There comes a time in all our lives where the tables are turned and we become the caregiver for our parents.
My mom pointed this out to me a few days ago as I fed her in the hospital. She’s listless while suffering from illness, and it’s just easier for me to help her out.
Tonight, not surprisingly, while spooning in ice cream and watermelon, I couldn’t help but think of The Clockwork Orange as she opened her mouth for food.
I’ve been back in my childhood home for more than two weeks now, an unexpected turn of events. But I have the flexibility my sister doesn’t. I don’t have children; I have friends helping me out back home. I have a job that is mostly on the interwebz so whether I’m working with a mask on in room 1413 or in my office matters little.
My mom’s 86. I know I won’t have her forever. But I fight to stave off death and grief just one more year. One more year, I tell myself. Give me that. Next year, I’ll say the same.
The truth is I know I can’t hold it back. The last five years have been a cycle of grief: from my dad to Bailey, the dog to Chance the cat, to Adam. All of those in the span of two years, and then it’s just recovery. I wonder, once this hits you, are you always in recovery? Is it the best you can do to hold off grief as long as you can so you only have to be in recovery for a few years, not half your life?
This house, tucked away on a beautiful cul-de-sac, is a reminder of all I’ve lost… pictures of dad, well, fuck his URN is here! Plus, of course ,mom has many pics of my wedding up. They loved Adam, too. Everyone did.
I don’t look too hard behind the dark corners of this home. I don’t want to find many memories (well, or spiders). But I don’t have to go far because they scream at me.
I turn back to writing when my grief is strong, when I can’t stand to go another minute without putting something down. I guess it is now. Grief is a bitch. Recovery is a never-ending battle. You push back against life and say “just stop, please. Leave me alone.”
It’s a weird thing for me, seeing this five months come to an end.
When I made the choice to leave my job last September, a confluence of issues made it so necessary that every one of my final 14 days was a struggle. It took enormous will (and a genuine love for my co-workers and the school) to do what I could to leave things in order.
Before Adam died, I never considered needing or having a break from work … a sabbatical, as I called it. I just kept plugging along, putting money aside for the time when the two of us would retire, move to Cocoa Beach, eat steamed clams and watch launches from the deck of Coconuts.
But, damn, did I need a break. I needed to rest, to grieve fully in a way that was quite different from those early months. I needed to reach the top of the mountain in terms of what to do with all the fucking stuff, to work with my financial adviser to start planning for a new second half of life. I needed to zone out and pet my dog. I needed to bond with my cats. I just needed to be me.
I did what I needed to do, but inside all of that I found more.
I spent endless hours in nature with Bixby, exploring new and old hiking trails with him. Most of the time we were alone, but I spent about four days with Christie hiking all over, getting to know one of my best friends all over again. I wore holes in my favorite hiking shorts and wonder now to myself, “Do I learn to sew or find a new pair?”
Sometimes, Bixby whined while I sat on a rock and cried. But that wasn’t often. Most of the time, I blocked out the sounds of nature with a horror audiobook or a murder podcast. Maybe you think that’s not soothing. It was for me. And for Brenna, I finally gave in and became a murderino.
I binge-watched a dozen BBC and Netflix crime drama series. I rarely said “no” to an invitation, and if I did say no, it was because I had a prior commitment. Sometimes I drank too much. When I did, I let my friends know and we talked about it. I spent more time on Instagram and Twitter, becoming familiar with a handful of interesting journalists.
I ate too much. I lost weight. I gained it back. Fuck it. I tried intermittent fasting. I failed. I tried to become a morning person. I failed at that, too.
I went bowling with Paul, then with Charlie and Andy. I fell while bowling. I did freelance work and kept cheering the hockey boys.
I worked on scrapbooks. I threw things away, and then, when the office trash can had to be moved to the outside trash can, I went through everything again just to be sure I didn’t throw away a memory I wanted to keep.
For the first time, today I dumped that office trash can without looking again. Because I have more confidence in what I need to keep.
I didn’t pick up enough dog poop. I didn’t clean the cat litter as often as I should. I paid for both in messes.
I watched my bank account dwindle, but only panicked here and there. I spent 10 days in California with my family … who gets a 10-day holiday vacation any more with family? I updated my resume, wrote cover letters and applied for a handful of jobs. I got one.
I wish I’d gone to Texas to visit the Currys. I have a million wishes, but in general, I’m pretty proud of what I did on my sabbatical.
And interestingly, the further along in my grief slog, the more I found myself retreating to my online wids. My widowed brothers and sisters in WD30. At first, I thought this group wasn’t for me, but I was wrong. The judgment-free zone is compelling. I have the ability to learn from others there, and I have the ability to impart wisdom as well. I can genuinely laugh now at the guys and gals with the nerve to try searching for a Chapter 2, and roll my eyes at their hilarious dating adventures. I can cry with them when they have “one of those days.”
The strength and frailty of widows is astounding, both its highs and lows. I see why we reach out to each other.
My sabbatical ends today. Bixby will be confused with me gone more often than not. I’m am thrilled with where my life has decided to go. I go forward but I return. I’ll announce what I’m doing on Tuesday. For now, I say, thank you to Mom, Barb, Keith, Ava, Colette, Kathy Curry, Bev and Steve Curry, and all my friends who have helped me in each shitty step.
Today, I received a text from a beloved, snarky friend who made me laugh. It read “While you’re sitting around bingeing, cuddling your pets and worrying about your bras, can you get a group text going for tonight?”
Now, I don’t mind throwing her under the bus here, because I have like 10 coming to me after the epic throwdown she gave me about eight years ago at work … that I still laugh about.
But it might get you wondering: What does Laura do all day now that she is not working?
It’s true. I’ve binged a lot of shows. Mostly British crime drama, yes, but I’m through six seasons of American Horror Story as well. I can tell you I have never appreciated Jessica Lange for the treasure that she is until hearing her sing “Life on Mars” in the Freaks episode. That woman is a goddess.
I also spend an enormous time cuddling my pets, but we all know that’s part of every major therapy. I only worry about my bras when they haven’t been handwashed.
What do I do?
I work on healing. I can tell you, despite my love for what I did at FVS and the enormous respect I have for the teachers, leaving was the best thing I’ve done. I could no longer grieve there.
So I grieved at home … on the couch, in the woods, on the trails, in bed, in front of the TV, at bars, at coffee shops, at friends’ houses, in Los Angeles. I grieved with everyone. I grieved when I was smiling and laughing as well as when I was crying. You don’t see the tears much anymore. They mostly come at night. My sleep schedule is still erratic, and the last thoughts are always of Adam in the hospital. Of his last breath, of the things I could have done better.
Does this surprise you? That after 14 months I’m still dealing with that? It won’t surprise my widows and widowers out there… the ones I’ve met and the ones I adore in an online community. In a recent New York Times article, a woman who lost her child wrote “You never ‘get over it,’ you ‘get on with it,’ and you never ‘move on,’ but you ‘move forward.’”
And that’s what I’ve been doing these last four months: Getting on with it.
It could be the best description ever. You make your choice to live, and you get on with it.
I got on with it by resigning from my job. I got on with it by beginning an exhaustive process of diving deep into the house, the possessions, the memories. Friends will come into the house and might think “it looks no different.” Same wine red disintegrating couch we got from Deb at FVS. Same hodgepodge of decorations.
It’s in the nooks and crannies that the changed has occurred. It’s in the bedroom where I have not just moved some of Adam’s stuff out, but have taken the step of moving my stuff in. It took time to put my clothes in his dresser, as if the emptiness of it was waiting to return. What happens if he comes back and needs drawer space?
I’ve donated thousands of dollars worth of items .. his, mine, ours. I took that Swedish death cleaning approach to my mom’s to help give away the last of Dad’s clothes.
I discovered new hiking trails with Christie. I continued to wrestle with Adam’s computer and files. I scrapbooked hundreds of photos. I found pictures of us where I don’t even remember where we were at. I marveled at pics of Adam when he loved another gal so many years ago… and I scrapbooked those as well, because it was part of who he was.
I tried food I never would have tried. I watched every episode of the Great British Baking Show and found no desire to bake. I followed my nieces and their successes online. I finally moved all my money to one place and have someone guiding me. I lost some weight, gained it back, lost it, gained it and now just miss Adam, who loved me whether I gained it or it lost it, because it wasn’t the weight, it was the way we treated each other and the way we loved.
In January now, I’m taking the steps to re-enter the workforce. Am I done grieving? Hell to the no. I won’t ever be. But I have a better grasp on it than before, a greater compassion for those around me.
I miss my best friend a lot. Every day, every decision I make is because he lived.
I am lucky. I had the ability to take time off from work on my own terms. Other widows aren’t so lucky. They have been fired, they have had to slog through thankless jobs without more than a few days of bereavement.
I’ll end this by saying… We need to do better for our widows and widowers in America. We need to prepare each other from the beginning and stop pretending one spouse isn’t going to die before the other. Women, especially, have to learn to be resilient now while they are still in their marriages. Resiliency starts when you don’t need it yet. Build it.
Today is the 18th anniversary of our first date. Our first date should have been Nov. 14 to see Dogma, but while working football, I called him up to chat. He asked what I was doing that night. Well, I was going to a wedding reception … did he want to come? Of course, the rest is history.
But he’s gone now. It’s over.
A week ago, I spent a marvelous five days in California, most of it in San Luis Obispo with mom and my beloved teammates from Mustang softball. You all need to know, my friends, that Saturday night in that house on Grover Beach was a revelation to me. To be with you all (and my mom), I felt the first true moment of joy I have had since Adam died. I can’t explain it. Your love, your understanding, your ability to listen, the singing, the drinks … the camaraderie of shared and unshared pasts.
I feel like I turned a corner.
For whatever reason, maybe that one, I have spent more time thinking about my Chapter 2. That’s what we widows call it … thinking of the next phase of love in our lives.
No, I’m not getting on any dating sites soon. That’s not what I mean. It doesn’t mean I won’t continue blocking the extreme number of widow predators on FB and Twitter … actually, I enjoy doing that! It doesn’t mean I’m picking up men in bars as I never did that anyway. It means I’m more open to the possibility of “someone else.” Because I love “love.” I loved having a partner with me while facing this shitty world.
To open myself up to that is daunting. I realized it when I said this to a friend on Saturday: “If I’m lucky, I’ll be a widow again.”
But I have something to say to you, if I am lucky enough to meet you.
I’m not forgetting about Adam. Nor should you expect me to. Nor should you want me to.
We did not choose to part. One of us didn’t decide “enough was enough” or that we wanted something else or we were bored or angry. Adam was taken from me … taken by a disease of a most insidious nature.
I might talk about him like he was perfect. That our relationship was perfect.
He wasn’t. It wasn’t. I wasn’t.
There were times in the last seven years that I wondered how long I could stay … because I didn’t understand what was happening to him. I didn’t understand that everything he did and said was being channeled through the lens of booze I didn’t know he was drinking.
Addiction takes a toll on a marriage.
But in the end, for 17 years, we chose to stay together. Through my depression. We were poor, then rich, then poor, then rich, then poor again. Poor was always just as good. Through anxiety, depression, illness, work issues; through my exasperating perfection … we were in it till the end.
And the end came.
The end came at 10:42 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
He’s not coming back. Ever.
If you date me, you only date me because he died and I went through hell. That is true. But he’s not a threat to you. He’s dead.
His pictures will still be on my wall. I will tell you stories that include him. If I don’t, I have to pretend that 17 years of my life didn’t exist. That means I can’t tell you about my trips to Japan and the Netherlands, or a million other things precious to me. I can’t tell you the story behind every autograph on our Star Wars poster. I will accidentally say something and realize that you won’t know what it means because it was an inside joke with Adam. Don’t be mad.
But some of who I am is because of him.
I have an infinite capacity for love. One does not replace another. I won’t wish you were him because it’s a useless wish. Sometimes I will cry because I miss him. Don’t begrudge me that. You wouldn’t begrudge me crying for my dad, would you? Or anyone else I have lost.
Know this. Adam would not be mad. I knew him well enough to know he would love you for making me smile, for taking away some of the pain he caused me. If I choose you, it’s because you are someone all your own. You are not a replacement. I expect you will be different, and I like that. I will love making new memories that fit next to the old.
We have one life. Just one. I’m just trying to figure out ways to laugh and recapture joy.
I have these cats now. Well, they are kittens. Rambunctious, playful, purring, loving balls of fur. Meet Run-PMC (Purry-Murry-Curry) aka Murry, and Jyn. These are mine now. Did I want a kitty? Of course. Did I get talked into two? Yes, because Jen is convincing. And two is better. I feel less guilty about being away from them all day.
I have to keep telling Bix he’s still my number one. I’m not sure whether he wants to love them or eat them. We’ll see.
I’ve been waiting to get “my own cat” again for 12 years. When Adam and I met, I had just gotten Patches … a roly-poly beloved 9-year-old calico … and he had Chance. Patches died shortly after we got married in 2005. And Chance ruled the roost. Adam didn’t want to bring another kitty into the house. I mean, as you all know, Chance was born in a Wal-Mart battery shed, and she just didn’t like much for most of her life.
Chance warmed up to me over the years. In fact, in her last years, she spent more time sleeping on me than Adam. But Chance died, too. Because my life is fucked, and in the last three years I’ve lost Dad, Bailey, Chance and Adam.
Sometimes I think Chance didn’t want to live without Adam so she just went first.
Getting these cats is the first major decision I’ve made in 17 years that was my own. I didn’t have to discuss it with someone else first. I just did it. I’m terrified I made a mistake, that I won’t be able to love them.
Grief really is love with nowhere to go, but I feel like it has gone nowhere for so long that I don’t know how to let it out anymore. At least with something new.
Adam and I never wanted kids, but we named them in our heads anyway. I preferred Zoltan and Gar (after a dead fish we found walking in the low Platte River. I said “what’s that?” Adam said “that’s a gar.” I said “That would be a great name for a kid.” He said “Who are you?”)
He liked the name Murray. I said “Murray is an old man’s name.” But we started naming the local fox in our backyard Murray. Murray even had kits in our window well, if you remember. Murray was a bad mom, and the kits were starving, so the wildlife man came and saved them. Soon, any fox we saw was named Murray.
So I got a kitten and I named it Murray. But I’m spelling it Murry because it works with Purry and Curry. And, Jyn, well that’s after Jyn Erso, the greatest ever Star Wars hero.
“That’s it Johnny, take a good look. No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.” ^ Angel Heart
I was thinking recently about self-worth.
Then, this morning, I came across a cartoon with a frame that read “I’m depressed because I don’t know who I am.”
And I thought about it some more. I thought about it while eating all of the breakfast sandwiches I had bought for the next three days. I thought while I watched TV, petted the dog and made coffee, and wondered what I would wear to a show tonight.
I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I see why Americans are so depressed because they don’t know who they are. I hear it all the time. I heard it from Adam in many silent and not silent ways. And I didn’t get it with Adam, and that was my failure.
You see, because even if I always didn’t understand who I was, I knew what I wanted to do, which was a product of who I was, even if I didn’t realize it. I shot straightforward out of the cannon until I came to rest like a flopping blue gill ready for slaughter.
First I wanted to be a Dodger.
But then I realized I was a girl and probably wouldn’t ever be good enough (oh god, please don’t rant in the comments on that shit).
Then I wanted to be a sports reporter on ESPN.
But then I realized I wasn’t aggressive enough to be a reporter, and I looked terrible on TV and would always want to eat cheese and bread more than I wanted to look good on TV.
Then I wanted to be in college sports information. So I did it.
Then I got offered a dream job at U.S. Figure Skating. So I did it.
Then I saw my time and purpose ending there, and frankly, I wanted to be more with Adam. So I left.
Every choice I made of what I do was because I have been clearly aware of who I am and what I wanted. (Except for the part where I thought I was an introvert all this time because I liked to watch movies by myself, read alone, and a million other things by myself. Yeah, not an introvert. I don’t need three days to recover from talking to people. I love my introvert friends, and I am here for you when you are ready to face the world. As you know, I will talk.)
I knew I was a writer for as long as I can remember. I always knew I was an overachiever who wasn’t necessarily as smart or as talented on the ball field as others, so I made up for it by working my ass off.
The only question mark is animals. I always thought I was a cat person. I think I’m a dog person.
I think about Adam and his addiction, and I wonder how much he ever knew who he was. I think he did once. I think he did growing up, and in the years we were first together. He loved animals and art and music, and by all accounts he was a creator. He was a fixer and a helper and a traveler. He didn’t want to stay in one place too long.
This was the man I fell in love with. But as he aged, and perhaps as the drinking increased (which comes first, the chicken or the egg?), did he lose who he was? Did he forget? Did he try so hard to keep up with me that he forgot why I was in love with him in the first place … because HE WASN’T ME?
He wasn’t me. He was a sensitive soul. He should have worked with animals. He shouldn’t have tried to work in a cubicle.
Did I not tell him enough that I just wanted him to follow his dreams? That I didn’t care about the money? That the time it was me, Adam, Chance, Patches, Bailey and Meka in 800 square feet was as glorious as I could ever hope for?
Did Adam know who he was?
Did he once? Did he forget? Was it the drinking? Was it me? Was it just this fucked-up world? Did he fake happiness? Was he happy but frustrated? I was with him for 17 years and I don’t feel like I know the answers to these fucking questions anymore.
In one of his rehab journals, he wrote he was “inherently lazy.” Upon reading that, I suppose I realized he had forgotten who he was. “Inherently lazy” wasn’t Adam Curry. But addiction made him something he wasn’t it.
I honestly am not sure if Adam ever knew who he was. But I think he was learning, and it’s never too late.
I walked through the resort quietly. Maybe not so quietly. It was Wednesday night, and with the accoutrements dangling from my backpack, I jingled around the pathways. I can’t remember if it was 2010 or 2012 that we stayed here for Celebration. I suspect 2010. I suspect it because I remember we were drinking.
I remember where our room was. Sort of. The resort is under major construction now, so I can’t be sure. But I walked by every place I thought it could be. Through the lobby, through the restaurant and to the left. We went to Cocoa Beach first on that trip, and stayed in a cheap hotel in a crappy room. When we arrived at this place on Thursday morning, I remember we just flopped onto the bed which seemed so luxurious. There was a mini fridge, and we packed in the alcohol for the trip. I was raring to get over to the convention center, and Adam was like “Just give me five more minutes in this air-conditioned room on this bed.”
The moon was out as I walked the paths in 2017. The celebrations merge together in my mind, but I remember this one because we annoyed the doormen by choosing our own taxi instead of waiting for them to call up the next one. The taxi driver gave us his number and he drove us anywhere we wanted that trip. That one night it was to the Funky Monkey, where they just happened to have one table left for the Star Wars drag show.
I’m looking at some info now, and I see that Ian McDiarmid’s first celebration was 2012 in Orlando. We would have gotten the Emperor’s autograph. I wonder now, a year after we first realized he was sick, was he already drinking that much again? Were we limiting it? Had I become his mother along with his wife, frightened, but giving “permission”? Am I conflating my memories? I might be.
Without Adam, I didn’t get up at 4:30 a.m. to stand in line for panels now. I suspect that Adam would have agreed with me about that.
On Friday at the con this time, I wandered the Art Show area. Adam and I loved this part of the celebration, and we would wait for a particular limited edition print to jump out at both of us … one we had to have. I remember the last time there weren’t any we both loved.
This year, I was almost through the gallery, disappointed that there were so few Rogue One prints, when I came upon this one. I said to the artist, “I always walk around waiting for the one to jump out at me, and this was it.” He said “Can I ask why?” I said “Do you want to hear a short and sad story?” “He put his pen down and gave me his full attention, as I explained how Rogue One figured in our fight for Adam’s survival, how “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me,” was so important for me.
He cried, he hugged me. He later asked for a selfie so he could remember my story. He said that I was the second person who had come to him sharing that his artwork had meant some sort of survival, or friendship, or gratitude On the poster, he signed “The Force is with you … both.” He asked to hear Adam’s name.
Here is the poster. I dedicate it to all of you as well.