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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Congruence in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

Unlike the Lost Colony that landed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1587, my whereabouts in Kitty Hawk will be well known if only because I am a lone, Texas woman traveling with a cat.  Gatita does not, however, partake of the beach with me on my early morning walks or my end-of-the-day strolls.

I was so anxious to see the ocean on that first day, August 19th, that I emptied as much of the Jeep as I could, hurrying in my sky blue flipflops to the entrance of the beach as though the water might disappear before I got there.

I walked north first, to the Kitty Hawk Pier, my face looking out toward the white swells of water rushing in to greet me.  I swear I could hear, Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you…  A mixed laugh-cry almost escaped with that first view as I felt all the second-guessing of this trip recede with the tide.   And my chest, heavy with joy, almost giddy, and holding the most important part of me, knew that my faith had not been for naught.

This is exactly where I am meant to be.

~   ~   ~

Whatever final tears I hiccupped out as I drove away from Austin on August 13th, I did while saying out loud, almost in defense of myself, “I have to do this!”

The oppressive, 104 degree heat from that last day had not only worn me down, but left me with a dusty smell and a shirt that stuck to my back, while sweaty running shorts continued to crawl up my crotch.  I’d spent the last four hours in Austin shuffling small possessions back and forth between the Hook House and the storage unit while I battled a stuffed up swimmer’s ear that still has not completely gone away. I was starting to feel not as though I’d never get out of Austin, but that I’d never escape the hell of south Austin.  It was 10:30 at night when a drug-free Gatita and I hit the road.  Since I was determined to leave regardless of the late hour, my sister-in-law, Mary Joy, suggested I stop in Waco, so I’d at least be out of Austin but halfway to Dallas.

I took her advice which was easy to do because my eyelids drooped as soon as I left the city.  Since I hadn’t researched venues that accepted pets, I checked into a Motel 6 knowing the price was in my budget.  I assumed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and requested a room on the bottom floor to easily transport the cat to and from the Jeep. Aside from crying for the first 30-minutes of our trip, Gatita was exceptionally calm at least until we realized that there must have been hookers in the room next to ours. Doors opened and closed all night long, but oddly this motivated me to be freshly showered and on the road by 6:30 am, making for a cool, early morning drive into Little Rock.  The tunnel of green trees lining the highways in Arkansas was a welcomed sight from the browning, burnt foliage in Texas. When we crossed state lines, I whispered, “Good-bye for now,” in anticipation of everything good, especially my first visit with an old friend and colleague from the mid 1990s.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I've traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I'd like to go but doubtful I'll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I'm far enough along in my writing, I may.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I’ve traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I’d like to go but doubtful I’ll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I’m far enough along in my writing, I may.

After two nights in Little Rock, I drove east toward Nashville and met up with the daughters of one of my best friends.  My plan was to stay only one night, but I hadn’t booked a long-term stay in Kitty Hawk yet.  Even though I’d already called three realty agencies representing a good portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, and even though I scoured Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO sites while sitting inside a well decorated, cat-friendly La Quinta (way outside our budget), and even though I spoke with private owners who indicated “pet friendly” on their websites only to openly practice feline discrimination, my options for finding long-term accommodations that would accept a cat were dwindling fast.

There was one more hour before I had to decide whether to re-map a route from Tennessee up to Michigan by way of North I-75, instead of remaining on East I-40 straight into North Carolina.  Although Kitty Hawk was my preferred destination, I’d spent so much time on the internet and the phone that I would have agreed to any place that allowed Gatita. Otherwise, I was going to have to alter my entire 12-month driving route.

~    ~    ~

Sea Kove in Kitty Hawk

Normally, I'm not a paper lover except when it coms to maps & books!

Normally, I’m not a paper lover except when it comes to maps & books!

When the cat and I arrived Kitty Hawk, our heads hummed from the accumulated 1,720 miles I’d driven.  Although she has been an ideal travel companion, her map reading skills are nada, and my brusque, unfolding of paper maps seemed to freak her out at inopportune times.

My co-pilot

My co-pilot

But I want to write, here and now, that I am forever grateful to the travel and cat gods for the presence of Gatita.  I absolutely love having her with me and only slightly more than I love, Love, LOVE living in Kitty Hawk.

Three days before, on the 16th, I’d spoken with Bill, whose kind, southern accent I knew would lead to an elderly gentleman.  He runs a series of rustic cottages called Sea Kove with his artist wife, Cari.  He promised to call me back even though his website clearly states: We are unable to allow any pets.  I explained my sabbatical and how I was looking for a place to write for six weeks, and would he consider allowing me and my cat to rent one of his inns?  I probably said I was quiet, that Gatita wouldn’t be any problem; I may have even offered to breathe less oxygen.  I’ll have to ask him why he altered his long-standing pet policy since I hadn’t dropped the widow card, nor blurted out how this was messing up my plans to create a whole new life.

Bill said that my “kitty cat” was welcomed and that although he didn’t have the same cottage for the full six weeks, he would make sure I had a place at Sea Kove for my entire stay.  The next day, Gatita and I left Tennessee, making an overnight stop in the rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. This halfway point from Nashville to Kitty Hawk allowed me to have dinner with a friend, my first tenant that leased out my home in north Austin during the Mexico sabbatical in 2004; forever spoiling me to expect perfection from future tenants.

And all the foot dragging I did before getting here? It inadvertently helped me to avoid most of the summer beach pricing.  In another week, I’ll be in off-season rates making this a perfect fit for a sabbatical budget.

~    ~    ~

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

In my room of retro wood-paneled walls and vinyl faux tile floors, there is no microwave but wi-fi and cable are free – a television treat I never allowed myself in Austin. Central air does not exist but a personal a/c wall unit above the electric stove, with burners wrapped in tin-foil, keeps my efficiency ice cold.  The rock hard mattresses might squeak when I lay down but not before I say goodnight to the rhythmic sound of the ocean from my private backdoor porch.  While I do this, Gatita takes her nightly dump underneath the cottage on stilts, in what has become her gigantic, sand litter box.

Yes, we are in harmony with our new home.

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

In the mornings as the sun beats in from the southeast, I walk out the front door to sit in the long, shaded balcony that connects me with my neighbors. This is where I sipped my coffee that first morning as the cool northern breeze floated in, and where I met Becky, another a widow of only nine months.  She lost her husband of forty-nine years, Big Dave, to congestive heart failure.  I remembered what nine months felt like for me. The only reason my cottage was available to rent was because someone from Becky’s family, who’s been coming to Sea Kove for over 20 years, wasn’t able to make it this summer.

Becky was “Mom” and “Grandma” to her family, but she was a woman with a broken heart to me. Before she left three days later, we exchanged hugs and information about a book, Seven Choices, written by a Texas professor, Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Seven Choices led me to find the strength to do this sabbatical because even in grief there are multiple junctures where we must choose:  To stay stuck in the past or dare to move forward.

No widow wants to lay in misery, to remain rooted in sadness, but it’s a Sisyphus kind of existence, seeming as though no action will ever lead to a different ending.  HDU_WarriorofLoveI was hardly a woman who was half a person when I met my husband.  I was then as I am now — whole — but when you love someone, you meld into one another.  They do not leave this earth without a part of your own spirit going with them. You don’t even have a say so, and this isn’t something that heals in a year. Harper Neeld gathered research data that indicated — on average — four, long years to move past grief when it is no longer the primary way in which you identify yourself.  In the future, when you meet a widow and she is happy again, know that time does not automatically heal all wounds.  That widow had to work at it.  She is a warrior!  We are all warriors — my widowed friends and me — because we dare every.single.day to make choices that test our emotional boundaries, hoping that these actions will carve a path to a future full of joy again.

~    ~    ~

Had I remained in Austin one more night, I would have insisted on staying in my emptied house, pulling Hook’s thermal sleeping bag from the Jeep, unrolling it upstairs on the shampooed carpets then wetting my pillow with tears until I fell asleep.  Instead, I only wept as I drove away.  I apologized to Allan for not being one of those widows satisfied with starting over where things ended.  Or, maybe there was guilt wrapped up in the fact that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t be taking this sabbatical at all.

In the past when I’ve needed a re-boot, a healing of sorts, I would venture out, leaving my homeland for extended periods of time. This sabbatical is not about the travel, though; It’s about the writing.  In the same way, that it was the spilled words of grief that saw me through the first year, I will write my way into this next phase of my life, doing finally what he and I have been waiting for me to do all along: Set myself free.

The book I’ve chosen as my debut will be the reality fiction story of Ava and Daniel, about love, loss, and the beautiful struggle to find joy again. It’s got Hollywood written all over it. The working title, Down Under (In The Land of Oz?), has little to do with Australia or at least I don’t think it does.  I’ve already written 70,048 words because I’ve been rough drafting on and off since last November.  I’ve yet to plot the timeline or even create descriptions for the characters, so I’ve weeks and weeks of background work to organize to get it to a place where I can move into a second draft.

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

In the meantime, I jump out of bed each morning hoping to hit the sand before 6:30 am.  I give greetings of “Hello!” and “Good Morning!” to my fellow disciples of this liquid healing, sitting in meditative state, or walking with the woosh! of the waves, our only music. We are the new pilgrims of the 21st century, welcoming the sun or saying good-bye to the moon.

At night, my gluteus maximus aches from the twice daily hour of sand trudging. But even though I worry about the intense sun on my adult face, I am a child in wonderment each time I bend over and reach down to collect the black and gray and beige shells littered along the shoreline.  I cannot resist these treasures from the ocean any more than I can hold back the transformation in my heart that is happening.

The second anniversary of Hook’s passing is coming. Until then, Gatita and I are comfortable in our place of contemplation and with life on the Atlantic.  And if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to those Warriors of Love, whose widowed paths I’ve had the good fortune to cross, who have helped me at various steps along the way: Gail, Greta, Celia, Karron, Cindy, Tomas, Valerye, Kristen, Russell, Felicia, De, Sharon, Laura, Becky in Colorado, Becky in Maryland, Loretta in Arkansas, and the young ones – Erin and Taryn.

And to Megan Ehrisman for recommending the unbelievably, perfect Outer Banks when my original plans for San Diego fell through.

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived. I think it's a sign!

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived.

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Vices in Week Two

HDU_LitLast Saturday, I created a dinner out of organic peanut butter, leftover chipotle sauce, and two scoops of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream that had been forgotten in the back of the freezer in a decaying container.  As a dessert, I added a freshly peeled carrot – a real carrot and not one of those tasteless baby carrots that dry out within an hour and start to whiten with what looks like toe jam.  If you’re wondering, the assembly food line looked like this:  Scoop the peanut butter, pour on some of the sauce, dip both into the ice cream, lick the spoon dry then bite the carrot.  Fresh carrots have that slight, earthy taste which balanced out the processed sugar I was shoveling into my mouth.  The limited protein reflected my refusal to hop into the Jeep and drive 1.5 miles to the grocery store.  That would have required a shower or at the very least, contact lenses in the eyes instead of my outdated, see-into-the-future glasses.  I was much too busy dreading my still unfinished taxes by tending to my vices of which the over-consumption of sugar is only oHDU_booksne.

My second vice is actually only a vice when I give into it on a non-stop, 24-hour, no showering or brushing my teeth basis. (Always, personal hygiene is the first to go.) Because I’m trying to up my writing game, I’ve checked out from the library books in twos and threes.  Telling myself that I have to read is like telling myself that I have to eat Godiva milk chocolate salted caramel bars. There is a danger with both, because I don’t read and I don’t eat — I inhale — and if I’m in procrastination mode, I run the risk of either overdosing on words or passing out from a sugar coma.  That both would find me in the same state — laying on the sofa, mouth open, dribble flowing and the cat perched on my chest causing me to gasp for air while trying to sleep — shows my consistency in all matters vice.

To avoid my taxes which I finally dropped off to the CPA yesterday morning which is why this Monday afternoon blog is posted HDU_taxpaperworkon a Wednesday evening, I checked out five books from the library while putting two more on “Hold.”  I started out with respected memoirist, Mary Karr, and two of her triology memoirs, The Liars’ Club and Lit, switching over to (some say) the 21st Century’s great American novelist, Jonathan Franzen, and his novels, The Corrections and Freedom.  Franzen once snubbed Oprah unintentionally-on-purpose saying her book club wasn’t where you’d find his readers, the literary elite. I’d inadvertently checked out his book in LARGE print so that it felt as though HE WAS YELLING AT ME THE ENTIRE TIME I was reading which, if he was snubbing Oprah, this self-proclaimed “unashamed elitist” probably was.  My literary jury is still out on Franzen but I’m sure he’ll still sleep soundly at night.

It was Karr’s writing that Gatita and I curled up with.  Her writing pulls you in like a child’s hand reaching for yours during the scary parts of a movie, leading you through the icky parts of her memories so you’re not overwhelmed when she does share.  You can hear her small, east Texas girl’s voice as she writes, “My nickname was blister tits,” or “My daddy’s Pete Karr.”  How do you read the words “my daddy” without automatically hearing a dialect from the south?

On any given day before I would give in to Mary Karr on the sofa, I’d exhaust myself through exercise so much so that I dreamt about three roaches in my house-in-the-dream.  Cockroaches in a dream symbolize being fed up with ourselves, annoyed at our own stalling of whatever it is that we’re putting off.  I had walked by that table full of tax paperwork for so long that I’d taken to running or swimming or walking five to six days a week in avoidance, sometimes occupying myself with two forms of cardio in the same day!  And I’d be 10 pounds lighter if it weren’t for the processed sugar. But you know, now that I’ve dropped off the paperwork, I congratulate myself on being two whole months earlier than I was this time last year.  So yes, I did drink a margarita today and I was damn proud when I did it and my daddy’s name is Lou!

The Writing Projects

What was originally written in memoir form might become fiction but the title probably will not change.  Without Flag (WF) is about an American Hispanic woman who leaves her home in the United States to live and travel throughout Mexico so she can learn Spanish and maybe even a little about how to embrace her Mexican ancestry.  Instead what she discovers is how to accept her Mid-western, American roots.

Is that the story I start with or is it Down Under (DU), currently written as fiction with Daniel and Ava as the lead characters whose lives are turned upside down by tragedy. The obvious autobiographical tones cannot be ignored except the story begins with five young adults standing in Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia, facing the Indian Ocean.  One is reading a poem while another is holding a canister of ashes, Ava’s ashes, and the rest of the troop are wondering what it all means … while I wonder in real life how the story will turn out.

I know I will not begin with the how to, career book, The Mystery Behind The Masters (MBM), targeted at back-to-school professionals and which already has an unreadable first draft to it.  It’s still a worthy write but not this year and maybe not next year either.  The sabbatical will definitely not start with Noisy Neighbors (NN), a fictional comedy about Hank and Lucy and the wacked-out, eclectic neighborhood they moved into.  Because Hank has difficulty remembering people’s names, Lucy dubs each of the houses by their owner’s personalities.  In NN, you meet the young couple, the gay guys, the single lady, the weirdos in the green house, the surveillance freaks, penis boy’s mom and dad, and of course the noisy neighbors.  NN is both comedy and drama because these neighbors are actually connected by more than just their zip code only they don’t know it.

HDU_Gatitahomeless

Gatita in the front cactic bed of the Hook House. Apparently, I’m not scratching her enough so she’s taken matters into her own face.

Even though With Love, Big Lou (WLBL) isn’t on the short list, I can’t help jotting notes into the biographical WLBL files as memories spill out about my father and a series of letters he wrote to me over three decades.  Nor is 30 Days in The Jungle (30 Days) on any list except my hard drive one, about my online dating experience prior to Hook when I dated 12 men in 30 days and tiered the dates based on where I was in my 30-day menstrual cycle — the jungle.

Are these short stories, essays, books, or novels?

It’ll be interesting to see how and when each of these writings reveal itself.  Oh, and I almost forgot the last writing project titled, How I Survived in the Austin Wilderness After My Sucky Owner Deserted Me.  I could never desert her so you — whoever you are that is reading this post — you call me, okay, and say you’d loved to take my cat for a year.  Like Hook, she urinates outside.  Unlike Hook, she also defecates out there relieving me or anyone else of the litter box hassle.  (Actually, I can’t say Hook never defecated outside.  Let’s just say there is a hand-held spade in the garage that I never touch.)

My goal before July 15th is to choose only one of the stories above, to accept that as my calling and to resist “should” or “need to” or “must” and devote all of my energy and carrot-eating ways to writing that story.

“… someday if my life flashes in front of my eyes, it will at least hold my interest.” – Gregg Levoy, Vital Signs

Until next Monday …

Rosemary

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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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A Pilgrimage of Milestones

Australia_kangarooIn two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Australia.

Someone said that I was taking a pilgrimage but I’ve realized that this entire year has been nothing but a pilgrimage of milestones.  The first birthdays, the first holidays, the first trip back to the Texas coast, our anniversary in June which by the way is not an actual anniversary if only one of you is still alive, are all the beginning of the end to a new beginning.

Confusing, yes.

After the anniversary was the ritual of going through Hook’s clothes, his closets, everything he ever owned, made easier by the presence of my family.  They helped me to pick through what I was willing to part with then adopted some of his things which was more reassuring because it felt like he wouldn’t be far away. Then finally, there was the move back into the Hook House, a house I have to admit that I did not want to return to. Living here again was never part of the plan, but nothing of the last two years was part of any plan ever.

Yes, it’s a great house. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, everyone who walks into this house has said what I said the first time I ever saw it: “It’s so cute and such a perfect location!”

He should have died in this house but if he had, I wouldn’t be living here today. That’s one thing I know for certain and it goes with the only other certainty that I have:  I need to finish what we started which is why I re-booked my flight to Australia with little to no time to plan.

Early in 2014, I doubted that I would ever step foot in the land down under.  That country no longer held any interest for me.  Instead it was a reminder of unfulfilled dreams and not just of a sabbatical but of an entire future.  Occasionally I would say without conviction that someday I’d go and take his ashes, but I lacked any enthusiasm to make that happen until I moved back into the Hook House.

[I refer to my home as the “Hook House” because in the future it will become the Hook Scholar House where I sponsor students from outside of central Texas who travel to Austin from all over the world to conduct creative research at the Wild Basin Preserve.]

The first week back home, I had to give myself permission to feel relief, yes relief, that I could start anew, relief that it was okay to feel happy again, relief that no matter what I did to improve my future did not mean I would forget about Hook.   How could I?  This house was the only home I’d ever known with Allan.  It was his home then our home.  Now it is my home.  His Jeep is parked in the driveway while my Nissan is tucked away in the garage. Do I keep both cars? I don’t know but I no longer feel the need to figure everything out all at once. Somehow being back in this house has released me from feeling like I’d never find my way back to the land of the living.  And even as I walk through the house with the constant sense of he should be here, I know I can’t change the past.  I cannot make my husband be undead.  The only way forward is forward.

He would want you to be happy.

Sort of.  I mean, Allan would not have wanted me to be unhappy. He would have wanted more than anything for me to be productive, for me to get going.  I could cry all I wanted so long as I kept making progress.  Hook was from the generation that if you were too happy, you probably weren’t working hard enough.  So yes, he would want me to be happy but not too happy.

What is Allan saying to you now?

Multiple people have asked me this, but I couldn’t answer because I’d started listening more to what I needed than what I believed Allan would have wanted for me. That’s how I decided to make this trip to Australia which is neither a vacation nor a holiday. The same knotted ball that was in the pit of my stomach when I took my first trip back to Port Aransas without Allan has resurfaced. I struggle to feel excitement for a trip I once couldn’t wait to take.  But that was when I thought my husband would be sitting next to me on the plane not resting in an urn.  Everything is different now even my reason for going.

I go because there is a circle to be closed. I go to complete a two-year journey I never wanted to be on. I go to spread the last of my husband’s remains on the anniversary of his death.  I’ll do finally what we’re both now ready for me to do:  I’ll let him go.

The widow books that used to decorate my nightstand have been replaced by books about Australia.  Each time I open one of the Oz books, Australia_booksI barely skim through the pages, not really reading at all.  Instead, I stare at the maps of this continent, mentally planning a counterclockwise, southwest trek from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef then over to Darwin and down to Alice Springs then back down to Perth for one last peek at Hope Street.

Australia’s vastness used to intrigue me and my hope is that once I get there, it will again.  I’m giving myself exactly one month.  And all that traveling inside the country that I mentioned?  I’ve no way of knowing if I’ll actually do it.  I’m as likely to hunker down in Perth and do absolutely nothing as I am to figure out that anamoly of an island and make a solo trek around the circumference.

As I live through the next three weeks which this time last year were Hook’s last three weeks, I find it impossible not to return to that time in my head. We had lived a year for every day in that last month.  The intensity of feeling doesn’t go away just because 347 days have passed. I can actually see it more clearly now, see that no matter what happens in my life, nothing will ever touch me as deeply as those last days helping my husband to die.

We didn’t know, I didn’t know — our last conversations, our last everything. Some might think that that time was tragic or horrible or possibly even disgusting to have to live through.  When you can’t stop what is happening, when you can’t save them, when all you can do is wipe phlegm from their mouth or carry them to the bathroom, then those actions become ultra significant.  So you push back any thoughts of he’s dying and instead you think, He would have done this for me, or, I can still do these small things for him.  And you make that be enough for both of you and you never break until he’s gone, because he’s no strength left so you must be that for him, too.

If Hook were saying anything it would probably be:  Just keep going orYou’re right babe,” a common phrase in our home.

My husband did not want me to take his ashes to Australia.  But I have always known what was best for us and now I know what is best for me.  I need to release him.  I need to begin a new journey that starts with finishing this one.  I’ll make this pilgrimage to Australia and I’ll face this milestone like I have faced all the others: With my heart and my mind wide open.

And I’ll cry and I’ll cry and I’ll cry and when I’m done, I’ll remind myself that it’s okay to be happy again.

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The Hook Challenge

Hook_SEUlawn

Hook teaching students how to read nature and why it’s important for sustainability, 2012.

2016 UPDATE of donation link:

 

UPDATE 6/26/2014, 10:03amCST

When the St. Edward’s folks said, We’re going to do a 48-hour Hook Challenge to see if we can get another 145 donations, well I thought that was a great goal and I was completely unsure how we were going to achieve it.  But people were up late stirring the awesome sauce.  About halfway through the challenge, it seemed unlikely that we would even get half of our goal.  But as I mentioned, awesome sauce people were mixing it and a lot of natural juice was flowing and we came out even better than expected:

  • 115 donors; 146 donations!!!!  

Yes, our anonymous $25,000 pledge will happen because the total number of donations was over 145.  My personal hope was for 145 new donors but 146 donations feels great!  Yes, I was screaming out loud to Hook as the numbers came through (in case the overcast skies in Austin were blocking his hearing in heaven!).  Yes, I was scaring the cat as I danced around the kitchen to the theme of Rocky after midnight.

I’m not going to say I wish Hook were here to celebrate with me.  He was with me last night and he’s with each of you today in gratitude.

People have asked if the #HookChallenge donor link will remain open.  My guess is probably until June 30th 2014 at which time, St. Edward’s will close its official books on the #LoveBlueGiveGold campaign.  However, the regular link to donate to the Dr. Hook Wild Basin Endowment remains live indefinitely so individuals can donate at their leisure:

On behalf of Allan and all the future students who will benefit from the funds raised for research projects at the Wild Basin, I thank you.

Rosemary Guzman Hook
Widow of Allan | Steward of the Dr. Hook Wild Basin Endowment

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 12:14amCST

Final donor tally:  115 donors!  The donation link will remain open thru the night to get us closer to 145 donors:  bit.ly/seulbgive

Huge thank yous all around!

I’ve mentioned before how the Dr. Hook Wild Basin Endowment scholarships are open to any student in the world interested in conducting creative research at the Wild Basin in Austin.   What I may not have explained in detail is why this feature of the Hook Endowment was important to Allan and I.  We understood that to grow awareness about the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve and the Hook Scholars and the Hook Endowment itself, we would need to be open to offering these funds to more than St. Edward’s University students.

Hook and I were so grateful that St. Edward’s agreed and now here I am winding down on our second major donation push for the Hook Endowment — the first in 2013 when Allan was still alive and now tonight in 2014:

This has been a wonderful 48 hours spent torturing you with my blog and the count.  Thank you so very much!

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 9:19 pmCST

Some serious Wow is happening over here in Austin, Texas.  We are up to 97 donors with only 48 more to go!  That is your donation.  That is your donation on crack!  I’m speechless but only because I’m exhausted.  I even forgot to make myself a cocktail when I said I would.  I’ll update again around 11ish if there’s numbers available.  We can still do it.  We can make the goal of 145 donors by midnight!

Listen to some Rocky with me – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj0jzepk0WA – while you donate or while you motivate someone to donate:  bit.ly/seulbgive

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 7:04 pmCST

We are at 83 donors which is more than the halfway point!!!  (I’m counting Hook donors + Wild Basin donors). And it’s officially cocktail hour so I’m making a gin and tonic to celebrate!   Need 62 more donors by midnight tonight. 

Will you help us get there?

I just raised my fists up in the air Rocky-style and said, “Go Hook!”

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 3:34 pmCST

64 donors to the Hook Wild Basin Endowment and 4 donors to the Wild Basin Preserve for a total of 68 donors — woohoo!  I write “woohoo” but what I really want to do is throw my laptop across the room because it keeps locking up so that all of my online updates on FB, LI, TW, G+ and here on this blog are taking twice as long as they should.  On the bright side, the laptop still works so thank goodness for small gifts.

How many of you will stay up with me tonight until midnight?  My pledge is now up to $680 (68 donors x $10) and of course there is still the $25k pledge if we meet the goal of 145 donors!

Time for me to get some packing in for the next couple of hours, but I’ll check back in after 5 o’clock with an update.

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 1:24 pmCST

My contact lenses are starting to stick to my eyeballs, I’m so tired but I’m in this until 11:59 pm tonight!  In the meantime, I really need to finish packing up this house where I’m living in preparation for my move back into the Hook House.  Someday I hope the Hook House will become the Hook Scholar House.  More on that in another blog … as well as this mega move.

62 donors — yea!!!!   You all are amazing!  For the love of nature and education and Hook, let’s get 83 more donors!

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 12:54 pmCST

59 donors and growing!  86 more donors to go.  We can do this!

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 10:34 amCST

Made it to my breakfast meeting this morning but just barely.  The good news is we are up to 51 donors (Hook Endowment donors + Wild Basin donors).   I can almost hear Hook’s voice saying, “I can’t believe so many people are donating!”

We only have 94 more donors to go and our anonymous donor pledge kicks in with their $25k.  Hook’s concept of a “nature think tank” is becoming a reality.   Years from now we are going to look back and be amazed at how the support for the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve and the Hook Scholars have grown.

But, the Wild Basin isn’t Vegas.  What is learned at the basin doesn’t stay at the basin — this education will be applied everywhere, throughout the globe, and our awareness and reverence of the natural world will become the norm.  Thank you for that awesome sauce this morning … now, help us get 94 more donors!

UPDATE from 6/25/2014, 12:48 amCST

An anonymous donor pledged $25k if we meet the Hook Challenge of 145 donors by 11:59 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, 6/25.  We are currently at 42 donors as of 12:50 a.m.

Staying up late to track this stuff is a lot like cramming for an exam in college except I’m not 20 anymore and slamming caffeine lost its allure years ago.  No doubt I will fall asleep during my breakfast meeting which begins six hours from now at 6:50 am.

ORIGINAL POST from 6/24/2014, 10:47 amCST

This will be the shortest blog post you’ll ever read from me.  That is my gift to you, but today is about me asking for a gift from you.

Wait!  Please read this brief post to the end.  If you’re thinking, I already donated for chrissakes, well I’d say someone is feeling a bit dramatic today and quite frankly that’s my job. 😉

This week, St. Edward’s University kicked off a #LoveBlueGiveGold campaign to increase their alumni contributions.  They chose to include the Hook Endowment as part of this giving challenge not only for alumni donations but for any person interested in supporting the sustainability and education of the environmental gem known as the Wild Basin Preserve.  Here is what I am asking from you:

  • If you were one of the original 145 donors, would you encourage one family member or friend or acquaintance who has not donated to give $10 or more to the Dr. Hook Wild Basin Endowment?  http://ow.ly/ymVvI
  • If you have not donated yet, would you make one online contribution of $10 before midnight on Wednesday, June 25th 2014? http://ow.ly/ymVvI

Those interested in donating more than $10 are certainly welcomed to do so.  (If you’d like, read about the original giving levels established by Allan in 2013:  Hook giving levels)

You can watch the progress with me of how many people meet the Hook Challenge by 11:59 p.m. on 6/25: http://think.stedwards.edu/giving/progress.   For each new donor who commits online by the deadline, I have pledged to make a donation of $10 per donor toward the Hook Challenge.

For those not already in the know, here is a quick explanation of what the Hook Wild Basin Endowment is and what purpose it serves:

In 2013, my late husband Allan (“Hook”) and I established the Dr. Hook Endowed Wild Basin Creative Research Fund to provide scholarships to any student in the world interested in conducting creative research at the pristine, 227 acre track called the Wild Basin and which is part of the incredible Balcones Canyonland Preserve in Austin, Texas, U.S.A.  Allan and I managed to convince (asking, begging, guilting) 145 friends and family to donate to this endowment which resulted in eight Hook Scholars receiving funds in 2014 to study at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center  This center and the Wild Basin Preserve are graciously managed by St. Edward’s University, a private institution in south Austin and where Hook spent the last 25 years of his life as a biology professor before he passed away.

Please Note:  I tend to emphasize the “any student in the world” eligibility of future Hook Scholars.  I do this because it is not the norm for a higher education institution to open its scholarship coffers to students from other universities.  But as part of their overall global initiatives, St. Edward’s University encourages students from any university to apply to the Hook Endowment.  Why?  Because the greater the awareness, the greater the exposure, the greater the chances we have of keeping preserves like the Wild Basin as a learning vehicle for educating young minds about the sustainability and necessity of our natural environment.   Forward thinking.

#LoveGoldGiveBlue today and help us meet the Hook Challenge by donating or getting one person to donate by the deadline:  http://ow.ly/ymVvI

p.s.  Today’s original blog word count: 563 |  My average blog word count: 2920

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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 

 

HDU_Hook_Rosemary_rehearsal

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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