rockstarscars

I'm a f**king rockstar and I've got the scars to prove it!

Trapped in a state of imaginary grace (mostly written on 2/5/14)

Max's last week- catching snow balls

Max’s last week- catching snow balls

As much as I can preach the words of happiness being a choice, some days are harder than others. Last week sucked. I felt like shit physically and emotionally. It was one of those times when I felt on the verge of a minor melt down at any given moment. How does one explain those times when you can handle all the shit the world can throw at you with grace, when you have other times that feel like you are just waiting for an excuse to lock yourself in the closet in a tight fetal position?

I’m being hard on myself. I had plenty of reason. Last Monday I got word that my dear friend Max, a 10 year old Cockapoo, had passed on. His mom found out that he had cancer a few months back and had gone to great lengths to try to postpone the inevitable. I remember staying with Max one night, just after his mom had gotten the news. She knew that the cancer was very aggressive and even if the chemo worked, it would be temporary. Granted, any and all fixes are temporary. Every dog will die. His people will die too. And no matter how much time you have, or how much you see it coming, it’s never really long enough. There’s always something else you wanted to do or say. But I thought that maybe I could just enjoy the time I had with Max. And I did. But I wanted to cry my eyes out when I said goodbye to him, not sure how long he’d be around. Not sure if this would be the last time. I controlled myself for the most part because I didn’t want to upset him.

Luckily, I saw Max many more times. I took him to the park that he loved, marveling at how well he was doing. I stopped wanting to break down every time I said goodbye to him. We had more time. More walks, playdates, and luxurious butt scratchings. I loved them all. Max was a great boy, “a good man,” as I liked to tell him. He was always so damned happy to go for a walk (as most dogs are, but especially him.) Max was very polite and so well mannered, he was such a pleasure to spend time with. So much so that I couldn’t really hold it against him when we went to the park and he went straight for the muddy water, followed by an enthusiastic roll in the leaves. He’d make a mess of himself, which meant more work for me, but it always made me laugh.

As hard as it was, I am so grateful that I got to spend some time with Max in his last few days. We weren’t sure when it was coming, but he had slowed down. His mom was understandably reluctant to leave him alone for very long, so I filled in the gaps as much as I could. Most of the time, I didn’t cry. But the second to last time I saw him, I told him that I wanted him to send my love to Mona. And of course, Mona was part of the reason why losing Max hit me so hard. That’s my problem with so much these days. I end up being reminded of things that I’ve been trying desperately to stuff into a box to deal with later. My problem is, later shows up too soon.

I had been putting off seeing my oncologist for a long time. I saw every other doctor and had all the appropriate exams. I just couldn’t face the idea of going back to the 9th floor. But I had to do it eventually, so I went on Thursday. The timing was bad. I was really heart broken about Max. My already shoddy sleep was worse than usual. I was sad and exhausted as I watched the numbers climb on the elevator. All I had to do was stand in that hallway and I was overwhelmed. My first visit to oncology with my husband and my stepmother- he and I making jokes the whole time in an attempt to not think about what we were doing there. I walked down the hall and looked at the floor to ceiling windows on my left. A memory of my dad standing there leveled me. I had to stop and catch my breath before I went in to oncology.

Thankfully, it was late in the day. Most of the people that had come for chemo were already in the back getting their treatments. I made the mistake of asking the receptionist if my chemo nurse was working that day. She smiled and told me that Nurse Jackie had retired at the beginning of the month. My face gave me away. Again, I was so close to losing it. The girl told me I could go wait in the vitals room and someone would be with me soon. I did lose it a little bit while I was there. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to see Jackie so badly, though I knew that she would ask about my dad, and that I would cry like a baby-just as I had when I went in for a treatment after my husband had left. I wanted Jackie to hold my hand and soothe my heart.

I pulled it together long enough to have my vitals taken and be called back to my doctor. She was so happy to see me. This was the woman who had cried when I showed up for my last appointment in a wheelchair. “Why do these things keep happening to you?” She had said. But back then, I was okay. I was in a wheelchair, but I didn’t feel broken. This time was different. This time everything was hitting me. This time I felt more broken than I had in a long time. And in the safety of her office, I lost my shit. It wasn’t for more than a minute, but I was relieved to get it out. We talked for a long time about everything. My exam went well and she promised to send a message to Nurse Jackie for me.

Going home, I felt so much lighter. Anticipation is so often my worst enemy. As a person who prides herself on being fearless, I’m a coward when it comes to facing heavy things. It seems so much easier to do anything else. I gave Max’s mom as much support as I knew how, but at the end, I ran out as soon as I could. I didn’t have it in me to smile, just imagining how much her heart was breaking. I couldn’t talk about losing Max and losing Mona and have any kind of decorum. I couldn’t talk about how empty the window seat would look without Max, watching me come to the door, then running to great me in the hallway, his heart bursting with joy. Just because I had shown up to see him. I couldn’t stand to say it. I couldn’t even think about it.

The thing about dogs is that they don’t hold back. We don’t expect them to. Maybe that’s how a dog manages to burrow its way into our deepest, most protected parts. That kind of honesty is hard to resist. The day before he died, Max greeted me with his typical unbridled enthusiasm. We walked around the block and I carried his now tender feet through the snow banks. We played fetch in the living room and sat on the window seat for a long scratch. I’m certain that he knew his time was up, but there was no fear. I looked into his eyes and only saw Max. A beautiful and honest creature that chased every ball that was thrown for him, knowing better than to waste an opportunity. Dogs are smart that way. They live every moment to its fullest potential, understanding that death is just another part of life.

Till all these shivers subside

The thing about writing really emotional shit is that I feel beat to hell while I’m doing it. I hate doing it. I will do the dreadful PT exercises to prolong that inevitable sit down and pound it out at the computer. Spilling my guts into words feels a lot like a good roll in the hay, where you end up sweaty and exhausted and everything hurts. And as you lay there with various parts wincing and knowing that more will hurt tomorrow, you feel so completely right. So at peace, so…well, satisfied. The big difference is that one of them is easy to get motivated for and a lot more fun while it’s happening. Sadly, it leaves you with nothing to show for your acts of showmanship. We all need other things, don’t we? And so, here I am.

I started writing a post of the extremely emotional variety back in January. My sweet, beloved friend Max had just passed away. It seems like it just happened, but I’m in his house again minding a friend’s dog, and I realize the clock is always ticking. Such an unsettling thing, when you lose a loved one and you feel like everything should stop. Everything. When it feels like all life, every breath, every beating heart should stop because how could the world keep going without this beautiful life in it? And crawling out of bed to put some goddamned clothes on feels like the most harrowing experience you could imagine. I’ve gone out into the world with that sadness. I’ve watched people smiling, going about their every day, and thought “for the love of all that is good and holy, what the fuck is wrong with you?” It just doesn’t seem right that the rest of the world keeps going.

But it does. It always does. Unimaginable things can and will be survived. You can sit there feeling like everything has gone to shit, but life will continue to happen. I can keep doing everything in the world but writing out the heartache in the hopes that it will go away. Tick, tick, tick…and yes, the pain goes from all encompassing to a dull ache. But in pretending I’m okay all the time, I miss the mark. As much as I have pulled, pushed, and prodded myself into shape over the last few years, I had to first be laid out flat.

Getting up again is only impressive if you’ve spent time with your face in the mud. I’ve been in that spot more than once and while my life has improved in so many ways, the aches are still there, the hits never stop. They don’t get easier. The weight accumulates in the background until it explodes at the worst times and in the worst places. I can either worry about making someone else a little uncomfortable for a moment by admitting to that emotion, or I can push it down and push it down until I become completely quiet. This kind of silence is anything but golden, especially when it’s coming from me.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to hold it in. There are times when it is necessary and I can carry through them. Most of the time, it just makes me crazy. It makes me not me. Because when I lay my head down, I want to know that I held nothing back. Even if it spent every muscle in my body to get there, I want my performance to be remembered.

Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long

My Uncle Ronnie died this morning. He was one of the eldest children in my father’s family, and one of the last to go. Out of a family of ten children, there are 3 left. With every loss I feel like more of a dying breed. I always relied on my father to keep me updated on my uncles, aunts, and the dozens of children that came from them. When my father died, my world was suddenly this tiny fishbowl that I didn’t recognize. I thought that I would be able to somehow keep up with at least some of these people the way that he did. Surely, I could pick and choose at least some extended family to hold on to. And I’ve done what I could. I’ve tried. I really have. But all of the thoughts I have about reaching out to others, writing letters, making calls, being helpful to those in need…these good intentions are by and large all that I’ve managed. It’s something I am not sure if I should keep trying to fix (unsuccessfully) or that I should accept as not being my piece of the greater puzzle. Even now, this digression is a perfect example of how easily I will start something before becoming lost in something else.

In between the day of my wedding (June 2010) and my return from my honeymoon, Uncle Ronnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While I have learned considerably more about cancer since then, I did understand at the time that pancreatic cancer was vicious and quick. Hearing about Ronnie’s illness was a blow. Everything I had heard taught me that my uncle had very little time, maybe a few months.  How very brutal and unkind for a man who had lost his long time wife, the mother of his children, several years before and had brought his new partner to my wedding. He seemed happy. Content.

The things I knew of pancreatic cancer weren’t wrong. But we aren’t people who take defeat easily. He kept going and going and going. When I was diagnosed with cancer, he asked about me often. My father said that he was upset by it, in a way that I understand much more now, having gone through it. Cancer creates this reluctant but unavoidable bond between people. You gain quick membership into an elite club that everyone wishes didn’t exist in the first place. But that’s what happens. A person who is a superficial acquaintance changes into a trusted confidant when survival or maybe just coping becomes a new skill.

So my uncle and I would always ask about the other. We exchanged a few emails and cards. A few months before my father died, he told me that Ronnie had decided to stop chemotherapy. Nobody could blame him. He had lived much longer than any doctors expected. The chemo wasn’t going to save him. He had suffered through it over and over again to gain a few months here and there. He fought with everything that he possibly could, but he was tired.

When I heard that Ronnie would be attending my father’s services, I expected the worst. I had seen what cancer had done to a vital 30 year old. I expected my uncle to be unrecognizable, he had to be by now. Yet, the 2 1/2 years of chemo and all the ravaging it does to one’s body seemed to have very little effect on Uncle Ronnie. He looked amazing. He was the same uncle I knew all of my life. He told me that he felt really good that day. It was one of the few bright moments from that horrible night. I found myself hopeful. That maybe he was going to be that miracle patient that walked away from terminal cancer. Even as I thought it, I knew that luck runs out eventually.

Ronnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2010. Medical knowledge said he didn’t have long. I think it was 6 months, but I’m not sure. I am sure that Ronnie outlived my bout with cancer, my marriage, my recovery from critical condition and the 12 broken bones that got me there. He outlived more than half of his siblings, including my father. He outlived, just in the last year, a large handful of my loved ones. He didn’t just survive, he lived. And he lived with grace. I thank him for that.

you can be sure I will never stop believing

Saying this has been a hard month or even a hard year feels redundant. I’ll say it anyway. The days from November 24th, 2012 until the same date in 2013 have been the worst I have seen or hope to see again. If you’re following along at home, you know that that isn’t an easy task. No matter. The important thing is that it has been a year. It has been over 365 days since I learned what happens when you think that things could not possibly get worse. Things can always get worse. I’m hesitant to even call the past year the worst one, like I’m just daring life to fuck me in a whole new way that I never thought of. But I’m daring to think ahead. I’m daring to feel positive.

Because.

Because things can always get worse, but they can also get better. Because there is room for improvement in even the most amazing life. Because it’s what I believe. I believe it for my sanity. I believe it because it’s true.

Happiness is a choice. You can choose to look at your wreckage of a life and focus on the bits and pieces that didn’t fall apart. The music nobody thought to turn off while the house was burning down. That one moment you kept in the back of your mind to fight the days when it hurt too much to breathe. The people, places, and things that gave your senses a sweet sample of what you love most. The memories that tie it all together and leave you with a taste for how you want things to be. Those things are always there if you should choose to seek them out.

My former life, my self, and what I thought I knew about the two of them were lost abruptly, with ease. I will never manage to explain that sensation, though I felt it again and again, each time from a different angle. But no matter how many times, I never expected to feel it again. Not once did I see it coming.

And that feeling that told me that I could breathe now, that the worst was over. The notion that I could have just as many happy and fantastic things on the way. That never left either. I hope it never does.

Happiness is a choice. You can focus on loss or you can see all that you still have. You can try to make the best choices, to do everything in a way that is right and good with the universe and still manage to fuck things up or have it fucked up for you. You can’t always control your circumstances. You can only decide how to react to them. Sadness and anger have a place- if you’re smart, that place is behind you, beneath you, anything but front and center. I wish I could say that it’s easy to shrug it off and that I don’t have days where pain all but consumes me. But I cant stop those feelings from showing up, i can only choose not to feed them.

What I’m saying may be overly simple, but maybe not. All I know is that in the days that led up to November 24th, I had worked myself into a tightly wound ball of dread. I feared reliving those days so badly that I couldn’t take a breath of the present. When I finally got there. When all of the horrible things I knew were coming had gone, I had my first taste of fresh air in a year. I let out a sigh so heavy my feet could hardly touch the earth. My heart was floating, bursting, grateful…And just like that, life went on. The only catch is that you have to let go of all the pain, regret, anger and hopelessness you’ve squeezed so tightly into your fists. Leave your palms open, honest, and empty to reach for and scoop up every beautiful handful of this wonderful life you are running into, stuffing tiny pockets with wonder and joy at all the beauty you can find if you just look for it.

An Impossible Dream

ImageThis time, one year ago, I was sitting at my father’s house in shock. It was two days after Thanksgiving, and I had just sat with my father’s body- something no one expected to do for many years. Even saying this now, it feels just as impossible. The pain and the sickness I felt has not changed much at all. Flashes from that Saturday are just as brutal. I have never lost the sensation that some time soon, my dad will call. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how or why my father died what seemed like just a moment after we had reached an understanding of each other for the first time in my life. 

We visited my dad’s grave today for the first time since his funeral. The bare hills of the veteran’s cemetery took in every bit of the cold, each gust of wind. We walked around with our heads down, hands buried in pockets, searching the endless flat stones for the right name. I was looking by date and it wasn’t until I came to the end of all of the graves that I realized that my father had died in 2012. A year had passed. So many things had happened. My dad wasn’t alive to see the news of the marathon bombings. He missed some really horrible things. I was thankful for that, knowing that he would carry such events heavily in his heart. But there were joys, small victories, good stories that I should have been able to share. I think so often how much my father would like my boyfriend and how pissed off I am that they never met. That my boyfriend met me at the very worst time of my life, that he has stood by me, and how happy that would’ve made my dad. That here I am, so often thinking of what my father would say about the world, my life, everything. And that in the end, I’m just making my best guess.

This could go on endlessly-me talking to myself in circles, trying to make sense of my dad’s death. I’m far from done. But right now I’m worn out and I just want to, for a little while, pretend that this whole miserable year never happened (except for the good parts.) I’ve been wanting to share my dad’s eulogy, which really isn’t all that well written now that I give it another look. I sure as hell don’t agree with my desperate attempts to make sense of it at the time, but here it is…

 

One of the last conversations I had with my father, as he was driving me to one of many many doctor’s appointments that he escorted me to, we were talking about the string of unfortunate events  that had made up my life for the last couple of years.

 “Would you say that you have a bad life?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” I told him.  “I think that the support that I’ve gotten from the people around me has been amazing.”

“That’s good” he said, pausing for a moment.  “Would you say that you’ve had some bad luck?”

“Yes,” I said.

He nodded.  “I think that’s a fair assessment.”

This was something I always knew from my father- that life could be hard, inexplicably so, but we all have to do our best, to keep moving and not feel sorry for ourselves. What my father and I did not know, is that all of this had a purpose, like the old adage says “everything happens for a reason.”  People would tell me this all the time and I would nod politely, wishing they’d keep their wisdom to themselves.  What I know now, is that every sorrow I encountered was just another way for my father and I to become closer, for us to understand each other in a better way, and for me to know unequivocally how much my father loved me.

 

Paul Arthur was born in Boston on May 15, 1943, the 7th child of Esther and Ralph J.  Two younger brothers and one younger sister followed him to make a full house of ten children.  While life was not always easy with so many children, my father would recount his childhood in Boston with more positive memories than anything else.  To listen to his stories, you’d think that his boyhood was one great adventure after another.  He talked about sneaking out of the house with his brothers and not being able to get back in, the story of how one of his brothers was stuck overnight in a cemetery crypt on an adventure gone wrong, and how he and his siblings would muddy their winter jackets as soon as they were bought home from the store.  And while he spoke of times that were hard, his overwhelming message was the importance of family and looking out for the people you loved.

 

Paul also believed in doing for others.  He started by serving his country in the United States Army fresh out of high school.  He spoke fondly about the time spent in Germany as a solider and seeing President Kennedy speak to the troops.  He felt that this time taught him about honor and discipline as a young man.  He returned home to the United States, narrowly escaping duty in the Vietnam War, to begin his life as a young husband and father.  He also began another kind of service, as an officer for the Boston Police Department.  He served all over the city of Boston, in various departments, for over 30 years, retiring in 2004.  Though he spent time on the SWAT team and in ballistics, to name a few, perhaps his most valuable time was spent as a community service officer in Dorchester.   Again, he believed strongly in the importance of looking out for the people around you.  He believed in individual responsibility and hard work.  He was popular in the community for his every day involvement as well as his weekly input into the local newspaper, The Dorchester Reporter.  Always eager to see the fun in things, he would search through arrest sheets from the week to find stories of interesting, outlandish, and downright imbecile crimes.  He would then craft a few simple arrest descriptions into colorful tales full of dark humor, valuable lessons and bad puns.  Occasionally, something would strike a chord with him, leading him to compose a serious piece about an issue he found important.  And this was very much how my father was as a man, goofy and playful until something hit him in a way that made him feel the need to speak with only the parts of him that were eloquent and wise.

 

When he wasn’t policing and writing, Paul was working on his house, his neighbor’s house, the friend of a friend’s uncle’s house, and so on.  My father never gave a second thought to helping people he hardly knew and some he didn’t know at all.  He looked at the world and tried to fix it in whatever way he could, and a lot of times, that meant fixing a hole in a wall.  He told me once that he solved problems  in his mind doing the most slow repetitive tasks.  But he didn’t just work on his own worries, he was a man who gave calm and sensible advice to many.  He was a man who could talk to anyone and usually win them over, though he was often a man of few words.  Paul believed that at the end of the day, words meant very little- actions were everything.  There are few people that he cared for who didn’t benefit from this philosophy.  My father didn’t freely give out affection and praise, but was abundantly generous with his time and himself.  He didn’t understand the notion of shoddy workmanship or half hearted effort.  When he committed himself to something, he committed himself 100%, no matter how difficult and painful that something may be.

 

My father lived simply as often as possible.  He devoted his time first and foremost to family and friends.  He took great pleasure in bringing people out on his boat, where he would immediately show you how to drive and put you in charge so that he could entertain everyone else with stories and terrible terrible jokes.  He always loved musicals and raised 5 children on the songs and did his best to pass it on to the next generation of the family.  My father had a special way of making children feel important and getting them to use their imaginations whenever possible.  He taught us to think for ourselves but to respect our elders.  He taught us to love animals and getting our hands dirty.  He taught us to to always be kind and to always try our hardest.  Nobody has ever believed in me the way my father has, and I know that I am far from alone.  He believed that everyone is essentially redeemable, that no one is beyond hope.  His heart never ran out of room to love one more person or to forgive people who had wronged him.  He taught me and so many others that there are few things in this world that can’t be overcome with time, hard work, and a strong and ready spirit.

 

In the end, my father touched more people than he ever really understood.  He knew he was charming, but never knew just how much or just how memorable he was.  When my nieces were very small he told me that they would remember the silly things we did, the playfulness, and many adventures together.  My father was all of these things to his grandchildren, he had these abilities in droves.  And so I know that as a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend, and a man, my father will always be remembered.

You’re the best friend that I’ve ever had

Image

 

Today is the one month mark since I said good bye to Mona. She was 14 years old, twice as stubborn as me until the day that she died. She had been diagnosed with early stage renal failure over the summer, but was in excellent shape. We switched her to a prescription diet and she continued to pick fights with other dogs and bark her fool head off as much as she could get away with. Because of her age, I knew the time was coming. Slowly, then rapidly, it did. I felt like she started to slow down around the tail end of the summer and when it was time to go, she declined over the course of 4 days. She died on a Tuesday. I carried her to bed Monday night and lay her in between my boyfriend and I. We covered her in blankets, the way that she liked, and pet her and talked to her for hours. Finally, I turned my back to her and folded my legs around her- the reverse spoon that we made all of our lives together. I didn’t expect her to make it through the night and I thought that this was a good death. To be surrounded with love and the comforts of home. But my beardog always was an ornery creature, and she woke the next morning. She walked outside on her own but lay in my neighbor’s grass quickly from her back legs being too weak. It was sunny. I rubbed her belly and helped her to stand again. She drank a little chicken broth and returned to my bed with me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that it was time to do it. I would not be that person who drags out an unpleasant life for an animal because I wasn’t ready to deal with it. The truth was, I was never going to be ready to deal with it. 

These are some of the things that took over my brain those last few days… I remembered the first time I saw her, in an outdoor kennel at the pound, howling incessantly with her beautiful shiny coat in the sun. She hated the car and threw up in the ten minutes it took to get her home. I had grown up with dogs my whole life and thought that I knew just what to do, the same way I knew about everything else when I was 25. That crazy beast tested every bit of my patience and had me running in and out of traffic, strangers’ back yards, strangers’ houses (once), through woods, meadows, and ghettos. She loved to run, she was awfully fast, and she never let you catch her the same way twice. When we did have a fenced in place for her to run, she was pure joy. Her lean build galloped effortlessly while her ridiculous ears and jowls flapped in the wind. When she wasn’t impossible, Mona was just love. She was always gentle with children, occasionally with very young kittens- she carried my cat Jaques in her mouth when my roommate brought him home prematurely. Mona didn’t meet any people that she didn’t like, and once she met you, she never wanted you to leave. If you were sleeping in the guest room, she would make her best efforts to make you feel at home with her patented reverse spoon. As my young friend Sam said of my two dogs, “Harriet is fun to play with, but Mona is better for petting.”

She was my constant support, there with me for most every major event I had in my life. On 9/11, I remember going home and wanting nothing more than to lay under the covers with my beardog. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and on medical leave for a few weeks, she curled up quietly at my side, letting out the occasional sigh and groan. We took gentle walks those days, it was one of the few times she didn’t fight with me for control. We moved many times, had many roommates, other animals that lived with us and through every change, I came home to her. She’d bark and run around in circles, stop and look at me, bark some more, run some more. She just couldn’t believe that I had come back and that I still loved her. I was her 3rd owner and I refused to give up. The payback for tolerating her bad manners was the most wonderful and comforting love. I remember being diagnosed with cancer and walking in my front door, Mona stood there barking and wagging her tail. And that was when I dropped to the ground, held on to her and really cried. She was there, and she didn’t leave. She was there through the sickest days of chemotherapy, the days when I was so sick at the loss of my husband that I couldn’t eat or sleep. Mona was always there, always nearby. Her heavy sighs and smacking of her lips as she readjusted herself into perfect comfort. And she was there when I came home from 9 weeks in the hospital and rehab. Always by my side until it was time to greet people at the door. She loved my dad to pieces and he had a special place for her too. I couldn’t explain to her that my dad had died, but she was there, and that was always what I needed.

I tried to give Mona the best life that I could, adventures, friends, good food and abundant love. But I didn’t know what to do in the end, when she didn’t die in her sleep as I had thought she would. I didn’t want to take her to the vet because she didn’t like going there (though she did get over her fear of driving in cars many years ago.) After many calls with no good results, the clock was making the decision for me. I didn’t want her to suffer. I packed her bed and blankets into the back of my car and climbed into the back with her. My boyfriend drove us to the vet, Mona refusing to lay down, but too weak to stand. She sat and looked out the window. I laid next to her holding her steady and watching her look out the window at the sunny day going by. We both got into the back of the car with her and the vet come to us. She gave Mona a shot of sedative first, which she explained would sting, and sure enough that firecracker snapped at them. I climbed back in and curled around her. She was sitting up and she looked around for a moment, sniffed the air, then looked down at me with a yawn-as if this was the perfect time for some rest. She lay next to me and with my arms around her, stroking her long velvety ears, I sang to her one of the many many songs I made up about her over the years. She slept peacefully as we said everything that needed getting out. The vet came back and put her to rest. She was surrounded by love.

But then the strangest things happened. The sun turned to rain as we drove home. When we got home to the barely audible woofs of Harriet and Monster, my boyfriend took them for a walk and I returned to bed. A few minutes later, he sent me a text- there, behind the church where we walked every day, was a rainbow. It’d be the sappiest thing in the world if it didn’t really happen. But it did. And like that day I foolishly brought home a 1 1/2 year old coonhound and all the days that followed, I’m so glad that they did.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Wouldn’t that be great. To erase the things you don’t want to see anymore. I haven’t watched this movie in ages, but I loved the idea. Especially now. I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t want to be consumed by it, but there are things that I can’t shake.  Things that I think I have dealt with, that I think don’t matter any more, that will just hit me out of nowhere some days and nearly destroy me. I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m not going to make it. Of course I am going to make it. If I’ve proved anything the last 3 years, I’ve proved that I will make it. But there are moments, however fleeting, that I’m not sure how to keep it up. There are things that fill up my head and my heart that I can’t seem to find an appropriate place for.

I have neglected this blog as I neglect so many things in my life. Because I don’t have the energy. Because it hurts too much. And because writing about it means I have to think about it, that I have to admit that it’s really there when so often I just want to sleep through it.

A few things- the first is that some of my punctuation keys are not working today. The question mark, for example.  So, dear reader, use your imagination. The second thing is that tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 38. This truly amazes me. In some ways I am shocked that I have lived this many years. In other ways, I feel that I have lived through more than is really right and fair. But what is fairness. And if I really think about it, I know that there are still people who have it so much worse- people that grow up in war zones, for one example. Some days I feel lucky for that. Other days I am still pissed off about the last few years. The last several months, even.

There’s this- my grandfather died last week. He was very old, almost 90, and his health had been failing for quite some time. I will miss him and death is never easy, but I have to admit that this was hard for me for other reasons. The first reason was that this was the 4th person in my immediate circle of friends and loved ones who has died in under ten months. My grandfather was lucky enough to live a long life, which is something I can not say for anyone else in that group of four. I try not to be angry about it, knowing that it gets me nowhere. But how to help it, I don’t know.

The second reason was that I hadn’t seen my grandfather in a very long time. Yes, I have reasons, I’ve been sick and then injured. But I had time and I didn’t try to make it happen as much as I should’ve. I’m not going to sit here and regret this every day of my life, though it does hurt. This is just one more reminder for me of the things that I mean to do and can’t seem to accomplish. This is one more reminder of a way in which I have failed. Yes, we are all our own worst critics. I know that I am not a bad person and that I can not help my injuries and illnesses. But I’m frustrated more often than not. I’m tired of not being able to do what I want. I’m tired of not being able to think right, to sleep right, to wake up and get out of bed at any sort of decent hour. I’m tired of being sore. I’m tired of being tired. And I’m tired of the things in my head that I can’t shake- they are mostly of my dad, of questions I meant to ask him and never did, things I meant to say. On the really bad days, I see myself, in the exact moment, when I got the call from my stepmother. I can remember her words and every thing that I did in the immediate time afterwards. I think about how unreal it felt to sit in a cold room in a shitty hospital and see this man who was always so full of life, suddenly be empty of it. I remember the way that he smelled, the way that his skin felt, the things that I whispered to him as I lay my head on his chest and heard nothing. I remember getting up and running to the dingy bathroom to throw up because my body did not know how to accept what I was seeing. I still don’t know how to accept it. Every time my phone rings, I am sure that this is somehow my father calling me to tell me something that will make it better.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have these moments where I am struck with the loss of my husband. The fact that 6 and a half years of my life’s memories will always be tinged with the knowledge of how it will end. It’s like watching a movie that you love, knowing every time that the ending will leave you kicked in the stomach. Luckily, these are brief moments, few and far between. That part of my life is over, I have been lucky enough to have met someone who exceeds so many of my expectations. Someone that was slightly unlikely for me, but who I knew was right, even when I wanted to drop him for not being the easiest choice. I think sometimes of all the things the poor bastard has had to be there for since we met in October. Four deaths, two crutches, one hospitalization, and the continued ups and downs of my health. Whether these things are my fault or not, I’m a tough person to manage. I have to cancel things more than I’d like from not having the energy. The last two weekends I spent most of the time sleeping. Today I’m exhausted. It’s frustrating to feel this way, it must be bad to watch. Though somehow, he keeps showing up.

My apologies for this post being all over the place, but this is how my mind has been for quite some time. My brain just doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to. Still, when I am not preoccupied with all the crap, I am hopeful that things will get better. That they will continue to improve. Some days I just find it harder to push the bad things out.

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

Friday was my friend Sean’s memorial service. I went to see his family the day he died. It was all such a shock and I don’t think it really hit me until the next day. I guess part of me understood on Saturday, I just know that come Sunday I didn’t feel like I could keep myself together for a minute. The whole thing just felt too familiar yet unfathomable. When I hugged Sean’s son on Saturday, I cried for my own father and I cried for this 18 year old kid who was far too young to lose his dad. I blubbered to him that it was going to suck. That he was going to be up and down and all over the place. I told him what I probably shouldn’t have- that it had been 5 months since I’d lost my dad and I still cried for him every day. But still, I hadn’t really processed it.

I still had to process that I’d known Sean and Allison since high school. That now, someone who I went to high school with had died of a heart attack. Someone who wasn’t a drug addict or a drunk, but who had a couple of health problems that you don’t necessarily think of as being fatal. It was hard to get my head around this. I’m too young for that, it wasn’t right. How do I make sense of it? How do I think of all that time ago with this person who was suddenly gone?

Even more importantly, how do I say something, anything to his wife and his children to make them feel the tiniest amount better? It was then, when I really thought about these things and how they felt for me, that this sadness just took me over and shook me. I didn’t have the same experience- my husband did not die though I had lost him suddenly and without warning. I knew what it was like to be in the same house that you had shared and to have every last thing jar you with a memory. I knew what it was like to think that you had this whole life planned out together one day and have it ripped out of your hands the next- for better or worse. But my husband didn’t die and though we had many years, we didn’t have half of our lives the way that Allison and Sean did. So I had an idea of what Allison felt, but really just a fraction of it. I know that my husband leaving absolutely leveled me in a way that I had never experienced before and don’t hope to again. I know that the whole thing left me damaged in a way that I can’t ever explain and wonder sometimes if I will ever truly overcome. I know that it changed something about me that I didn’t want changed. I know that I wondered if it would’ve been easier if he had died and I didn’t have to think about his life without me instead of thinking of what could have been. In a way, I guess I had both of those things to think about-but it wasn’t the same thing that Allison experienced, how could it be? And then I thought about losing my father.

I’m not going to lie and say that my dad and I always had a fantastic relationship. The particulars are long, varied, and unimportant now. What is important is that these last few years my father was there for me in every way, and whatever friction we had had in the past didn’t matter any more. While I am ever thankful that we were given the chance to have a relationship that was solid and good, in another way it was all the more cruel when he was taken from me- this person who became such a large and vital part of my life. But when I looked at my friends’ son, I thought about how different this would’ve been if my father had died when I was 18, or 15, like his younger son. Sean didn’t have the same relationship with his boys that I did with my dad but even when my dad and I did get along well, my adult relationship with him was rich in ways that I never expected. So I cried for these boys in the way that I understood what it was like to lose your father. And I cried for them some more because they didn’t have enough years to see him with their own years of experience behind them-for better or worse, they were cheated for this just as Sean was cheated for not seeing what his sons would become.

What it came down to really, the day after Sean died, was one thing that I was told over and over again the week that my father died- that life is unfair and it fucking sucks. Sure, there is a large part of me that has always felt that way-but never more so than I did when my father died. I don’t know that I’d ever felt so cheated as I did that day and at least for a little while every day since. That was maybe the worst thing-to be reminded of that- to know that feeling to the very core of my being and to know that though it was different, though I didn’t lose my father as a teenager, though my husband didn’t die-I could never say I knew just how they felt. I could only imagine some of what these dear friends were going through. What I did understand was what it felt like to feel like you had been cheated, like you had done your best and still lost in the end. I understood the sadness and the anger you just couldn’t direct anywhere. So I didn’t tell them it was all going to be okay. We were all cheated with Sean’s death- his family, his friends, his fans, and Sean himself. I’m not going to tell anyone that that is somehow acceptable or that there was some good reason behind it. All I could tell them is that life is unfair and it fucking sucks.

But eventually, it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

 

shine on you crazy diamond

There’s this joke in one of Woody Allen’s movies, I can’t remember which, that says something like this: Two elderly women are having dinner and one says “The food here is terrible!” And the other says “Yes! And such small portions!” I’m sure I butchered those lines just as much as my punctuation and grammar butcher the English language, but you get the idea. Life is unfair and it fucking sucks. And it is always far too short.

Saturday morning I got a call from one of my best and oldest friends Allison, telling me that her husband Sean had died. Sean had had health issues over the past few years, even so, his death was a shock. He had recently been hospitalized for his asthma, but he had gotten better. The real thing that scared us all was the chronic leukemia he was diagnosed with a few years ago. He had fought with sickness from various chemo pills and was thrilled to announce, just weeks ago, that his latest medication had worked, he was cancer-free. I know personally that there are few words quite as wonderful as “cancer-free.” Fighting cancer only to have your heart fail after another asthma attack seems like an incredibly cruel joke. But that’s not even the punchline.

Sean and Allison are friends that I met in high school. I’m not quite sure how it all happened, but shortly after high school Sean took to calling me to ask about my friend Allison and how he could get her to go out with him. In my memory, I told Sean that she didn’t want to go out with him and he should just leave her alone. He swore that I told him to ask her out and that any gripes she had over the last (almost) 20 years could be taken up with me. Obviously, she did go out with him. I’m pretty sure he pestered her into it, but they became a couple and the three of us would hang out quite a bit. We weren’t old enough to get into any bars and I don’t recall us ever having money. I honestly don’t know what we did most of the time, though I have a distinct memory of sitting in Sean’s room as he showed Allison and I some drawings that he did. I remember some being cartoons with captions- the humor was odd, outlandish, and great. We laughed heartily, but Sean quickly dismissed his work as being stupid. Next week he and Allison were going on their first real trip together (without children) to Los Angeles where they were invited solely because of Sean’s stupid artwork.

When we were still just babies, Allison got pregnant and she and Sean married. They had Griffin almost 19 years ago and Gabriel a couple of years later. Sean continued to do his art and music, but fatherhood was a more pressing issue. He did illustrations for a small newspaper without charge (I think) still thinking that his talent was nothing special. Shortly after they turned 30, the couple decided that they had done enough crappy jobs just to make money and it was time that they concentrated on doing the things that they really wanted to do. Allison went to beauty school and Sean put more time into sharing his art with the rest of the world. Luckily, the internet was there to help.

In the last couple of years Sean finally started to get an audience-a rather large one. The posts about him on Facebook for the last day and a half have been amazing. As I’ve read the posts, the blog entries and memorials on a few websites, all I can think is did he ever really know how talented, how loved he was? It breaks my heart how familiar this feels to my father’s death a few months ago. The fact that neither of them seemed to have any idea of how great people thought they were, how many people were in awe, how many lives they had touched has got to be one of the most tragic things about these deaths that came much too soon. I consider myself lucky not just for surviving two glimpses of the sweet hereafter, but having the unique experience of learning how much and how many people love me. In the days and weeks that followed my father’s death and in just hours of Sean’s I go back to this thought again and again- if only they could see this.

Sean was fortunate to have been a father, a husband, and a friend to so many. He was lucky that his vast talents were finally starting to generate approval that he could see in dollar amounts (though he never charged a fraction of what they were worth, still feeling like it wasn’t all that great.) As short as his life was, the amount of work that Sean left behind was amazing- you can see his website along with a link to the very much needed memorial fund here: http://hartter.blogspot.com/
One of the best Christmas presents I ever gave to my dad was an “alternate universe” poster of Sean’s that I asked him to make with my father playing the role of Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.” He even managed to turn my father’s dog Zoey into Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza. My dad loved it and we displayed it at his wake. Truly a Sean Hartter original. None of us would’ve guessed that they’d both be gone so soon. But I don’t have to tell anyone who was lucky enough to have known either of them that their lives, however cruelly short, made the world a better place for the ones they left behind.

never seem to find the time

I’m afraid to look at how long its been since I’ve written anything. I have reasons, none of which are particularly good. This post is really just a preliminary to my next because I feel that I need to get some things out of the way first. One of my biggest reasons for not posting is that once again, I find myself overwhelmed by things in my life that I don’t know how or where to begin to process. The short version is that in 5 months and 3 days I have had 3 people in my immediate circle die. Two of them were completely unexpected. My father Paul, aged 69, died 2 days after Thanksgiving. My friend Sean, aged 39, died early Saturday morning. Both of these men had huge hearts that somehow failed them without any real explanation. The third loss was in February when my wife/partner-in-crime/BoomBoom’s father, aged 68, passed after fighting cancer.

Where do I begin to explain how all of this has affected me? I started to write a post about my father back in November, the draft is saved for another day. I don’t have the time or the heart to write about this all tonight. I know I need to get it out. I have been learning over and over and over again, that time is not going to stand still while I organize my thoughts. But I needed to start somewhere and I felt like I didn’t want to neglect to explain myself at least a little bit. I apologize if my writing is atrocious right now. Every time I think that I couldn’t possibly be any more worn out, something else happens. Really, I just wanted things to stop. I wanted all of my bad luck to stop. I still feel that way, but if I have to choose things happening to me or watching the people that I love suffer or die, then please, sign me up for some more brushes with death. I can handle anything that comes my way, so long as it is a burden for me to bear.

That said, I wanted one entry that was just for Sean and his family (though I know my own shit will come into it.)

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