English: A simple illustration of a cake with ...

Image via Wikipedia

My birthday present from Rob arrived just today. It came from Arkansas, which is fitting, by way of Florida, which is just odd. He’s been obsessively keeping tabs on it via the tracking number for  over a week, quizzing me daily on the contents of the mail.

“The package you’ve been waiting for showed up today,” I told him when I called his office after lunch.

“It’s your package,” he said.

“Should I open it now or wait for you?”

“Can you wait?” he asked, which was silly because of course I can, but I know he can’t.

“Okay,” I reply.

“Oh go ahead and open it,” he said, “and check to make sure that it hasn’t been tampered with. Remember what happened to Unbearable.”

Our virtual friend, Unbearable, lost a rare book in a tragic postal heist.

“I paid to have it gift wrapped too,” he added.

It was.  Both in the package and gift-wrapped.  And I pried the gift box open.  It was quite tiny and I couldn’t begin to imagine what I needed – or wanted – that would be housed in such a shiny red box.

Inside was an even tinier satchel of red and when I tipped it upside down, a silver chain and pendant dropped into my hand.

When he asked me weeks ago what I wanted for my birthday, I initially couldn’t think of a thing. I have everything I need and nearly anything it occurs to me to want. It’s a rare and privileged person who can say this, so I don’t do so lightly, but as far as the material goes – I am blessed, if there is such a thing. But when pressed, I did come up with a small list which included: an om sign for my yoga room door and a Buddha for the corner.

“They are incredibly hard to find,” he told me days later, “but I think the alternatives will suit you.”

Dee gave me a set of figurines made in Haiti that they discovered at The Ten Thousand Villages website. Each figure is performing an asana.

And from some vendor in Arkansas, a very special place in our personal lore, he found the pendant and chain.

If either of us believed in coincidence, we’d note the timing of his gift. The anniversary of him sending me a private message back on Ye Olde Widda Board was this last weekend. Neither of us believe in coincidence. Just timing, which has always been quite convenient where we are concerned.

Five years. While mostly it feels as though I have known Rob forever, and he me, the truth is that it’s just five years, which isn’t even forever in dog years. It only brings one to the brink of middle-age.

“It’s beautiful, ” I told him. “Thank you, Baby.”

“Well,” he replied, “It’s been five years and I thought you were due another piece of jewelry.”

The first piece of jewelry Rob gave me was a  gold double heart pendant with a small diamond in the crook of the uppermost heart. The occasion was our very first face to face meeting in Idaho Falls, the anniversary of which is a mere two months away. We’d been “dating” virtually, at his suggestions, for just a month when we met up. With only the rarest of exceptions, I have worn that necklace every day since.

His second gift of bling was my engagement ring barely a month later, which was joined by the wedding band three months after that. To say we moved quickly is overstating because I know couples who’ve moved at twice our speed, but I won’t be surprised if you clucked your tongue back then or if you marvel now. Both responses are within the realm of appropriate.

I am not a jewelry person though I have tried to acquire the habit on and off out of a sense that it is something women do, but aside from wedding rings, the occasional necklace and the odd navel piercing – it’s never took. Rob thinks I should just wear one of the other necklace or else,

“You will look like an old white lady rapper wanna-be,” he said.

I am loathe to give up my hearts but the om is quite becoming and I have already worn out one clasp on the heart necklace, so perhaps it deserves a break.

And I am a bit surprised to be surprised by a gift. Often, when pressed, I end up shopping for myself and letting Rob and Dee choose from my selections, wrap it and present it to me gift fashion. It’s not as unromantic or thoughtless as it sounds. I always get what I need this way and I learned it from my Dad, who used to assign each of us gifts to buy him at Christmas time.  Inevitably he would call me the week before Christmas and say something like,

“I need a new pair of jeans. Waist 34 and inseam 30. Don’t spend too much. Go to Target or J.C. Penney’s. Make sure the pockets are plain. I don’t want any of that damn fancy stitching.” I could hear his eyes roll across the miles as he uttered the last sentence.  He had a low opinion of men who had fancy stitching on their jeans … or wore them prison bitch style.

He was, perhaps, a bit more Virgo than most Virgo’s I know, but he also never had to return things the day after the holiday either.

Surprise isn’t necessary to enhance a gift’s awesome factor when it is from my husband or children, but it is sweet and wonderful and it is another reminder of how, truly, I have everything.

city in clouds

I “celebrated” the official end of the first year of widowhood, mourning or whatever one chooses to call it with lunch. I took a sick day and met my BFF for lunch at our favorite Mongolian grill.

It was a girly thing. The kind I don’t do anymore as my few girlfriends are scattered all over North America making lunch and window shopping dates a  bit hard to arrange. And being girly, all manner of girly things were discussed once she took my emotional temp for the day.

“How are you doing?” she’s a home health care nurse. Temp taking is second nature to her.

“Surprisingly fine, ” I said, though in retrospect it probably shouldn’t have been. The power of suggestion is strong and stronger when emotions are amped to the stratosphere, as mine were because I was an active member on a message board for widowed folk at the time. People in the first year or so were constantly bombarded with messages that probably led their emotions more than it helped them sort emotions out.

Being a nurse, the talk turned to the sinus infection I suspected I had and she applauded me for making an appointment for after our lunch with my doctor. I had a habit of trying to ride them out because they would supposedly peak and resolve themselves with OTC care – mine never did but I chalk that up to a run down immune system, among other things. I seldom run to the doctor for sinus now that I have discovered a few home remedies that I wish I’d had in my arsenal back then.

We talked kids and her husband, who was not stellar at the time until she turned the table and brought up Rob.

At that point, Rob and I had known each other a bit over a month. We were email pals and IM buddies. It was nice and though I recognized that he and I were quite compatible and scarily alike in more and more ways, I wasn’t inclined to pursue him. Mostly because he’d indicated that he was going to wait out his first year of widowhood before attempting to date and in some part because another widow at the message board where he and I had met stalked him for a while despite his point-blank refusal of her attentions. I liked Rob and didn’t want him to lump me into the same category with her.*

“I had a short note from him this morning,” I said.


“And what? We’re friends.” I said, and not for the first time. BFF suspected he had feelings for me from nearly the get-go.

“I like him and sure, I could go there, but it would have to be his idea. I won’t spoil our friendship by introducing romantic intentions. He’s too sweet and he wants to wait until after August to start dating. I respect that,” I said. “Besides, he lives in Canada and I live here. Logistically difficult at best.”

“He’s going to make a move, ” she said with that sage look of hers.

“I doubt it.”

I was home on the 24th too. Sinus infection. My new lease on work included taking sick days when I felt like crap and I did. I taught too many years with the idea that I had to drag myself in because I owed it to my students and employer, but as a 20 year veteran, I was finally over that. The only reward for dedication in education is nothing. Truly.

Dee was at preschool. She attended an all day Montessori school run by my school district and I was damn lucky to have gotten her a spot. Her teacher saw them for a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon. The rest of the time she was in the daycare that she’d been attending since she was seven weeks old. An awesome set-up that made the whole single mom thing far less of a hassle for me than it was for most.

After I’d dropped her off, I hit the Starbucks at the grocery near home. The young man had my drink started even as I walked in. He smiled and inquired after me, and I admitted I was playing a bit of hooky that day. He just laughed as I paid him. I stopped at the Chinese deli in the store for egg drop soup and rice. I lived off that because in spite of the removal of my gall bladder a couple of months earlier, I still couldn’t eat much. In fact, it’s only just recently that my ability to eat has started to return to normal.

Sipping chai and scanning my work email – because even sick there was work I could do and I could never completely shake my keener ways – I noted that my personal email had a new note from Rob.

It was long – even for him. And rambling. Even for him.

And it radiated with “I have something important to say”, so I began skimming until I hit a paragraph many paragraphs in that proved to be the big reveal.

He admitted having feelings for me that were more than friendly and proposed exploring them if I felt the same way.

That was four years ago today and though I write about this every year, it never loses its awesomeness. Nor its wonder. If I were ever to come to a point where I believed the universe had no meaning or that destiny was a fiction – I have only to remember this one day to set me right in my thinking again.

Rob’s modest proposal kicked off a whirlwind of long distance courtship that culminated with our meeting in Idaho Falls a month later and the rest, as they say, is history. One that we are still working on and is destined for the books, in my humble opinion.

*Every new widower who posted on the widow board was subject to her “attention”. It wasn’t the good natured banter that occurs in co-ed groups. It was predatory Gone with the Wind style. She fancied herself a southern belle and I always pictured her a cross between Suzanne Sugarbaker and Dolly Parton. In reality, she sported the biker chick look complete with a mullet on top.

Lambeau Field, Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packe...

Image via Wikipedia

I planned to sleep on the flight back to Edmonton today but about 15 minutes into a barely one hour flight we hit turbulence, the kind that rocks the plane from wing to wing and back while the body of the plane gives a good imitation of shaking to bits.

Jarred back to my usual state of being hyper-aware that I am not in contact with the earth, which I view as completely unnatural and totally in opposition with my self’s needs, I needed a distraction.

Fortunately, we were flying WestJet, which provides complimentary satellite TV. As Dee was using the only set of earplugs I can currently put my hands on (because she’s “borrowed” and lost just about every pair we have), I surfed the channels for something I could watch sans sound and nothing is more perfect for that than football.

It was championship Sunday in the NFL. Packers were whomping the Bears in their home stadium – so much for being the top seed. What was most interesting to me was that the AFC game to follow pitted the Steelers against the Jets.*

Back in the long ago day, I was a Packers fan and my late husband was a rabid Steelers fan.

In 2006, the Steelers clinched the AFC title the evening before Will died and went on to win the Superbowl a couple of weeks later.

He also told me that someday our teams would meet in the Superbowl. How odd that it such a thing has come to pass today.

Or not.

*Bret Favre had to be just eating his own heart with fries today with both the Packers and the Jets playing for the minor crowns today.

I am not one of those who had multiple opportunities to marry throughout my life. I know people who could have married anyone. Had numerous suitors and sorted through them like a closet stuffed with clothing. Not me. I can count on one hand the number of men who were even remotely attracted to me and not one of them saw me as a take home to mom prospect. For me there has only been Will and now Rob.

My first engagement was storied. Surprise. One knee, rose, wine and a ring in a box. Very school girl fantasy.

Rob and I were not school kids though I was hardly a girl with Will either being 35 and all. But Rob and I came to be engaged after knowing each other for just a tad more than three months, and I would characterize the courtship as not usual.

The third anniversary of our betrothal is tomorrow  – sort of – and I don’t think I have every really written about it.

Rob came down to Iowa to pick me up for a Spring Break trip. He actually began planning this vacation for me early in our friendship when we were still just friends. Destination – Arkansas. We took Dee to my folks but had headed back to my home in Des Moines to visit with BFF and her husband before heading out. We went to dinner and saw the raunchiest comic/hypnotist show at a local comedy club before getting home around midnight.

A couple of weeks early, we’d talked about my coming to Canada. I made it clear that a move of that magnitude was not whimsical nor could I do any “test-driving” of living together. It’s not that I am old-fashioned. I just think living together is not a test for marriage compatibility.

“Let’s see if we are compatible by playing at house.” is a stupid idea that is mostly doomed to failure because I have rarely witnessed two people do this having discussed in advance what they want or where they are really going. And playing is how children learn things. Adults at play are … well … adults just playing. Nothing more or less.

Before you wonder, I told Will the exact same thing when he was basically spending every minute at my house within a month of our dating. I don’t live with someone unless we are getting married in the very near future. I don’t believe that two people learn anything from the process that simply having frank discussions about wouldn’t reveal and compatibility is like happily ever after – a matter of mindset and resolve. If I am in love and committed, do socks and underwear on the floor or snoring or never remembering to start the dishwasher before bed so there are clean dishes for the next day really matter all that much? Shouldn’t tightwadness or ditzy behavior have already been apparent? Sexism isn’t something that is easily cloaked until close quarters flushes it out and if you need to “test drive” someone, isn’t that really a red flag?

I knew that Rob and I were compatible. I wasn’t so naive that I believed that marriage is some flower and singing animal strewn forest of nuptial bliss. I didn’t need a test drive. Do you test drive friendships or do you just have them?

Before we went to bed, Rob took a box out of his suitcase and showed me the rings. An engagement band and a wedding ring.

“I’m not ready to ask the question, but I want you to wear this,” he told me.

I protested. I didn’t want this until he was ready. I could wait. He insisted.

We headed out the next morning to stock the ice chests for the trip and then hit the highway south with me ringed. It felt strange to wear a ring again. I’d taken my wedding ring from Will off the day after his funeral and it took months of rubbing my ring finger raw to get used to it being gone. Now it felt funny to have the finger encased again. I chalked it up to my whole thing with jewelry in general. I just am not meant to be adorned.

The second night in Arkansas – and again we were in bed – Rob said,

“You know what I wasn’t ready to ask? I’m ready. Will you marry me?”

And I said yes because I was too.

On the way back to pick up Dee at my folks’, we had a marathon discussion session. I don’t think I knew as much about Will after several years of marriage as I did about Rob after Arkansas. Very little was left unsaid. Full disclosure then and since. Too often we fall into this trap of believing that all will be revealed over time through gestures and situations and that another person can be learned through proximity. But I lived with my parents for 18 years and I don’t think either one of them ever really knew me. And it wasn’t for lack of time or love. We just didn’t talk. Really talk.

Closeness is more than sharing a bed and bath.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew Mom had taken the day off, but between appointments and whatnot, I didn’t get an opportunity to call her until the late afternoon after Dee got home from school. She sounded shaky but assured me she was okay.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” she said. “I did okay today. Went out to the cemetery in the morning and had lunch with Auntie before her physio. People have been calling on and off, and I saw neighbors. It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. Now I have all my firsts done.”

Getting through “the firsts” is a big deal. I actually didn’t know that the assorted holidays and anniversaries of this and that had a designation until Will had been dead for a half a year or more. I am not sure I really needed to know it either. I have learned a lot of terminology that is death or widow specific that probably hasn’t aided me as much as it was intended to, but that is another story. People are always proud of themselves for having crossed the mile marker which is year one. Year two is a whole other matter, but I didn’t mention that. Another thing I don’t think is helpful is telling survivors about the pitfalls to come because, in my opinion, it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy situations. Best to let others go through their own ebb and flow without planting any seeds.

Rob inquired after Mom as we sat having tea after dinner and dishes were done. Tuesday is late dinner because of Dee’s dance, and we got home to find that Rob had supper waiting. He even did the dishes after – that’s a digression, isn’t it? I related Mom’s pleasure at having jumped the year mark and the fact that no one had forgotten her on this anniversary.*

“No one called me,” he said.

“Me neither,” I replied, “and I even managed to not remind Mom that she not only didn’t call me on the one year but she forgot the date and mentioned it a week or more after the fact.”

“Well,” Rob mused, “I’d kind of alienated all my in-laws at that point by marrying you.”

Before the first year was up. A point of fact that is less relevant as time goes on. Though it doesn’t completely go away, the fact that Rob and I continue on in spite of the hand-wringing makes the objections irrelevant in the face of reality.

“Well, they were all gracious about it none the less and seem okay now except for Indy. But she has issues of her own that are probably more at the root of things.”

One of Shelley’s sisters is a cross between CB and BabySis. She has never been anything but kind to me and Dee but when we have been out of sight and earshot, she has wailed and railed a bit. She is one of those people who no matter how removed she is from the epicenter of tragedy, will try to make it all about her anyway. It’s hard wiring but a hard childhood and substance abuse don’t enhance the trait  – in a desirable manner anyway.

This got us to talking about last days. The whole death-bed scene. And Rob brought up my personal fingernail on blackboard issue – the people who don’t show up because they want to remember the dying person “as they were”.

“Who the fuck do they think they are that they get dibs on the pristine memories?” I asked. It was a rhetorical because Rob just smiled and shrugged. We’ve had this particular conversation before and with no satisfactory conclusions drawn by the end.

At one point the memories drifted past the popular idea that the dying should be treated to a running monologue of non-stop chatter from the bedside babysitters. I understand the rationale. We live people harbor the belief that the dying person is alone, frightened and finds comfort in being connected to the land of the living even if they can’t interact or acknowledge. I wonder about that myself. We are told that people are waiting for guides to come and lead them away, but what if those last hours are filled with important instructions or lessons and all we are doing is making it harder for the person to pay attention? And what if dying is as much work as every other aspect of life?

Rob assigned shifts to Shelley. Her nephew played the guitar for instance. Her mom read to her from a book on proper nutrition for cancer patients.

“I wonder what Shelley must have been thinking then,” Rob said.

I actually just finished writing about this in the last chapter of the memoir I was working on. Will’s brain damage was so extensive that he simply couldn’t receive or make sense of information in any form. I didn’t know this for a fact until the autopsy report months later, but I suspected it, so I just didn’t bother to speak. I carried on long conversations with him in my head. If you’d have walked in on just he and I, you would have wondered at the utter silence and the fact that all I ever did was rub his chest or hold his hand. But my reasoning was that he was just as likely to read my mind as he was to hear and understand what I was saying.

Dee brings home a reading book every night that she must read and discuss with one of us. Her current discussion obsession is making what the teacher told them was “self-connections”.

“It’s important to make self-connections,  Mom,” she reminded me tonight when I tried to ask her about something else in the story.

But she’s right. Self-connections are where we learn and grow.

*Not sadiversary or deathversary or any other of the Hallmarkish terms.

It’s been hard to focus this week because I’ve been fighting a sinus infection,both Rob and BabyD have had spiritual encounters*, the Steelers won the AFC, and controversy in the form of assumptions and projections found me again.

In spite of all this I can pretty safely say the memoir is done. I am adding and revising things in the last two chapters still but – until the true revising starts in a couple of weeks – it’s complete at just under 87,000 words. A bit  short of my estimations. Likely to be shorter still because I think I am going to dump at least one of the opening three chapters and use the other two in abbreviated forms in later chapters. The chapter breaks too are still open to reinterpretation but again, that is for  later. 

So how many pages is 87,000ish words? 

357 pages. Double spaced with a 12pt font in New Times Roman. 

I am neither thrilled nor displeased with what I am calling a first draft despite the fact that some of it was revised a bit – more than once – as I wrote. I tried to just write without stopping but not having an outline other than the years and months, I had to reread on occasion and that always leads to revision.

I didn’t include as much of the correspondence between Rob and I via email and IM in the first draft as I thought I would, but this was mostly due to the volume of it. I will need to shore up chapters and this means going back through more of the “documentation” which is time consuming. I didn’t take into account when I began this that reading email, IM sessions and old blog posts would eat up a lot of writing time. I will have to factor “research” into the revision process.

On the quest for physical improvement front, I did not feel like puking or need a nap after spin this week. The women who have been talking the class since October assured me that Tuesday’s session was the hardest one yet and I held my own. Good on me. 

My new yoga instructor is awesome and I am finally getting into a more serious pose oriented yoga. I keep trying to talk Rob into yoga, but he still raises his eyebrow and looks at me as if I have never met him when I bring it up.

Rob has agreed to help me with my spin homework however. Yes, the spin instructor assigns homework. Abs and lunges daily. I can do the abs but lunges don’t work for my right knee, so I am to do plies instead. Rob gave me the look when I suggested plies for him. He will do lunges. And start lifting weights again, for which I am so pysched. He has the most awesome biceps and shoulders and pecs as it is  and more of that would be … well … more better.**

Finally, I am struggling with the book I am reviewing next Tuesday, Ingrid Cummings’ The Vigorous Mind. It’s not that I don’t agree with her theory or that the book isn’t useful. It is a bit repetitious however and very grounded in non-fic/self-help formula presentation. It doesn’t make for sustained scintillating reading. It’s something you tackle in stages and is not bedtime reading. So between not feeling well and being dog-tired from my new work-out routine, I am behind. I will be done on time, I think.


*BabyD was under the table playing on Tuesday night when she said, “Who called me?” Rob and I were reading the newspaper and hadn’t spoken and told her so. “Well, someone whispered my name,” she informed us. “I wonder who it was?” Who indeed. If it was that damn dead husband of mine, he knows better than to be playing games like that when I am having a tense week already.

**My motivation for motivating Rob to exercise is grounded in more than my concern for his health.

It’s been almost three years since Will died, and I really hadn’t planned to write about it or mark the day at all. It’s just a day. Not the day. But interestingly the Pittsburgh Steelers went and nailed down a Superbowl berth by defeating the Ravens in the AFC championship game this last Sunday. Three years ago they did the same thing. Won the AFC the night before Will died. I had insisted that the game be on in his room despite the fact that he couldn’t have known it was on. His friends were surprised to see I had remembered. They always did underestimate me. Of course, I was surprised they would miss an AFC championship game to come pay Will a final visit, so perhaps we are even.

Just to clarify, today is not the anniversary and I won’t be mentioning it again. I was just struck by the coincidence in a completely non-morbid and uncreepy way. Being a believer in signs, I wonder if this one has meaning for me, but honestly can’t think of what it might be. Not that signs have to be laden with meaning. Sometimes an AFC championship win by your late husband’s favorite team is simply an AFC championship win, right?