important people in my life who regularly indulged my love of purple… Love–romantic or otherwise–is sacred and must be remembered on a day like this. Even if  this “holiday” is just a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money…. We don’t need just one a day a year to declare our love for one another; we have 365 days a year to do that.

Of course a single person would say that.

Eh, well, I tried.