The Headache

Dear M,

I woke up at 3 a.m. with an “I miss you” headache. Early onset of the same headache that landed me in Sibley Memorial Hospital ER 16 years ago. iMac was one, Butter was just an untestable dweller in my belly. You were an international project manager on an international project. In the ER my electrolytes had been balanced. The toradol kicked in. The pregnancy test came back negative(in error). The ER doc came to have a little chat with me. Stress was the cause of my headache and it wasn’t a migraine. It was a tension headache. He inquired about your whereabouts and suggested that the treatment for my headaches would be you coming home. You weren’t as excited about the treatment plan. After months of conflict and some marriage counseling we settled on a plan for being together overseas. We just needed the right opportunity to present itself. It seemed an untenable situation and then turned into the time of my life. I look back and see it as preparation for us being apart now. Training to remind me of situations that from one angle seemed impossible and then turned possible. Also to remind me of how good it feels to be free.

That is the exciting thing about taking up running at 51 and about 30 pounds over my optimal weight. It seemed impossible, but now on week 7 of my training I can jog for 25 minutes without taking a break. It gives me hope. The impossible seems possible.

I look back at our marriage and I see my mistakes. I see me ignoring, dismissing me and my dreams to make yours come true. I see that lots of other people saw it too. I’m chagrined. I know what a fool I must look like. I am grateful for those who didn’t say “I told you so” and stuck with me in spite of my decisions. Your mistakes I could see clearly all along, as is the case for most wives. Now I see mine too. I still think it’s true that if I had broken more than your favorite wooden spoon, if I had gotten furious and left, you wouldn’t have been able to meet me in the middle. You loved me, and I loved you, that I do know. Compromise wasn’t in your lexicon, just winning. Marriage was at it’s best joy and belonging; and at it’s worst excruciating and suffocating. If I had left, you know I would have brought you back when the melanoma came back. I would have taken care of you until the end. Then the kids would have had divorced parents and a dead Dad. I couldn’t betray the family we had created. It meant more to me than I meant to me.

Tonight I watched Dunkirk with the boys and thought of you and how much you would have enjoyed watching with us. Maybe you did watch with us. Last night I came home from work to find that Butter had applied four pieces of duct tape to the garage door. I think of it as your door because it is the way you always entered the house. It started opening or blowing open on its own soon after you died. After a few months it stopped opening on its own. Then on my first day back to work after Christmas, with the boys home on their own, Butter reported that it was opening non- stop. Just you hanging with your boys over the holidays as you always loved to do.

Love you lots,

S

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The Second December

Dear M,

This is the second December without you, although it feels like the first. Last December MK and Sara put up my decorations. I barely remember the holidays. Lots of Christmas cards came. Condolence cards were rolling in simultaneously. I know I never opened all the condolence cards, but I still have them. There may be some 2016 Christmas cards yet unopened. This year the tree is in the living room, but I haven’t put the lights up yet. Tomorrow. I went to church without crying for the first time last Sunday. I’m going back tomorrow, after my run. More on that later. Mostly I have avoided church. A lot of fakery is required to get through any public appearance. I find it’s best to keep the grief under wraps because it looks a lot like crazy. Depression and anxiety have walked a long side me as long as I can remember. I didn’t have words for them until I was close to 30. When grief came along depression and anxiety got all excited. Finally someone had come to their party. They’d met before, but it had been a good 18 years since they had such a big get together as this one.

There have been big developments. Developments that may help me get a few steps ahead of all three of my uninvited companions. Butter and I ran a Festival of Lights 5k. I started training 4 weeks before the event, having not run since I was 20 years old and 32 pounds lighter. It was awesome. I ran the first two miles without stopping! I had not done that yet even in training. Everyone had jingle bells on their shoes. The streets were lined with luminaries. There were even some dogs running, and lots of strollers. It was 47 degrees, which is crazy ridiculous for Florida. We saw one of Butter’s cross country coaches there too. We are going to sign up for another one in February.

I shopped for stocking stuffers for the boys, thinking of what you would get them. You always did a great job with Christmas shopping for them. Oh!, do you remember the Christmas right before we moved to Baku? We shopped at Sullivans. I think my Mom shopped at Sullivan’s Toy Store when I was little and we lived in the city. It was snowing. We were about to go on our big adventure with our beautiful baby boys ages 1 1/2 and 3 1/2.

Miss you my dear.

Love,

S

Thanksgiving Again

Dear M,

How did it get to be Thanksgiving already? Less emotionally grueling for me this year. Actually not grueling at all this year, a pleasant surprise. We went to MK and Alan’s again this year, hard to resist, two blocks away, delicious and friends since we moved here 11 years ago. We brought two vegetable dishes: balsamic green beans and a butternut squash, rainbow Swiss chard gratin. I️ think you would have liked the gratin, a little unusual, but even the kids liked it. You would have found the balsamic green beans too trendy, but I️ have found that the kids will eat pretty much anything that has balsamic vinegar in it or on it. You would have loved the deep fried turkey and the stuffing too. I’m imagining that in Heaven there is either an unlimited buffet with no weight gain or simply no desire for food.

Tonight I️ grilled marinated chicken breasts and made roasted vegetables in the oven. I’m branching out in the cooking department, having been used to having you cook for 18 years. The kids think I’m an awesome cook, but then I’m all they’ve got. You would be a little jealous. It seems it is not the classic French cooking of Julia Childs or modern French cooking of Jacques Pepin they desire. Instead it is the recipes gathered at the last moment from the internet by Mom that have captivated them.

I️ also started running if you could call it that. I’m doing Couch Potato to 5K. Tomorrow starts Week 3, which is actually a record for me. I’ve never made it to Week 3 in my previous attempts. I️ signed Butter and I️ up for a holiday themed 5 K in December, to keep his enthusiasm for Cross Country going in the off season.

Last weekend was so beautiful. iMac’s school marching band performed their half time show, titled Jack, for the last time. They placed seventh in the state band competition, which was a huge leap for them from last year when they tied for twelfth(last). I️ just can’t put into words the beauty of iMac’s flute solo. It is courage and sorrow and beauty bound together.

I️ have missed you lots this weekend. I️ have so enjoyed being home with the boys. We watched a movie last night, Hell or High Water. Catchy title huh? The title betrays the depth of the movie, a modern western. All three of us enjoyed it. Christmas shopping without you is challenging. All year you would have been collecting and jotting down book and movie titles. You would read reviews in the Economist and The Week. You would scour best book lists in the LA Times and the New York Times. You would read about all the books nominated for the Man Booker prize. You would email old friends from college, your published writer friends, and your English literature teacher friends. Then the treasure of books would arrive. All three of you would read them and talk over the intricacies of the books. As far as I’ve gotten is to order them each a Kindle reader on sale. Their kindle fires have long ago lost their battery lives. Now my amateur hunt for books begins.

That’s all for now. Love you lots,

S

Cool Night Letter

Dear M,

The weather is perfect for me right now, just a bit crisp at night, sunshine and 70’s in the daytime. The fall has been busy and amazing. So much to share with you, still somewhat disbelieving you are not here with me to experience this life. IMac got his license. Butter has his learner’s permit. imac applied to and was accepted at the college of his choosing, not a fancy college like yours, but one of his choosing. IMac is having a stellar fall in the marching band. They won their first ever band competition in the history of the school. Butter set his alarm for 5 am 4 days a week for 3 1/2 months to get up and go running with the XC team at school. You would delight in it all.Yesterday our sweet pup, Murphy, celebrated her first birthday. Love you and miss you.

XO

S

They say it’s your birthday

Dear M,

It is your birthday today, our first without you. My college friend Lisa has been sending snail mail to me daily for the last week. Raining down on me like birthday confetti, each envelope with a surprise, a pink paper heart, a comic strip clipped from the paper. It makes my heart happy. You know how I love snail mail. In celebration of your birthday I thought about what you would do on this day. Mainly you would want to hang out with iMac and butter. You loved to share books and movies with them. I picked a movie I thought you would like: Catch Me if You Can with Tom Hanks and Leonardo Di Caprio. I brought dinner from Chik Fil A. We watched the first half of the movie tonight and we’ll watch the second tomorrow or Thursday. iMac got to see Christopher Walken and began to understand why I was opposed to naming a child Christopher. Christopher was tops on your list when we were picking names for our baby boys, but I just couldn’t do it because images of Christopher Walken kept coming to mind. I find him rather creepy. Cha has just hopped in into bed and Murph is in her crate. I’ll sign off because I have an early wake up tomorrow, 4:30 am.

Lots of love to you on your birthday,

S

Hurricane Irma Letter

Dear M,

I hope this doesn’t become a regular thing, hurricane letters. I remember sitting on the couch with you talking about hurricanes. You said if Jacksonville gets hit with a Category 5 it will flood from the beach all the way to the St Johns. Irma was a category one when it got here 3 days ago. Downtown Jacksonville is still flooded. IMac and Butter filled 50 additional sandbags for me. Miraculously the water level only came up to the first layer of sandbags. In some neighborhoods whole houses filled with water.

I’m thinking of Idaho. I’ve never been there, but it seems sufficiently inland. Thinking back to my late 30’s when we were in Baku. A sparkle of a dream started there. When I think about becoming a nurse practitioner I don’t think about working in a Minute Clinic at CVS. I think about being in the foreign service and working in a US embassy. In the dream you are retired but tag along. Smaller dreams are getting enough sleep, exercising, having time to read a book or have coffee with a friend, losing my grief fat.

Cha started sleeping in our bed again during the hurricane. Time to stay close to Mom I suppose. I switched my white noise maker from Summer Nights to Thunderstorm. That sounds insignificant, but it’s part of my process of figuring out my likes and routines and not in relation to the people or animals I care for. It’s much harder than it sounds after so many years of identifying and catering to the needs of others. That’s all for now.

Love,

S

There’s No Place Like Home

Dear M,

It’s been a long time. I thought of Dorothy tonight. I thought of how I cried the first time I saw her on the COLOR tv at age 3 in my house on Oliver Street. Dad was so excited to tell me The Wizard of Oz would be on tv. We had one tv in the den. The whole day was anticipation. Then how perplexed Dad must have been by this 3 year old daughter who was devastated by the film. I just remember sadness and fear. Fast forward to me at 23, crying in the living room in front of the tv showing The Wizard of Oz fin the townhouse I shared with my 28 year old landlord and a rotation of others in the third bedroom. I knew I was perplexing, but it was all too hard to explain. Since my earliest memory I knew it to be true, there’s no place like home. I always had trouble feeling it, feeling at home. This last year I have done a lot of fake it til you make it: get up, go to work, do laundry, make dinner, lie down, try to sleep, get up, drive to work. Rinse Repeat, rinse repeat. This next year I think maybe I will start to figure out what feels like home. You did, feel like home.

You may have noticed that Houston just got hit by a terrible hurricane and flooding that still has not abated. Florida seems to be in the path of the next hurricane. We are told to prepare, but then there is also this. We must go to work, do homework, show up for XC and band as if nothing is happening. Until at the last minute they will say: Evacuate, get out of the state, oh well-too late. Oh by the way pick up 20 sandbags between 8 am and 5 pm which happen to be the hours you are downtown at work. I do want the sandbags, and not because I have any illusion they will make the slightest difference if we get a direct hit. If we get the bands at the edge of the hurricane, then the sandbags may help. I still have my Matthew sandbags, now for reinforcements. They will help if it’s just a little backyard flooding, but that’s it. I wonder if that’s how I should invest my time. I’m tired. I’ll go to bed and get up at 4:30 to get Butter to XC practice as if none of this is happening. It just might not. Your birthday is coming up. Then 9 days after your death day. September was a big month for you.

Lots of love,

S

So much to say

Dear M,
I have so much to tell you when i come home from work each night. The obstacle used to be the boys clamoring for your attention or mine. Now the obstacle is your simple absence. You would be so excited about cross country. I think you would like the coaches. You would be volunteering for everything if you were here. I would be annoyed and wishing that you would volunteer to hang out with me just a little bit longer. It seems like that wasn't really your purpose here anyway. As I look at the family tree I am researching, you are the person I felt most connected to. All the rest seem like gauzy loose filaments to be undone by soft breezes.

It's strange when people ask if I have family here in sunny Florida. I say, "yes my children." That is not what they mean, but it is the truth.

We are all fighting off something respiratory. Tomorrow is Friday, hooray!!!

XO
S

Back to School Letter

Dear M,
IMac and I went to school today to get his schedule and get him all squared away for Senior year. Do you remember when we moved here in 2006? The department of motor vehicles offered a driver's license 12 year renewal option? Well it's going to be that year, next summer. You knew it would go by in a flash, but I didn't. Tonight I will head to the airport with Lisa to pick up the Scouts from their Philmont trip. In the morning I will wake Butter early so we can go to his Freshman orientation. Work has been crazy busy. When I am not there the works builds up and waits for me, so I will go in tomorrow afternoon once I get Butter back home. Now I am drinking coffee to try to stay awake until airport time. There are so many things I want to do, but the one I want to do the most is sleep. I'll write again soon.

Love,
S

Summer Letter

Dear M,

I have so much to tell you. I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long. I was kind of holding my breath to get through our first trip back to Riverton without you AND the memorial at Riverton.  As you know from my father’s memorials I am NOT a fan of the two memorial approach. Your brother Doug wrote your obituary, which took took a big burden off my hands. However he ended it with the announcement of a second memorial to take place in the summer at the family home in North Carolina. It has been looming every since. I hoped he would forget, but he didn’t. I didn’t quite understand why it was so important to him, since the two of you seemed at odds much of the time. I think it was about tradition and appearances and the family name and such. In any case I did it. It was lovely in spite of my anxiety. Butter sprinkled some of your ashes in the Lumbee River. We kept some because he was really touched by the episode of This is Us, in which Kate watches football with her father’s ashes every Sunday. He wants to be able to do something like that too. 

Meanwhile our boys have been up to so much. IMac has fulfilled all of the volunteer hours necessary to apply for Bright Futures. He is in full swing with band camp. He secretly auditioned for the flute solo and got the part. He was going to surprise me but two of his band mates blew his cover when they saw us at the grocery store. He was able to keep the secret for all of two hours.

Butter called us yesterday from the top of Mount Baldy at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. It was fun to hear him chatting with iMac about their shared experience, with iMac having gone two years ago. Butter took your orange fleece jacket with him to Philmont. iMac is wearing your coolibar hat to band camp. His band mates call him the fisherman, because of the hat. We didn’t save much in terms of garments, but those two items seemed practical.

It’s already time to get ready for school to start. IMac is almost road ready to take his driver’s license test. I have made him drive us to work/volunteering. The drive includes the always harrowing stretch of I 95 through the city where the construction never ends, with jersey walls etc. They seem to move the road every week. 

Miss Murphy is 9 months old now and 40 pounds. I do think you would love her even though you claim not to be a dog person. Cha caught a frog for me today. He was so proud! He dropped it at my feet. Much to his disappointment it hopped away. That’s all for now.
Lots of love,

S