Not Myself

I’m not normally a melancholy person, and apart from the obvious reason, I really have no idea why I feel that way now: the house sale closes on Monday, Daughter got a new job (yay!), the other kids are doing fine, and I have two trips, one local and one international to look forward to in June.

Yet there it is: today feels like an “empty” day, I feel crappy and unmotivated, and I shouldn’t be.

It doesn’t help that Doc Russia is away for the next week or so, slaughtering dangerous game in his annual African safari (see below); this means that I’m denied my usual “beer, scantily-clad women, loud music and friendly company” remedy for whatever is bringing me down. I’d love to have a few cocktails, but I can’t and never could drink by myself. This is a new thing for me; in the past, I was perfectly happy to be all by myself, and was seldom if ever depressed. Now, I hate being without companionship, and I feel lonely without it. Fuck.

I think I’ll head down to the DFW range for most of the day, and give several of my guns a workout, followed by a thorough cleaning.

Normal blogging service should resume tomorrow. Sorry about that, but I don’t think I’m quite done dealing with this bloody bereavement thing yet.

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.

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.

 

Drugs, Disposal Of

One of the interesting things about cancer sufferers is the quantity and scope of the drugs needed to live their lives painlessly — what’s known in the medical business as “palliative” care (you’re going to die soon, but we’re going to make your life as bearable as possible, with all the drugs you need).

We were already on this train, of course, with Connie’s incurable back troubles. That was morphine, quite a bit, taken three times a day just so she could walk the few steps to the kitchen and back, and ditto to the bathroom and back. Then, with cancer, came a whole battalion of new stuff: hydrocodone for the pain, Ativan / Xanax for the emotional stress, something to make her sleep, something (actually, quite a few things) to make her bowels work (pain meds stop you up like concrete), something to help her bladder, something to alleviate the nausea caused by taking so many drugs in concert, and so on, and so on, and so on.

The end result was that after she died, I was left with a metric tonne of prescription narcotics. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the “street” value of the drugs I had left, and it appeared that I might not be able to pay off the house, but I could certainly pay off the car. (Source: the DEA website: government as a source of useful if questionable data, who knew?)

Anyway, I wasn’t about to sell the narcotics on the street, a.) because it’s the wrong thing to do, b.) because it’s illegal (and if you can’t tell the difference between the two, there’s a job waiting for you at the Clinton Foundation), and c.) because I have absolutely no idea how or even where to start this kind of felony. (My luck, the very first person I approached with: “Hi, wanna buy some morphine or Xanax?” would turn out to be an undercover cop.) And, good grief: none of my friends and relatives were interested, because, well, because they’re all law-abiding, non-drug-abusing people and could get drugs from their doctors if they needed them.

And just being in possession of all these drugs in these quantities was probably some kind of felony. I had to get rid of them; but how and where?

Nobody wanted me to flush them down the toilet or in the sink, because that meant the drugs would eventually get into the water supply. So I tried to do the right thing.

First, I went to the drugstore which had provided so many of the drugs to us: no dice. Obviously, the drugs can’t be re-issued, and they didn’t do disposal of unused / unwanted drugs, either. The pharmacist told me to try the Fire Department; apparently, they could take and destroy the stuff.

Except that wasn’t the case. The Plano FD, apparently, had stopped that program years ago. How about the Plano PD, they suggested. So off I went to our local police, with whom I have had a pleasant and amiable relationship for over a dozen years (except for the Girl Scout Incident which was all a big mistake anyway).

Here’s where it gets funny. “We don’t accept drugs, except in April and October, where we have a partnership with the DEA.” As Connie had had the temerity to die in February, and not in sync with Law Enforcement’s schedule, I would have to wait until April. Which I wasn’t about to do.

The DEA informed me that it wasn’t their jurisdiction; it was a local matter. (One wonders how disinterested they’d have been if I’d tried to sell the narcotics to one of their undercover agents in the street, but let me not denigrate the efforts of our federal law enforcement agencies.)

In desperation, I called the hospice nurse who had taken such good care of Connie over the last few months of her life, and finally(!) got a halfway-decent response. Here’s what she told me to do.

Crush everything up into powder. Soak a large number of paper towels with a solution of dish soap and water. Spread the powder evenly over the paper towels, and wait for them to dry. Throw the dried paper towels away in the trash, or burn them outside and throw the ashes in the trash. All this sounded eminently reasonable and responsible.

So I flushed them all down the toilet.

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.