My Friends, Part 2: The Brits

I have spoken before about how my American friends have saved my life in this, my time of mourning. Now I need to tell you about what my British friends have done for me; but before I do so, a little background is necessary.

We met Mr. and Mrs. Sorenson (their online nicknames) back in the late 1990s, enjoyed each others’ online company, and on our next trip to England, Connie and I met up with the “Sors” in Bath (yeah, I know: I was then and now too lazy to type out “Sorenson” in full). We spent a couple of wonderful days together and made a friendship that has lasted to this day. Every single time we flew to Britishland thereafter involved visiting with them, even if just for dinner or shopping. One trip even included a day of shooting clays at the Royal Berkshire Gun Club; and they in turn hooked up with us on a vacation at Disney World and later, a trip to Plano which involved the firing of thousands of rounds through various of my guns. (Yes, I turned a pair of hoplophobic Brits into gun nuts, and damn proud of it I am, too.) Both Sors have been regular visitors to my various websites over the years, and Mrs. Sor has been a constant, and very welcome commenter at this new incarnation of my online ramblings. Mr. Sor is also an enthusiastic not to say dedicated beer drinker, and so much of our time together on either side of the Atlantic has been spent in a blissful alcoholic haze. As is also the case with my other two Brit friends.

I met The Englishman through his blog, An Englishman’s Castle, and having several common interests (hanging liberals, shooting criminals, burning down government buildings along with their inhabitants, etc.), we struck up a very cordial online friendship. Then one year la famille du Toit went on an actual vacation (the first in years, as opposed to business trips with a few days tacked on), and for our sins we picked Portugal’s Algarve coast, about which I’d heard so much, and had seen many beautiful photos thereof in the distant past when I was involved with the advertising account for TAP, the Portuguese airline. Because neither The Mrs. nor I knew much about the place, we decided to play it safe (for once), and booked two weeks at the Club Med outside Albufeira. I won’t go into details, but it was a total disaster and we were miserable — to the point where The Mrs. and Daughter were actually prepared to leave the group and go somewhere else, like England or Scotland, all by themselves.

Of course that wasn’t an option. At a family meeting, all decided that we’d go over to Britain, but the cost of additional accommodation was quite beyond our budget (canceling our stay would entail getting no partial refund from the chiseling Club Med bastards), and we were waiting for a client check to clear before spending any more money. So in utter desperation, I called The Englishman and begged for a few days’ accommodation (which he’d once offered to us) so we could catch our breath and figure out what to do next. Please understand that we had never met in person before, yet when I told him that we were miserable and worse, surrounded by Frenchmen, his response was immediate: “Surrounded by Frenchmen? Oh dear no, no, no, we can’t have that: come on over and we’ll put you up for a couple of days.” So we left the Algarve and flew to England. We stayed at the Castle (actually, an old farmhouse), and fell in love with the place — yes, that’s where The Mrs. is going to be laid to rest — and in love with the Englishman Family. Then after a brief visit to Bath (just a few miles away) we went on with a new vacation plan — bidding a sad farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Englishman and their delightful children.

In parallel, I’d likewise met Mr. Free Market (Mr. FM) through his blog at Free Market Towers (actually, an ancient “cottage”) and discovered not only a similar affinity to those same interests as The Englishman, but a common deep and abiding love of firearms and shooting. Here’s the funny bit: although at the time he lived literally down the road from The Englishman, they’d never before met in person — which they soon remedied, and another friendship was established. Anyway, we met Mr. and Mrs. FM in person on a later trip and all got on like a house on fire — to the extent that our families have spent much time with each other on both sides of the Atlantic, the Free Markets coming over for Thanksgiving one year, several trips involving visits to sundry shooting ranges, stopovers at the Castle en route to other destinations, and what have you. And I should point out that along the way, my American friends Doc Russia and Combat Controller have become buddies with Mr. FM too, and have shared several adventures together (details to follow some other time).

So Mr. FM called me up a short while ago to see how I was doing and what my plans were. When I reminded him I was staying at Doc Russia’s house, his next words were:

“So what are you doing there? How do you spend your time?”
“Writing. Grieving. The occasional trips to the range and the pub with Doc, I suppose. But mostly just writing and grieving.”
“Ah. Well, the War Office [Mrs. FM] has just told me that your bed is made up and ready for your arrival.”
What?
“My dear boy, if all you’re going to be doing is moping, writing, drinking and shooting, then you may as well do some of that in England as in Texas.”
“But I can’t afford to fly over to the U.K.”
“Don’t worry about that. I have BA Miles to spare.”
“Mr. FM, seriously: I have little or no money, especially when it comes to Expensive Britain. All I could do is stand the occasional round of drinks.”
“Your money’s no good over here, old chap. Just leave everything to us.”
“But, but… I don’t want to abuse your hospitality. How long could I stay? ”
“As long as you like. A couple months or so should do it.”
“That seems like a hell of an imposition.”
“Dear heart, it isn’t at all. Frankly, I’m going to be out of the country quite a bit on business, and I’d feel better knowing that Mrs. FM won’t be all alone in the house while I’m gone. Also, we’re going on holiday for a week or two, and I’d definitely feel better if FM Towers wasn’t standing vacant during that time. So you’d actually be doing me a favor.”
“I don’t know what to say…”
“And you can go and visit The Englishman and your other friends while you’re here, of course. Just use the Range Rover. We’re also planning a hunting trip in Scotland and some high-bird grouse shooting later in the year, so you may as well join me for those.” Pause. “Oh, and as you know, Doc Russia and Combat Controller are coming over for the Scotland deer hunt too, so we can all get together and have a good time. There’s also Goodwood [Festival of Speed] and trips to Royal Berkeley and Bisley for some shooting, but we can work all that out later. I almost forgot: The Englishman wants us to do a tour of historic pubs in the West Country, so put that onto the schedule too.”
Then came the killer question which decided the whole thing.
“And Kim: exactly when were you thinking of interring Connie’s ashes in The Englishman’s Long Barrow, anyway?”

When I’d picked myself off the floor and could speak again, I looked at the calendar and made the travel arrangements with Mr. FM. Circumstances permitting and catastrophes aside, I’ll be leaving for Britain in late June. And wow, it looks like I’ll be getting to do Bucket List Entry #2 a lot sooner than I thought.

So there you have it: I now have yet another reason to live — just one in a long line of reasons to live, all made possible through the unbelievable generosity and kindness of friends.

I don’t know what I did to deserve all this, but to quote the silly Rogers & Hammerstein song: “Somewhere in my youth, or childhood… I must have done something good.”

And for the first time since I whispered good-bye to Connie on that dreadful day in February, I absolutely know I’m going to survive this thing, and it’s all thanks to my friends. Amazing.

Clouds Lifting

I never thought I’d be saying this, and especially so soon after Connie’s death, but I’m starting to deal with the world again and I don’t feel like I’m just going through the motions. Of course, I’m suspicious of this new feeling, but a couple of things make me think I’m starting to turn the corner.

Firstly, I was finally able to walk away from the old house in Plano — if I don’t want to, I don’t ever have to see it again. (Here’s an example of my disconnect: the painter asked me what color I wanted the outside gutters and drainpipes painted. I waved my hand around to encompass the whole street and said, “Use whatever color fits the neighborhood. I don’t care, it’s not my house anymore.”) I will go back, of course, just to make sure the reno went as planned, but I don’t have to — all the work is nearly done, next week the “stagers” come in to make the place look decent, and then the agent will list it. Basically, what happens next will happen, and there’s not much I can do to affect the outcome. After the burden of emptying the place out and the scourging of my soul that went with that activity, the house is no longer Connie’s and mine: it is somebody else’s house now, the market just hasn’t decided whose, yet.

Secondly, I’m dealing with being alone again better than I thought I would. Doc’s been on an extended shift at the ER, which left me pretty much by myself for the past two days. I have to admit that the first few hours were a little nerve-wracking; but amazingly, I settled into the routine of solo living without too much anguish. Mostly, I napped — good grief, I had no idea I could sleep so much, my body must have decided that it was time to make up for all those sleepless nights over the past two or three years — and I even started making plans for the near future.

Once the house is sold, I’ll probably be able to start working again — “working” being whatever I can find that will pay me enough to keep me afloat. (There’s a book to finish — one scene yet to write — and there might be a YouTube Kim channel in the future, but I can’t work out those details just yet.) I wish I could start doing that now, but I need the sale of the house to close that particular chapter of my life so I have to be available in case there’s an emergency. (One story to share: the flooring people are using the leftover tiles from our big flooring project from back in 2004 to fix up the master bathroom. I measured, re-measured and made the flooring contractor measure the space as well, just to ensure that we could agree that there was enough stock on hand. When we’d finished I said to him, “Just know this: if I get a call right after Lowe’s closes, telling me there isn’t enough tile to finish the job, there will be gunfire. Use the stock frugally.” There were wide-open, fearful eyes looking back at me. I think he got the message.)

Finally, and I hate to do this more than anything I can think of: I need a little more money to get this job done — new turf in the front, fixing the sprinkler system up and so on — so if you all can go to the well for me just one more time and drop whatever you can spare into my GoFundMe appeal, I will be grateful beyond words. The minute the house is sold, whatever it’s sold for and even if it sells for a loss, I plan to close the appeal for good because I can’t stand begging for money anymore.

Enough, already. Once this is done, it will be time to get on with my life, on my own terms and on my own two feet. I know exactly how Scarlett O’Hara felt, because AGIMW, I am never going to beg for money again.

And one more time: thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making this possible. I would not have survived this catastrophe, this loss, this upending of my life, without the financial generosity and just as importantly, the moral support I’ve received from all of you. My gratitude is profound, and eternal because at long last, I feel that I’m going to make it.

I can even listen to that beautiful song now without dissolving into a pool of tears.

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.