A Song of Garlic and Earrings

scapes

Today I sing of garlic and earrings.  Wait, don’t change the station.  It’s also a song of remembering who I was before I met Tony, and figuring out who I am and will be now that he is gone.

Before Tony and I met, I cooked with onions and garlic in everything.  Or shallots.  Or chives.  I loved oniony, garlicky flavors.  After I met him, after things got serious and we were eating all of our meals together, I stopped cooking with those ingredients.  I stopped even buying them.  Why?  Because when Tony was a teenager and even into adulthood, he had acne.  It was pretty excruciating for him as a teenager, and even though I always thought his skin looked good (and he looked years younger than his age) he was hyper-sensitive to the presence of any tiny whitehead, any redness, anything other than smooth perfection.

He wanted so much to be able to control that, to stop any breakout from happening.  I would tell him that I still got breakouts sometimes, but that didn’t help.  So what started in his teenager years as experiments with dietary supplements and facial cleansers turned into an almost monk-like exercise in self-denial.  He wouldn’t eat anything with onions or garlic because he was convinced that their sulfur and sugar content were part of the problem.  But it wasn’t just that.  It was any sugar, any dairy, any meat with visible fat.  Any citrus, any fruit, many vegetables.

The bottom line is, we ate a very limited diet.  Sure, I could have cooked two separate meals but that seemed like a lot of work on top of my day job and writing.  So I ate what he ate.

The other day I bought garlic scapes at the farmers’ market.  They’re sort of garlic shoots, immature garlic if you will.  To eat them, you just need to cut up the greens and cook them.  I had some with mushrooms (another thing Tony wouldn’t eat) and eggs (yet another) on Sunday.  They were delicious.

Enjoying garlic doesn’t mean I don’t miss Tony.  It just means that I am re-learning what it means to be me, Aimee, without him.  I put his needs and wants above my own most of the time, because on some level I thought that would save him.  Now I can only save myself.

And earrings.  Well, I’m not wearing garlic bulbs or scapes as earrings to ward off attacks of the vampiric (vampirous?) variety.  What I am doing is making earrings, something I have never done before.  I took a class with my mother on Tuesday night because I have learned, in this new life I am building, that I love jewelry.  I never really wore it before – just my wedding ring, occasionally a necklace or earrings, but truly only rarely.  Now, it’s become a passion.  I love to wear it, and I thought it would be interesting to learn how to make them.  Here are my first two efforts:

earrings

Earrings 2nd pair

My loops are a little wonky, but I’m guessing those will improve with practice.  I never thought of myself as artistic in that way, but I am done setting limits for myself.  My sweet Tony thought that by making his world smaller and smaller he could protect himself.  So he denied himself things he liked, he limited himself, and he hid himself away.  I hid with him and tried to convince him that it was safe to open up, but he couldn’t believe me. 

In the end, there is no safety in limitations of that kind.  There is no way to hide from life.  All we can do is fling the doors wide, and fling our arms wide, take what the world offers and offer back the best of ourselves.  Blemishes and fears and all.

Counting Years He Won’t Be Here

So this is a new one.  Usually exercise makes me feel good, and I’ve been getting on the treadmill several times a week.  I’ve worked my way up to doing close to three miles in about 45 or 50 minutes, and it helps.

Today, though, I was on the treadmill and I looked up at the timer and it said 20:12.  And then it said 20:13, and then 20:14; and suddenly those weren’t seconds being counted.  They were years.  Years Tony and I were supposed to spend together.  Years he promised to spend with me, in sickness and in health.  I was walking and panting and sobbing and I had to stop. 

There are days I can wax philosophical about what I’m going through.  This isn’t one of them.  I had another blog post ready to go, but it will keep until tomorrow.  Today I miss him too much to post about other things. 

I wish he hadn’t done what he did.  If only wishes could do the trick, he’d be here with me.  He’d be in treatment and we’d be figuring things out together.  But wishes are fairy tales, and reality, right now, is no fun at all.

Six Months. A Century. A Day.

Today it is six months since Tony died.  Six months since he breathed his last breath, by his own choice.

Today I have breathed six months’ worth of breaths without him beside me.

Today it is 182 days since I saw his face, kissed his lips, smelled his smell.

Today it is Friday, and it was Friday then too. 

Today it is June and summer is starting.  The days are so long, yet that shorter day in December was much, much longer.

Today I love him I hate him I miss him I want to yell scream and kiss him all at once.

Today it is forever, and today it just happened.

Finding Love in a Few Beans

beans 2

Yesterday I bought fava beans at the farmer’s market. 

On the surface, a small thing.  So what, you may ask?  I bought some fava beans.  Big deal.  You may think of Hannibal Lecter and wonder if I’ll serve them with liver and a nice Chianti.  You may think that fava beans are a lot of work, and you’d be right about that.  In order to eat them, I’ll have to first strip them from their pods, and then I’ll have to painstakingly peel each individual bean of its bright green, slightly rubbery coating.  By the time I’m done, what looks like an enormous bag of beans worthy of Jack’s beanstalk will have been reduced to less than a cup of unassuming pale green ovals.

What you can’t know until I tell you is that every moment of that preparation, every moment of the cooking (simply, in a little butter and salt) and every second of eating them will be a song about Tony.  That small cup of beans will be made of memories, mine and Tony’s.  Tony told me that his father grew fava beans in the garden of the house where he grew up.  He grew a lot of things, but there was something about the way Tony talked about those beans, picking them off the vines and peeling and re-peeling and eating them raw right in the garden, that made me want to try them.  It made me share, but then just as eagerly dismiss, that I hated lima beans as a child and even though I’d tried fresh lima beans as an adult and liked them, I still thought I probably wouldn’t like fava beans.  Tony’s story made me stop in my tracks in Bristol Farms when I saw a bin of those beans, grab a bag and scoop big handfuls in so that we could try to recreate that childhood memory for him.

In each bean is the sunshine and water needed to grow it.  In each bean is the history of the farmer who tended the plant, the farmer’s present day routine and all of the ancestors who passed down their knowledge.

In each bean is my love for Tony.  As I eat them I will be wishing, inevitably, that Tony were here to enjoy them with me.  They are not madeleines, but their flavor will make me think of a particular passage from Proust about how the smell and taste of things remains long after everything else has gone, and about how they carry with them, invisibly, our memories.

Therapy, Psychiatry and Anti-Depressants, Oh My!

Before Tony died, I thought of therapy and anti-depressants the way a lot of people do.  First of all, they were this dark, mysterious thing, much like the forbidden forest in The Wizard of Oz.  They were unknown creatures.  Second, they were not for me.  They had nothing to do with me, and I wanted nothing to do with them.  Admitting that I might need either seemed a weakness to me, although I certainly had no problem thinking that, for example, therapy would probably help Tony.  I was, we all are, part of a society that has marginalized such things.  Oh sure, there are little pockets where everyone has a therapist and talks about it proudly, but for most of us, that’s not the way it works.

Since I started blogging, I have had several indirect communications – people who’ve said these things to my friends or relatives but haven’t actually said them to me, here, on the blog – letting me know that these people think that anti-depressants are a crutch, therapy is a joke, etc.  I also know from direct experience with Tony and from talking to others that there are many people out there who have never been in therapy or tried it once with the wrong therapist, and so they have decided that therapy cannot, under any circumstances, help them.

I want to reiterate, again, that the brain is a part of the human body.  It produces chemicals like cortisol, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins that help regulate how we feel.  This is no different, NO DIFFERENT, than the way pancreas produces insulin.  When a person’s pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, that person gets diabetes, a medical condition that is treatable with drugs.  Would any of us walk up to an insulin-dependent diabetic and pontificate about how the insulin that they rely on to save their lives is a crutch?  For that matter, would any of us tell someone with a broken leg that they should throw away their crutch and just get on with it?

For me, therapy has been an eye-opening, life-changing thing.  There are so many ways in which we do ourselves disservice.  I wasn’t able to get out of my own way, and now thanks to therapy I can see that and I am beginning to see the ways I can change it.  It occurs to me that therapy is the study of myself and my own behavior.  Some might dismiss that as navel-gazing, but is it really?  I would argue that it’s not.  Why would we not want to know as much about ourselves and why we behave the way we do as possible?  I can honestly say that my interpersonal relationships are better now than they have ever been. 

The hardest thing for me about being in therapy (besides the occasional painful breakthrough) has been thinking about Tony and how insistent he was that therapy could not help him.  That anti-depressants could not help him.  That I should be able to, but couldn’t, help him.  We have a long way to go in terms of how we view and treat mental illnesses, but there is help out there.  It’s true that we can’t see these illnesses the same way we can see a broken leg, but we can’t see diabetes or congestive heart failure or heart disease either.  Yet for those, we have no problem seeking help.  Therapy could have helped Tony.  Anti-depressants could have helped him.  He could not get out of his own way, couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and couldn’t get past his fears about what other people might think if he said that he needed help.  I wish, every day, that he had sought the help he needed.  He didn’t, and I will never be the same.

What I hope, the reason I am taking these medications and going to therapy every week, and reading books by Brene Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff and Thich Nhat Hanh, is that while I might never be the same, I can become the best possible version of myself.  I hope that I can take the tragedy of losing Tony and turn it into something that will help other people.  I have to be honest – without therapy, I don’t think that would even be a possibility.

PS – I have to tell you that the day I got the idea for this title, I was lying in bed feeling quite pleased with myself.  I decided to check on one of my favorite blogs, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, written by my friend Mir.  I clicked over and the title of HER latest post was Teenagers and Travel and Moths (Oh My) and she assures me that this is because she and I share a Borg mind.  I believe her.  At any rate, you really should go over and read her blog because she’s an amazing writer and an even better person. 

Spreading Kindness in Memory of Tony

Last Friday, June 7th, was the tenth anniversary of my first date with Tony.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was my decision to spend a day so potentially painful doing something positive.  People who live with depression view the word through a distorted lens.  For Tony, it was always a challenge to believe in the good in people; so there is something deeply healing for me to go out on these significant dates in our relationship and try to make the world a kinder place.  I hope I do that every day, but on these days I try to make a special effort.

When we did this in January, on Tony’s birthday, we had things planned out and made in advance.  This past week of anniversaries (first email, first phone call, first date) hit me hard, and so we took a more open approach to the whole thing.  I went to bed Thursday night with only a couple of ideas, and set off on Friday having decided to let the day be whatever it would be, and to just trust my instincts.

My morning started off with my mother.  We went to breakfast.  One of the ideas I’d had the night before was to go out to breakfast and pay someone’s bill anonymously.  We were seated on the side of the restaurant that had a counter and stools, and so our choices were somewhat limited.  I was looking at the people there and hoping I would get a feeling about someone, a pull that would tell me “that’s the person whose bill needs to be paid.” 

060713 woodinville cafe

Shortly after we ordered, a tall man with gray hair in a ponytail came in alone and sat at the counter.  As he sat, he banged his head against the light.  That was my cue – surely someone who’d just conked his head needed a little pick-me-up.  We recruited the waitresses’ help, and when he asked for his bill we could hear the waitress tell him that it had been paid for anonymously.  My back was to him, but my mom told me he looked all around in search of a clue about his benefactor, and then smiled hugely and said to the waitress, “Well, if they come in again, tell them I said thank you!”  I gave the waitress huge tips on both bills, and my mom gave a tip to the other waitress who’d helped us organize things.

After that we stopped at Starbucks and my mom left a 100% tip in the jar for the baristas.  Then we headed off to Ben Franklin to get supplies for the other idea I had.  I wanted to make kindness cards and leave them on cars.

060713 kindness card

I made five of them sitting in the car, and we left them on cars in the lot.  Again, I let my instinct guide me.  I put one on an old and dusty red Subaru; my mom put one on another red car that spoke to her.  Next I picked an SUV that was covered with bird poop, a pretty spring-green car, and finally, a blue car the exact color of Tony’s.

On our way out of the parking lot, we stopped and I gave $20.00 to the homeless man selling newspapers.

060713 newspaper>

My mom dropped me off at my sister Stephanie’s house, and while I waited for Stephanie and her kids I made more kindness cards.  When they got there, Fiona put out seed for the birds, and picked me a bouquet of wildflowers.  She also made a couple of kindness cards to add to the pile.

060713bouquet from Fiona

060713 kindess card2

Stephanie and I took the kids out for ice cream and I paid for 10 junior scoops of ice cream for the next 10 kids who came in.  This is an idea I got from my mom, who did it in January.  I also put another kindness card on a car in the lot

060713 ice cream

Stephanie had some clothes that she wanted to donate, so we stopped and dropped them into a donation box for the Northwest Center, an organization that helps children and adults with disabilities.

060713 donation box

Next we went to Albertson’s.  On the way in Fiona put one of her kindness cards in a plant in the garden center – the plant that looked like it needed the most love.

060713 fiona and blant

Inside Albertson’s, Stephanie bought a pretty bouquet and on the way out of the store we gave it to a young woman who was waiting in line at Starbucks.  She looked a little sad, and she reminded me of me, a bit, when I was heavier and ashamed of myself so much of the time.  This, I have to say, was the best moment of the entire day.  First she was disbelieving, and then her smile lit up the world.

060713 bouquet

On the way out we put one more card on a car with a yappy dog inside, and then went to the Safeway parking lot to finish distributing the cards.  We had probably 9 or 10 cards left, and we picked mostly older models.  My favorite was a pickup truck with a giant Redneck sticker on the back of it.  There was something particularly satisfying about putting a note about how the world is a more beautiful place on a car belonging to someone who’s proud to be a redneck.

When I came home, I made a donation in Tony’s memory to the Alliance of Hope , which is an organization that helps people who have lost someone they love to suicide.  It’s a place that has been a huge comfort to me.  I sent the acknowledgement to my beautiful sister-in-law, Mary Ann, so that she would know that Tony will never be forgotten.

My sister Laura had to work, but she left a Starbucks card for a co-worker who’s been less than friendly, and made a special effort to be kind to everybody – to smile at every child she let in while she was on door duty and to make everyone she met feel valued.

Tony’s high school friend Amy treated a family to dinner anonymously.  My friend Caroline sent me a lovely email detailing the 10 Little Acts that she did in Tony’s memory.  My friend Peter from Germany didn’t give me details on what he did, but told me that since January he’s been making this practice part of his life.  To me, that’s such a gift. 

To everyone who participated, in whatever way: Thank you.  Your love and support mean everything.  I am already planning for the next day of kindness.  August 7th would have been our 9th wedding anniversary, and I have so many ideas already.

Kindness helps. And it’s contagious.

Heart shaped splash

June Seventh. Track One. North Station.

track 1

June Seventh.  Track One.  North Station.

That was where I waited to meet Tony in person for the first time, for our first date.  Ten years ago today.  I was a tangle of nerves all day.  What if he took one look at me and decided that I wasn’t for him?  What if I took one look at him and didn’t like what I saw?  What if we just didn’t click in person the way we had on the phone?  What if that ineffable thing that needs to be there for a love relationship to work wasn’t there?  I had been so charmed by Tony on the phone.  He was intelligent and funny and thoughtful.  I remember one night he had fallen asleep before the time he was supposed to call me.  I went to bed feeling pretty crushed – he was just another disappointing guy, after all – and then he woke up and called me at about 2:00 in the morning because he wanted me know that he wasn’t, that he hadn’t deliberately missed our call.

I wore a red shirt that hugged my curves.  I waited beside Track 1, which is where his train was going to come in.  It was early evening.  It was humid, raining.  In other words, it was Boston in June.  He told me he’d be wearing an “ugly green” (his words) polo; but when he got off the train, I didn’t think it was an ugly green.  It was actually the exact color (magical coincidence) of the umbrella I was carrying.  And as he walked out he turned and saw me, and sort of half-pointed and said, “Aimee?”  We hugged, and as we did I thought, he smells like home.  His smell hit me in some visceral place – and I’m not talking about cologne, because he wasn’t wearing any.  It was just HIM, his pheromones, his skin.  Home.  Home immediately, and then home for the next nine and a half years.

We walked.  We had dinner.  We talked – so much, we never ran out of things to talk about.  I miss our conversations so much.  We kissed, and the kiss felt like home, too.

We met two weeks before the first day of summer, and he died on the first day of winter. 

I wish I had a picture of the two of us at Track 1.  I wish that before we moved away from Boston, or on one of our visits back there, we’d brought a camera over there and asked someone to take our picture.  We never did do that, though.  I have so few pictures of the two of us.  Mostly I have the ones in my head.  Two people, walking in the rain, sharing a green umbrella that matches the man’s shirt.  Two people, on the brink of falling in love. 

Two people, until one left forever.

Today I will do my best to honor his memory.  I will try to find people who need a little kindness in their lives, and give it to them.  I will think of Tony every single second. 

I Will Never Be Over It

me

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the concept of getting over the loss of someone you love.  I think that a lot of people believe that’s a thing that’s possible, that we can – and SHOULD (my new least favorite word) – get over it.   I’m very lucky, because nobody in my life has asked me if I’m over it; but I know from talking to people in the online support group I belong to that lots of people coping with a loss get that insensitive question.  I know someone whose boyfriend took his own life four months ago, and someone asked her that question.  Four months, to get over the loss of her love of eighteen years.

Monday I started reading Elizabeth Edwards’ book Resilience.  She lost her son Wade in a car accident in 1996, when he was 16 years old.  She has a very effective response to questions of that sort:

I will never be over it.  If I had lost a leg, I would tell them, instead of a boy, no one would ever ask me if I was “over” it.  They would ask how I was doing learning to walk without my leg.  I was learning to walk and to breathe and to live without Wade.  And what I was learning is that it was never ever going to be the life I had before.

What she said opened something up inside of me, freed me from feeling as if I had to get over losing Tony.  It’s okay not to get over it.  Getting over it is an impossible goal.  Learning to live without him often feels impossible, too, but learning is a verb I understand.  Learning is something I can do, it’s something I’m good at.  I’m learning about myself through therapy, learning how to be more compassionate to myself and others; learning critical awareness and many other things. 

Ronnie Walker, who founded the Alliance of Hope, uses the term “Forever Altered” to describe what it’s like to lose someone to suicide; but I think it can be applied to any grief.  I have been forever altered by Tony’s death.  I will never be the same person that I was before he took his life.  How could I be?  He was my husband, my friend, my writing partner.  So much was taken from me that day that I think comparing it to loss of a limb – or two – is fair. 

I am learning to live and breathe and walk and sleep and write and BE, without Tony.  Every single moment is a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to learn.  Every day is a test I didn’t study for, in a subject I have no interest in learning.  My life feels fraught with danger, a minefield of unexpected sorrows and fears and emptiness.  Step by step, I am learning my way through the obstacle course.  I will never get to the end of it, but I can learn how to navigate it.  Step by step by step.

Grief Refuses to Follow Any Rules

silver at Pacific Beach

In other words, grief is a brat who always gets his own way.  I already knew this, but I learned it in a new way yesterday.  I’ve been feeling… well, if not GOOD, exactly, a little better.  I’ve felt that my therapy and medication and online support and support from family and friends and the reading I’ve been doing have been helping.  Not a day goes by that I don’t cry, and grieve Tony, and struggle with everything that’s happened.  I’ve been able to get out of bed, though, and function, and work and interact and all of that.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I put up my post about rearranging the alphabet.  I had been up very early, feeling weepy and nostalgic.  I’ve had that post written for weeks.  I published it, and then completely melted down.  I went and talked to my sister for a while, and then I crawled back into bed and didn’t crawl back out until after 2:00.  I truly had to force myself out of bed, even after lying there all morning and into the afternoon.  I just felt empty.  I had no energy, no drive, no thought beyond thinking that I just couldn’t and didn’t want to move, ever again. 

I got up.  I made myself eat.  I didn’t shower or get dressed or put on makeup or any of the things that I’ve been doing to help myself get through the days.  My niece put on The Princess Bride to cheer me up, and that did help a little.  And then we watched Finding Nemo and had tortellini and I went to bed early and slept through the night.

This morning, it was a little easier.  I have to admit, though, that the intensity of yesterday threw me.  I thought, on some level, that I was past feeling like that.  That I could get through the day with a couple of weepy periods and some anger, but without that crushing feeling of loss and inertia that I felt in the first weeks after Tony died.  I was wrong.

I wrote before about the stages of grief and how they’re not linear.  That was an understatement.  What they are is a labyrinth.  What they are is brutal and unforgiving and disobedient, and they will loop back around and drop you someplace you thought you’d left behind for good.  What I learned today, though, is that you will get picked up again.  You will be feeling better again.  Today I got up and put on a pretty outfit and worked and went outside and enjoyed the sunshine at lunch.  After work I worked out and now I am writing.  I am still shaken by yesterday, but I am not where I was then.  Maybe I learned something from it, too, about being patient with myself and letting myself experience each day as it comes.  If I end up somewhere unexpected, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I am okay today.  I am okay.  I will be okay.

If I Could Rearrange the Alphabet

typewriter keys

Ten years ago today, I got an e-mail from Tony.  It was the first time I’d heard of him – he’d seen me on a dating website and sent me what they called a Tease.  It said, “If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.”  It was silly.  It made me laugh.  When I went back later and looked at the other Tease options, that one was the only one that I found even remotely appealing.  Of course, that’s the one he picked.

We e-mailed back and forth, and I remember at one point he said that he had looked at his keyboard and noticed that the U and I keys were in fact right next to each other, and he hoped that didn’t distract from his tease.  I assured him it didn’t – it said alphabet, not keyboard.

I still have that e-mail.  I still have so many of them, hundreds and hundreds over the years.  Looking at them right now makes me really sad, but they are there when I want them.  And every time I look at my keyboard, I think of Tony and I think, how I wish I could put you and I back together.  How I wish.