Gone

Finally out of the house yesterday; all items meant for Goodwill stashed in the garage, all items meant for other people also duly stashed in the garage, all items destined for storage stashed in the garage, and while the garage was completely full, that meant the house was empty.

So the reno crew came in to get the place ready for sale — without a new floor in the main bedroom and new carpet upstairs, the house wouldn’t sell for ages — so they were really necessary. Fortunately, their fee comes off the final sale price so I don’t have to go to my rapidly-thinning wallet.

The first thing they did was rip the bookshelves off the walls in the den and dining room. Three days of backbreaking work for Connie and me to build and install the things; ten minutes and they were down, destroyed.

I had to leave at that point. I know: intellectually I could see that what sells a house is bare walls so that the new owners can put their imprint on the place, just as Connie and I did; emotionally, all I could see was one of our favorite projects reduced to splinters and our house being turned into someone else’s home. So I fled.

Fortunately, Doc Russia was available (night shifts this week) and as always, he had the right answer: “Lunch with booze, at an establishment which features scantily-clad women.”

I was so distraught I let him take me to just such an establishment, and yet another sign of my distraction was that I ordered a salad. [pause for gasps of shock to die down] Okay, it was a steak salad with avo, bacon, blue cheese and blue cheese dressing but honestly, it’s probably the first time I’ve ever ordered a salad as a meal in a restaurant. A tall mug of draft Shiner Bock (too fizzy, of course, but okay-tasting), a waitress of extraordinary loveliness (tangential thought: why would such a pretty girl resort to working at a place like that?), and with the wall-to-wall TV screens showing everything from fishing to football (both kinds), my mood turned from bleak and miserable to if not Happiness Stan, at least away from Blubbering-Sorry-For-Himself Kim. (Another tangential thought: on one of the TV talk shows, some guy was being compared to another guy, and I realized that I’d never heard of either of them. I am really out of touch.)

And as always with Doc, the conversation was all Guy Talk: guns (duh), hunting, cars, women and sports — we both turn off the TV when it’s people talking about a game versus people actually playing a game.

So the meal was done, and the music was making us both jittery (final tangential thought: when did rap music become acceptable in a sports bar?), so we left. When we got back to my new home, Doc got ready to go to work and I started unpacking the few paltry possessions I’ll need as a house guest: clothes, guns, books, my laptop — you know, the bare essentials.

And then to bed. For the first time since Connie died, there were no dreams, no nightmares; I slept all the way through the night and I didn’t wake up dreading the day to come — also for the first time.

Today I’ll be back at the old homestead, supervising the demolition of the workshop side of the garage and the clearing up of the backyard (which until recently looked like part of the Amazon forest had skipped over the border and established itself firmly in my little plot of land in N. Texas). A couple-three trips to Goodwill, a trip or two to the storage unit, and that’ll be it.

I don’t think I’ll go back inside the house. Not for a while, anyway.

My Friends, Part 1: The Yanks

Today is the day I finally move out of the Plano house where Connie and I spent the last dozen or so years of our lives together, raised the kids into adulthood and ran two consultancies as well as my blog and our podcast. We loved the place — actually, Connie found it in the online listings, loved it, ran through the numbers to make sure we could afford it, then found us another house to look at first just so I could say that I preferred the second one, and she could get the one she wanted in the first place. Sneaky? No, respectful. She knew that as much as I respected her judgement, I’d want to be part of the decision-making process, and she engineered the thing so we could both get what we wanted. Did I care when she later confessed her little subterfuge? Of course not; on the contrary, I was grateful for her consideration. And I wasn’t the only grateful one: for the first time in their lives, the kids were living in a house that wasn’t rented, and it gave them a solid grounding and foundation — a place to call “home” — at last. And they flourished.

Now they’ve all left home, and Connie’s left as well. And finally, we get to the point of this post.

The generous people who have contributed to my GoFundMe appeal have helped me take care of many of my outstanding financial obligations stemming from Connie’s medical condition, and at least my financial condition is no longer the looming disaster it was — THANK YOU. I know some of you quite well — we’ve met in person, even if just briefly — and of course there’s been that relationship with my Loyal Readers developed over many years. (As one Longtime Reader put it when I wrote to thank him for his large donation: “Let’s just call it a late payment on all those years of enjoyment you gave me with your old blog. Now get going on the new one.”) What the appeal has done has taken the burden of financial ruin away (mostly, anyway; I’ve got a little way to go still — if you haven’t been there yet, please consider it). But I have to tell you all, the incredible and generous response to the appeal has lifted my spirit beyond measure, and the horrifying prospect of utter destitution has been staved off. Thank you all, again.

Then we have my close friends.

I have spoken of these friends in the past, and it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that without them, I have no idea what I’d have done in the dreadful month following Connie’s death — or, for that matter, what I’d do with the rest of my life altogether. I’m going to list my closest American friends first — we’ll get to the Brits in another post — and use their online handles to spare them any embarrassment (and if you know their real names, please avoid using them if you go to Comments). They have been astonishing — “they” being Doc Russia, Combat Controller (CC), and Trevor (my South African buddy of over thirty years). They’ve called me daily with sympathy, support and advice, and sometimes just to check up on me, despite their own hectic schedules, and if I’ve called them in varying stages of despair and melancholy to bleat out my woes, I’ve never hung up the phone at the end without feeling better, more hopeful and less lonely than when I dialed.

We all know the part about actions speaking louder, right? CC and Trevor both live in Austin, but they come up to the Big D fairly often, and always spend time with me.
Trevor canceled a business trip (to Tokyo, I think) to be with me the week after Connie’s death, and helped me with the funeral home arrangements as well as with countless other painful details.
CC has been a voice of commonsense in financial advice — in my fucked-up state I would have made some appalling screwups  without him — and on more than one occasion his level-headed analysis has saved my bacon.

And now we come to Doc.

When the oncologist gave us Connie’s final, dreadful diagnosis, Doc told me in no uncertain terms that he was not going to let me move into some tiny little apartment and stare at the wall all day and night; instead, he told me (and I mean ordered me) to move in with him for a whole year so he could help me get through this horrible shit storm that was going to be my life. Clearly, he knew better than I how much Connie’s death was going to devastate me, and he was not going to allow bad things to happen to me. (He’s divorced, so there’s no wifely issue on me moving into his house.) When I feebly protested his overwhelming generosity, he basically told me to shut up. “I work long hours in the E.R., and it’ll be good to have someone look after the place. Also, when I go on my African safari in the spring, that means the house won’t be empty. And in any case, I’ll always have a hangout buddy, a companion to go shooting with, and a drinking partner when I feel like going to the bar. Believe me, there’s no downside to this.”

So today I move not into the apartment I rented in downtown Plano — Daughter’s living there and paying the rent until I’m ready to claim it back — but into the guest suite in Doc’s house.

As I said earlier, I’ll get to the Brit contingent in a later post; but it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that Doc, CC and Trevor have literally saved my life, in just about every sense of the word. They have been friends in need, and friends in deed.

“Thank you” can’t even begin to cover it.

Mourning Has Broken

I wish. To turn the passive into the active, mourning has (almost) broken me.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong man, both physically and mentally. I lost my own father at age twenty-one and in retrospect, got on with life with the callousness of youth to help me overcome the loss of the man who helped guide me through my tormented adolescence into young adulthood. I’ve been a rock to friends when they’ve been in trouble, and was always the first to open my big mouth or use my fists when I saw some kind of injustice. And I brought security and peace to Connie who, despite her own strength and toughness, was fearful of men because of her own troubled background. I was always, in other words, the tough guy, the independent guy who bulled his way through life and did it all by himself, if no one else wanted to join in the fun.

What has disturbed me the most about mourning is that it has weakened me so much. For the first time in my life, I’ve come across a situation that overwhelms me, and although I’ll survive it, there are times when I frankly don’t care if I do or not. I’m not being melodramatic, either. There are times when I just want to curl up in some lonely corner of the world and never leave, let the whole fabric of my life crash and burn, the hell with it all. For the first time in my life, I truly understand the situation of hobos and tramps, the people who just say “Fuck it,” and leave society, to sink themselves into drunkenness and drug addiction because the pain of everyday existence is just too much to bear. These are not people who willingly drop out; these are people who are pushed out by the demons inside their own head — and for the first time ever, I too have those demons in my head.

But that passes. I have discovered that apart from the responsibility I have to my family, my friends and all the other dear people in my life, I have an even greater responsibility to myself — that stubbornness which says, “You can’t just walk away from it all, and you can’t escape it either. So… waddya gonna do, Tough Guy?”

There’s really only one thing to do:

I hope so. If I survive this thing it’ll be through my sense of humor, although believe me, right now I have absolutely no desire to laugh. When that comes back, then I’ll know that morning has broken.

 

Black Despair

I lost it last night.

As I’ve been emptying out the house, I’ve come across all sorts of things which remind me of Connie; photos of a younger version whom, tragically, I never knew, old awards for some job excellence, thank-you letters from grateful clients and so on. Some of the things elicit a wry smile, some a strangled sob, and most a simple, “Oh, sweetheart.”

The kitchen has been the absolute worst. You see, amongst all her other achievements, Connie was a superlative cook, a cross between artist and artisan, and any of my Readers fortunate to have been guests at our dinner table will attest to that fact. Her spice “rack” (two overhead cupboards’ worth) overflowed onto the counter into four actual racks, and her utensils, from Le Creuset pots and pans to a wooden tortilla press — you don’t think we bought tortillas, do you? — were like the woodworking tools used by master craftsman Norm Abram: a means to create works of peerless quality. And unlike so many women, cooking for her was never a chore but a delight, just as long as she wasn’t asked to make prosaic stuff like sandwiches (I was deputized for that).

Back when I was working in Corporate America, I was in a meeting in my office with two of my subordinates when I got a call from my secretary: “It’s Connie; she apologizes but she has an important question for you.”
So I hit the speakerphone and said, “You’re on speaker, and I have Jim and Kenny here with me, so keep it clean.”
She laughed. “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
“I dunno; maybe just a salami sandwich?”
Icy silence. Then: “Hmph. Your choices are: Beef Burgundy or Banana Chicken Curry.”
“Oh. Okay, the curry sounds good,” and after the farewells I hung up, to see two pairs of eyes staring at me in astonishment.
“What’s the occasion?”
“No occasion.”
“You mean, she does this — cooks you this kind of meal — all the time?”
“Pretty much every night, unless we’re going out. But she doesn’t like to go to restaurants unless she’s tired.”
“Why?”
“She says she doesn’t like the way restaurants — even the good ones — screw up the food.”
“My God.”

So last night was Kitchen Night. I got about halfway through — tossed the spices which neither I nor the kids wanted or needed — but when I got to the copper saucepans,  crepe cookers and ebelskiver pans, I ran into a wall. “I can’t do this, sweetheart… I just can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much,” and I collapsed against the counter, weeping like a little girl. If the earth had opened up and swallowed me at that moment, I would have welcomed it.

The kids (Daughter and BF along with Son&Heir and Canucki-Girlfriend) will finish the kitchen today and tomorrow. Without them, I would have just left the house, never to return. As it is, I could barely write this blogpost.

Sorry to unload on y’all, but I did warn you that there’d be days like this. Today, the isolation is not so splendid.

Wrong Kind Of Update

When I quit blogging, I pretty much stopped going to blogs altogether, and lost touch with many old friends. So when I received a kind donation from someone with a familiar name at my GoFundMe appeal, you may imagine my shock upon reading the note attached:

Dear Kim,
When my husband (Chris, AKA Spoons of The Spoons Experience) and I visited Texas for a weekend, you and Connie insisted on our visiting you, which, as admirers of your blog, we were very excited by. You and Connie cooked us up a brunch fit for a king, then took us shooting (lending me your supercool Colt Python to try at the range!). A truly marvelous day was had by all. These are memories that now make me smile and tear up at the same time, because Chris died suddenly of a heart attack at 41 nearly four years ago. We had finally managed to accept that that we could never have children, but we had each other, and we knew we’d grow old together. But that wasn’t in the cards. What I did have, though, thank G_d, was parents who loved me and helped me, emotionally, financially, every way way they could. They still do. I can’t, *shouldn’t* forget how many blessings still remain in my life, though I’ll admit that some days it’s still hard. May G_d bless you and your family in your time of grief and hardship, and may you too come to be able to tell (or type) anecdotes from your life with your own beloved with smiles as well as a tear.
Laura

This broke my heart. I loved visiting The Spoons Experience, enjoyed his wicked sense of humor and sharp intellect, loved meeting him and his wife in person — they were such a warm and friendly couple — and to learn of his death like this was a complete smack in the face.

R.I.P.  Spoonsy; and Laura: please keep in touch, and yes,  I’ll be telling stories about Connie for the rest of my life. Smiles can come later.

 

Not So Silly

A week or so ago, I went over to the funeral home to pick up Connie’s ashes and get her death certificate. The funeral director, a lovely young lady named Amanda, had been wonderful throughout this whole grisly process — dealing with the hospital, the doctors and the state of Texas as part of their service.

Once all the talking was done, I said to the container of ashes, “Come on, sweetheart; let me take you home.” Whereupon Amanda gave a little sob, and ran out of the room.

All the way home, I talked to Connie’s ashes, telling her what I’d been doing in her absence, how the kids were doing, and in general keeping her up to date an everything that had happened since she died.

Stupid, huh?

I’ve always wondered at people who kept Mom’s ashes in an urn on the mantle like some sad reminder or token. Of course, it’s been a staple of black humor in stage productions and movies (the scattering of the ashes scene in The Big Lebowski comes to mind), and yes, it’s all good fun, but silly.

I don’t think it’s so silly anymore. Actually, it’s kind of peaceful and reassuring to have them around even though, let’s be honest, they’re ashes.

She’s not going to stay here, though. In fact, later in the year she’s going to be laid to rest in a long barrow in Wiltshire, built on the farm which belongs to an old family friend (pictured in the article). The irony is strong: Connie was always severely claustrophobic, but as another friend said, “She’ll get over it. Besides, she’s going to be among friends, now.”

What I do know is that Connie loved the place; she called it “home”, and when we visited the farm, she would sit for hours at the kitchen window looking out over the Vale of Pewsey. When I asked her what she was doing, she replied, “Looking at one of Constable’s paintings,” because that’s exactly what it looked like. Here’s what she was talking about:

It is even more beautiful than the photo suggests. And when it’s my time to go, guess where my ashes will end up? Yup… right next to hers.

Together again at last. And I’m not claustrophobic.