Votary in Miramar

WBR_LetGoOrBeDragged_v3Egyptian mythology says that if we follow the direction of the sun, we will heal our hearts.  I first learned this in Michigan, the halfway point of the driving-around-the-United States road trip. I knew heading east before heading west was the right choice, but I didn’t know why until then.

I do not have to tell you that I miss you or even how it still manifests itself every day. You watched as I jumped off that pendulum of emotions — dying and love; anguish and hope; fear and excitement — ready to live again despite your absence.  That pattern of feelings waged battle after battle, and it’s only now that I can see how you never left my side, not even a little.

You were the only one who knew just how broken I really was when I set out over a year ago, and you’ve been the only one who has understood how I’ve struggled to let go, let go, let go, let go. Starting over felt like agreeing to forget, so I came here to Miramar Beach, the end of where I’d meant to begin, to say goodbye once more to you and to my still wounded self, to the regret I hold in my heart superseded only by what I learned from loving you.

~  ~  ~

You know how I dream, and two nights ago I had another. I was driving a Jeep, not your burgundy color but a light, feminine gold. There really wasn’t enough room for all the people I’d offered to give a ride, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to invite more and more people to hop into the truck. As each new person’s weight settled in, the floor of the Jeep dropped closer and closer to the ground. I ignored it, pretended I wasn’t worried that I might break down, blindly driving in spite of the too heavy load.

The next scene was this same group of people but now we were returning from wherever it was that we’d come, again with too much weight. Because I was the driver and the last one to get in, I could see clearly how this excessive bulk could damage the truck. In fact, I don’t know how it didn’t damage it on the way to the first location. But I didn’t want to ask anyone to wait behind since I’d encouraged them to come along. It wasn’t far into the trip when I felt the tire go flat. I stopped so people could get out of the Jeep to fix it and that’s when I saw that it wasn’t one flat tire, but that all four were deflated. I’d been driving on three flat tires when the last wheel gave out.

After everything was fixed, after all four tires were inflated, everyone started to climb back in, each person’s weight once again putting too much pressure on the frame. I was standing outside of the vehicle, shaking my head. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but if I didn’t speak up, I risked permanently damaging not only the frames of the wheels but the entire structure of the Jeep.

In the last scene, I arrived at a house and saw a man who was familiar and knew that if I were willing to feign interest, I wouldn’t have to continue being alone. Out loud I said, “I could close my eyes and pretend it was you,” because even in my dream state, you were still dead. I did close my eyes and when I finally woke in the light of reality, I was shaking my head, No.

You have my love forever which did not end with your death, but today and always, I promise these things:

  • to let go
  • to never settle
  • to finish

Votary in Miramar.

~    ~    ~

Allan William Hook, September 3, 2013:  Votary of Nature by Thomas Say

Votary of nature even from a child

he sought her presence

in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,

were bright and cherished emblems

of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine

and worshiped like a pilgrim

at her shrine

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Choosing One Another

HDU_HeChoseHerSeems each time I started a blog post in the last two weeks, I was wonderfully side-inspired for my book in progress, working title ‘Down Under’ (aka ‘In The Land of Oz’).  I figured, the best way to give an update was to offer a peek at the non-love, love story of Ava and Daniel, loosely based on Hook and me with all the interesting parts embellished or outright fabricated.

Although I had not intended for my time here in Kitty Hawk to become part of the book, the characters have unraveled at will so I’m going to follow their lead.  Of the 96,027 words written so far, I do not know which will remain in the final copy or even make it to the second draft.   Nevertheless, a preview followed by a very short life update.

From Down Under

The last time they returned from a three-day weekend on Padre Island, Ava said, “We need at least a week,” and Daniel nodded in agreement.  After he died, Ava packed up the Jeep, returning to the saltwater they had known together.  When it came time for her to take a year-long break, she sought out a time and space unfamiliar to either of them, far enough away that she couldn’t return with a simple four-hour drive.

In Kitty Hawk, few residents roam the beaches in the off season. Ava has yet to feel any tug to return home, wherever “home” will be after she completes this sabbatical.  She remembers a scene in a movie where a character admits that he’s taking time off from taking time off.  That’s better than a sabbatical from crying, and she snorts out a laugh as she looks out to the clear blue calm of the Atlantic, a mere 50 feet from her back door.  She wonders how she will ever be able to leave the breeze and eastern scent of this oceanfront. The water is broken only with light, white waves falling on top of each other, creating a melodic hum.  It is this pattern that keeps Ava rooted to the tropical red deck chair for whole mornings or late afternoons, staring mindlessly into the distance.  It took her a month before she realized that the stronger the crash of the tide, the more intoxicating the energy of the water.  This beats champagne any day, she thinks then yells out loud, “Shut your face!” to Daniel who probably would have said, You should take a sabbatical from champagne.

“I can’t afford to be sad,” Ava says while refusing to think about why.

Before arriving in North Carolina, the last major body of water Ava stood before were the rushing waves of the Indian Ocean in Waterman’s Bay, a small coastal town in Western Australia.  But that was a time suspended from reality as she spread her husband’s ashes in a rocky cove off West Coast drive, down a stairway built from white rock, the boulders covered in green and brown algae which hid the light beige color of human remains that fell on top of them.  Ava did not like Waterman’s Bay with its wide, quiet avenues and small town center.  It was too tucked into itself, no room for an outsider like her.  Had she and Daniel lived there as planned, she would have balked at the eerie feeling of seclusion, too far away from Perth city, too disconnected from social activity of any kind.  If they had wanted away from people, they didn’t need to cross an equator to do it.

Yet here she is on the Outer Banks, living alone on the beach with unoccupied vacation homes on either side, sometimes for weeks at a time. That doesn’t stop Ava from feeling annoyed when she sees more than three people on her stretch of the beach. If too many days pass without her speaking out loud to another human, she accosts the first ones she notices from inside the house, hurrying down the wooden deck steps, baby soft sand sticking between her toes as she asks, “Any nibbles?” if it’s a fisherman or “Beautiful day, right?” if it’s a couple strolling on the shore.

People or no people, every day feels whole to Ava.  Even the occasional cold-meets-warm nor’easters that blow through with gusts of wind whipping by at 19 miles per hour, making the sand a formidable weapon and the opening of a cottage door risky, do not dampen her days.  If Ava didn’t keep the inside wooden door opened while the outer glass door remained closed, she would hear a deep whistling as the wind pushed through the crevices of the door frame.  It was during a mild nor’easter when Ava met Polly and Layla who had waited until the day’s second high tide to try and reel in plump red drum.  From their ocean side house, one street west of the beach road, they rolled a pier cart full of poles and bait and hooks, down the asphalt road and through the sand, as close to the water as they dared.   The wind was picking up and the tide was coming in stronger now, making Ava think of that last time with Daniel.

He sat quietly as she drove the Jeep south over the causeway that connected the city to the port and onto the Gulf Coast.  That Ava was driving at all was a clear warning of what was already happening.  They had come from their last appointment with the oncologist, what would end up being their last visit ever.  The longer Ava drove, the more consumed her thoughts on why they had been chosen to meet. Why Daniel? Why so little time? Why Us?  He said only, “We chose one another.”

As she sat on the deck watching Polly and Layla fling their fishing lines over and over again into the water, Ava tightened the wrap she had around her shoulders. Without realizing it, she returned to that day in her mind as the blue waters of the Atlantic lapped in the background.

He looked at us both when normally he only addressed you. 

 “There’s nothing more we can do for you,” he said.

I snickered at his use of a cheesy line right out of a Marcus Welby, MD, show.  We left his office as quietly as we entered in case he had the power to make our lives even worse.   

“I’m hungry,” you said. 

I started to name all the different types of food that existed in the world. You placed a hand on my forearm while I exhausted a culinary list of options.  We waited in the Jeep like that, with your hand resting on my arm, until I stopped babbling, until I was calm enough to drive. 

“Let’s go to Red Lobster,” you said, and I whipped my head to stare at you in disbelief at the suggestion of eating seafood at a chain restaurant.  “I’ve never done it before” I heard you say, and I nodded as though you’d given me your last wishes.  When we arrived, they seated us in a darkened booth, far away from the people that weren’t even there.  You looked pale and thin and I noticed for the first time a hint of yellow in your skin.  The hostess sucked in her breath when you walked in ahead of me, then took a step back as I aligned my body with yours.  I squinted my eyes at her, silently demanding she treat you as though you didn’t look like you were going to die right there in their lobby. 

After we sat down, the waiter brought us thin, plastic bibs.  He followed this with two over-cooked lobsters and a greasy substance that was supposed to be butter but looked like a slimy gunk of gray olive oil.  It didn’t matter the condiments since the only taste we would have for the rest of that day was the metallic flavor of fear.

When you ordered an entire lobster for yourself, the waiter looked at me to explain how large the crustaceans were and suggested that some couples share.  I shook my head, ‘No,’ and said to give you what you wanted.  You reached over and placed your hand on top of mine and we locked eyes, staring at one another just as we had on our wedding morning.  I answered you without words:  Yes, we are in this together. 

After we were back in the truck, you said, “Port Aransas,” and we drove home and packed in less than an hour.  Once we arrived, we acted as though we’d never been there before, like we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  You asked me where to put something, I snapped at you.  Then you suggested we go for a walk.  I stared at you with my mouth open.  You were barely able to make it up the three flights of stairs to the condo.  We’d be lucky if you could make it down the stairs when the weekend was over.  When I didn’t answer you looked away, but you stood standing in that stark white kitchen while the ticking of the wall clock sounded.  The click of the hand moving made us both look up, then at each other.  That was the first time I said, “I’m afraid,” as my heart thumped inside its rib cage, too large for the space between the chest and the back, my breath coming in shallow gulps until you opened your arms so I could run into them.

When we got home, we started saying “terminal” and “death” and “dying” in every day conversations as though this would stop the leaden moments that swooped in with no provocation.  You would be standing in the living room or sitting in your man cave and I would yell, “I can feel . . . ” and that would be all I could get out, all I could say before that hollowing washed over me.  I would run to wherever you were and you never asked why, you never asked what.  You held me and rubbed my back, sometimes stroking my hair until I could finish, “ . . . the fear.”  The more I held on, the tighter you squeezed and you never let go, you never let go, not once not even a little, until I did.

As the sun began to fall on the horizon in a lavendar haze, Ava came back to the present.  She knew she clutched to whatever bits and pieces of Daniel were still left, visiting every inch of their relationship from dating till death, cataloguing her regrets, still uncertain what it all meant.  When she stood up from the deck chair, she grabbed a container of bird seed from the ledge as she walked onto the smooth desert of the beach. Polly and Layla were farther down with their poles, attracted to a portion of the water where the gulls had collected above it.  Ava tossed the seed onto the sand, watching the gray and white sanderlings run toward her instead of away.

 “Thank you for letting me hold on,” she said.

From where he sat, Daniel could still hear Ava, but his ability to see her was ebbing away.  Although days and hours did not exist where he was, he could have measured from his soul how his visual retreat had begun the day she moved out of their home, and he understood what she did not already know: Her heart was starting to open again.

Ava wanted to stand there longer, but she only had an hour to shower and pick out clothes before her date picked her up at the house.  She thought about the brunette with the nice smile and said, “I owe it to myself to do this!”  Then she stuck out her tongue as though the meaty flesh might grow longer the stiffer she made it.

Even with his receding view, Daniel could still make out the juvenile gesture Ava gave him, and he roared with laughter as she mimicked his long ago behavior.  She never heard him.

You can come on the date if you want, Ava thought, then rolled her eyes.  Of course he would be there.

~    ~    ~

First Date

Well, yes I did have a real first date, post Hook, that started out in a comical vein and which I will absolutely share with you in a Part II, because this post is already long enough.

A Happy Birthday to Allan on this day.

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Everything I Own

L-R: Hook's siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I'm going to guess 1955 maybe '56.

L-R: Hook’s siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I’m going to guess 1955 maybe ’56.

When I woke up this morning, it was still dark.  I looked at my phone wondering if it would read 2:10 in the morning.  Nope, 4:52.  Somehow this was the pass I was subconsciously hoping to receive: That I wouldn’t automatically awaken at the time of his death every September 3rd.

Before falling asleep last night, I decided that I needed today to be one of commemoration not of foreboding.  I donned my orange Hook Donor t-shirt in the hopes that people on the beach would ask, What is a Hook Donor? so I could brag on my husband and our endowment.  And that strategy may have worked if I hadn’t gotten so caught up in my shell collecting that I had to use part of my shirt as a cup-like vessel to haul back my beach goodies. Stretching and bending, I was in a race to beat the first sweltering rays before they escaped the clouds and landed on my unprotected face.

This, I thought, will be my yearly dedication to Hook — a northerly walk along an oceanfront – to honor not the miracle of witnessing his death, but one of the times he briefly returned to me in a dream, communicating without words at the water’s edge, where I could always go to find him.  Then, it was Port Aransas on the Texas coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, which spills out into the Caribbean Sea and onward into the North Atlantic Ocean.

On the 1st anniversary, I stood looking out toward the Indian Ocean whispering these words:

Waterman's Bay in Perth, Western Australia ... the rock cove where a portion of Hook's ashes were spread.

CLICK to enlarge: Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia … the rock cove where a portion of Hook’s ashes were spread.

Votary of nature* even from a child,
he sought her presence in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,
were bright and cherished emblems
of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine,
and worshipped like a pilgrim
at her shrine

(*Votary of Nature by Thomas Say)

My whole life, I will never tire of reciting this ode to my husband, but there are three things I have learned in the last seven days:

  • Music by Bread is not to be listened to on a regular basis.
  • There is beauty to be found in the broken pieces of shells hidden deep in the sand.
  • Kitty Hawk was not home to the Wright Brothers; it was only where they learned how to fly.

~    ~    ~

My friend, Cheryl, loaned me a book in 2003 called Beachcoming at Miramar: The Quest for an Authentic Life.  The author, Richard Bode, took the bold step of leaving “the real world” in exchange for the freedom to walk the sand at Miramar in northern California for a year.  Bode died eight years later but not before he’d completed his quest:  To heal and re-engage his own life.

~    ~    ~

A week ago, I stumbled across a song that I am oh so very glad I did not hear two years ago.  As music often does, these lyrics tugged at tender places, and my plan for this anniversary was simply to post this song and nothing more.  That’s how wretched the heartache was from listening to it.  But the words describe Allan and me and where I am today, so perfectly, that I felt you deserved to cry, too:

Everything I Own by Bread (Click to hear)

You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

And I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again 

You taught me how to love
What it’s of, what it’s of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you

Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can’t let go

Is there someone you know
You’re loving them so
But taking them all for granted
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And they don’t hear the words you long to say

~    ~    ~

In the future when September 3rd rolls around, I will not fret when melancholy sets in nor try to push back the sadness.  I will be grateful for what I have, not what I do not; and I will mourn a man so worthy of my tears.

Today, I am open and thankful and yes, a little disjointed in my thoughts. I am those jagged edges of the broken shells I keep collecting.  But I know that if I stay long enough by the water, I too will be smoothed over by the ocean.

~    ~    ~

When the Wright Brothers came to Kitty Hawk in 1900 to test their dreams of flying, they failed so often that people forgot they were even here.  It ended up being four miles south in what today is known as Kill Devil Hills where the brothers made their first successful “powered” flight.  But none of that matters because the Outer Banks was never home for Orville and Wilbur.  When they had done what they had come to do, they left North Carolina and returned to their family and friends, just as I will do when I learn how to fly.

Until then, I honor Allan William Hook, September 3rd 2013.

HDU_brokenpieces1

The colorful beauty of broken pieces.

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Thrive or Survive

HDU_surviveRains falls down in Austin today, allowing me to continue my dedicated procrastination towards the obvious weed pulling and mulch spreading needed in the front lawn.  Every day I am reminded of all the outside work my husband did when he was still alive; and, every day that it rains is a chance for me to stay inside and write to you.

Earlier this month, I wrote a summary of thoughts on my Facebook company page that began:

After my husband passed away in late 2013, people with good intentions said, “You’ll survive this,” except I wasn’t interested in surviving. I wanted to live; I wanted to thrive; I wanted to know hope again.

I wrote that after I was reminded of the final conversation I had with my husband’s oncologist.  The doctor thought he was talking about living except he kept saying things like, “survive longer,” and my husband’s head kept nodding along.  After the third survive platitude, I stood up in the examination room with arms stiff by my sides, fingers balled into tight little fists.  My voice was elevated while my eyes filled with water. I lifted my chin, refusing to allow the liquid to fall down my face in front of those two scientists.

“I’m not interested in my husband surviving longer,” was the most I could say.

But the oncologist failed to understand what I meant. I wanted my husband to come and go as he pleased, to eat what he desired, to swim daily laps in a pool, to walk for miles with a bug net collecting his girls.  What the doctor was offering was some grotesque version of living dependent upon bottles of pills, liquid food, and every day seeing my husband less and less capable of even the simplest of tasks.

Apparently, the oncologist thought that was living.

Surviving is not Living

Since the end of November, my mother has been living with me.  What started out as a short vacation has turned into an indefinite stay.  She originally came for a holiday visit at the suggestion and encouragement of my younger sister, Susan, and me. Susan has been our mother’s primary caregiver since she had a stroke last February, but in reality, my sister took over the management of both our parents in 2010. She has had to transition Mom into widowhood then into assisted living then to the hospital and a rehabilitation facility and now into permanent living in her home.  If you aren’t exhausted from reading that then perhaps you shuddered at the thought of being the caregiving child or worse, the elderly parent.

My mother’s visit to Texas ceased to be a holiday for either of us towards the end of the second week.  But because sub-zero temperatures continue to barrage the state of Michigan, we all agreed that Mom should remain where the sun makes a daily appearance and warm air sometimes nudges over the 70-degree mark in the winter.  Even on a dreary, wet Saturday like today, Austin temperatures are still twenty to thirty degrees higher than those living in the hand state.

More good people with well-meaning intentions have said that this time with my mother is a blessing. Many times these are people who lost their parents too soon or usually have not had to care for a parent in their home for an indefinite period of time or perhaps they have no interests or friends so being stuck at home 24×7 appeals to them.  I see it as my job to dispel the misconceptions about caring for an elderly parent and to announce that blessings come after the occasion not during. This time with my mother is work, it is difficult, it requires an unbelievable amount of patience and compassion, and it allows for a limited social life outside of the home.  I recommend to others in the same predicament what I recommend to myself:  Margaritas in moderation – and offer your parent some, too.

It is indeed important that I have these months with Mom if only to grasp the enormity of responsibility my sister has shouldered for this unspecified amount of time.  Although I cared for my husband through his dying, the differences in the dynamics of a relationship to a spouse versus a parent are too wide for comparison.  Unlike my husband, Allan, who fought to contribute to his own life even after he said, “This is no way to live,” my mother is docile in her approach to her last years.  Allan could barely walk down the street, his appetite erratic, his forever playful attitude diminished, but even so he still woke up every day and sent emails out or dictated messages to me as I typed.  He struggled to get scientific research mailed off so that articles of his work were published posthumously.  I won’t say Allan lived because I don’t think being strapped to a wheelchair unable to hold your own head up is living, but he squeaked out what he could in his last days.

I try to remember how my parents used to go out dancing, how they’d have friends over to play poker or how my mother would bend over four hot burners to cook for eight children. Nowadays she leads a sedentary life.  She was never a runner like Susan and me or an ultra-organizer of people and events like her daughters, but she also wasn’t as motionless as she is today. Sometimes I’m able to coax her out of the house to visit a museum or to decorate pottery or to eat at a restaurant. Daily, though, an extended effort is needed to pull her away from staring mindlessly at the television screen or watching out the front windows for passersby.

The pottery we decorated. Mother's cup is on the right.

The pottery we decorated. Mother’s cup is on the right.

I invite friends over to break up the monotony of her days but also as an incentive for her to do more than just survive.  I don’t know if I am helping or hurting.  What I do know is that this fastidious woman who would never have left her home without a shower, make-up on the face, and hair coiffed sometimes has to be cajoled into basic, everyday tasks.  If the in-house caregiver I hired is not due to come on a particular day or if guests are not expected, my mother may decide to sleep until the early afternoon. No amount of meowing from the cat or sleep interruptions from me can pull her out of bed. Do I encourage her to live for what could very well be many more years?  Or, do I let her wither away in survival mode, her brain going to mush, her inability to communicate a frustrating barrier for her and for others?  I don’t know.  I really do not know.

There was a tenderness I had with my husband in the last weeks of his life, a way of being that I wished I had had with him the entire time he was sick.  I see my time with my mother as a second chance to do things differently, as a way to be for her what I wished I had been for him.  Each day I attend to her needs, I repeat in my head:  Patience Compassion Forgiveness, Patience Compassion Forgiveness. Patience and compassion I learned from Hook; forgiveness I am learning from caring for her. When she asks if she’ll get any better or why this is happening to her, I tell the truth but not the God-awful truth.

“Today is a good day,” I’ll say if it is or, “Tomorrow will be better.”

“You promise?” she asks every time.

“It can be but we have to put some effort into it.”

How to Thrive

On Wednesday mornings, I post an If Not Now Then When question to my Facebook followers. The questions are meant to spur creative thoughts of change or why a person may want change or how someone might change.  Usually, they are also questions I’m answering for myself, my hand holding fast to a pen paused in mid-sentence inside a writing book.

Last January I began reading Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way, to help me unblock creatively.  One of Cameron’s recommended techniques for unblocking is to hand write three pages first thing every morning  As I look back into my mind and watch myself crying over those handwritten pages, a kaleidoscope of awareness spins through my head.  It was too soon after my husband’s death to expect so much of myself, too frightening to imagine anything new.  I had scoffed at the word survival during that last visit with the oncologist then grieved myself into my own survival mode:  Wake up!  Remember to shower. Feed the cat. Stop turning down clients. How many days in a row have I worn these clothes?  I was existing but I was not living.

The rest of the Facebook post:

Survive nothing. Live everything. Thrive. It is not easy to move through the darkness. It is not easy to humble yourself when you’re in need. But we do what we must to get to the other side. 

And what does the other side look like? I’m still learning, but I can tell you it is full of hope and frustration, joy and disappointment, laughter and anxiety. It is not perfect because life is not perfect, and I am not perfect and you are not perfect. The other side looks like what you look like, what you feel like inside, what you create and re-create or don’t bother to try at all. It is everything and nothing. You are everything and nothing and everything.

I asked my readers not to stay in a situation that they no longer enjoyed.  I begged them to begin today to plan and to think and to begin discussing with themselves what a whole new future could feel like and be like if they were willing to live rather than just survive; if they were ready to thrive instead of just exist.

~       ~       ~

When I originally started this blog post a week ago, I was sitting in a restaurant that my husband and I used to frequent.  I was doing that because sometimes during the day, to escape my home office, I work there.  Rock and roll from the 80s played overhead and I could hear Phil Collins singing:

All that time I was searching with nowhere to run to, it started me thinking

Wondering what I could make of my life and who’d be waiting

Asking all kinds of questions to myself but never finding the answers

Crying at the top of my voice

For all the times my husband and I sat in that dingy booth with its cracked plastic seats and an endless supply of tortilla chips, we never once discussed the possibility that life might turn towards an unplanned course.  I mention this not to say there’s no point in planning a new life.  I speak of this because it’s all the more reason to live the life you’ve dreamed for yourself but haven’t yet carved a path towards.

~       ~       ~

More and more I can feel the strength inside myself to change my life however I want.  Other times I struggle with the vision of a whole new life sans Allan.  That second thought happens only when I come upon an impasse in my mind and when I succumb to insecurities.  But I cannot honor myself or the memory of my husband by clinging to the past that has passed.  And I most definitely cannot live that way.

Two years ago, I could barely stop falling down when I ran so I stopped running altogether. One year ago I could barely get out of bed.  For awhile, I gave up. Today and most days, I wake up joyful again.  Before the sun and my mother rise, I run a four-mile course around Town Lake.  On the days that I don’t run, I dip my body into an outdoor, heated pool known as Big Stacy.  Steam floats up from the water when our winter temps in Texas dip below 40 degrees. Unlike other swimmers, I wet my toes first allowing the warm water to reassure me that this swim will be as fabulous as the last.  Rolling one arm over the other in my laps, I let go of any anxieties in my head.  Back and forth, back and forth, my heart pumps blood and oxygen throughout my body.  And each time my head rolls to the side so that my mouth can lift out of the water for air, it is usually memories of my husband that come to me. Surviving was not enough for him.  It is not enough for me.  For now, it is enough for my mother. Please don’t let it be enough for you.

Live. Thrive.

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Live Forever

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Today I will spread the last of Hook’s ashes.

In the movies when a person does this, it’s made to seem as though ashes are but a cup full maybe two. The reality is that a human body cremated produces more than four liters of ashes.  I only know this because I dropped off four, one liter Kool-aide bottles — one lime-colored, one orange, one red and one blue — to the funeral home for the transport of Hook’s remains over a year ago.  He would have appreciated knowing I hadn’t wasted money buying a fancy urn.  And, the plastic bottles could be and have been recycled which would have pleased him just as much.

The blue bottle was taken to Trinidad where Allan was spread on a collecting trail he frequented in the Caura Valley, and on the grounds of Asa Wright Nature Center, and finally in the rainforest of Brasso Seco.  Hook loved everything about Trinidad especially the people and they had loved him back, appreciated him, understood his “mamaguy.”

The orange bottle was spread in the firefly meadow, where Allan had taken me at the end of our first nature walk and where I began to fall in love with him.

The red bottle was taken to Bastrop and spread in a family cemetery where a grandmother and a great grandfather are buried.  When Allan and I had the ash discussion before he died, we agreed that a portion of his ashes would be spread where mine would eventually be.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “You’ll be the only white guy in the cemetery, you know.”

“That’s how I like it, baby,” he said.

When I took him out there, all I could think to say was, “Hi Grandmother, I know we’ve never met but well, this is my husband, Allan. Please show him around.”

That was exactly one year ago, wicked cold just like today with the only difference that sheets of rain were pouring down. I hadn’t wanted to drive out to Bastrop in the rain but I’d wanted to honor Allan on his birthday.  The rain ended up being my good fortune because after I’d covered my grandmother’s plot multiple times, the white remains looked more than a little conspicuous.

Most of you already know how Allan made it into Australia which was not in one of the Kool-aid bottles. But this morning, I’ll pour from the lime-colored bottle and spread around the Mexican Oak which Hook planted in our backyard to honor the year we were married.  This final release is meant only as a pause and reflection of November 17th.  And on September 3rd of every year, I’ve no doubt I’ll either openly cry or shed a tear and eventually over time, maybe it’ll just be the welling up of water in my eyes.

This Time Last Year

Last week as I was driving down Manchaca in Austin, a memory swooped in and I almost had to pull off the road to catch my breath.  I shivered as I felt for the briefest of seconds that familiar abandonment and aloneness in the world.  2013 and most of 2014 had been a time suspended from living, what some might call the walking dead.  I shake my head now as I recall how unbelievably dark my world had become.  Until Hook had died, I had never felt deserted, rudderless, and such an unwilling participant in my own life.  As I continued to drive, the feeling eventually subsided but it was the perfect reminder of how far I have come in these last 14 months.

Since the anniversary of Allan’s death, my memories ricochet against this time last year not unlike how the entire first year of grief was lived.  Except, in all of those memories, Hook was still alive albeit sick and dying.  It was, quite frankly, a time of near insanity.  Now, my recollections are about how I grieved, how I honored, and what I learned and am still learning.

I wear my rings separated now, the wedding band on the right hand while the engagement diamond is on the left.  I tell myself that I am “emotionally engaged” and therefore unable to remove the ring.  I cannot imagine a time when I would ever stop wearing these rings, but then I could not have imagined a time when I would fall asleep at night without silently crying into my pillow.  Those nights occur less frequently now.

In the last month of Allan’s life, I asked him for a song request every day then I would post a link to the song on my personal Facebook page.  One of his requests was Joe Ely’s version of Live Forever.  I think when someone truly loves you, you live forever, maybe not here but somewhere.

Live Forever

(lyrics by Billy Joe Shaver; sung by Joe Ely)

I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna cross that river
I’m gonna catch tomorrow now
You’re gonna wanna hold me
Just like I’ve always told you
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

Nobody here will ever find me
But I will always be around
Just like the songs I leave behind me
I’m gonna live forever now

For the rest of 2014, this blog’s name will remain Hooks Down Under.  Beginning in 2015, the name will change to Writings By Rosemary.  Between now and then, I’d like to share some seriously funny memories about Allan so we can laugh together instead of crying together.

Until then …

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