Fourteen Days

HDU_Hemingway_mindThere’s no good way to admit that I’ve spent the last two weeks crying every day as I sift through, once again, Hook’s things including the mounds of files with his handwriting on them. Many times, I don’t even understand the pages of notes that I’m reading…

Chimila sp. nr San Rafael. Cumito Road, 1, 20.v11.1999

Enoplolindenius haubrugei 1012 mi N. of Arima N 10.718 W61.297 5x.2004

Brasso Seco N10.746 W61.285

Brasso Seco.  I know Brasso Seco.  And then the tears come, and I remember how I handed the blue plastic container to Carl, his naturalist friend, as we stood in the Brasso Seco rainforest in Trinidad.  Carl, who already had tears falling down his dark face, promised to walk Hook’s ashes deep into the jungle, a day’s journey one way, to lay him to rest in one of their favorite camping spots.  It’s this memory that has me screaming out from my center, big gulps of tears at the unfairness of it all, the unfairness to Hook, to us, to not have had more time to figure things out.

Grief does not pass without me realizing that the emotional strangulation is greatly diminished from a year ago, yet it cuts deeper in its permanence.  Then another moment rises as I learn something more:  This is what hurts differently forever means.

It was a toss up whether stuff like this brought on laughter or tears.

So, I am not further along in my packing even though I will leave almost an entire month later than originally planned.  Instead, I use the precious time to read through Hook’s Selective Service papers or his Lifeguard Evaluations from the 1970s. I collapse into chairs and cry out for him, sometimes whispering, Why, sometimes only, I’m sorry. And I know that this sorrow is because I’m leaving our home which feels like leaving him.

I’m not, only I am.

Then without warning that original horribleness of gone descends, and reality causes me to sit down slowly as the temporary shock floats in and I say out loud:  My God, he’s really dead.  I see with clarity and feel the insanity – all over again, always all over again – the madness of these last three years.

I’m packing and Hook is dead and I don’t understand, I don’t understand why things are this way and screaming out, I DON’T UNDERSTAND, does not magically help me to understand.  I cry for leaving but I cannot stay.  I must do this.  I don’t understand except that I must do exactly what I am doing next.

Thank goodness for the chairs.

~   ~   ~

There is a small, black storage bin I’ve been avoiding because it contains every letter and card, each sweet note Hook ever wrote to me from the time we dated until our 4th wedding anniversary, three months before he died.  It was not unusual, especially for birthdays, for him to draw naughty cartoons on the envelopes, the female characters with Barbie boobs and enormous nursing nipples.

Most people wouldn’t have known, but Hook was a master at choosing mushy cards. Usually, they were poetic and handmade, developed out of recycled paper, sold in one of the many trendy shops in the SoCo area of south Austin. He put as much effort into card selection as he had with his copious research notes, which is to say, I now have some wonderful paper treasures.  But in the black bin, there is also a series of four handwritten letters from Hook, mailed to me during his last summer in Trinidad.  I both love and loathe those posts because shared throughout them are health symptoms he was having that I now know were indicators of his illness.


CLICK TO MAKE LARGER: Insanity at its best. Until this week, I hadn’t added Hook’s date of death.

When I rediscovered the letters in my last move, I began to create a timeline, a list of dates I’ve since spent over 10,088 minutes or 168 hours or 27 days researching and verifying as though managing the wildness of this hindsight would somehow alter the past.

I haven’t looked in that plastic bin for over a year, but it’s not the only thing that could cause me to fall down on bended knees in our master bedroom, my face wet with tears and snot, crying so hard I finally lay down on the Berber carpet, eventually falling asleep as I whimper myself out.  I slept in that position long enough for Gatita to walk in and find a curve in my S-shaped body which she snuggled into so we could snooze together.

But it’s not all boogers and grief.  I can brag now about how organized my office files are because I’ve gone through every single piece of paper that has ever affected my or Hook’s life, dumping out three recycling bins worth.  I’ve also been able to let go of Hook’s garage bins more easily. Gone now is most of his swimming and camping equipment.  Even his hockey gear found a new home as did his lawnmower.

What feels odd are the attachments I’ve formed to things I rarely paid attention to like his science books, especially the ones written by his mentoring professor, Howard Evans.  Those books did interest me years ago, but Hook wasn’t keen on me touching them. (He never actually said anything but I knew “the look” — the one that let me know he obviously did not have to share a lot as a kid, or he did and he didn’t like it.)  Of course, now I say out loud: Look how I’m touching the books, Honey!  Touch-touch-touch, getting my grubby peasant fingers all over them! 

Two weeks after Allan passed away, I attended a grief group close to the crack house.  One of the handouts, with prompts answered by me from that lone meeting, fell out of a book on my shelf during this packing:

  • Here is how I feel:  Like shit
  • I remember how you used to do this during holidays:  Make curly Qs
  • Here’s what I wish I could give you:  A day full of laughter

It was that last prompt that led to sleeping on the carpet in my bedroom; because I could hear it.  I could hear in my mind, his deep-throated laugh which sounded like he pulled air from his diaphragm. That unique Hook sound always touched some part of a laugh bubbling inside me, causing my own cackle to be even harder.

When I awoke two hours later, I rubbed my cheek to massage out the indentation formed from sleeping on the edge of one of the thick books that I must have pulled from the bottom shelf to use as a pillow.  I unfolded myself as I stood up, looked at the cat still curled into a ball and said, “Okay, nap time is over.”  I returned to organizing and packing, sometimes dry-eyed, sometimes not.  The Selective Service papers I kept; the grief prompts I threw away.  All of his words, and paperwork from his childhood, I placed back into the Allan folders and re-packed them away.

Tenants and the Road Trip

After a ridiculous amount of foot traffic into the Hook House, I have signed tenants without children but tenants with pets.  Before you scrunch up your faces, remember that you can require pet deposits but not child deposits.  As any honest parent will share, children are incredibly wonderful and unbelievably destructive with their cherub faces and sticky, mark-up-the-wall fingers.  But of course, one cannot discriminate based on whatever. Still, I managed to keep at bay a trio of testosterone-driven, sperm-on-the-wall party men who would surely have had more sex in this house in one year than in all its fourteen.

My movers arrive August 10th to transfer all of my belongings into storage.  I walk the new tenants through the house in the late afternoon of the 13th. Then, I get into the Jeep and drive to Dallas for the night.  An overnight in Dallas makes for only a five-hour drive to Little Rock, Arkansas – my first stop to visit with an old friend.

A temporary home for Gatita is still pending.  I can leave the Hook House, but I cannot leave the cat without a loving home, be that with someone else or riding along in the Jeep with me. If you happen to be that someone interested in hosting a non-litter box using, rabies free, spayed, 11-year old persnickety cat, and if you have no pets of your own (she doesn’t like other pets), then I’ll pay you $100/month to host her:

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The German philosopher Nietzsche said that what makes us heroic is going out to meet our highest suffering and our highest hope.

As a society, we tend to turn away from grief.  We don’t always understand that there is a richness to be found if we’re willing to embrace and feel and live our experiences fully – the good as well as the grotesque.  Even my horror-scope this month said to grapple with my deepest pain, to be both healed and motivated by it.  

I don’t need a road trip to do that.  It’s just the means that I’ve chosen.

Fourteen days.  Until then I do what I must to say good-bye.

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Here But Not Here

And think not, you can direct the course of love; for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”  – Kahlil Gibran 



Rosemary and Allan Hook, 2009.

–    –     –

It started with the light bulbs and ended with the cockroach.  Two light bulbs blew out.  The first was in the master bathroom which went dark about a month after Hook died.  Instead of changing the bulb, I stopped using that bathroom and started using the guest bathroom.  Then the light in the guest bathroom blew out a week later – in the exact spot as in the master.  It was just a screw-in bulb, so easy to replace but to do so seemed a herculean effort.  I was never going to hear, “I’ll take care of it, babe.”  I stood at that vanity in the dark sobbing then walked out, leaving the bulb for another day.

After the light bulbs, the weed edger string ran out as I was halfway through edging the lawn.  That I was doing the lawn in the first place was not by choice, but the kid next door had not shown up to mow and the yard was looking suspiciously unkempt.  There I was squatting on the front lawn with the machine turned upside down, staring at the black spool as though doing so long enough would make the little blue string reappear.  I put the edger down, threw it down actually, and placed my hand over my eyes as my shoulders started to heave forward with the gulps of crying that were starting to form in my chest.  I didn’t have to worry that my neighbors might see me because I’d started the mowing and edging just before dusk so that even if the weeder had still worked, I wouldn’t have been able to see clearly enough to finish the front lawn. 

After the edger stopped working, the newspaper stopped showing up in the mornings.  Every week since Hook passed away, there would be at least one morning that the paper just wasn’t there.  The man of the house, the paper’s dedicated reader, was no longer alive and there was no one who was going to read the paper front to back or dive into the sports section at the crack of dawn.  I might skim over the syndicated columns or read the business section, but I was barely keeping up with reading snail mail.  If you peeked inside the house, you would have seen a couple of papers still in their original plastic sleeves.  If I were the local newspaper, I wouldn’t bother showing up either.   

My breaking point came when the Texas tree roach made his appearance in the living room next to the fireplace.  When I think back now, it was as though a bug memo had gone out:  Hook is gone, she is alone; invade.  I didn’t mind the enormous snail that plastered itself on the sliding glass door or the Texas longhorn beetles that kept landing on top of the BBQ grill or even the geckos (had there been babies?) that were running in and out every time I opened the door.  But even Hook had said that the house roach served no purpose and could be decimated upon sight.   

I returned home one afternoon and stopped still in my tracks when I saw the roach.  If Hook had been here, I would have called for him and he would have grabbed it with his bare hands.  Instead, I had to wait for my immobilizing fear to wear off.  Once it did, I ran to the garage for the roach shoe — the special shoe I use to defend myself from cockroaches that somehow managed to get past the external pest control service.  Shoe in hand, I ran back into the living room, took a deep breath and screamed as I whacked the roach to death leaving the shoe on top of him.  I dropped down onto the sofa and bawled, falling over to my side, eventually curling up so I could hold myself as I wailed. Light bulbs and lawns and newspapers and bugs fell under ‘stuff Hook took care of’ and they were just more reminders of my everyday reality that no matter how many times I wished him back, Hook was not going to magically appear and make this house a home again.

–     –     –

I’ve spread his ashes and I tell myself I’ve accepted his death, but he’s the only person I think of when I want to share something I’ve read or heard or seen.  Hook is here but not here.  His body is gone but he’s everywhere in this house, the rental house where we lived, where he lived and died, where I live today, and where I face time and space without him.  When I walk into the closet, I press my face into his clothes to catch any remaining scent of him before even that disappears, too.  I stare at photos, willing him to return and make himself whole again.

Two weeks after Hook’s memorial, I flew to New Jersey to spend time with his step-family.  I needed to see again where Hook had grown up, to walk the Sandy Hook beach where he’d been a lifeguard in the summers of his youth.  Two of his step-sisters drove me by his high school and then down the street to his childhood home.  I reminisced on his behalf the tale he once told about a party he threw as a teenager one weekend when his parents were out of town.

Almost a month after the New Jersey trip, I flew to Trinidad with some of his ashes. Hook wanted a small portion of his remains to be spread in the rainforests where he’d collected his wasps. I felt I owed it to him, and to the Trinidadian community, to bring the ashes in person. That Caribbean island, that beautiful rain-washed country had harbored Hook for two, 1-year sabbaticals and fifteen summers. I realized that I wasn’t taking Hook’s ashes but bringing him home to a people who treasured him.  In between the New Jersey and Trinidad trips, I made a short trek to San Antonio for a three-day business conference, thinking it was time to start engaging the business world again.  I chose a conference out of town though so I would know fewer people.

After each of these trips, each time I returned to Austin, I found myself forced back to the beginning of the grieving process where the initial loss sits on you like a weight.  I already knew there was a danger in grieving too little, which comes right before the danger of grieving too long. No one can tell you what either of those is.  Each person has to figure it out for themselves which is how I learned that I needed to walk into my grief, to sit with it, to feel the depth of the loss so that Hook’s passing won’t haunt me forever. 

It’s why after a funeral is over, and everyone leaves, and you’re all alone that then and only then do you get a sense of what things will be like from now on. And it’s not anything that can be rushed or helped by the presence of another. Sometimes being around people actually makes it worse, because you don’t openly grieve, not like how you would if you were alone. Instead you hold it all in. When I’m with others I feel normal, like before, and I think, This is all going to be okay. But then I’m alone and I fall apart, taken by surprise at Hook’s absence because he is still gone. He is gone and he is never coming back.

–     –     –

When people ask how I’ve been, I say “Fine; hanging in there; good.”

I’ve felt each of these things at one time or another, but I’ve no idea how I am really and I won’t know for some time.  I think about how it would be so much easier to live during a time when retreating from society for a year was the norm after the death of a spouse. And I think, it’s still not too late for me to do that except sometimes I need the interaction of other people but not in the quantity I did before.  So I tread lightly into public, refusing to go at anyone’s pace but my own and learning the hard way that even if I were dressed in all black with a veil covering my face and the words, Be Gentle, written on my forehead that there would still be those who lack emotional intelligence of any kind when it comes to those of us who are mourning.

Certainly that was the case on the plane to Trinidad with the man who moved into the vacant seat next to me once he realized no one was going to be sitting there. He asked why I was going to Trinidad and I told him. About two hours into the five-hour flight, when the attendant handed out the customs forms, this man turned towards me and watched as I started to check off boxes.

“You’re a widow now,” he said as he tapped my form with his pen.  “You’re not married anymore. You’re single now. You have to mark single.”

With every word he spoke, tears welled up in my eyes as I stared down at my form, liquid blurring my vision.  This stupid, stupid man kept saying it over and over again, “You’re a widow now.” 

I wanted to beat him with his own iPad or scream in his face, SHUT! UP!  But I didn’t. I didn’t because Hook wouldn’t have done that, and I didn’t want to do anything Hook wouldn’t have done.

When I was sure my voice would be steady, I asked, “Will you be moving back to your seat?”

“You want me to move?” the man asked, incredulity in his voice. 

“Yes,” I said, “then we can have more room to spread out so we’re not so crowded.”

If there was a Hook test, I’d passed it. 

–    –    –

My friend, Angelica, had a dream about Hook the night before I returned from Trinidad.  In her dream, Hook was flying a plane to ACL. The ride was bumpy with all sorts of alarms going off inside, but Hook still managed to land the plane safely. 

I’d been waiting for Hook to show up in someone’s dreams because he hadn’t shown up in mine.  I’ve fallen asleep night after night with tears on my lashes and whispering, Please talk to me. But he hasn’t come to me in my dreams and that’s both bothered and saddened me. What I mean, what God knows I mean, and what Hook knows I mean is that I’ve been waiting, waiting for some sign, some dream, something that will tell me whatever it is I believe I still need to know. 

He landed safely.  It had been a bumpy ride, but he got there safely.

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