Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A changed life that hasn’t really changed

A habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. That’s the definition of rut and it’s what I’m in.

The loss of a partner is a life altering event. In the blink of an eye, everything that you once knew is gone and you are forced to “find a new normal.” The things you once had help with are now on your shoulders. The companionship you once took for granted goes away. The routines you once had are often no longer possible to maintain. But three months later, I am still clinging to the life I had and desperately trying not to let go of it. I still feel, for the most part, like I’m half of an amazing relationship. That’s, of course, despite the fact that I find myself thinking more and more about the possibility of being, maybe not half, but part of another amazing relationship.

I come home to the same house and the same things and not much has changed. My home still looks mostly the way it did when Jon was here. I say things that came from him. I talk about him like he were still here. I say to the kids, “what did Jon tell you about climbing on the furniture?” I think I should be able to come home and “hit the gym.” I think about calling him or texting him or sending him an IM on gmail. I think about the plans we would have made. A cold front rolled through our Florida town and, finally, it stopped feeling like summer. The air is dry and slightly cool. I’m almost, almost chilly outside and all I could think was, “it’s camping weather!”

But that’s not my life anymore. I’m not a fiancĂ© or a wife. Hell, I’m not even a widow even though that’s what I say. I’m a single mom. I’m back in the game, like it or not. But how do you embrace both the good and the bad that comes with that when you still feel like you’re simultaneously still living the old life?
There was no transition. No sickness to prepare me. It was just getting married one moment and then all alone the next. And I guess that’s the new conflict I’m facing; I want to hit the play button and get on with my life, but the old life was never paused. It leaves me in a place where, in one instant I can be caking on makeup because maybe, just maybe, there might be a suitable bachelor at that story I’m covering today and then the next I’m flooded with memories that feel like they’re going to lend to new memories.

I feel like a need a whole new life, a fresh start. A growing part of me wants to discard all the things that were and just start from scratch – a new place, a new job, a new life; one defined by me and not a collaboration. But that is scary and probably ill advised and more appropriately, not really an option.
I made the decision to move back to my dad’s house. It’s not far. I can still keep the same job and the kids can still stay in the same school. It’s a large-ish house that has plenty of room for us and it’s mutually beneficial for both my father and I. I’ll have a support network that I’m severely lacking at the moment. If I want to get out with some friends, there will be an adult in the house in case the kids need something. I have friends on the block who I can share a laugh or a drink or both with at the end of the day. It’s a good choice, a solid choice, but I want more than that.

I want to forget – not Jon’s life, but his death. I want to forget that I’m broken. I want to forget the pain. I want to replace it with happiness. I still can’t get past the fact that people like me deserve more than anyone to have happiness catapulted right into our lives. We, the widowers of the world, have had to endure the unthinkable and we do our best to not just survive it, but kick its ass. We shouldn’t have to wait for happy.  It’s a process they say. If you tell someone who hasn’t lost the way that I’ve lost that’s it’s been three months they automatically think, “wow, it’s so fresh, you’re still healing.” But to be in my shoes, they would know that three months of battling the emotional rollercoaster that is grief feels like an eternity. It’s time already. It’s my time. I’m not a religious person, quite the opposite really, but if I were I would think Jon is somewhere looking over me and making sure I’m OK. But that’s just one more reason to reject the spiritual claims that there is some purpose. If he had any control, if he were looking out for me from some heaven or various other spiritual realm, he’d have dropped something awesome in my lap. Maybe not a potential suitor, but something. A job opportunity. A winning lotto ticket. A surprise adventure. Something. But since the day he died my life has been nothing but one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another.

I’m in a rut and I’m grasping at straws to get out of it. The kicker is, I have found a new normal. It fucking sucks. My life now consists of nothing but responsibility. Time for fun is all but gone. Socialization has dwindled to depressing levels. Friends who were once around all the time are now moving on to other things and have become less and less frequent forces in my life. I wake up in the morning. I get my kids to school. I go to work. I come home. I cook dinner – not the culinary masterpieces I used to make. I sign homework. I read stories. I get the kids in bed. I do dishes. I make important phone calls and do laundry. I feed the dog. I maybe putts around on the computer for a bit or watch whatever looks mildly entertaining on Netflix. I go to bed. Rinse and repeat. What kind of life is that? It’s my depressingly dull new normal, that’s what it is.

But Janelle, you have to learn to be alone. What kind of lesson is that? Is that a joke? Shitty lessons are for my kids who are embarking on a process that will teach them to be reasonable adults not for the grown up who cares for them who’s already had to endure those shitty lessons and then some.  That’s like telling me I have to be miserable for a pre-determined amount of time before I’m allowed to be a normal thirty year old again. I guess I’ll never really be normal after all of this, but I can be close to it or, hell, better for it. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to come home to the same tired routines day in and day out with little help and then be mocked by the “well, at least you have your girls” spiel. Of course I’m glad I have my girls. I love them and they have saved me in so many ways. But it’s not the same.

These words of wisdom come from people who either have someone at home waiting for them, often as they’re sitting there hand in hand, or from people who have open doors all over the fucking place – people who can go out and explore their lonely life. Fuck the happy people. I want a jaded, lonely, miserable person to sit down on my couch with me to drink one glass of wine too many with me and tell me that I’m right, life is a bitch and for that person to not try to tell me why I should stop feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want anecdotes about how lucky I was and how much I still have. I want someone to acknowledge that they’re glad it’s me and not them because, who could ever handle this shit storm that is my life?

Don’t get me wrong, I have this amazing support network of people ready and willing to help me in any way they can. I’m so very grateful for that. But it’s not enough and I feel like I’m a burden always whining about the bad and neglecting the good. I say please and thank you and I try to reciprocate whenever possible. But at what point does the compassion turn into an annoying burden that no one wants? They all think I’m doing “surprisingly well.” They’re proud of me, but it’s fake because I’m fake. My level of OKness is fake. I just a new life. I want their lives. The lives where this terrible thing happened, but you forget it the same way you forget about it when a show you really like gets cancelled.

I have gotten fairly acquainted with the fact that I lost Jon and I’ve learned to live without him, but I can’t get over the level of suck that exists in the miserable loneliness that is being a single parent. I didn’t choose to be single the way that a woman who divorces her husband does. I’ve done that. It sucked, but not like this. In that example, there were still memories both fond and otherwise, but the otherwise feelings are what remind you that you’re working toward something better. In my current situation, there is not working toward something better because I was perfectly ecstatic about my old life.

I just want something good to happen. They say you can’t wait for good things to happen, you have to make them happen. But whoever they are also say you can’t force your way into happiness. So which is it? Do I sit around and wait for it or do I go out and look for it. I’m inclined to think the latter, but how the hell can you do that when you literally have no time to go out and get anything? The proverbial catch 22 in which I am currently trapped is my prison. I am and always have been a good person. Better than a good person, I’ve been a great person. I’m strong, smart, mildly funny and I’ve always treated people better than I expect to be treated. I don’t deserve this. It’s not fair, it’s cruel.

I said to a friend last night that Jon made me realize when he came along that I didn’t need rescuing. I’d like to think I don’t need rescuing now, but I suspect maybe I do. I’m trying really hard to rescue myself, but it would sure be nice if someone or several someones came along to do the rescuing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lonely is my new normal

Sometimes it’s not so bad, nice even. Some nights I lose myself in a book or a TV show or movie and a much needed glass of wine. Baths and music have become my friends. They’re  always there. I don’t have to call them. I don’t have to plead with them to come hang out with me because I can’t go to them.

But sometimes it really, really sucks.

Tonight seems to be one of those nights. I’m coming off a really great day. Yesterday I spent the afternoon running errands with my girls getting ready for Halloween and grocery shopping, and best, getting myself set up for my latest attempt at a hobby – cycling. After, I went for a long ride with music in my ear and wind in my face. It was liberating. I came home feeling like I could conquer the world. I cooked. I cleaned. I did laundry. I enjoyed myself. But today, that high is gone. I want so badly to hop on the bike again, despite my sore butt. I want to recapture that feeling of independence and the rush of adrenaline. But I can’t. I have to get the kids ready for bed and make sure their homework is done and signed. I suppose I could go for a ride after they’ve gone to bed, but leaving them in the house alone after dark seems both irresponsible and scary. Not to mention the fact that the idea of riding at night alone also doesn’t seem the safest move. So here I am, yet again, all alone in what has become a consistent solitude that weighs on me every single day.

Obviously I miss Jon. But more and more each day it’s not just him that I miss – it’s the life that comes with sharing your life. I no longer have anyone to share it with – not a grown up anyway. It used to be I’d come home and we had our rituals. There was always another grown up to talk to; always someone to watch a movie with and someone to share my bed. Now there’s just me and a heap of responsibility that drowns me more every day.

I have accepted that he’s not coming back and I’ve learned to be at least somewhat OK with that. I’ve learned to look forward to a future without him in it instead of dreading it. But I can’t get over the pain that comes with, in an instant, going from being half of a partnership to all of what should be a partnership. I loathe the fact that I have to take on responsibilities that were once someone else’s. I hate even more not being able to talk to someone about it at night. I hate not being able to share jokes he would have thought were funny. I miss being able to vent about my day at will without feeling like I’m burdening unwelcoming ears.

I find myself just wanting the companionship. I’ve discarded the longing for him and replaced it with a longing for just anyone at all. I cling to whatever person seems willing to offer an ear. I exploit those who show the slightest sign of offering company. I make more of new friendships than they should be. It seems terribly pathetic sometimes, but I just want someone to be here and I don’t want them to leave and I’ve suddenly taken this stance that it doesn’t matter who it is.

To put it simply, I want a boyfriend. But do I really? I can’t quite figure that out. I want to go to bed next to someone and wake up in the morning next to them. I want someone to just be around – gently brushing my hair out of my face when I least expect it, pecking me on the cheek just because, playing with my kids so we can all feel just a little normal again and offering to help when things get just a little too heavy for me. Jon was all those things and more. I don’t want to replace him, but I want those comforts back. I worked hard for them. I invested time into getting them and it just doesn’t seem fair that I should have to go through that process all over again.

I’m thirty years old and already I’ve been divorced twice and lost the man who was to be husband number three – the one who would actually work out. We were supposed to spend a lifetime together. His lifetime being snuffed short was not part of the equation and now I’m back to square one. Meanwhile, it seems like the world keeps spinning for everyone else. People my age are getting married or starting families. I had all that and then it was yanked away from me and I want it back. And I don’t want to have to work quite so hard for it again. I know that is unreasonable and I remind myself every single day. I try to take a step back and look at things logically – that what Jon and I had doesn’t just fall in your lap. But he did. I mean, it took two and a half years to get engaged, but it only took a couple of weeks for him to be that guy; the guy who wanted to be with me all the time and didn’t mind if it was shared time with my kids. Is it so much that I want another situation like that to fall in my lap again? Is it really so unhealthy? After everything I’ve been through, don’t I deserve that?

Hell, I don’t even want as much as Jon offered. I just want to feel close to someone again. I want to feel like there’s a person who can’t wait to see me or talk to me. I know it’s too soon to jump to the conclusion that that won’t exist for me, but it’s so hard to not think that. And what happened with Jon is not the norm. Most relationships take time to develop over time right? Or is the fact that we fast tracked everything a testament to why we worked so well? If it doesn’t take off like that, does it mean it’s not worth it? So many of the people I know well who are in loving, seemingly healthy relationships moved at a pace not all that different than Jon and I.

I just feel like I’m in a prison of solitude. I have so many things to be grateful for – my kids, my wonderful friends, my supportive family – but none of those things fills the hole that was once filled by being a part of an awesome freaking relationship. No matter how much I adapt to being just me, no amount of soul searching can fill that void.

What if Jon was the only man I was supposed to be with and this is my new life? I don’t like it and I don’t want it. I want there to be someone else out there that can make me feel whole the way he did. But what if there just isn’t anyone? Or what if they live in, like, France or something? Being single without kids lends to that search. Being single with kids doesn’t. You don’t meet people when you can barely leave your house. Everyone says to focus on my kids. Funny that many of those well-meaning advice givers don’t have kids and are in happy, healthy relationships with a partner who is, you know, not dead. Try that advice on in my shoes and it no longer makes much sense. Of course I’m going to focus on my kids. I always have and I always will. But that can’t be someone’s entire life. I have to have something outside of mom, housekeeper, chef, breadwinner and tutor. My kids are great and I love being with them, but it’s not the same when there isn’t anyone to share in the joys of raising them. 

If my life were a typical, forgettable movie or sitcom, I would be the sympathetic character. The girl who everyone knows deserves something awesome. The kind-hearted, funny, refreshing character that you want to find happiness. There’d be a period in the movie where that character struggled, but then everything would fall into place and what she wanted most in the world would happen.  So, when does that happen? Because I’m really fucking ready for the credits to roll.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Old words, new messages

I’ve been thinking about upcoming holidays and in thinking about them, one comes to mind as being particularly difficult: Thanksgiving.

It’s a day to give thanks for all of the blessings in your life. What’s difficult when you’ve only just recently lost someone important to you is to find much of anything to be thankful for. It’s easy to overlook that there are still things.

Not being a particularly religious person, my Thanksgiving rituals with my girls have focused less on religious affirmations and prayers and more on being thankful for the things that we have. Every year, I have everyone around the table say what they are thankful for; a tradition I’m sure is common on this particular day. I’ve tried to imagine what I will say and what my girls will say when we’ve lost so much and are drowning in a world filled with endless cruelty. What do we have to be thankful for when so much has been taken from us? And in thinking about that, I’ve realized that there is still so much. So, I’ve come up with some thoughts that I want to share now, so that I have the strength to share them then.

I know I’ve probably written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. There are a lot of memories I have of Jon and none of them is more important than another. But there is one that seems more significant in a scenario of giving thanks.

Before Jon, I was in a terribly abusive relationship. Not physically, but emotionally. It ended abruptly and painfully and I was lost in a new world of loneliness and rejection. Shortly after I started dating Jon he planned what was probably one of the most romantic nights I have ever had. He made a picnic on the rooftop of the apartment where he lived. He took me up there and I found two chairs at the edge of the roof overlooking the entire downtown skyline and you could just barely see the water a few blocks down the road. He had strawberries and cheese and crackers and beer and wine so I could have whatever I was in the mood for that night – you never knew. He didn’t know all of what I had been through, just that it was awful. I told him every detail even though I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I could trust him. I felt like he’d understand that it didn’t make me a bad person that bad things were done to me. After hours talking on the roof that night, we climbed back down to go back to his apartment. As we were standing in front of his doorway, him fumbling for his keys to let us in, I said to him that I wished I could take it all back and make it so it never happened. He stopped fumbling with the keys to look at me, and with what seemed like arms growing out of his ears he said to me, “I don’t.”

More arms grew out of his ears and I scoffed, “why would you not want me to be able to take away such an awful experience?” His answer was endearing at the time, but eerily relevant now, “because it made you who you are now, the person that I’m falling in love with, and if it didn’t happen, maybe you wouldn’t be so perfect for me.”

I’ve thought about those words before; before he was gone. I’ve always thought of his wisdom and been impressed. But now, well, they seem even more wise. What happened to me before Jon did change me and in retrospect made me a better and stronger person. It made me want to be better. Now the terrible thing that happened isn’t the loss of an abusive relationship, it’s the loss of the best one I’ve ever had. The loss of a relationship that grew me as a person; one that helped my children be better people too. But the experience, once I’ve sufficiently survived, will have made me stronger, maybe even better. And it will do that for my girls too. There’s no arguing that Jon’s presence in our life was a powerful and bettering force, but to imagine his loss as being a similar force is hard to swallow. But if we don’t better ourselves for him, what is the point in his loss?

I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. Not necessarily that there is some grand purpose in our lives, but that in a holistic sense, we are all predestined to only be handed that which we can endure. All of our triumphs and challenges are part of a process. This, quite clearly, has become a part of our process – mine, my girls’, his parents and siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. His being here was part of that process too.

And already, I’ve found myself a different person. Things that once peeved me no longer do. Things that seemed burdensome seem mundane. Working late is welcomed now. I have a new sense of need to accomplish more – for me, but more so for Jon because it’s what he would want. My girls remind me sometimes that Jon told them and taught them certain things. Don’t try to put the whole ravioli in your mouth, cut it first. Don’t stall when it’s time to go to bed. And a common sentence has popped up in our house that always begins with the words, “what would Jon say?”

I carry the prayer card from his funeral in my purse and I look at it often. We joke about the typo – open your yes – but the first words on that card are so relevant, “you can shed a tear because I’m gone or you can smile because I was here.” What more is there to be thankful for to have had a soul like Jon’s in your life?

If anything, I’m left with regret that he didn’t get to see things through. He didn’t get to see me walk down the aisle. He didn’t get to see me in my wedding dress. He didn’t get to have that first fight as a married couple or enjoy all the things we had planned for retirement. He didn’t get to watch the girls grow up or teach them to drive a stick shift the way he so looked forward to. He won’t get to see them graduate from high school or college or know what it feels like to have grandchildren. He didn’t get to take that cross country cycling tour we planned for once the kids were all out of the house. These were all things we talked about late at night when we should have been sleeping and I’m pissed that the universe robbed him of those opportunities. But without me, without the girls, he wouldn’t have ever known what it was to really love. He wouldn’t have known what it was like to be a dad; to know that it can be simultaneously maddening and rewarding. He wouldn’t have known that he was better than answering phones and talking to morons all day long. He wouldn’t have known that there was a life for him outside of video games. He wouldn’t have known that he was the smartest, most capable man to ever walk the planet – at least in someone’s eyes. I gave him that. He died with love in his heart. He died proud of himself for probably the first time in his life. He went to sleep that night excited for our girls to come home and with the thought that we were going to immediately take them camping to show them all the things we had seen. He died knowing that, for the first time in his life, he could give the people closest to him the experiences that we once daydreamed about, but couldn’t afford. Hell, we even had a conversation about Lexi’s first car.

We gave him that. We gave him happiness. He gave us happiness. And he didn’t take it away when he left. He just postponed it a bit. It’s still there.

So, for all that rambling, here’s what I’m thankful for:

I’m thankful for the love I never thought I’d find

I’m thankful for the strength I never believed I had

I’m thankful for the lessons I never could have shared

I’m thankful for the memories I never thought I’d have

I’m thankful for the person I never thought I’d be

I’m thankful for the family I never knew existed

I’m thankful for being loved in a way I never knew I could

I’m thankful for the independence I never knew existed

Most of all I’m thankful for the future I know he’ll help me find.

I’m thankful for having three years of wisdom to guide me through all the times I forget I’m grateful.

I’m thankful for Jon.

Thank you baby, for leaving me with so many things to be thankful for and only one to regret, that I can’t tell you in person and that I never got the chance to realize just how much it meant to be a part of your life. I know you knew, but I never told you in so many words. You’re gone, but never forgotten.

I will always love you, but I will continue to live and give thanks. To you and to everything you left.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Conflicting emotions

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Jon’s proposal. I’m not even shitting you.

That’s an inside joke to those who knew of Jon’s out of the ordinary proposal!

The day brought back so many memories, all of them good ones. I could feel the emotion of that night like it was yesterday. The shock when I watched him get down on one knee almost flashing everyone within eye shot because he was wearing a kilt. The hesitation because I couldn’t believe he was actually asking. The excitement that followed and draining both of our cell phone batteries calling everyone we knew. Verifying to the family the next day that, yes, we got engaged. Shopping for my ring because his sister said it was absolutely unacceptable that I didn’t get one (even though I didn’t care for one.) I could remember the smell in the air on Baltimore Harbor. I could remember the way the breeze felt, the way his lips felt when we shared our first kiss as an engaged couple. These memories were all so fresh and close to my mind that for a moment, I thought Jon would come walking out of the bedroom in that kilt and an overgrown and worn t-shirt.

It doesn’t take the anniversary of something important to remember things so vividly. All of the love we shared in our years together is still very much there and it hasn’t faded in the slightest. But each and every day, I get more and more antsy to have those feelings again. I don’t necessarily want to move on – I don’t think I ever really will – but I find myself day dreaming about that amazing feeling that washes over you when you kiss someone for the first time. I find myself caring what I look like when I go out and more, wanting to go out more often. I find myself slipping into this mindset that I want to go on with my life the way Jon told me I needed to.

It’s only been two months and I don’t know if those feelings are appropriate or not. I’ve been told we all move at our own pace and what is normal for one person may not be for me. This is meant as a reassurance that if someone asks me out on a date, it’s ok if I say yes. Maybe that’s true, but it’s still a conflicting urge that is difficult to describe. How can you love someone so much, but hope to meet someone else? And is it even real to want to meet someone else or is it a desperate search for a distraction? Maybe a little of both? How do you know what is real or not; what is healthy or unhealthy?

When I’m out and about in the world whether it’s work related or personal, I used to groan over any positive attention I got from men. It seemed so presumptuous of these people to make comments about the way I looked or spoke or well, whatever. The compliments were unwelcomed unless they came from Jon. Now, I am flattered by even the most vulgar of comments. If someone had shouted, “hey baby” at me two months ago, I would have rolled my eyes and possibly thrown up in my mouth a little bit. I might have even made a snide comment back. Now, I blush, grin and keep walking because what the hell else do you do? Then, heaven forbid someone say something genuine, I turn into a ball of muddled words and trip all over myself like a school girl. This is not who I am.

I’ve dated before. I’ve been single. Before Jon, I would have described myself as a girl who played it cool. I wouldn’t have been tripped up by an attractive guy having a reasonable conversation with me. So why now am I suddenly unable to communicate without sounding like an idiot?

Then there are movies. You’d be hard pressed to find many films that don’t contain some form of love story. Comedies have them. Tragedies too. Drama, of course. Science Fiction even. Television shows have romances. And what they all tend to have in common is a completely unrealistic depiction of what actually happens in real life. But yet I watch these plots unfold, no matter how big or small, and I get starry eyed and filled with a sense of longing. Jon and I had a romance that was made for a movie. So, I know it exists. Now I want it back and since I can’t have him back, it’s left me searching other avenues.

I doubt very seriously anything will happen for me anytime soon because as much as I think about these things, I still have built something of a wall around myself. And, of course, I’m 24/7 mom so I don’t really even have time for that part of my life anyway. I don’t even want something serious, just someone to spend time with every once and a while. I suspect that if an opportunity were to present itself to me, I’d probably take it and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I worry, perhaps too much, what people would think. Jon’s friends. My friends. Jon’s family. Would it make it seem like I somehow loved Jon less to open that door? I know in my heart that’s not what it means. I know Jon would understand. But what would they all think. I guess it shouldn’t matter, but it does to me. I don’t want to feel like I have to explain myself to anyone, but I would inevitably feel like I did.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep living precariously through fake lives on television.