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

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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

Summer Starts Letter

Dear M,

I almost wrote this morning, but I ran out of time. I had the dream I know I will have again. It woke me from a sound sleep. I was so excited when I awoke, just for a moment. You see, I dreamt you were coming home from a long trip.There were many long trips and homecomings in our 18 years of marriage. I was always unsettled by the travel. It reminded me of our impermanence. You were our joy bringer, our scheduler of fun. It was a big job. I never acknowledged it or thanked you for it. So Thank you. It is a hard job. I have planned a decent summer for both kids. I know that because Butter is already complaining that I over scheduled him. He had no schedule on the first two days of summer. By the second day of summer break I had already misplaced him. I called home at lunchtime and talked to imac. He said he didn’t know where Butter was, somebody’s mom had picked him up but he didn’t know who. Butter had left his phone at home.  I quickly deduced which mom had picked him up, texted her and confirmed his location. Growing up, we could never keep track of my brother Johnny Reb. Pre-cell phone era we usually just drove around the neighborhoods until we found him shooting hoops in a friend’s driveway.

It was Memorial Day weekend and I remembered the long hike we took from Arlington to Reston on the Washington and Old Dominion trail. I remember hearing rolling thunder go by while we walked. 

I cried on my way to work today, then pulled it together on the elevator for a day of anemia, clots and hemophilia. So wishing I could have brought Murphy to work with me today. I hope that you are proud of me. I am not functioning on all cylinders yet, but maybe 4 out of 8. I feel like I have my skin on inside out. I am able to fool most civilians most of the time. It takes a lot of energy. There doesn’t tend to be much leftover.

Sorry for rambling, but you know, that’s just me.
Love you lots,

S

At a Conference letter

Dear M,

I am in Fort Lauderdale at a medical conference, thanks to the generosity of your cousin Mary Mac. Mary Mac and her dog are taking care of the boys, Cha and Murphy. I slept a full 9 hours last night! Took an uninterrupted bath, read, walked on the beach.

Just now I watched Lucy Kalanthi’s YouTube talk. Before you died I read her husband’s book, When Breath Becomes Air . They made a promise to each other to say what they were thinking out loud. It’s a noble idea, but it didn’t work for us. I would have stolen moments of peace and joy from you if I had expressed my thoughts and feelings outloud. That’s how my blog evolved. The reality of your illness was brutal. If you didn’t see or feel the brutality of it, I didn’t want to be the one to point it out. It would have been to wake the sleeping before they’d had enough rest. 

Tomorrow is the last day of school. Tonight the Court of Honor for Boy Scouts. Butter has called me a few times as he prepares. He’s mad about the linens in his closet because it is the fault of the linens, placed there by his mother, that he could not find his merit badge sash. He did find it while we were on the phone. Really he is missing you and now me too. I cried last year during the May Court of Honor because they presented you with an award. You were at home on the sofa. You sent me in your place because your words were all mixed up. You felt self conscious and didn’t want the scouts to see you without your words. They spoke about you returning when you were better. I knew that you never would be. I’m grateful that Mary Mac is there tonight with Butter, though I know he wishes that you and I were there together.

You would love this hotel. It makes me feel like I have dropped into another era. I’m not sure whether I am in the 1930’s or the 1950’s. More later.
Love,

S

Anniversary Letter

Dear M,

May 9:

Happy Anniversary! Nineteen years today. I thought I might feel sad so I preemptively purchased flowers at Publix last night and cleaned the kitchen. Orange, yellow, green, and pink beautiful grocery store flowers in a blue vase greeted me this morning. I also set the coffee maker for 5 a.m, the same time we usually sat on the couch drinking coffee and talking before the kids got up. 

May 15:

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. The boys went all out. Murphy slept in Butter’s room so I could sleep in. Murphy awoke at her usual time 4:15 a.m. Butter took her out in the yard to play for an hour so she wouldn’t wake me. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. The boys brought me coffee and oatmeal in bed.

May 18

Wow! Our last middle school band concert. Both our boys in high school in the fall. Can you believe it? They are going to make their second solo trip to see Bolly and Mob when school gets out. Miss Murphy was up in the night vomiting. It looked like she had eaten her fair share of Kleenex yesterday. Mary Mac is coming to visit Sunday. She’s helping out with the boys while I attend a hemophilia conference. That’s all for now. Wish you were here.

XO

S